Friday, 16 May 2014

Caring for your Customers

I had lunch with some fellow consultants a few days ago and we had a wonderful time comparing 'war stories' about our clients and the things they get up to. One particular topic came up as a theme - that of Customer Care.

It started from a comment about the lengths we try to go to so that we can keep our clients happy. We are all self-employed and all work with a number of self-employed clients - and so we are used to out-of-normal-hours emails and phone calls and accept it as going with the territory. We moved on to dealing with a client who is unhappy and agreed that it was all about making them feel happier - it doesn't matter whether we agree with them or not, there is some work to do to make them more content before we can talk about that.

One of my friends had a recent experience of some very poor customer service that they added to the conversation. He was representing a client in a  meeting with one of their suppliers. The relationship was on the point of breaking and the two were already talking very formally. As usual, he played the rather harder part in the negotiation (always sensible since, as consultants, we are at arm's length from my client and probably won't be part of the future of the relationship, if we can get it working again). He started off, however, by saying that his team - as their client - felt under cared for. The supplier attacked. The most senior member of their team said that he felt insulted, that they prided themselves on the quality of their customer care and asked my how my friend could say that when the customer service person was in the room. He replied that it was simple - as their client they felt less than cared for, and so it was not possible for them to feel that their customer service was working.

The supplier might have felt that their client's demands were unreasonable, or that they were communicating badly or that they hadn't read the contracts properly. All fair points. But their belief that their customer service was good was just wrong. It's very simple - their customer was not happy.

Now they might not particularly care if their clients are happy - I know quite a few suppliers like seem to act like that (hello, Greater Anglia trains...). That is a choice that every business makes. What is both unfortunate and actually dangerous for their business is to believe one thing and to act in a completely different way.

So - my consultant friend settled some technical problems and the contract will go ahead for now. But with that one reaction, the relationship between supplier and customer is dead. The supplier was more interested in defending their staff than in listening to their client. Long term - if that's how they react to criticism (and I would bet that they get quite a bit of it) this is not a business that will survive.

For the record - even if you don't agree with someone saying that your device is not any good - the best response is to say, "I'm sorry that you feel like that. Why do you say it? Can you please give me some examples?". Not to attack. D'uh...

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