Trusted Advisor Blog Posts by Jeff Mowatt
Imagine you’re working late, visiting a website of a potential new supplier. Using the email form on the website, you send a short message that you’d like someone to contact you. Since it’s after hours, you hope to hear from them in the next business day or two. That’s typical.
Contrast that scenario to the practice used by one of my clients, Vice President of a commercial vehicle leasing business. Those after hour email inquiries (which might occur a handful of times per week) are fed directly to his cell phone. It takes him about two minutes after receiving that message to email back to the prospect stating that he’s received the inquiry and has assigned a certain team member to take care of them. That team member is copied on that email.
Pretty impressive, but there’s more.
The rep who’s been assigned to the potential customer then takes two minutes to reply to the prospect and let them know that they’ll phone them the next day and offer a time. As that potential customer, chances are you are now sitting up and taking notice of this company that’s obviously on the ball.
How hard is it for the company to make this exceptional first impression? It takes 2 minutes of two people’s time and no cash outlay! Some might object, “That’s cutting into the employee’s personal time.” That VP who takes the first emails told me. “Jeff, we give our employees their cell phone for free. If they don’t forward their business line and emails to their phone, I tell them to leave the phone at work when they leave the office.” Realistically, these emails only take 10 minutes per week of the rep’s after hours’ time. They get paid on commission, so everyone wins when they gain the new customer.
What about you and your organization? Is there room for improvement in your response time to customer inquiries?
Imagine changing one-word and having it boost your business. It comes from a study I found out about from Dr Rumeet Billan. She was presenting at the Cdn Assoc of Professional Speakers virtual convention.
Medical doctors were instructed to ask patients one of two questions at the end of the visit: 1.“Is there ANYTHING else you want to address in the visit today?” Or 2. “Is there SOMETHING else you want to address in the visit today?” (anything vs something)
The result – those who said anything else saw zero increase in meeting patients’ unmet needs. Those who said something else addressed a whopping 78% of patients’ unmet needs! Neither question affected the length of the visit.
My sense is that asking about anything is so general in nature that it comes off as though we have no idea that there’s a problem. On the other hand, by asking if there’s something else, we are being specific. It implies we already assume there is an issue, and we just need to identify it. In essence, we are meeting the person halfway.
So next time you’re talking to a customer after they’ve made a buying decision, rather than asking the conventional, “Is there anything else…?, Instead ask, “Is there something else…?” The second phrase is significantly more likely to get them talking. Speaking of which, at home when a friend or family member is giving non verbal clues that they’re not doing well, rather than asking, “Is there anything wrong?”, instead try, “Is there something wrong?” Big difference for changing one word.
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Let’s assume that generally your company does a good job of taking care of customers… it’s just that occasionally, stuff happens. The question becomes, when there’s a service failure that the company caused, what’s the fastest way to recover customer goodwill. My short answer - when companies bring me in to deliver seminars (live or virtually) - is fix the problem AND the relationship. That means that of course you’ll give them a replacement/ refund/ alternative, as any ethical organization would. However, fixing the problem doesn’t address the likely frustration, delay, inconvenience, and sometimes cash outlay that the foul-up caused for the customer. That’s why we need to also give the customer something for the hassle. That way, the customer discovers that unlike other organizations, you’ll go the extra mile when there’s a problem. In other words, they become more loyal not in spite of, but because of the service failure. It’s a significant step towards differentiating your brand and being considered by customers as their trusted partner.
"Our team members need to nurture relationships with our stakeholders before there’s an incident.” This was a senior manager at a large industrial services company. I was preparing a seminar for his team and was asking which communication areas he’d like us to target. The company has a stellar safety record, part of which stems from how they communicate proactively with major stakeholders. He pointed out that if there’s ever an incident, they shouldn’t be asking who their contact is, or discovering there’s a new person that doesn’t know them. If that happens, they're suddenly put on the defensive and given no benefit of the doubt. I call this approach, building trust equity. It’s why courtesy reports and updates - even when they’re not required – are so valuable in maintaining loyalty, especially when things go wrong. How about you – are you proactively building trust equity with your customers?
Of all the books and tips about how to get along better with friends, family and customers, there’s one approach that I believe is the most effortless and under rated. I was reminded of it when our 17 year old daughter, Haley complained about Gail, her classmate, who apparently thrives on creating drama. Haley concluded, “I find I have to bite my tongue a lot around Gail.” “Good call,” I offered, “Remaining silent is often the smart move.”
Sooner or later in almost every relationship, people will say or do something that’s mildly annoying. While the natural response may be for us to take offense and lash out, the most powerful response is often to say and do absolutely nothing. By not responding in anger you build a reputation as someone who thinks before acting. Conflict, in order to exist, requires pushback. I’m not suggesting that we let people get away with being abusive. But it’s a reminder for all of us to choose our battles. As the expression goes, never miss a good opportunity to shut-up
Imagine you’re a repeat customer of a company that’s launching a new product. Which of these two sales pitches is more likely to interest you:
- We have an exciting new product we are about to release.
- We are about to release a new product and we’d like your opinion.
For most customers option ‘a’ sounds like an advertisement. Ads are easily tuned-out. Contrast that to option ‘b’ where the company is requesting your input. They leave it to you to determine whether it’s exciting. Since you’re asked to evaluate it, you begin to feel a sense of ownership. If you discover it is indeed that good, you’re more likely to not only buy it, but also recommend it. Quite a difference for just changing a few words. So next time you have a new product or service, consider approaching your customer with, “I’d like your opinion…”
“The best advice I ever received on earning customer respect was…” (This was a manager I interviewed in preparation for a customized virtual Trusted Advisor seminar I would be staging for her company). She said a mentor advised her to, “… always answer the client’s NEXT unspoken question.” In other words, when you share information with a customer, it often prompts more questions like, what are the costs… what are the alternatives… how does this address my other concerns and goals... etc. The key is not forcing the client to ask obvious follow up questions. Give that information up front. My take on why this approach is so impactful is it demonstrates you are thinking ahead of the customer. It proves you’re considering their larger desires, and it positions you as a strategic thinker, not just an order taker. So, next time you report to a customer or other stakeholder, be sure to also answer their next unspoken question.
I believe those who claim we are living in the information age are missing the point. Your customers have more information and choices than they know what to do with. That’s the problem. Too much information. What customers are craving for – and willing to pay a premium for – is analysis. They want your interpretation of all the available products/services/solutions available, and they want your advice about which are best suited to their unique needs. They don’t want you to send them to websites, offer to send them more information, or hand them instruction manuals. Information has become a cheap commodity. It’s your interpretation and advice that makes your services highly valued.
Quick – when phoning a company, which of these two organizations would you prefer doing business with? The first answers, “ABC Stereos.” The second answers, “Thank you for calling XYZ Stereos, this is Dale.” If you’re like most customers, the second company gets your business. They sound more professional and they sound like they have had training on answering the telephone. When employees are trained properly to answer the phone, there’s a good chance they’re also trained to solve your problems. Lesson: providing “telephone training” creates an easy competitive advantage over your competitors.
In a work-world that’s increasingly filled with interruptions and distractions, it’s easier for people to become more busy but less productive. The irony is that if you tend toward perfectionism you’re even more likely to be side-tracked. You know the routine: you’re focused on one task when the phone rings, someone walks-in, or an email arrives. so – in the interest of being responsive – you move to that. Then something else catches your eye. I’ve found in these situation when I’m spinning my wheels, it’s helpful to remind myself, “Eye on the Prize.” It’s a simple mantra to help you ignore the distractions, return to the task (the prize) and get it off your list. The bonus is at the end of the day you feel like you actually accomplished something.
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