MY COMMENTS IN BOLD.
The relationship started out as a mutually beneficial romance, but now your client isn’t feeling the love. Here’s how to avoid a costly separation.
You can still remember those early meetings. Like smitten teenagers, you instantly clicked. You talked for hours, swapping stories and sharing dreams. Suddenly you felt energized, open to new possibilities, connected to something larger. So you imagined building your businesses together. And you thought to yourselves: Finally, someone understands me. Now, your partner dreads taking your call. As time passed, you became strangers. That initial thrill faded as your paths diverged. Complacency soon followed. And the setbacks bred regret and suspicion. These days, you’re locked in a marriage of convenience. To your partner, you’re an expensive reminder of how quickly relationships can sour.
Too often, we forget that closing the business is the easy part. In reality, it’s the messy job of nurturing relationships—caring, consistency, collaboration, and communication—that separates organizations. Want to keep your relationships profitable and civil over the long term? Avoid lapsing into these eight faults:
1) Not Responsive: You take self-service to a new level. Your IVR is a Kafkaesque maze with every passage leading to voicemail. When customers finally reach a live person, it’s a clueless underling who can never find the decision makers. Since the sale, you’ve almost disappeared. It takes days to get their calls and e-mails returned; something always pops up and takes precedence. The courtship is truly over.
Often it’s not the arguments that bury relationships; it’s the silence and the doubts stoked when partners feel ignored and disrespected. Eventually customers tire of waiting and never being a priority. When you shook hands, you made an implicit agreement: We will be there. They lived up to their end when payment cleared. Now it’s your turn.
The initial sale is just the beginning of that business relationship. That’s when the work & commitment really begin. The true test of being customer centric is how you’ll treat and deal with your clients after the sale versus before the sale is made. Will you do what you say you will do? Will you reassure your clients by what you do instead of just by what you’ll say? In other words, act in such a way to reaffirm the clients they are safe? In addition, do it to meet or exceed your committed date. As a client, it doesn’t take too long before you know if the business relationship is getting off on the right foot.
In today’s world, voicemail may be unavoidable — especially with a small business of a few employees. As a provider, you also have to realize you can’t rely solely on voicemail — leaving voicemails doesn’t get your questions answered immediately and they don’t provide any closure on your task or situation. Even if your assistant takes a message can be much more encouraging to your clients, especially when your clients know their message will be returned in 2-3 hours if not sooner.
2) Don’t Solve Problems: The solution is down (again). But they’re afraid to call you. Maybe you made excuses or pointed fingers in the past. Or you refused to apologize or meet them face to face. You may have even pushed fixes off to another day, urging them to “work around the problems.” No, you never do what you say you will. You juke and jive, then cut and run. So much for “underpromise and overdeliver.”
As owners and managers, we rarely see ourselves as a risk. In reality, we’re a leap of faith to our customers. In any joint venture, they have so much to fear: embarrassment, betrayal, failure, and starting over. But you earned their trust because they believed you understood and genuinely cared about their interests. To protect your customers, follow the basics: Draft plans, set expectations, communicate frequently, and always follow through. Mistakes will happen, but your dependability can never be a question mark.
To serve your customers, follow the basics. Have a plan, set it in motion, & communicate regularly. Tell them clearly what you are going to do and when and do it. Even if mistakes occur, how you handle mistakes could be more telling than trying to avoid your client’s calls or not be forthright in your dealing with your client. Part of your brand may be your trust & commitment that you’ll be there for them. To protect your brand, your ongoing commitment is to continue to stay involved and provide the necessary support.
3) Inflexible: Ah, nothing is ever easy with you. Your paperwork would make a bureaucrat blush. When something goes wrong, you’re all too quick to point out the fine print. Whether it’s pricing or terms, it’s always your way, with no alternatives or room for debate. No interaction with you is ever fun; you wear your bottom line for all to see.
Customers get tired of jumping through hoops and always hearing “no.” These days, they have more options than ever—but they’re also stretched thin and run ragged. Capitalize on this reality by becoming the least-hassle partner. Look at the world through their eyes, keeping everything simple and pertinent. Handle all their arrangements yourself, so they need only show up. Be willing to custom-design your solution to their unique situation. Most important, listen to their feedback and act on it. True partners supply more than goods and services; they also act as a refuge, safety net, and confidant.
I like the author’s comments about becoming the least-hassle partner. Often, it’s necessary to jump through hoops or as a client, you feel there’s too many forms; this might be part of doing business but as a provider, how can you assist? Will you help them complete the forms or help guide them as they do the necessary work online? Will you be available during large blocks of time if they have questions?
Be empathetic and sensitive in your dealings with clients & prospects. How would you like your provider to deal with you as you deal with something new, challenging, or complex? Sometimes, professional business people naturally accept bureaucratic red tape as part of the profession but not all clients or customers are skilled in knowing how to maneuver around the red tape or how to handle certain parts of the process. Be an advocate for something they can rely on so they’re reassured you will handle this on their behalf.
Again, coach along the way to make it “hassle free” or mitigate the hassle as much as possible. In addition, set aside time in your schedule so they can reach you immediately if they hit a snag regarding forms or have a question.
4) Too Many Unexpecteds: It’s one surprise after another. Since they’ve made the commitment, they’ve seen a different side of you. Suddenly there are unexpected snags, delays, and costs, and key tasks always seem to fall through the cracks. The terms are in flux; they’re nickeled and dimed at every turn.
Your customers now use colorful language to describe you. At best, you’re considered inconsistent and unreliable. At worst, they call you slippery and unscrupulous. Hell hath no fury like a customer who feels ripped off. And word of mouth can be just as damaging as bad publicity or being served. Rather than bagging the elephant at the risk of losing the mouse, focus on accounts that are within your scope (and customers who hold reasonable expectations). Do your homework and be straightforward and transparent from the beginning.
I know some professionals who know their company’s websites are not clear or straightforward or the forms that need to be completed so what do they do. They coach their clients along. On the other hand, they may walk their clients through the application process or provide tips or tricks to help them. Clients often know you may not have direct control over your company’s websites but they appreciate you anticipating any trouble spots.
In addition, through coaching, it provides a good opportunity to get to know your clients better through some snags in the process and build repore. Moreover, the service you’re providing does not have to always revolve around charging them for your service.