If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. – Matthew 5:41-41 (NIV)
In the last few weeks, we have been considering the subject of how to successfully manage your customers. It is important to iterate the obvious but often ignored fact that every selling activity is rooted in relationship building. Those who relate best sell most!
In the passage of the Holy Bible quoted above, Jesus established a plank of relational ethics that should govern our interface with others. I have chosen to call it the Extra Mile Principle. How does this relate to the marketplace? Let us assume that the original contact with the customer and the attendant sale after his fears have been assuaged enough for him to commit to the transaction constitutes the agreed mile. But you must be willing to go a little beyond the normal call of duty. The extra mile entails your capacity to build on the relationship initially established. Endeavour to cultivate friendship with your customers beyond the sale. Why? Access into a customer’s heart automatically also implies access to his network!
Jesus demonstrated this in His earthly ministry. He had interactions with crowds yet took time to be personal. His detour from His Samaria destination to minister personally to a woman by the well, His personal attention to Zaccheus, His stopping to attend to blind Bartimaeus in spite of the presence of a huge crowd are glaring examples. The question that you should be asking yourself after every transaction is “What more can we do for the customer?” This is very important because the customer is not only in the market to buy a product or service. He is also investing on an EXPERIENCE. The quality of that experience is what determines whether he will continue to do business with you or not. Remember that if your business is really doing well, you would have noticed that 80 per cent of your business is sustained by repeat customers! If the first experience was awful, you can kiss the repeat goodbye. Nobody wants to watch a bad movie twice!
How do you want the customer to remember you each time he encounters you or your brand? This is the key issue. We all capture moments in memories. So, remember that the moments of transaction are also creators of memories. Let me share a personal experience here.
A few days ago, I had to cancel a business deal I was pursuing with a company in the USA that was to manufacture some items for me. I had made contact with them earlier in the year and we had had discussions to an appreciable level. As a concluding step, I decided to visit them in the USA to dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s. On arriving the United States, I called my contact person and we fixed a time for me to visit. She was very nice on the phone and we had useful discussions on the project. But she was not the person who would take the final decision. Unfortunately, the key person was out of town at the time I was to visit, so I had to cancel. When eventually he returned to the office, nobody from the company reached out to me as agreed. I took it upon myself to call. When my call was connected to him, you would have thought that I was a pest or vermin who was asking him for a favour! He literally did not listen to anything I had to say. He just reeled out conditions on a take-it-or-leave it basis. You would have thought that he was a Headmaster barking orders at one of his pupils! And to think that I would be spending my own money! I was shell-shocked! As soon as I got off the phone with him, I called the contact person and told her without reservation that the deal was off! She apologized and tried to make me change my mind but it was too late. This was beyond her. If the person at policy level was truculent, it was bound to affect the entire process. My project would have fetched the company a few thousand dollars! I chose to take my business elsewhere! The good thing about the marketplace is that the customer usually always has alternatives to you. You choose to call it competition but it is really an alternative. No business can sustain a monopoly for too long. So ride the waves while you have them but do so on the sail of relationship. I have always postulated that there are three rules of customer engagement. The first is that the customer is always right. The second is that the customer is never wrong. And the third? When in doubt, refer to Rules one and two! If your customer must be king, you must build him a throne and let him reign on it!
I would be the first to admit that some customers actually rule and conduct themselves like despots in a way that makes you rue building them a throne. Customers can sometimes come across as pests and implacable foes. But if you are confronted with one like that, it is not your call to burst his bubble. Let him get his comeuppance elsewhere! No matter what happens, there are some things you should never do to a customer. These are the things that I call the deadly sins of customer relations. We will proceed to look at some of them over the next few editions.
The first one that I would like to address has to do with questioning the rationale behind a customer’s anger. Do you remember getting angry over something and mentioning it to the person who provoked you, and instead of him or her addressing the subject of your grouse, he turned round to tell you that what happened was too trivial for you to get angry about? How did that make you feel? Your angry customer is like that!
You are not the one in control of anybody’s anger button. So you cannot determine how and when it would be pressed. If someone has parted with money to procure a solution and the experience with the brand or the process of service delivery ticks him off, do the needful. Address the issue. Don’t say, “How much did you even pay? You can take your money back if that’s what you want. I don’t care!” It’s HIS money remember? But he CHOSE to spend it with you! Never forget that it is more than the money.
Listen to what he is saying as well as what he intends but is not able to communicate in words. Never trivialize it. Instead, deal with the issue even with exaggerated importance. When the flare has cooled, he is the one who would turn round and tell you that it was really nothing serious but he just had to express his mind! Meanwhile, when he started, you would have thought that someone had put a knife to his throat!
Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!