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The customer may always be right, but are they the right customers?
One of the customer’s of my company (SellerDeck) was incredibly picky about how their business wanted to use our software. We are a mass market, low price supplier and we’ve sold tens of thousands of products and services, so we normally can’t make changes for individual companies who typically pay a few hundred pounds each. However, this particular customer was very persistent. So one of our product managers contacted them, spent ages discussing their requirements and subsequently we agreed to make some changes. Responding in this way was exceptional and it cost us much more than we could ever make in sales from the particular guy.
But this customer isn’t at all grateful. In fact, recently they have become even more critical, and have continued to cost us more in support than almost anyone else. Would it have been better if we had said “no” in the first place?
Without sounding too critical, the customer in question doesn’t appear to be particularly successful, and I’m sure it’s not a coincidence. If someone can’t understand the business needs of their suppliers, they probably don’t know how their own customers tick either.
Some clients are very demanding, and whatever you do they are never satisfied. I’m not talking about customers upset with poor service, who need helping. Nor am I talking about customers that need a lot of handholding. Nor about customers who buy the wrong product, who should have their money returned. I’m talking about customers who fundamentally don’t understand the trade-off involved in human and business interactions.
Although the circumstances I’ve described are rare, they aren’t unique. My guess is that this applies to maybe one in two hundred customers. The cost in time and demoralising impact on staff makes it more difficult to give good service to everyone else. As a result, I am coming to the conclusion that for this small minority, we would do better to suggest that they do business with our competitors.
It’s critical not to provide our customer service team with any excuse for bad service, so there are some dangers in adopting such measures. However, applied incredibly carefully to a very small minority, surely it’s time to review the relationship with these sorts of customers?
This year's Small Business Week kicked off with the results of the latest Business Pulse Survey conducted by BT and their associated partners. Over 7,000 small businesses took part and the findings indicate a level of optimism to the tune of 75 per cent expecting to see an end to the recession by the close of 2010. The remaining 35 per cent are even more upbeat and state we will be clear of it at the start of next year.
One of the reasons for such optimism is the availability and vast improvements in technology for business. The bigger technology picture that we can draw from the survey findings detail that 61 per cent said that faster broadband speeds had had a positive impact on their business. 40 per cent said that better websites and ecommerce were benefiting them.
But for me, that isn't the best bit, oh no.
As a keen advocate of social media, it is encouraging to see this relatively recent addition to the marketing toolbox appear in the survey results as something which has registered on the radar of small businesses and is seen to be having a positive effect on their performance.
The stat that vindicates the banging of the social media drum reads as follows: '19 per cent of those questioned for the Business Pulse Survey said that social media, forums, Twitter, Facebook, etc, were having a positive effect.' The significance of this is that the need for such a statistic did not exist 12 months previously. Social media as a means of small business practice is on the up.
Having recently attended the Like Minds conference in Exeter, which examined the return on investment from social media, the support and need for social media business practices to be part of the small business agenda is ever increasing and it will be the innovative small firms which will capitalise on making the most of available technologies and be the wealth creators of the country.
'Reduce your carbon footprint', they said. Travel by train to 'ease the strain' they said. So, with a meeting in London last Monday and trips to Leeds and Manchester for the rest of last week, I booked all my journeys (Banbury to London to Leeds to Manchester to Banbury) on-line. As a customer, I had to work really hard to get it all done on the web but nonetheless, so far, so good... tickets to be collected at 'starting' stations (don't risk the mail, eh?). I printed the booking references, which confirmed all the non-transferable train travel details for each journey and I packed them carefully.
Life got interesting at Kings Cross, Monday evening for the trip to Leeds. Rows of ticket collection machines were three-deep in travelers but I got to one, entered my details and tickets were produced - outbound ticket, booking receipt, and credit card voucher. And that was it. So, I waited 20 minutes for the platform to be called - only 7 minutes to departure - then hurried to the barrier.
At the barrier, I was told that I needed another ticket in addition to the ones I held. I said I picked up all that was produced; I showed the on-line confirmation. No good. I was directed back to the ticket machines for the missing ticket. I explained that would have been 20 or more minutes ago so even if I had missed a ticket, it would be long-gone and I could only travel on that train or forfeit the fare - no deal.
Not only could I not identify exactly which of the many machines I had used, the 'help desk' had 30 or more people already queuing.
Panicking, I found a security guard who found me a railway employee. He took all the tickets and the on-line confirmation I gave him; he hand wrote: date, train time, destination, seat number on a blue slip only from the detail I gave him. AND HE ADDED NOTHING NEW...! The guy at the barrier saw the blue form but didn't check any detail....
If I wasn't athletic, I would have missed that train.
So, why this procedure? Security, Client Service - or 'jobs for the boys' on the railways?
Today is the first ever Like Minds conference in Exeter. The impressive line-up of speakers will be sharing their wisdom about social media and its applications in business. The big questions of the day include What is the return on investment from using social media? How can it be used to engage customers best? We will bring you all the crucial ideas from all the speeches and will pitch your questions to the various panelists throughout the event – completely live! Following the event is simple. Either bookmark this page now or register for email notification in the window below. Sit back and watch this live-blog page from 2pm this Friday or if you want to get more involved, you can submit comments using the system in the window below (when live) or by sending a question to the @MarketingDonut Twitter account. Like Minds Conference, Exeter
Freelancers can extend the reach of your business. A one-man business can be transformed into a full service agency with a liberal dose of freelance goodness. Let's take a quick look at how you can get the most from your freelancers and avoid problems.
Here are eight tips for making your interactions with freelancers profitable, fruitful and happy:
Tell them what you LIKE about their work more than you tell them what you don't like about their work. However confident and assured your freelancer is, they'll still love to hear what you like about their work.
It's better to guide people with praise than with criticism. Lead them towards what you love by telling them what you like. Quietly make it clear what you don't like, but tread carefully over their ego. The fastest way to demotivate your freelancer is with unmitigated criticism. And creative people don't create very well when their ego is struggling to recover from your hard knocks.
If you pay them substandard rates, they'll do substandard work. If they're too expensive, find another freelancer. You might think that haggling over the cost of work is a clever trick, but you inevitably reduce the quality of the work you receive. Not so clever after all.
If you want perfect work from your freelancer, make sure their understanding of your needs is as solid as yours. Without a clear brief, how can you complain if they get it wrong?
Freelancers are poor. Send them money. If you delay payments to freelancers their children will starve, their partners will go naked and their pets will die in agony.
Don't hire a designer and then tell them how to design stuff. You are not a designer. And if you are a designer, do the work yourself and stop wasting freelancers' time. Resist the urge to meddle in your freelancer's output. Have faith in their expertise. After all, it's what they do every day, for many varied clients.
Be considerate of your freelancer's time. A freelancer's time is their only product. Wasting their time is like stealing. Would you steal a CD? No. Would you rob a bank? No. So don't waste a freelancer's time.
As much as you should listen to your freelancer and heed their advice, remember that you know more about your industry and your business than they do. So teach them. Share your knowledge and help them produce better work.
At the start of the week we asked you to put forward your key ideas for a best practice customer service manifesto that small businesses should adopt and you didn’t let us down. Below are the best tips that any small firm should abide by, not on occasion but all the time. Thank you very much to everyone who contributed.
“Great customer service as a standard, not a bonus.”
Listening. By @picseli
Being nice, being helpful and being there. By @RealTrevorLever
Honesty. By @Web_D
Thinking about how we would wish to be treated in the customer’s position. By short couture
Understanding the context of our customers. How does your service affect their life/business? By @tazbride
Good communication and respect for your customers. By @atkirby
Show that we appreciate their business. Say thank you once in a while. By @SonjaJefferson
Think of our customers' needs. Focus on their problems and make ourselves invaluable. By @SonjaJefferson
Care (and don't just pretend). By Digital Jonathon
Treat our customers as we would like to be treated. Call when we say we will, even if we have nothing new to tell them. By @nigel_dean
Act fast, speak truth, admit mistakes, undertake to fix and follow through fast...do NOT pass the buck! By @DebraTemplar
Acknowledge it is OK to make mistakes but crucially, to learn from them. Be genuine and humble in our apology. By @jamesainsworth
Communicate in ways they appreciate. Find out how they want to hear from us. Don't spam. By @SonjaJefferson
Be reliable. Do what we say we'll do or be honest when we can't. By @SonjaJefferson
Measure our success - get regular feedback from customers on our service quality. By @benpopps
Be consistent. By Will Stone
Give authority to ALL staff to fix problems for customers without miles of red tape. By @DebraTemplar
Provide multiple contact channels. Customers are different and have diff contact preferences. By @benpopps
Empower front line team to recover service without having to go to a 'supervisor' - give a budget and ensure they spend it. By @michellecarvill
Incentivise 'extra mile' service from staff. By @benpopps
Always be thinking about what we can do that their larger competitors can't. By Andrew McMillan
Treat every customer as an individual. By Chris W
Adopt proactive communication...at beginning, middle and end of service delivery. By @benpopps
Transparency helps in customer service - if we are open and honest customers often feel they can trust more. By @ronkelawal
Stay in touch. Too many businesses chase new business when existing customers are much more valuable. By @mickdickinson
Have a phone number so a customer can contact a real person directly. By @yBCmels
The quicker a caller speaks to a real person the better, even if they gone on hold/into a queue after that. By @jakepjohnson
Have we missed anything important? Please share your thoughts and comments with us in the box below.