I am one of those people who believes its all about sales. You sell something and then you build it. You sell something and then you serve it. Sales is primary. Even in the modern world of tech, somebody has to like your app, page or device enough to use it and massive users lead to advertising and the monetization of value. If functionality were all that mattered, there would still be a “My Space.” Is there?
And those of us who have a role in sales know the incredible effort that goes into a sale. It starts with calls, letters, emails, websites and works towards early morning flights and meetings and thank you notes and random “hey I was thinking about you” messages. Sales cycles can be months, even years. So what is the biggest tragedy? A customer you already have that leaves your company or loses trust and confidence in you and your team. And how does that happen?
Well generally customers are lost due to service or product errors or someone else coming along with a better price or superior product. And when this happens, if you are not engaged with your customers and are not LISTENING to them, you will lose them. All that work. All those trips. All those hotel rooms. All those flights. All those overly rich dinners not good for your health. All those missed school plays and recitals. All those times you would have rather been home. Gone and for naught.
The picture above is a pickle I got at a Pot Belly in Dallas, Texas on November 27, 2012. This picture is an emblem of bad product and service for me. I should have had it bronzed. I and a colleague were eating there once or twice a week. I ordered my sandwich with a whole pickle and got this pickle that looked as if someone had taken a bite out of it. I took it back. I asked the guy behind the counter, “hey, did you notice something wrong with this pickle?” He said, “Yes, but don’t worry, no one took a bite from it, it looked bad so I cut that section out.” He didn’t offer me a new pickle, just a don’t worry about it. I haven’t been back in nearly two years. Imagine if Pot Belly was trying to get me to come to their restaurant for the first time. I would have got a free pickle!
As suppliers, we are often two faced in this way. Ask yourself about your suppliers’ behavior. What would you rather be, a new customer or a returning customer? I go to a lot of restaurants. Here is one of my favorite mistakes. How do you like it when they ask, “anyone here new or not been here before?” If so, gee, you get special treatment. What a backwards way of thinking. You ought to have something for the people who have been there before also. In the world of business, we worship new customers while some of the old leave us-neglected. We accept it as natural churn. Really?
And customers often do not tell you they are not happy before they change their behavior. If they do, send them a thank you note, because it is not a requirement. How many times have you been dissatisfied by a product or service? What do you do? Do you complain? Do you tip less than 20%? I read a study on tipping that is highly instructive. It said people tip 20% or whatever they usually tip without varying for service variances. Like you and me, if our customers are dissatisfied, they just stop coming; they just stop buying.
I recently heard through the grapevine that a customer of ours was looking for new suppliers. They didn’t complain to us. I don’t think we did a bad job, but we didn’t do the job we sold. We sell excellence and seek to perform in an extraordinary fashion. We measure the daylights out of everything to achieve greatness. But this customer wasn’t getting the right level of attention. The customer never complained to us, they simply started talking to competitors.
So given that customers don’t often tell you when they are unhappy or not pleased with your product or service, how can you “listen” to them? There is one critical approach that will save you customers. Treat your customers like you would an introvert. Treat customers like they are shy. Extroverts are easy to listen to because they tell you what they want, when they want it and how they want it. And if you fail to perform, they are in your face. Introverts on the other hand need to be asked. If you aren’t listening well to an introvert, you aren’t asking.
Asking can be done right and wrong. If you go to a luxury brand hotel restaurant, think Ritz or Four Seasons, there is a survey in every bill. But its work to fill out a survey every time. It puts too much of the feedback work on me. And there are websites for feedback but you have to remember to go to them and find the time to write something up on Yelp or Trip Advisor or other rating system. I think Uber does it right. Uber has a simple rating system and I don’t have a problem rating drivers every time, because its easy. Just give them 1-5 stars. It comes with the receipt. I love it actually. The worst thing you can do after you give someone bad service or product is make them work to give you feedback! My advice to the luxury service brands? When guests check in give them a key that has a rater on it so as I experience your hotel or restaurant I can be giving you quick feedback that is at my finger tips.
If you don’t want your customers to be able to rate you simply and with immediacy? You need to return to the Flinstones and forget about the Jetsons.We live in a world that is getting more and more immediate, more and more instantaneous and more and more transparent. A dentist shoots a lion in Zimbabwe and is outed and rightly I think vilified a short time after he returns to the U.S. That is our brave new world of immediate feedback. Treat your customers like a shy friend. Ask in a non-perfunctory way how you are doing and how you can improve. Treat existing customers as good or better than new customers. Find a way to make giving your company feedback easy and simple. And then listen and act like your “shy” and existing customer is your first customer. Because they aren’t really shy, they have simply decided that it is easier to just get someone else to do the job than fix you and your company. After all, to your competitor, they are a new customer and will be treated as such. Oh, and finally, never, ever give someone a pickle that looks like somebody already took a bite out of it.
Listening As A Martial Art is available now on Amazon!
find me here on Twitter: @cashnickerson