Don’t Lose Your Customer Before You Get Your Customer

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Like many of you, a lot of sales professionals reach out to me. Some drop in, hoping for a chance to introduce themselves and their product. Some call or email, with the intent of scheduling a longer phone call or face-to-face in the near future.

Regardless of how they reach out, I try to respond personally to all of them. They have a job to do and I respect that. Very recently, I had two very different experiences from two company representatives that wanted me to consider the product they offered.

In the first example, a folder with information was dropped off for me at the front desk of the hotel.  I received the folder at approximately 3:00 pm.  With a very full schedule that day, I made a note to review and respond the next morning. That evening, I received an email from a member of my front desk team.  It turns out this sales person was a guest in the hotel.  His reservation had been made about a week prior to his arrival.  He was quite upset I had not responded by end of day, made reference to me flying out to visit him at his office and then questioned the quality of the guest experience at the hotel, from the product offered to the level of service.

That same day, I received a note in the mail from Debbie, an account manager for Classic 107, a local radio station. Debbie and I had spent time together the week before. She asked me lots of questions to ensure she understood our priorities and customer demographic and provided initial suggestions on how she could help us achieve our marketing goals. Even though Debbie left without any immediate new business, she sent me a lovely, handwritten note, thanking me for my time and promising to follow up later in the year.

Debbie and I had a scheduled appointment, but my team knows to call me if someone drops in.  If I am available, I make the time to meet with the person, even if only for a few minutes.  I used to participate in sales missions, from a city and a brand perspective, so I get it.  By far the majority of our calls were planned, but sometimes along the way, we would simply drop in on the off-chance a decision maker would be immediately available to see us.  It rarely happened.  At that point, the gate keeper was our decision maker. The gate keeper’s impression of our professionalism was vital. What he or she said about us directly impacted the possibility of a response or what type of response we would receive.

Ensuring a positive pre-sale experience is important.  A 2011 Consumer Report’s survey indicated that customers who bailed on a transaction did so because of poor service. That’s potential customers who were ready to purchase but chose not to.

There are a lot of touch points in between first point of contact to signing a deal. Each of those moments can make or break a potential sale.  Be as careful of those touch points as you are about each and every one after the first sale is made.

And in case you are wondering, I did respond to the first salesperson the next morning as planned, expressing disappointment his guest experience was not the positive one our entire service team is committed to providing and extending an invitation to share his concerns with me personally. To date, there has been no response to my email.

Then I called Debbie to get her permission to mention her by name at a future date, knowing at some point a blog would be written.  She graciously agreed.  I look forward to our next conversation.

What is your Priority – Product or Service?

Motivational concept image of a hand holding marker and write What is your priority isolated on white

There is a restaurant here in Winnipeg that has the talent in place to create and plate a ‘to-die-for-good’ meal.  My husband and I had plans to dine there one evening.  Then I heard and read many comments regarding the arrogant, sometimes verging on abusive, service from people who’ve gone to that restaurant… once and only once. Some of these comments have come from people I know personally and whose opinion I trust.  That restaurant is now off my list of places to go.  There are many other restaurants to go to in Winnipeg that create and plate amazing meals and just as importantly, provide friendly, attentive and professional service,

In the service industry, dinner is never just a dinner and a hotel room is never just a hotel room. It is the entire experience wrapping up the basic need for food and shelter that is important and sets one business apart from another.

Of course, this doesn’t just apply to the hospitality industry.  We are all in business to meet and address a specific need.  So are our competitors. Even if a business offers something totally unique, it won’t be forever.  At some point, that unique product and idea will be replicated and if customers have been putting up with lousy service because there wasn’t an alternative, as soon as there is one, they are gone!

Product quality is important, but it is only one piece of the puzzle. Back up the great product with great service.  That’s what brings customers back more than once, creates referrals and brings new customers through the door.

Are You and Your Customers on the Same Wavelength?

Friendly young businessman showing ok signBain & Company surveyed 362 companies.  They spoke to people within the companies and asked them “How often do you deliver superior customer service?”  The answer: they believed they delivered superior customer service 80% of the time.  Unfortunately, when customers were asked “How often do you receive excellent customer service”, their response was only 8% of the time!  That’s a huge disconnect and in the end, it’s the customer’s perception that matters.

One potential reason for this disconnect is that as business owners, managers and service suppliers, we are faced with the daunting and challenging task of hiring, training, scheduling, coaching, mentoring, ordering, reporting… the list goes on and on.  Supplies are late, weather is bad, someone calls in sick and yet, somehow, in spite of all the challenges, the business is open and customers are coming in the door.  We give ourselves a lot of credit for the challenges we overcome on a regular basis.

Go ahead, pat yourself on the back.  After all someone has to! Just don’t expect your customers to do so. They’ll pat you on the back, give you figurative high fives, maybe even the occasional real one, if and when their expectations are consistently met and exceeded.

From the customer’s perspective, you are there to serve them and they’re not wrong. They chose your business to meet a need and they expect it to be met, regardless of the logistical challenges behind it.

Another Customer is Wasting my Time ….

Impatient woman making a phone callThat customer was me.  This weekend, my husband and I are going to do something we’ve never done before.  We are going to visit someone in prison.

In order to do that, an application form needs to be mailed in and it is then the responsibility of the applicant, us, to call to see if we’ve been approved.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting to hear a friendly voice on the other side of the phone when I called. I wasn’t disappointed, at least by the first person. Her telephone answering skills were lackluster at best.  A bored monotone voice, hurrying to get through the approved greeting is difficult to understand.  When I stated the reason for my call, I immediately heard a click, the only indication my call was being transferred.

And then, a surprise. The man who answered was pleasant.  He asked for our names politely, confirmed information and advised that yes, we had been approved.  When I asked about making an appointment, he immediately checked availability and confirmed a date.  I had more questions though and he answered each one politely and thoroughly, even though all that information had been provided on the application form.

Here’s what I think.  He took the time to get out of his shoes and put himself in mine.  He knew that a prison visit was something totally knew to me.  And so, even though the necessary information had been provided up front, he was patient and never once made me feel like I was wasting his time by asking stupid questions.

My two take-a ways from that one phone call?

  1. In some industries, not all, customers expectations regarding service are pretty low.  What an opportunity to stand out and create positive buzz about your business.  Depending on your business model, it may bring you new business or perhaps, it’s recognizing that if your customers feel they are being treated well, some of them just might be a little more pleasant in return.
  2. A reminder how important the ability to take a step back from ego and empathize is for service professionals. There are times we will be faced with angry customers. Many of  those times the reason for their anger will not be us; sometimes it will.  Customers will ask questions they already have the answers to or you at least think they should have the answers. We need to be able to let go of our right to be right and instead focus on the customer.

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice …

同僚にうわさ話されるビジネスマンYears ago, I was facilitating a customer service training session in North Dakota.  One of the service providers said to me, a Canadian, “I hate Canadians. They are cheap and always demand a discount.”  To say I was a little flabbergasted is an understatement.   Hating a large percentage of your customer base is not a good thing.

The one thing I will give her is that she didn’t talk smack about the citizens of my country behind my back … she told me straight up, to my face. There are a whole lot of service providers who have no problem labelling or mocking their customers behind their back.

I’ve heard and read comments, in log books and social media, that mock a customer’s intelligence.  I’ve heard and read comments, in log books and social media, that describe a customer as high maintenance, demanding and rude.

Yes, some customers are more difficult to serve than others, but laughing at a customer because they asked a “stupid” question (stupid in your mind, not theirs) is unkind and a true customer focused person is not unkind.

Labelling a customer as high maintenance, rude or obnoxious is assuming that your perception of their behaviour at one moment in time is exactly what everyone else would perceive as well.  It also assumes that what perhaps is a moment of rudeness is indicative of the way that person behaves all the time.

A moment that still causes me to blush with shame involved me, a plane and a mom with a young baby.  I’d been away on business for almost a week.  I was tired. I wanted to get home and I HATE the middle seat.  When I boarded, in my window seat was a young mom with her very young baby.  She explained that she did have the middle seat but with the baby, the window seat was a better option.  Did I demand my window seat back?  No, but I sure was grumpy and begrudging about sitting in the middle seat. There were huffs, puffs, eye rolls and  muttering involved. My ungracious behaviour caught the attention of the flight attendant. There was an empty seat on the plane so she asked the person in the aisle seat if she would be willing to move so I could move over one seat.  She did and I moved over.  The thing is, the entire time I was acting all high-maintenance and princessy, I knew I was acting badly and before the plane landed, I was having a lovely conversation with the young mom.  That initial bad behaviour did not reflect who I am 98% of the time.  But nobody on that plane knew that. The thing is, they also couldn’t say with an certainty that I was always like that.

When we mock our customers or start labelling them and warning other co-workers about them, we lose our focus on the customer and their experience.  Perhaps instead of leaving notes like “This customer is high maintenance … watch out” we can make an extra effort to be kind, to turn their day around and then leave a note that says “Seems like she had a tough day today … let’s all try to make her stay extra special.”

Thumper’s statement “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” is especially important for customer service providers. When you have a challenging customer, don’t complain about it to your friends and colleagues, don’t put a warning note in a log book or a customer’s file and for heaven’s sake, don’t post it on social media!