April 2013
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Client Relations – Part Two

Five more from the well

Steven R Calabrese
Steven R. Calabrese
Control Engineering Corp.

Contributing Editor

 


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Picking up from where I left off last month, I present a few more guidelines that I personally try to follow in my everyday routine. The purpose of this two-part series is not to preach and lecture as to how things should be done, but to simply share some of the things that I’ve found to achieve results. Take ‘em or leave ‘em, but even if just one of these ten guidelines strikes a common chord with you, faithful reader of my monthly discourse, then my work is done!

Missed call? Call back asap

In times gone by, there was always an air of doubt when you would call someone and leave a message on their cell phone. Did they get the message? Were they notified? These days, if you miss a call on your cell phone, either because you were using it at the time, or put it down and walked away from it, you know that you missed it immediately. For one, your phone shows you that you missed a call, and shows you the number. Furthermore, if the caller left a message, you know that as well. Can’t really play games anymore with that; it’s expected that you “got the message” in a very short time frame, so when you wait hours to return a call, what took you so long? May as well call back immediately, unless of course you’re driving, in a meeting, or at lunch. Other than that, there’s really no excuse, and it basically forces you to “make up” an excuse. I put myself in the opposite position. If I call someone and leave a message, I try to keep the message short and get to the point, asking for a callback to discuss in more detail. When I get a quick callback, the issue is fresh on my mind and I typically have the paperwork handy for discussion. Much appreciated, thanks for calling me back so quickly! On the other hand, if the callback comes later in the day, I may not be in the best position anymore to discuss. I just appreciate it more when someone gets back to me quickly, and so I try to do the same whenever I can.

Happy Monday

Several years ago, I worked with a fella that would say this, in a very sarcastic tone, every Monday. Say it to me, say it to others in the office, and say it on the phone to his customers! My advice, don’t say it. Ever! Same goes with saying to someone, “Gotta case of the Mondays”. Nobody cares. It’s a downer, and it reflects badly upon your personality and your attitude toward your job. That goes double if you’re in sales. You’re always on, always up, and always “bright and cheery”. Even if you’re not. Hey man, Super Bowl Sunday may have been yesterday (actually it was as I write this), but you still have to “put on a happy face” for your clients, or in the case of making/taking phone calls, “put on a happy…voice”!

You snooze, you lose

When you’re given “time”, don’t automatically default to “using it”. I again recently found myself in a three bid situation. The prospective client told me, “You have time, don’t kill yourself trying to get this proposal back to me. I took that to mean, “get on it right away, or you’ll be left behind!”. So I did my “due diligence”, put my time in, came up with an estimate and generated a quote that very same day. Turns out that the prospect called me back (and I’m presuming the other bidders as well) the next day, changing his mind and asking for it asap. I hopped in my car and was at his office in an hour’s time, and got a jump on my competition. By waiting because I was initially given “time”, I would have been under duress to get this thing done and out. By jumping on it right away, I was able to be the first to get a proposal in front of the prospect, and, long story short, prospect turned into customer!

Under-promise, over-deliver (what this doesn’t mean)

We’ve heard this a zillion times and are probably as sick of it as hearing “Exceed the customer’s expectations”. Duh. Over the years I’ve taken this to mean a much different thing than when I’d originally heard it. I was told early on, that if you promise less than what you’re capable of delivering, then you’ll be appreciated if you actually deliver what you thought you were capable of. I never really bought into this, sounded like some kind of self-preserving cop-out. The way I look at it, promise what you think you can deliver, and then find a way to deliver beyond what you’ve committed to. For instance, if I’m meeting with a customer, sizing up a retrofit project, and the customer asks me when I can get back to him with a proposal, I know that I can get something to him by the end of the week, and if it’s already Wednesday, that’s what my reply is. Instead of delivering on my commitment by the end-of-day Friday, I will find a way to get back to him by Thursday morning if at all possible. In addition, I will let my creative side chime in with something “above and beyond” what is being asked of me, to add value to my proposal and give the customer something more to consider.

If you can honor your commitments, you’re doing the minimum for acceptable customer service / client relations. Over-promise, under-deliver is not an option, and going above and beyond is the ultimate goal in truly satisfying your customer.

Control Solutions, Inc Responsiveness, and attention to “the little things”

The first part of this, “responsiveness”, goes a long way in customer service and client relations. “Why didn’t you call me back? Because I didn’t have an answer for you.” is not an acceptable scenario. When someone needs a response, they expect it, and whether or not you have the answer they’re looking for, you still owe them a response. I don’t always have good news when someone sends me an email or leaves me a voice message, but I’m always quick to respond. Dealing with a temporarily unhappy client is far better than avoiding communication altogether, for that exacerbates the situation. I learned this a long time ago in project management, and still abide to it nowadays as a sales engineer. I think that in the end, however things turn out, the customer will at the very least respect you for being responsive, and keeping the lines of communication open at all times.

The subtitle from Part One of this series was “Sometimes it’s the little things that make a difference”. I cannot stress this enough. Throughout this two-part series, this has been the underlying theme. Believe it or not, the little things do make a difference, and when you consider how many little things there are, you begin to understand just how important it is to fire on all cylinders and handle all the little things with equal attention. Doesn’t do any good to “pick and choose” which of these little things you’re going to deliver on. Gotta try and deliver on ‘em all. In the end it’s what sets you apart from the competition, and, with a little bit of luck, what gets you the order!

Tip of the Month: Be Yourself. Way back in the very first paragraph in the first part of this two-part series, I stated that it doesn’t hurt to simply be yourself. Quite the opposite, in that it helps immensely. Try to be something you’re not, and see how much effort it takes to come across with any level of integrity. Then just be yourself, and realize how easy it is to connect. In the end, we all want to be treated with honesty and integrity. So let your experience, your personality, and you’re true self shine through, and others will take notice and respect that.

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