Trusted Advisor Blog

Trusted Advisor Blog Posts by Jeff Mowatt

The Biggest Avoidable Risk in Business

Alain, a manager and sponsor of one of my speaking tours, introduced me by telling the audience about his shopping experience at a business that sold high end technology. He explained how the company had obviously spent millions of dollars on buildings, equipment, inventory, salaries, insurance, and advertising. However, the employee who interacted with him appeared to be having an off day and didn't seem concerned about whether Alain found what he needed. "In other words," Alain continued, "The company invested all that money building a brand to bring customers like me in the door. But one employee not being trained properly, meant all that money was wasted." The lesson is your team members ARE your brand. It only takes one untrained employee to eliminate brand value. Managers who neglect to train their team members on how to build trust, are subjecting the company's resources to substantial unnecessary risk.

Change One Word to become less Defensive with Unhappy Customers

No one likes to hear customers complain. Employees become impatient and defensive when faced with these “trouble-makers.” One of my seminar participants equated listening to customer complaints to undergoing amateur eyeball surgery. (That can’t be good). To prevent this defensive mindset, employees need to be trained to treat customer complaints as concerns. Employees need to know that customers who express concerns are helping you to stay sharp and competitive. Focusing on customer concerns vs complaints will immediately shift a potentially negative situation into one that is positive and productive.

Negotiating with Nay-Sayers

It seems these days people are so pressured, so busy, and so over-regulated at work that it’s difficult to get their attention at all; let alone get them to do you a small service. Next time you find yourself dealing with a person who seems to be putting up more barriers than bridges, try this strategy. Before approaching them with your request have a fallback scaled-down plan B ready. If they decline your first request ask, “If you can’t do A then can you at least do B?” Immediately, the other person views you as being somewhat reasonable – after all you’ve ‘given-up’ your plan A. So, in the spirit of fairness the other person subconsciously feels that they need to give a little as well.

Be Discreet about Seeing Other Customers

Imagine you're a customer asking a supplier about the status of a project that's delayed. The rep apologizes and explains that not only are they short staffed this week, but business is swamped with other customers who have rush projects. Unfortunately, that explanation gives the impression you are being slighted in favour of more important clients. Customers like to believe they're your only customer, even though they know it isn't true. That's why, despite how carelessly open we've become about revealing details of lives and our opinions on social media, it's important that - with customers at least - we use discretion. While it's Ok to mention that a few coworkers are off sick, we shouldn't bring up our other projects or customers. It's oversharing and it only makes customers wish they'd been dealing with a supplier who valued their business enough to make them more of a priority.

The Problem with Putting Customers on Pedestals

I was just trying to be polite when I said to the potential customer, "Thanks very much, I really appreciate your time." You'll see in this short video how that comment was thrown back in my face and the business lesson I learned (the hard way) about customer status.

Customer Experience Spoilers – 4 Ways your company may be inadvertently annoying customers

customer experience spoilersWhat words do you think customers would use to describe what it's like when doing business with your company - responsive, easy, approachable? Or are they more apt to say: rigid, robotic, bureaucratic? Customers of course prefer to buy from suppliers who are easy to work with. What might surprise you is even though as a manager you might think your company creates positive customer experiences, in fact there may be several ways your organization may be unintentionally turning customers off. Often customers won't tell you about them, because they may not be consciously aware of them. What they will do, is quietly choose a different supplier next time. See if these four subtle customer turnoffs are oozing through the cracks of your company's foundations.

Turnoff#1. Punishing Policies

We all know the importance of building a brand that instills feelings of trust. Unfortunately, when companies operate with restrictive customer policies, all that goodwill begins to crumble. Half the problem is the word policy. It implies rigid rules and regulations. To avoid this turnoff, customer-friendly organizations replace the word policies with guidelines. For example: "Delivery guideline: for onsite service, we typically schedule within x days. Let us know your timing and we'll see if we can accommodate." Notice how the wording sounds like real people who are trying to be helpful. I'm not suggesting that companies abandon policies. Instead, dial down the legal jargon, soften the wording, and make it sound like your company is run by real people.

Turnoff#2. Complex Contracts

In order to do business with your company, are there multiple contracts/rules/hoops that customers have to jump through? Do your contracts sound like they are written like you expect to be sued? As a general guideline I'd suggest that any contract for dollar amounts under $10,000 should be readable within five minutes. Worth 100k? - Ten minutes. Problem is many organizations have lengthy multipage contracts - regardless of the amount at stake - forcing customers to spend way too much admin time. In other words, companies make their own customers resent doing business with them at the outset of the relationship. Bear in mind that lengthy contracts raise alarm bells that the company must have failed and been sued in the past or are anticipating future lawsuits. Hardly inspires customer confidence.

Turnoff#3. Disclaimer Disconnect

No doubt you've received emails - or maybe even sent them - where at the bottom of the email in fine print there's a blurb stating, "This message is confidential and intended solely for the person named here... files may not be shared... blah blah blah." These clauses imply that as the recipient, you are legally bound to maintain some sort of confidentiality. It's nonsense. Just because someone sends you an email that includes fine print at the bottom stating they don't want you to share the contained information, doesn't mean you're obliged to comply. It holds no legal authority or protection of confidentiality. What it does do is make the recipient (a customer) get the feeling they are dealing with a bureaucracy run by litigators instead of managers. If there is something you don't want customers to share, then ask them to sign a confidentiality agreement up front. Other than that, you can't prevent a customer from sharing an email if they want to. So, don't bother with all the legalese for a simple email.

Turnoff#4. Faceless Frontline

One of the most common customer annoyances - and easiest to eliminate - is when employees don't identify themselves: in person or on the phone. As I point out in my Trusted Advisor seminars, more than basic courtesy, when you introduce yourself to customers and/or wear easily readable nametags, it tells them that you are someone who is comfortable being held accountable. Conversely, employees whose names are not displayed or readily offered seem to be hiding behind a veil of bureaucracy. It's an easy fix that builds trust.

Bottom line Question: What's your organization really like to work with? Check your customer communications practices and see how your company could sound less guarded, and more like you're open for doing business.

How Not to End your Emails

I wish I'd learned this sooner. Eventually I discovered that the more you treat customers like smart adults, the more receptive they'll be to your expertise. Early in my career I used to finish my correspondence with phrases like, "If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to call..." Today, as a customer myself, I still receive emails that end with that phrase. Customers who have questions know they can ask. The offer to accept their questions is not only clichéd - which sounds like we're not really thinking about what we're writing - it's also condescending. Like the customer is too timid or too ignorant to ask questions. As I point out in my Trusted Advisor presentations, every phrase you share either builds or diminishes trust. Next time you write to your customer, you can avoid the unintended insult and invite a response by simply finishing with, "Your thoughts?"

Unpleasant news to give? Try this…

How to Break Bad News to Customers, Jeff MowattPart of most people's job involves telling customers and co-workers information they don't really want to absorb. Fortunately, there is a simple technique that I share in this short video that makes bad news more palatable for customers to swallow, and makes your personal brand more appealing. Check it out and feel free to share with your colleagues.

Secret Desires of Corporate Clients

2 keys to boosting your business-to-business revenues
by Jeff Mowatt

 

Who would you say buys your company’s offerings – corporate buyers, private consumers, or both? People who are buying products and services on behalf of their organizations have different needs than those who are buying for themselves. Losing a single consumer is unfortunate. Losing a large corporate client can create financial fallout. With so much at stake when you are selling ‘business-to-business’ here are a few tips I share in my seminars and speeches on how to gain and keep the loyalty of corporate clients.

Why price isn't paramount

Corporate buyers are not spending their own money; they're spending their company's. So paying a higher price doesn't affect them personally. Corporate buyers are expected to choose the supplier who provides the best overall value. That brings us to two secret desires that your corporate customers won't tell you. Nor will they mention them in tender offerings or in requests for proposal.  Knowing them will give you an edge in boosting your B to B revenues.

Desire #1 - Make them Look Smart to their Bosses

It's one thing to claim your products and services provide all kinds of benefits. It's an entirely different magnitude of value when you quantify how much of an impact you are having on that company. So when possible, provide your customer with evidence of the actual cost savings, quality improvements, waste reduction, that your products and services are generating for their business. Your corporate client can then forward those numbers to their bosses and take the credit for the improvements. And for being smart enough to choose you as their supplier. Everyone benefits.

Making your customers look brilliant also means giving them what they need - not necessarily what they ask for. Presumably, you're more attuned to the latest developments in your industry than your customers. Corporate customers typically only have expertise in their outputs - not in the inputs that you supply. So, it's up to you to bring innovations and suggestions on better ways your customers can achieve their goals. Make sure when you present these enhancements, you give them plenty of credit for being open to this innovation. I call this approach the humility advantage. Corporate clients have jobs they're trying to keep, turf they may be defending, and attention they're trying to garner. Why not indirectly help them achieve those goals?

Desire #2 - Make Their Jobs Easier

None of us wants to work harder than we have to. So when your business clients need answers, how accessible are you? Can they easily find answers, check real time inventory, place orders on your website, knowing that you will deliver as promised? If not online, how long does it take your corporate clients to talk to a human when they try to reach you? Our research shows that two of the most powerful words you can use with corporate customers are: hassle-free.

Making your business customers' job easier includes making their jobs more pleasant. In years past, making work more fun meant corporate entertaining... salespeople would wine, dine, and fly business clients to exotic destinations. Some would unfortunately go as far as offering bribes and kickbacks. Today's first world business environment is thankfully, much more transparent and ethical. Plus, corporate customers are so busy with their workload, fighting traffic, and juggling busy personal lives, they aren't particularly interested in socializing with their suppliers after hours. Private meal invitations can also create awkwardness.

With this in mind, one approach that's gaining popularity for entertaining corporate clients is staging special events that include food. Consider bringing a lunch-and-learn to your client or hosting an open house to groups of clients. Include some degree of education relevant to their job such as a speaker who can inform and engage them. Feed them while you teach them and they will come.

One last word on making your corporate clients' jobs more pleasant. In 1854 Henry Thoreau wrote that most people live lives of quiet desperation. To a certain extent I believe that's still true. Your client may be stuck in a dead end job and receive little recognition. So consider the value of offering them a specific compliment. Give a clear example of something they as a person do that makes them a special client. In a job where no one notices, you may be one of the few to make them feel appreciated.

Bottom line - remember that companies don't buy anything. It's people within those companies who make decisions. Make those people looker smarter to their bosses and make their jobs easier. Then notice how your prices suddenly become less relevant.

Let’s Keep this Between Us

5 unwritten rules of customer confidentiality

Did you ever have a potential customer who should have been excited about doing business with you but seemed reserved? It happened in a weird way for me. The senior managers seated around the boardroom table were excited about their new technology that would disrupt their market and separate them from every competitor. They had brought me in to help craft their sales message and to eventually train their reps on how to introduce it to their customers. Along with their excitement though, I sensed some tension. So as the VP of Marketing introduces me, my first remark to the brass is, “I know this goes without saying. I just want it known for the record that everything we discuss here will be treated by me as confidential.” I immediately noticed this huge look of relief on the face of the CEO. From that point on, things went just fine.

Customers may not feel comfortable asking you for discretion, but they always appreciate it. Unfortunately, in today’s world of social media oversharing, coffee shops used as offices, and cell phones that record anything anywhere, confidentiality seems to be backsliding into a state of dangerous decline. That’s why you can gain tremendous trust with customers by simply following these 5 unwritten rules of customer confidentiality. Ignore them at your peril.

Rule #1. Know that you are in a position of trust

We’ve all heard of doctor/patient confidentiality and lawyer/client privilege. Doctors and lawyers are sworn to secrecy about their customers’ affairs for good reason. Your customers deserve the same discretion from you. When you talk to others about your customers, assume that the customer is in the room with you, or will read everything you post or write about them. If what you’re sharing isn’t complimentary and publically known, then keep it to yourself.

Rule #2. Remember Starbucks isn't a confession both

I once hired a consultant who was based in another city to do some work on our website. We scheduled a conversation via Zoom about my brand and target market. To my dismay, he logs into the call from a coffee shop. Throughout our conversation, I’m seeing customers come and go in the background. Not only was it distracting, it felt like a violation of my privacy as a client. There are good reasons why lawyers and accountants won’t host you in their office. Instead meetings are held in a private meeting room. One reason is that you shouldn’t see files lying on their desk from other clients who may be under legal investigation, filing for bankruptcy, etc. Another is so your meeting will not be seen or overheard by others. Coffee shops are for casual coffee; not for doing business.

Rule #3. There's a difference between small talk and prying

Ever have this happen to you in a restaurant while you’re paying for the meal? The server is standing by your table waiting for you to input your credit card on the portable device and asks, “So what are your plans for the rest of the day (evening, weekend, whatever)?” Pardon? When did our relationship as patron/ server evolve to the intimacy of me needing to share my weekend plans? The key to making small talk sound natural and appropriate is context and relevance. Unless you’ve been chatting about weekend plans with that person, better to stick to safe topics like the weather as in, “So you’re heading outside... have you heard a forecast?”

Rule #4. Yes, your cell phone conversation is annoying

People who talk at length on cell phones around other people sound like jackasses. Seriously. It reflects a total lack of self awareness and distain for basic civility. It also tells people around them they don’t respect the privacy of the person on the other end of the phone. They’re damaging their own reputation and are too oblivious to realize it. Don’t be one of them. Move to a quiet area and lower your voice.

Rule #5. Strong feelings don't necessitate expressing them

This is perhaps the most important confidentiality lesson at work and in life. We can’t un-say, un-post, or un-tweet our opinions and observations. No doubt you can think of numerous examples at work and in the news where a little discretion and self-restraint would have saved significant fallout. While it’s tempting to be drawn into adding our two cents to a discussion, perhaps the greatest contribution we can make to the relationship is remaining silent. We hope in turn that when we say or do something less than brilliant, others won’t share it with the world. Ironically, kindness and maturity are often best reflected – and trust is sometimes most strongly earned – by simply shutting up.

REDUCE CUSTOMER CONFLICTS

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