It's not easy to deal with customers but that's often because we don't see things from their point of view. Benjamin Dyer of Powered Now suggests ways small trade businesses can alter their perspective to improve their customer service
Is the customer is always right? Actually, no. The problem is that even when they are completely wrong, they can always win. That's by criticising you online, refusing to pay their bills and worst of all wasting lots of your time.
That's why having a meltdown with a customer is always bad business.
It's also worth considering that work is much more enjoyable and usually more profitable when you are working alongside the customer rather than against them. It's the reason that understanding customers - seeing things from their point of view - is so important.
Understand the customer's perspective
Empathy doesn't come naturally to all of us, but at the heart of it is putting yourself in your customer's shoes. Just ask questions about how you would feel in various circumstances. What about when someone lets you down? If you are not treated with respect how do you feel? Do you like efficient service?
It's actually very simple - the first step in good customer relationships is treating people as you yourself would like to be treated.
Listen to your customers
We have two ears and one mouth. Many sales managers have co-opted this to tell their staff that they should listen twice as much as they speak. That's also good advice for dealing with any customer.
The first step in customer relations is to listen. Funnily enough, if you listen carefully at the first meeting and repeat what your prospective customer said back to them in your own words at the second, this can be remarkably helpful in making a sale.
Grow trust and show respect
Our survey of more than 1,000 homeowners found that 83 per cent said their biggest annoyance with trade companies was when they didn't turn up when they said they would. Don't be fooled by customers who say it's okay - missing appointments with no proper explanation eats into trust and using up this trust is a dangerous business. The less trust you have, the more likely it is that your customer will become unreasonable.
Signs of respect are never being fresh with customers (and particularly with their spouses) and thoroughly cleaning up afterwards. Offering to remove your shoes might seem like a small gesture but it will usually gain brownie points.
I've just picked on a couple of issues here but there are many others that impact on trust and respect. I continue to be amazed at how some people tell untruths and seem to assume that I'm stupid and won't notice. Most good customers are smart enough to see the real picture.
A few years ago, US researchers discovered it's not the useless doctors that get sued, it's the arrogant ones. It shows just how important respect and trust are in building good working relationships.
Fix issues before you do anything else
We all make mistakes and reasonable customers will understand. However, what they want is for mistakes to be acknowledged and fixed quickly.
Denying, delaying or fitting in work behind other priorities will inflame the situation. You can say to your current customer, “I'm really sorry, I can't come in today because a problem has developed with a previous job and I always stand behind my work”. This will turn the problem customer into a lifetime believer and will also impress the current customer. That's because you are demonstrating that you are trustworthy.
Avoid the difficult ones
A few customers are unreasonable and won't respond to the type of things I have been describing. These are best politely asked to go elsewhere. Unreasonable customers will waste a lot of your time, drain you emotionally and will probably mess around over the bill even when you've done the work. Leave them to the competition.
A happy life
Trust is the magic ingredient. It helps make you more money; it brings customers back time and time again; and it makes for a happy working life. And the best way to build trust is to see things from your customers' point of view.
Benjamin Dyer, co-founder and ceo of Powered Now Invoicing App for small businesses, helping tradespeople to simplify paperwork and save time.
Ben Dyer is CEO of Powered Now, provider of invoicing, estimating and scheduling software for small businesses. Ben was previously CEO of SellerDeck which he joined in 2008, after working for Xyratex, BSkyB and BAE Systems.