To keep customers in today’s competitive business market you must develop a more collaborative style.
Businesses try to influence customers by one of two ways. There’s the win-lose approach which is where you’re not friendly and don’t give at all.
The other strategy is one of influencing. It’s cooperative, gentle and much more effective. Power is shared and not wielded.
There aren’t many win-win situations in life because you generally have to give up something to influence people successfully. Having a cooperative strategy toward customer service is more of a win some-lose some strategy.
Here are ten basic rules for influencing your customers:
- Think problem solving. Treat each discussion as an opportunity to help your customer. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your customer will follow your lead.
- Emphasize partnering and teamwork. Find common ground. You both may want the same thing; profit, a fair deal, better business. You just need to find a way to get there.
- Emphasize benefits. The sale will help you but what will it do for your customers? Give them a reason to buy from you.
- Have a fall back. You may be tempted to give away too much if you have only one option. Think of alternatives you can negotiate.
- Line up you ducks. Support your position by showing other people like your product; you’re an expert in this area; similar proposals have been safe; similar proposals have benefited others.
- Get the other party to invest time. People are more likely to commit when they invest time discussing and considering your proposal.
- Keep emphasizing what you have in common. Especially when things get tough.
- Don’t issue ultimatums. Think about it. What’s your next move if you tell your customers, “This is your last chance,” and they say, “Okay, then, goodbye”?
- Watch the nuances. Telling customers that you want to be very honest with them may actually cast suspicion on yourself. Be conscious also of nonverbal clues: Look at them, not at your watch or out the window.
- Protect everyone’s self-esteem. This is not a competition. It’s not personal. It’s not about winning and losing. This is building a relationship.
Working with customers can get complicated. Sooner or later you’re likely to face some trouble spots. What do you do?
Suppose, for example, you have an irate customer. Something is wrong with the product, delivery has been delayed, or maybe your customer has had a bad day. Let him vent. Encourage him to tell you the problem in detail. In a minute or two he’ll calm down.
Then, ask some questions. He’ll see you’re listening and interested. Ask him what he would like you to do to make things right. Tell him you know how he feels, agree on a solution, and carry it out.
Now let’s suppose you have to give a customer bad news. The product is back-ordered. The customer’s credit has been cut off. A recurring problem is back. Be direct, state the bad news clearly and then, apologize sincerely.
It’s important that you give the customer hope. Suggest a remedy, such as offering to work out a payment plan until he squares off accounts with your company. You want to emphasize the relationship here and specifically point out how well things have gone in the past.
Let’s look at another example, where the customer asks for help you can’t give and have to refer him elsewhere. Tell him what you will do, not what he should do. Say, “I’ll help you find a way to accomplish what you want,” not “We can’t do that.”
In this situation, you need to take action to move the problem along. Put the customer in touch with someone who can help him, then, follow up to make sure the problem was handled and that the customer is happy.
What do you do if a customer is unreasonable and making your life miserable? Start by taking responsibility for the problem. Tell him how you feel without being accusatory. Say something like, “Jim, I sense you aren’t happy with our relationship and that bothers me because I want to work well with you and give you the kind of service you want.”
Listen to what the customer says. Some people don’t communicate well and may sound unreasonable even when they don’t mean to be. Then, agree on what you’re going to do, and then do it. It may not make the customer happy but at least you will have tried.
If you can’t improve things, live with it or pass on the account to someone else, but above all, remember that you’ve made a commitment to the customer. Keep it. No excuses!
About the Author
Joe Love draws on his 25 years of experience helping both individuals and companies build their businesses, increase profits, and success coaching programs.