Trusted Advisor Blog Posts by Jeff Mowatt
- Are customers sometimes unclear about the process of doing business with you?
- Are there often extra charges or time requirements that surprise customers?
- Do customers contact you to request information that’s already available online?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, the problem is not likely your customers. The problem is your procedures are more complex than they need to be. The solution is not uploading more documents to hard to find on your web-pages. The real call to action is for you to clarify, and more importantly, simplify. The harder customers have to work to find out what’s really involved in doing business with you, the more distrustful and resentful they will be. Bottom line – a confused customer is a reluctant customer.
This may be surprising, but few people actually want to do business with you. By that I mean people may want the benefits of your products and services. But the actual process of arranging for your services may be more of a have to do than a want to do. That's why it's often a mistake to ask customer or co-workers questions such as, "Would you like me to ...?" or "Do you want me to...?" Frankly, they don't want to go through the decision process at all. Instead, word your questions along the lines of, "Would it make sense for us to..." "Would it be helpful if I...?" "Would it be useful...?" In general, we get better results with questions that focus on resolving the customer's problem, than with questions that encourage them to think about their mood.
There have been volumes written on how to grow your business and advance your career. Many encourage you to network and get noticed by the right people. After some two decades of working with senior managers and observing what really impresses them from their employees, I’ve found that trying to be popular is the last thing that works for employees. The real secret to winning customers and being valued by senior managers is profoundly simple: keep your promises no matter what it costs you. That means making clear commitments. Telling others, “I’ll try” or “I’ll do my best.” is saying you have no idea if you’re really capable, so you won’t make a firm commitment. Better to say no up-front than say I’ll try and give excuses later. In today’s world of wishy-washiness, just the act of making clear promises – and keeping them no matter what – makes you stand-out.
I used to shudder when people described what I do for a living as being a ‘Motivational Speaker’. I’ve always believed you can’t motivate anyone to do anything they don’t want to do. Years ago, as a Karate instructor, I realized that people improved much faster when you not only helped them learn techniques, but why certain movements were more efficient. Similarly, having conducted customer service speeches and seminars for over 25 years, I found the same principle applies. Pep rally type messages don’t create lasting change with capable professionals. Employees get temporarily pumped-up, but it wears off. Instead, as you share reminders and strategies, people also need to understand why… why this approach is better; for customers, for your organization, and for themselves . Sharing why to do something is just as important as what to do. Motivation is more about motive than mood.
A manager client expressed concern that a few of his employees didn’t seem to get who their customers are. He explained, “They’re attentive to external customers. But when responding to requests from internal customers (co-workers), they’re lackadaisical.” Unfortunately, he isn’t alone. Increasingly, I’m hearing from managers about headaches created when:
- Employees either neglect to submit documentation needed by other departments, or they do so with inaccurate or incomplete information.
- People need to ask co-workers repeatedly for the same services or paperwork.
- Employees are polite with external customers, but blunt – and sometimes insulting behind those customers’ backs – with co-workers.
That’s why one of the first topics we cover in my customer service training seminars is the definition of customers. It’s more than external customers. It’s anyone needing your service; including co-workers. Anyone who thinks they don’t have customers doesn’t get it. And their managers are noticing.
You’ve no doubt noticed the train-wrecks people create for their reputations by over-sharing on social media. Unfortunately, this lack of discretion isn’t limited to Twitter and Facebook. Here are some of the most common examples of customer service indiscretions.
- Emailing customers with bad news. The tone of an email can inadvertently offend and generate replies that are copied up the ladder; taking more time and involving more people than simply phoning. Better yet, go in-person.
- Telling the customer about your organization’s internal communication issues, lack of staff, etc. Customers don’t want to hear it and it makes you look bad for staying there.
- Complaining to co-workers about certain customers. Left un-checked, this boorish behavior becomes the norm. Customers start picking-up the vibe that they’re being regarded with more contempt than caring.
The reminder for all us is to think twice before speaking… or emailing, texting, etc.
You and your team members have limited hours in a workday to impact customers and help contribute to overall profitability. The question becomes, which activities pay off the most – trying to sell to new customers through prospecting and networking, or providing exceptional service to your existing customers? Check out this short video where I give you my take on this topic…
Contrary to popular belief, remarkable customer service isn't that much about friendliness. It is however, about creating trust. As David Horsager, author of The Trust Edge puts it. "A lack of trust is the largest expense we have." The question becomes, what's the fastest way to create trust with potential customers? Here's a suggestion I share in my seminars. Use two these words more often: "As promised..." In other words, start by making a commitment to customer - that you will actually keep - such as, "I'll send you that draft within 24 hours." Then when you deliver on that promise, begin with the words, "As promised..." No doubt you're already completing tasks for customers and coworkers. When you start with as promised, it registers with others that you actually deliver. It's a simple way to earn trust and differentiate your service.
It was a lesson in humility I'll never forget. Decades ago my first real job after graduating university was selling accounting systems door to door to businesses. After several days of making little progress, I finally had a manager agree to walk me to his office to hear my pitch. Following him, I said, "Thanks, I really appreciate your time." He turns, scowls at me and asks, "Why, is it not worth my time?" He's dead serious. It occurred to me that I was being too grateful and too deferential to a potential customer.
How about you and your team members? Is it possible that they may be putting the customer on too high of a pedestal? Or do they take the opposite approach and treat customers condescendingly? Employees who interact with customers walk a fine line of diplomacy when it comes to status. As I teach to sales and service teams in my Becoming a Trusted Advisor seminars, our goal is to position ourselves - not as higher or lower status - but equal in status to the customer. We don't want customers to view us as service providers. We want customers to value us - literally - as trusted advisors. Here are 3 easy ways to help make that happen.
Don't you know who I am?
When you or your team members introduce yourselves to customers, do you use your first name only, or do you share your first and last names? These days most people keep it casual and stick to first names only. In terms of status that's a mistake. Instead, when you offer your first and last name it tells customers, "I am comfortable being held accountable. If you have a question, you should ask for me, which is why I'm volunteering my full name. I'm someone important enough for you to know." All that enhanced status comes simply by adding your last name.
Are you talking to me?
A fast way to lose status is to start talking to someone who isn't ready and willing to listen. So before asking customers or coworkers a lot of questions, it's important to ensure you have their full attention. Unfortunately, common attempts to get attention actually hurt our status. Asking someone if they have a minute won't go over well if it's obvious that the conversation will take more than 60 seconds. That's why so much of what I share in my seminars and coaching tools is about being more thoughtful with word choices. Next time you're about to have a serious conversation with a customer or coworker, begin with a simple, "How's your time, are we OK?"
Since we're on the topic of attention, I've been asked by frontline staff what to say to customers who talk sideways to you while chatting on their cell phone. My tip - say to the customer, "I'll take care of you as soon as you finish your call." Then move on to another activity or another customer who's waiting for your attention. They'll finish their call in a hurry. And they'll start treating you less like a servant and more like a professional who deserves respect.
Who's that Know-it-all?
Hopefully, as you build a solid reputation for being dependable and reliable, you'll increasingly be dealing with your company's higher value customers who are making larger buying decisions. Then the question often becomes how do you establish status with a know-it-all? We don't want to get into a competition of who's smarter. Instead, consider using an approach called, you bring/ I bring. You might say to a business owner for example, "You're the expert on running a construction company. My focus is managing risk." In essence, the faster you show respect for your customer's expertise, the more receptive they become to yours.
Bottom Line - That manager decades ago who stopped me cold when I thought I was being polite taught me a valuable business lesson that stuck with me. Certainly, we want to be polite but that doesn't mean being subservient. The good news is changing a few words with customers has two outcomes: 1) customers actually pay attention. 2) They see you more as someone who has something valuable to offer
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