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Fix the Customer First: Getting in Front of It
Keeping the customer informed makes obtaining customer satisfaction far easier!
This is the first in an ongoing subseries about interacting effectively with those you’re doing tech work for. Your thoughts, responses, and ideas are most welcome!!!
Have you ever hit that, “oh, this is bad…” moment?
Who hasn’t? In any service business you’re in the business of fixing problems, and some problems are harder to fix than others. There are all kinds of unforeseen problems that may arise in the course of fixing something, anything.
Who Calls Who Makes All the Difference
What is the very next thing you’re going to do?
Hope is not a strategy! You certainly can hope you can resolve the problem before it becomes a delay, or perhaps a disaster. But what if you can’t?
Many business technology professionals shudder at the thought of calling there customer to tell them a problem has arisen that may cause a delay that exceeds the service level agreement (SLA). They envision their customer swallowing them whole, chewing them out, or some other even worse fate. They can just hear the customer screaming back at them. Not fun.
It’s called ‘call avoidance’ and everyone gets it sometimes. Perhaps you have to call an in-law, or a government agency, or some other unpleasant callee. It’s natural. Nobody wants to have difficult conversations, get yelled at, get accused of all kinds of incompetence or malfeasance. It’s downright unpleasant.
It seldom happens!
The usual reality is that a customer who receives a proactive call from you to relay bad news about problems or delay usually appreciates the call. It keeps them informed, so they can answer their superiors if they’re asked about your progress. It also gives them an opportunity to explore other potential alternatives with you. Perhaps a loaner unit, or a temporary workaround. In any case, they respect the fact that you stepped up to the problem and made the call. They appreciate it. They appreciate you.
You’ve just turned a negative into a super-positive. Now go solve the problem!
Let’s Look at It the Other Way Around
So, you decided to hope for the best and not make the call. Do you notice the hair standing up on the back of your neck every time the phone rings? There’s good reason for that.
Now the phone rings and it’s for you. It’s your customer calling to find out the status of the issue you’re solving for them, the one you’ve had a problem with.
Rest assured, they absolutely expect you to tell them that everything’s proceeding along nicely and you’ll have the resolution completed shortly, well within the deadline.
Imagine their surprise, and not in a good way, when you sheepishly mumble that you’ve had a problem that is causing a delay, so you’re likely not to be able to deliver the resolution in a timely fashion. And just how do you think they’ll respond to that?
It won’t be pretty.
It’s All About the Trust in the Relationship
While some customers start off by giving you a hard time, most customers start out making a deposit for you in their “trust bank.” They extend you their trust by default.
Every time you call them with good news or bad, you’re making another deposit in that “trust bank.” Even if you’re telling them it’s going to cost far more to achieve this resolution, the fact that you felt comfortable calling them about it helps to increase their trust in you, and their confidence that you’re going to do the right thing for them. You’re proactive in a startlingly reactive world. That makes you one of the good ones.
The mortal enemy of trust is surprise. No customer wants surprises when it comes to resolving any issue that is delaying their work and their productivity. While you’re thinking about what needs to be done, they’re thinking about how much every lost minute is costing them.
One of the best things you can do at times like this is to put yourself in their shoes. See the world from their perspective. Even express your understanding of how this delay is impacting them and apologize for that, even though it may not be your fault. They’re your customer and you care more about their well-being than about blame or cost. Express your commitment to resolving the problem as quickly as possible. Reinforce their trust and confidence in you.
Cherish that trust and give it the attention it deserves.
Those Who Communicate Survive and Thrive
Over the past few decades, we’ve all experienced several substantial disasters. The falling of the towers on 9/11. The economy collapsing in late 2008. COVID-19 just a few years ago. Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Floods.
On each of these occasions many business technologist firms and individuals went out of business or lost their jobs. Others, however, survived and thrived.
The difference was in the relationships. Those who had great relationships with their customers stepped up to help in any and every way possible. Customers truly appreciated the help in their time of greatest need. If they were able to remain in business, they would preserve their relationships with those they knew they could depend upon, those they could trust.
Those were the business technologists who never failed to keep a customer notified of any delay or anomaly in the course of the service they were providing. They were the ones who showed up at the customer’s office periodically just to get an update on how things were going, and how well their service was doing in helping them build their business. In most cases, they were people who called each other by their first names. Beyond being customers, they had become friends.
Parting Thought: You may be the most technically proficient engineer the world has ever produced. Brilliant, tremendously deep in knowledge and skills. If you’re not fixing the customer first, keeping them informed, building that friendship with them, you stand a chance of losing them the next time things go anything less than perfectly. Be sure you’re building those “soft” interpersonal skills right alongside your techknowledge!