Don’t make these blunders with your customers
Another week, another set of bad customer experiences. That’s how it goes for most of us.
I feel strongly about this, as regular readers know. A decade ago I wrote a book about customer care. Since then I have covered different aspects of handling customers repeatedly on this page. I even made a video about it.
To little avail, it sometimes feels. There are organizations and individuals who obstinately and obtusely refuse to do this customer thing better. It’s completely in their own interests to do so. But no. They will continue to wallow in mediocrity.
On a single day recently I encountered so much of this mediocrity that I decided to sit my own staff down and make a case study of that day – to show them that the things being done to us are exactly the things we must never do to our clients. Rather than just fulminate, I thought it would be better to learn lessons and teach them. So we’ll tell you too. Here are the commonplace blunders made in customer care – the ones you must steer clear of.
First: don’t make promises you know you won’t keep. Don’t swear on your mother that your team will be there first thing tomorrow morning when you know very well they probably won’t be. Be honest. Lying only causes worse repercussions later. Have the difficult conversation upfront. If you can’t do things that quickly, say so. Most clients will respect that honesty. They will certainly respect it more than false optimism followed by no-shows.
Next: if you actually are delayed, don’t hide. Don’t wait for your clients to notice – alert them yourself. Don’t evade calls. Don’t hope the furore will die down later – it won’t. Take charge of the situation. Communicate and fix the problem. Keep talking. Don’t reappear sheepishly later – be visible and be honest throughout.
Third: don’t pass the blame. Don’t say it isn’t you, that it’s a different part of the organization at fault. Don’t say people are in a meeting so you can’t reach them. Don’t say the system is down. Don’t blame Kenya Power or Nairobi County or foreign powers. Your client is not interested. Take responsibility and work to sort things out.
Fourth: never, ever chastize your client staff for ‘landing you in trouble’ with your bosses by reporting the problem. That is a true loser’s game: to get everything wrong and yet expect customers to suffer in silence. Customers don’t get you in trouble: you do that all by yourself. Step in quickly and do things properly throughout so that there is no trouble for anyone.
Another one: don’t send a bill while nothing is resolved and your client is unhappy. Even if billing comes from a different part of the system, intervene to delay the bill until peace has broken out again. Nothing says ‘they just care about the money’ more to a customer than a premature bill that arrives before anything is delivered.
Last: at the end, when hopefully all is well and everything finally resolved, do not send a sweet-nothing, impersonal boilerplate message saying how much you value your customers. If you have just put your client through the wringer, they do not appreciate your fake-sugar words. Apologize, express regrets – and mean them.
There you are: six points to use in your staff training. I hope you will. But please don’t sit there thinking your people need to do this better. Actually, you do. If your organization doesn’t do customer care well, it’s primarily the leaders’ fault. Only the people at the top can make the investments, create the systems and processes, motivate the people and connect the dots. If you don’t have the standard, no one does.
At the end of the day, you need to do this stuff well because it really matters, and it really pays off. Consistently weak customer care is for losers. Learn to respect your customers’ time. Don’t take it for granted. Taking their precious time from them is no better than taking money from their till. That’s why they get mad – because it costs them.
If you work in customer care, set your own standard. Don’t hide behind your organization’s mediocrity; make excellence a personal deal. Set the mark high and keep it there. Yes, other parts of the system may repeatedly let you down. But keep your own flag flying and show the world you always give it your best. You will never regret it.
(Sunday Nation, 16 July 2017)