In an earlier posting (Manage Customer Expectations to Define Success) I knocked around the idea that properly setting expectations was a requirement for defining a project’s success.
Some inferred that a successful project equated to a positive reference, which could in turn lead to more business. I want to explore that concept in greater detail here, as I don’t believe that is necessarily the case.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t aim for happy customers — you should. But to assume that they sing your praises after the job is done, with no additional care and feeding, is optimistic at best.
Making them happy is only half the battle. Keeping the customer satisfied is the other half.
Unfortunately, the second half is often far more difficult than the first — kind of like the difference between a sprint and a marathon. Over time there are simply more opportunities for things to go wrong, and very often those things are beyond your control.
For example, equipment issues that are directly related to manufacturer problems can hurt the perception of your firm. And blaming the problem on the manufacturer exacerbates the problem. Your customer doesn’t care who created the issue; they just want it fixed.
They are used to everybody blaming everyone else, so if you want to stand out, don’t take the bait. Tell them you’ll work with the manufacturer to resolve the problem.
Negotiate on your customer’s behalf for a spare unit or advance replacement. If the project is covered under a warranty it may be more cost-effective to provide a spare, offsetting the cost of a return trip by your technician to put a repaired camera back into service.
Responsiveness is also important, but when a customer is asked to rate your responsiveness, the amount of time it takes to get a technician on site is only part of the equation.
Your customers are thinking about how quickly their calls are returned, whether or not you show up when you say you will, and whether that add-on quote you’ve promised is on their desk when you said it would be.
In my experience, people don’t expect everything instantly, but they do expect you to meet deadlines. If you need a week, ask for it.
Follow-up is important as well, and it’s a good way to mask “keeping in touch,” which is often perceived as annoying. Calling to say hello or catch up is a mixed bag — some people like hearing from you, but most are too busy to just chat.
But checking in to see if the camera you replaced a month ago has had any more problems is just good business. And there’s no double-edged sword here; if the camera has failed again, you’d rather take care of it than hear about it later from your competition.
When I worked for a CCTV manufacturer, we ultimately realized that customers only got in touch when things went wrong. From tech-support questions to tracking missing orders, we spent all customer-contact opportunities solving problems.
While I’m not claiming originality, we devised the concept of positive customer contact, or keeping in touch before anything went wrong. We used these opportunities to share tech tips, seeking their opinion on how products could be improved, inviting them to training classes and other events, and so forth.
We still heard from them when things went wrong, but by interspersing positive experiences we were able to build a stronger relationship that weathered the inevitable storms.
The idea of making a customer happy and expecting them to stay that way reminds me of the old adage “practice makes perfect”: It doesn’t. Perfect practice makes perfect.