Ever heard the phrase “the customer is always right?” That phrase comes from the American founder of the British retail chain Selfridges (coincidentally named Harry Gordon Selfridge). Managing customers or clients can be a challenge for anyone in business, from a freelancer to a manager for a big corporation. I use the word “challenge” because Bubelah’s let me know that I use the word “problem” too frequently – but let’s face it, managing customers can be a problem. I work as a contract consultant where I have to sell and deliver, and I’ve learned that there is one surefire way to keep customers happy.
Mistakes are easy to make when dealing with good customers, and disasters are easy when working with stubborn or (they do exist) stupid customers. Too often the seller (who can be selling anything: goods, services or even free services) starts jumping through hoops to repair the situation. Some of the solutions:
- Offering credits
- Lower prices
- More “face time”
- Throwing around perks – taking a client out for drinks, etc.
None of these solutions are BAD ideas, but they won’t keep the seller’s customer happy forever. You know what keeps a customer happy? If the seller LISTENS.
Am I saying the customer’s always right? Well, yes, but you can’t rely on the customer to always TELL you what you need to hear. Sometimes you have to read between the lines. Sometimes you have to listen to what other sellers are offering your customer. Listening takes many forms, but it’s not the same thing as “hearing.”
Selling is often as simple as listening for your customer’s need rather than trying to tell them how YOUR product/service will help them. Let them establish the need. You may learn something that helps you expand your service or offer them a slightly different product.
I am hired for my professional skills in audit, compliance or finance. Yet I find again and again that if I sit down with clients I’ll find out they have challenges (see, I remembered to use the right word!). They share these challenges without any expectation that I can fix them, sometimes, but I make an effort to understand what their need is and then fix it – or find someone else who can. Maybe I understand their accounting systems, or know someone who does. Maybe I can connect them with a subject matter expert. Perhaps I can lead a training course for their staff or give them tips on the social web (you’d be surprised how many corporate types are unaware of LinkedIn, for example). Listening to what they need doesn’t take the place of doing the work they hired me for, but the extra value – something they might not even realize they needed – will make me more valuable to them.
Don’t assume that doing your best on a service or closing sales of a product alone will be enough. Keep your ears open. Wait one second AFTER your customer has stopped speaking before answering (you’d be surprised how much people appreciate that simple courtesy). Make the time to get to know your customer and never stop listening to what they need. The customer will eventually be right, but it’s your job to help him figure out what’s right.