I’ve written and spoken on the subject of managing customers fairly extensively because I feel that it is often done incorrectly—no, not just incorrectly, but extraordinarily incorrectly, cartoonishly so. In my experience, most customer management is done from a place of complete fear. How do we avoid losing the customer, how do we avoid offending the customer, how do we avoid failing the customer.
So defensive. So reactive. So rooted in negative emotion.
There is an allure to doing what the customer asks when concerns like the above are the foundations for your mindset. How do we avoid offending the customer? We always say yes! How do we avoid failing the customer? We deliver precisely what they ask for, even if what they ask for changes or is bad for them! How do we avoid losing the customer? By being unfailingly giving and saying ‘yes’ no matter what! We act out of fear and watch in horror as customers migrate from partner to bully and then to gone over the course of a relationship.
As a rule, customers don’t become bullies because they want to be bullies. Customers become bullies because they are frustrated into the role by order-takers. They pay money to have industry experts help them, they place an order for what they think they want, they get exactly that, and they are left no better off than when they started their endeavor sans experts. Their results are similar to what they’ve always gotten under their own guidance, but now their wallets are a little lighter. They’ve paid extra money to end up back where they started. How amazingly frustrating must that be.
“No, we can’t do that, but…” is the most powerful customer service tool in your arsenal. Observing the customer’s situation, anticipating their needs rather than listening to their wants, then selling their needs to them—that is the place where real customer service is born. It’s scary and it feels dangerous, but in an industry full of order takers trading on lowest cost, there really is precious little danger in rising above by focusing on the strength of your solutions rather than the attractiveness of your rate card. If what you are selling is your competitive rates, it stands to reason that what you are not selling is your amazing services. You’re in a race to the bottom, and nobody wins down there.
Nobody pulls up to a drive-thru window looking for a culinary experience, they pull up looking for a fast and cheap solution to the dining problem.
Anybody can order-take based on a customer’s desires—and anybody will—it takes vision and skill to create and enforce boundaries on behalf of a customer’s needs. Don’t pass requests out of a window in a brown paper bag, define the expert services you offer and use that commitment to deliver excellence on an attractive plate in an elegant dining room.
Nobody brags about the speed of the service or the amazing value they received at their local fast-food establishment, but they do extol the virtues of the amazing steak they had on their anniversary. It’s up to you how you want your customers to remember you.