Ask (the right) questions – Part 4
A few years ago, a customer told me my competitor had dropped in and described a service that might improve his company’s productivity. My customer asked if we could provide this service and when I answered “yes” he asked why we had not told him about it. Wow! Was I embarrassed!
Fortunately, we still have this customer today, but it could have just as easily gone the other way. Turns out, my customer had changed some processes in his business that could have benefited from this new service. We did not know that because we had not asked the right questions. We learned a lesson from this experience and now we meet frequently with our customers to ask questions and make sure their technology is meeting their needs as their business changes.
Are you asking your customers the right questions? Previous articles in this column have been about asking good questions of your service providers. But, what about your customers? Do they have valuable information to share with you; answers to questions you haven’t asked that could strengthen the relationship by building more trust?
Might your customers be unhappy with your services and one more bad experience away from firing you? Surely, you must wonder if they think your products or services are of value to them, but how will you know if you don’t ask? Has something changed in your customer’s business that caused your product or service to be falling short of expectations? Has the customer hired a key employee that has experienced better service than you are giving? How are you to learn about these things if you don’t ask? What are the risks of not asking?
Communication is key
A study by TARP Research uncovered the fact that for every 26 unhappy customers, only one will bother to make a formal complaint. The White House Office of Consumer Affairs found that a dissatisfied customer will tell between 9-15 people about their experience, but rarely will they tell you!
Why is this? Here are some reasons,
- It requires too much effort. It’s easier to complain about poor service to your co-worker than to report it to your supervisor or the service company.
- There’s no point; nothing will change. So many of us have become apathetic about poor customer service, haven’t we?
- Unknown outcomes. Will it cause someone to lose their job? Will it eventually lead to changing providers and all the hassle that involves?
- YOU NEVER ASKED!
Yes, things will go wrong and you won’t hear about them for these reasons, but eventually you will hear. It won’t be to complain, it will be to tell you they’ve moved on to a new relationship. Its over, and you probably will never learn why. All bad.
So, what is the answer? Communication. Meet regularly with your customer and follow a standing agenda so that you have a mutually clear understanding of expectations. Your agenda might look like this:
- Follow up on items from last meeting (what were you to do, what was the customer to have done since the last meeting)
- What is working well? (this is the time to talk about victories: examples of what success looks like in the relationship)
- What is not working well? (you may have to dig for this, especially in the beginning, but something can always be improved upon – find it)
- What might change in the future that we need to plan for? (is there an expansion we need to be aware of? Is there a new service offering or product that might help the customer perform better?)
- Make a list of deliverables for the next meeting (why, who, what, how much. when)
- Set a date, time, and place for the next meeting. (it is surprising how many times this step is skipped!)
Asking your customer the right questions about their business and how the relationship is going is essential to building and maintaining trust. Remember, fewer than 4% of unhappy customers will make a formal complaint, but most of them will tell numerous others that you let them down.
Don’t leave a valuable customer relationship to chance and don’t let someone else define you as someone who doesn’t care. Be sure to always ask the right questions.
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About Davis Merrey
Davis, is Owner/CEO of TeamLogic IT of Oklahoma City, part of an international network of franchisees providing IT support for businesses. He brings many years of experience in a variety of technology related industries, leading teams in providing technical solutions that respond to critical customer needs. The company culture is defined by its Mission Statement: “To help our fellow employees and clients be successful”.
Davis earned a BS in Electrical Engineering from the Virginia Military Institute and an MBA in Management from Golden Gate University in San Francisco. He serves on several business related and non-profit boards of directors.