Preventing Customer Crankiness

Happy Monday Morning to ya!

I really liked this post I got in the mail from Stuart R. Crawford about keeping your customers from being Cranky. In all honestly – it applies to your staff, your peers and even your personal relationships. The underlying foundation of it all is good communication by everybody with clearly defined intentions and outcomes.

Have you had communications breakdowns that have lead to some tough situations that you’ve had to clean up or do damage control afterwards? Do you have any other suggestions you can add to help us all out?

Rick 
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Stuart R. Crawford (Calgary, Alberta)

5 Tips that will allow your customers to wake up on the right side of the bed

When you finish a long day at the office and jump in your car, do you expect it to turn on when you turn the key? Of course we do. We live in an always on world where many people including the customers that we serve have become totally accustomed to things just working, including their Information Technology solutions. So what would happen if you elected not to perform your schedule maintenance on your car, it will eventually fail and more often than not, at the worst time possible.

Your reliable car fails you, guess what happens next? You probably would curse and the stress levels would increase. You become cranky and your prefect day now could be ruined.

Where does this “it should always work” mindset come from? Is it the executives who are sitting on the subway platform expressing how easy it is to setup their email on their phone in five minutes or the competitor with no prior knowledge of the network saying “yeah, a wireless router, no more than 20 minutes” without having all the facts of the network. The world is portraying an always on, always connected and always working picture.

General crankiness with technology appears to be on the rise. Is it because of the stress in the marketplace, are people in general just overworked? Are they getting what they were promised? Were they promised something and didn’t get what was asked for? Did their IT provider live up to their expectations? Where targets, outcomes and needs clearly communicated in both directions? Did the IT Professional understand what the client needed and the client understands what was being delivered? IT Professionals combined with their clients are dropping balls everywhere and some are paying the price.

Understanding, managing and then delivering on the expectations of our clients is a day to day job. Those professionals who understand the desired outcome, clearly communicate, follow through, follow-up and then confirm that all is well are more successful in today’s world than those companies who do not. Jeff Anderson from Red Deer’s Bulletproof Networks states “there is virtually no situation involving an unhappy client who could not have been prevented by carefully managing their expectations from the outset.” Jeff also adds “the ability to anticipate and effectively manage client expectations is the skill we work hardest at building in our staff.”

What can the average IT Professional do today to prevent customer crankiness? Technology, compared to many other industries in today’s world is just something that should work. It should never fail and you also are a super hero. Preventing crankiness starts with understanding, training and constant development of your own skills. Clients are always going to have evolving business needs, especially today where companies change direction on a dime. What are your doing to plan, anticipate and react to these changing needs.

Dealing with customer crankiness is all about managing the expectations. Now when you have someone asking you to setup their wireless email and expecting in five minutes, a reality check needs to kick in with the actual scenario. It all begins and ends with communications and truly understanding and managing, the wants and needs of your clients and then delivering or making recommendations on those requests or even finding a suitable alternate.

One alarming fact, the art of communication is a truly dying trend everywhere in today’s world, not just in the technology world. Customers are not communicating effectively with suppliers, suppliers are not communicating with customers and no one is 100% sure what needs to be done, leading to chaos and confusion. And sometimes that nasty assume word rears its ugly head, we assume we know what are clients want, we assume that they are looking into things, we assume that they are taking responsibility and they assume the same about us and when things breakdown – the finger pointing came commences. Everyone misses what is expected.

Here are 5 basic tips to prevent customer crankiness in your organization:

Dialogue – Effective Communications is a rapidly dying art. Emails are sent that are extremely vague, quality questions seem to have disappeared and everyone is just too busy talking, texting, checking email and not listening to what is going on around them. The first critical step to ensuring that your customer’s needs are met (after turning off your cell phone) is to stop talking and to start asking quality questions. Do you remember in school when the teacher would say “there is no such thing as a dumb question”? The same is true in business. I would rather ask a question than assume anything. IT Professionals today need to ask questions, open our ears and close our mouths. Engage in quality communications with your clients and the key secret, over communicate. There is nothing wrong with over communicating with your clients, team and peers. Personally, I would rather be known as an over communicator than someone who never gets back to anyone or shares what is happening. The secret here Communicate, Communicate, and Communicate!

Affirmation – Did you understand everything the customer wants and needs from you? Did you verify everything just to be completely sure? Once again, I would rather look foolish confirming the customer’s needs than looking cool and getting things incorrect. Email works well here, after a dialogue with a client summarize the points in an email or other correspondence with your client and ask them “did I get everything right”, don’t worry they will tell if you did or didn’t. It all comes down to communication once again. The biggest failure in business today is that lack of effective communications. Once the customer confirms that all is well, I recommend you file away the information for future reference. I have learned that email works really well because people have a tendency to forget things.

Follow through on your commitments – When you promise to do something, do it! Nothing more to add on this one, you may want to include a section in your affirmation email listing everyone’s action items and deliverables and the timelines that have been committed to. If a supplier, vendor, or even client fails to meet a deliverable, remind them. They are human just like you. Don’t brush targets and deliverables under the carpet and hope one day they will be needed.

Follow up – Another dying art is the ability to follow up, it happens everywhere from the garage mechanic to the IT Professional, lack of follow up is all around us. We adopt the “they will call me if it doesn’t work” mindset, when the client has to call you to come back or fix something over again and it happens to repeat itself over and over, customers start to get cranky in a hurry. However, when you take the initiative to follow up with your clients they are more likely to be open and thankful for your call.

Closure – this is the final critical component to ensuring that customer crankiness is prevented, clients are impressed when everything is confirmed thoroughly with them. A simple meeting, email, phone call or voice mail closing off a call or request can go miles in ensuring your customer relationship is rock solid and you are exceeding their expectations. If something hasn’t been picked up in your follow-ups the closure stage is the catch all. This is where you confirm that all is well and they are happy with the solution, service call or even a quote.

Simple communications and managing the expectations of your clients will lead to a satisfied relationship with your client; a happy workforce and a profitable business that keeps your staff engaged and the ship afloat. Managing the needs of your clients is a daily operation that should not be taken upon lightly, you need to have your best people focused purely on the account relationship and keep the day to day technical, sales and other business operations close by to be called upon when needed.

Gone are the days of just meeting the expectations of your clients, in today’s world IT Professionals must exceed them every day. Exceeding expectations is a daily task, are you up to it?

Stuart Crawford is the Vice President of Business Development for IT Matters Inc. A Calgary based Professional Services firm focused on delivering Managed IT Services in Southern Alberta. IT Matters is a Gold Microsoft Partner and Small Business Specialist. Visit their website at http://www.itmatters.ca. You can contact Stuart at scrawford@itmatters.ca or through his blog at http://blog.itsuccessmentor.com.