Mark Mitchell has written a worthy eletter outlining the challenges of effective client service. His focus is on building materials manufacturers (meaning most readers here are either clients or influencers — and not the actual vendors) — and he explains how often they get it wrong, even while playing pipe service to the “great customer service” cliché.
Your largest customers make demands that you readily agree to. These can be around terms, fulfillment, special packaging, displays, product modifications and more.
If anyone but the largest customer makes a similar request, they are usually ignored with the attitude of “What do they expect?” Or, “We have the best customer service program, it’s the customer’s fault that they don’t recognize how great our customer service is.”
Mitchell correctly points that irritants and minor screw ups rarely cost enough client interest to lose current customers’ business. Inertia is a powerful force in business, and it is hard to switch. This “stickiness” explains in part the incredible value of a solid existing client base — it provides you with security and much lower operating costs, than if you have to constantly hunt for new business (which is naturally expensive to acquire.)
But, despite the mythology, I think many AEC businesses and practices fail on the client retention side simply because they don’t see the problem, until it is too late.
Mitchell explains three failings that drive clients nuts. While these examples apply to the building materials sector, how much can you say they don’t apply to your own business:
1. Uneducated Reps
According to your customers, 70% or more of the sales reps they deal with don’t know anything about their business. They may be a good salesperson and know their product, but they have no idea how the business of being a builder, contractor, distributor or dealer works.
“Here’s my product, it’s great, you should buy it but, I really don’t know why this is a good idea for you.”
2. Not Heard or Respected
Any request they make is not taken seriously. Your customer assumes it won’t even be considered. Even when they have a good relationship with their rep, the rep tells them, their request won’t be taken seriously.
The rep knows that no one really listens to them. Headquarters assumes that reps want everything so we can just ignore them.
Many of these requests are not a big deal to the manufacturer, but they would be very helpful to your customer.
3. Arbitrary Changes
Companies make arbitrary changes without any input from the customer. Here’s our new shipping policy. You don’t have a voice in this, it has been decided, and no we didn’t check with you.
Your customers have come to expect price increases with no or short advance notice. Price increases that are communicated with little or no justification or explanation.
I’d take these examples seriously, and really think about your customer service standards. Are you really just paying lip-service to the concept, or are you creating an environment where your clients truly believe they are treated like gold, because that, in fact, is their value to your ongoing business viability?
If you have a great customer service story, or a horror experience, please share it with me either by comment or through an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.