Many of us get stuck in a bad cycle where we try to get results, but we end up feeling powerless to actually get the tasks done.
Let me share what I have learned about helping customers, and why it’s better to define your philosophy, write out policies & procedures, and expect at least a few people to be unhappy no matter what you do.
This is part 6 of a 7-part series.
To watch the full video, check out:
Lessons Learned in Serving Customer Needs
As a business owner, the pressing need to increase sales numbers can lead to a Scarcity Mindset… which happens when you believe that you must accept any customer, even if they are not Ideal — or else your company will lose money.
But this type of thinking makes it hard to step back and see the risks of serving people who won’t benefit from your services or products.
In my own experience, I have made my share of mistakes while serving customers who were not ideal for my skills and strengths. Here are 6 things I learned about serving Ideal Patients while working as a consultant:
1. Define the expectations.
I know so many owners who don’t document their discussions with a potential customer before moving forward with providing the service. If you don’t put anything in writing, that will come back to bite you. Even the most patient and understanding customer could become difficult if they experience inferior service or a lag in communication when they face a problem. Companies that don’t charge payment upfront are at higher risk of losing money if a customer receives the benefit of their work but isn’t expected to pay until 30, 60, or 90 days later.
Without documentation to demonstrate exactly what the customer will receive in exchange for payment, the business owner is vulnerable to a loss of income. So it’s a good idea to make expectations clear from the very beginning of the sales process.
Ideally, this takes the form of a written contract. Although you don’t need it to be extremely wordy or have a lot of “legalese,” a contract document should spell out:
- what the project is and what its scope will be,
- who it’s for,
- what the outcome measures will be, and
- how any problems will be handled (such as delays and catastrophes).
2. Explain your philosophy.
A philosophy is your understanding of the world. It describes what you believe should happen, and how you perceive that things should work.
Your philosophy can serve as a great communication tool; it is often a reflection of unconscious barriers and flaws in your communication style, and deep-seated beliefs about how these can be overcome to produce a better outcome.
By exploring and sharing your beliefs to your customers, you give then a chance to decide whether your these align with their own beliefs. Company owners who do not take the time to decide what they fundamentally believe have a higher risk of serving customers with diametrically different views — and this can come back to bite them later on.
If you are not clear about your beliefs or have trouble communicating them, your customers may feel surprised or even disappointed. They may perceive that your service or product will be delivered in a certain way… but if the results aren’t what they expected, they may express frustration in a public way using public forums (such as online boards and 1-star reviews on social media such as Yelp and Facebook).
While you don’t have to share everything about your beliefs, you should at least explain how you do business and what’s most important to you… and consequently what difference your services or products can make for customers, both in quantity and in quality.
3. Provide clear policies and procedures.
P&Ps are simply a written set of instructions that state:
- Here’s how we do business.
- Here is what you can expect.
- Here are the ways we will overcome challenges to provide a great result.
You can include a lot of things in your P&Ps:
- how customers are contacted,
- how they sign up for your service,
- how it gets delivered,
- who will follow up and at what point in the sales process,
- what happens if they have questions,
- and always… what is the next step?
I have made a lot of mistakes by leaving processes undefined for my customers. As a business owner, it’s your responsibility to lead the buying process and explain to your customers exactly what will happen and which options they have at every turn.
You can also map out your sales process and identify vulnerabilities that are causing you to lose customers. These are often:
- When they are deciding whether or not to buy from you,
- When they order an appointment or product,
- When information is collected for followup after the service or product is delivered,
- A follow-up discussion about additional services or products, and
- A customer satisfaction survey and testimonial request.
All of these provide great opportunities to connect with your customers and delve into their pain points; but they are also commonly overlooked events where a customer can lose confidence in the business because a problem has been overlooked, or their additional questions are not satisfactorily answered.
4. Give both parties an easy way out.
An “exit clause” is a great idea. Last week, I ordered a product online, and it arrived damaged. All I had to do was check my email, click on a link, fill out a form, and drop the product off at a mail delivery center to take care of the problem. Easy peasy. The company that sent me the product contacted me to make sure I was satisfied, and my trust in them has gone up significantly.
Customers want you to know when something goes wrong, but many business owners are in denial about this… or they’re scared to get negative feedback.
Risk intelligent business owners will plan ahead for the possibility of a customer being unhappy. At any point in the buying process (especially in healthcare or personal and hands-on services), the customer should have the option to opt out of the agreement if they feel nervous or uncomfortable.
Customers should never feel forced into a sale, and they shouldn’t feel victimized—especially true if you are providing a “soft service” such as therapy, coaching, training, or treatments that require a period of time before seeing results. I’ve talked to a number of patients who are uncomfortable with a practitioner’s methods, but they feel too embarrassed to say something during the session. So they simply endure it… and never show up to any follow-up appointments.
If any of your customers suddenly leave but never tell you why, this could be a signal that your sales process is too aggressive or the visit doesn’t allow them to opt out. Some customers are pleasant initially, but later they will refuse to pay or dispute the charge. A customer may get increasingly aggravated and disruptive.
All of these are indicators that communication is breaking down, and you should take immediate steps to find out the root cause before it gets worse. With an exit clause, both parties can end the relationship without any hurt feelings.
5. Allow difficult conversations to happen.
Angry customers don’t usually start out angry; they tend to build up resentment over time because nobody is listening to their concerns.
When you create a culture that rewards honest and open conversation, this allows customers (and staff!) to let you know what is bothering them, and unpleasant topics will not fester to the point of toxicity.
One of the topics that people find most difficult to talk about is MONEY. Find out what you can do to overcome an avoidance of financial topics in my 3-part series:
6. Stay true to your goals.
Don’t let others’ opinions sway you from doing what you want to accomplish.
If a potential customer asks you to do something that is not in your wheelhouse, or something you don’t feel qualified to do — or even if you’re simply not interested in doing it — my advice is to not be swayed by emotion. Don’t get so blinded by admiration and praise that you agree to do something that could cost your company a lot of money… without doing your homework first.
Offering to do too much (which I call the “Everything to Everyone mentality”) is not a good business approach.
Instead of trying to attract every type of buyer and providing every service that customers ask for, a better approach is to evaluate whether the new service or product aligns with your ultimate business goals.
I’ve seen this happen a lot, and I think it’s because we all want to be appreciated. One of our greatest fears is Ego Death: the possibility of losing the esteem and approval of others. So we sometimes let their interests and goals take over, rather than being very clear:
“[This is] what I do, [this is] who it’s for, [here are] the benefits my customers expect, [here’s] the value they will get, and [these are] the boundaries of what I will and won’t do.
If you’re asking for something outside the scope of my work, it’s not something I can help you with; but I will recommend someone else who can.”
Customers tend to respect an owner who will set boundaries and who has the self-assurance to say what needs to be said. (Self-Assurance is one of the least common of all StrengthsFinder talents; read more here)
Take a look at this post to learn more: What to Do When You Realize Your Customer Is Not a Good Fit
In the final post of this series, you’ll hear about books I recommend on the topic of Ideal Customers. Read it here.
If you are interested in hearing how you can reverse a toxic workplace, find out more here!
Grace LaConte is a business consultant, writer, workplace equity strategist, and the founder of LaConte Consulting. Her risk management tools are used around the globe, and she has successfully reversed toxic work environments for clients in the healthcare and non-profit fields. Grace specializes in lactation law compliance & policy development, reducing staff turnover after maternity leave, and creating a participatory work culture.