Customer Relations

by Roisin Murray & Wallace Murray

Common questions

  1. What’s so important about customer relations?
  2. What’s in it for me (or my staff)?
  3. What are the key things about customer relations?
  4. What difference can I make as an individual anyway?
  5. How can we get it right all the time?
  6. How can I defuse this customer complaint right now?

 

1. What’s so important about customer relations?

Your approach to customer relations can make the difference between staying in business and not. With good customer relations, sales go up, costs come down, and sales staff have a better time. Existing customers come back to spend more with you, more frequently, over a longer period, and they recommend you to their friends. It’s a double whammy because it’s like having a voluntary sales force, and your own sales effort is more effective, while you have to spend less time and energy dealing with complaints.

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2. What’s in it for me (or my staff)?

For you as an individual, excellent customer relations make your job more satisfying and interesting. As a manager, investing energy in your team’s commitment to customer focus will give you a happier, more motivated workforce. This will in turn make your life easier. You may not deal directly with customers, but even so, there is evidence that positive customer relations increase job satisfaction for employees across industrial sectors. Whatever your role, if your income is in any way dependent on sales (and if you don’t think it is, think again), excellent customer relations bring the possibility of a higher income.

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3. What are the key things about customer relations?

Essentially, there are only two key things:

  • Give the customer a positive experience that will bring them back again and again, and keep them telling their friends too
  • Ensure that your business procedures, management style and reward systems support staff in consistently giving customers those positive experiences.

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4. What difference can I make as an individual anyway?

Quite a lot actually! If you deal directly with external customers, you are the organisation, so far as they are concerned. How you do your job will make more immediate difference at that moment than anything anyone else says or does.

You may be responsible for a discrete area of work, such as purchasing, HR or corporate strategy. In that case, systems that benefit the eventual customer will make for happier, more efficient front-of-house staff. This will lead to a more successful business and a more rewarding job for you. The end customer may not notice you’ve done a good job, but that’s how it should be – they should never notice the procedures, because these should be seamless!

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5. How can we get it right all the time?

You can’t. Give it your best shot, and don’t obsess about it. Foul-ups are actually an opportunity for two things:

  • Putting it right with style
  • Learning from it for the future.

Oddly enough, customers actually tend to be more impressed, remember the putting right, and to be more loyal if you make amends with style than if they never encounter a problem.

Certainly you should have effective systems and training to minimise the risk of foul-ups happening. The trick is to learn from a mistake when it happens, so that particular one doesn’t happen again. It’s important too, to get to the root cause. Then you can solve the real problem. People need to know how far they can go in putting things right, and that it’s OK to tell their manager about the problem. If they feel persecuted, they’re more likely to hide foul-ups in future, and that’s a sure route to worsening customer relations.

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6. How can I defuse this customer complaint right now?

Customer-facing staff often experience ‘unreasonable customers’ as aggressive or manipulative. They may then react in similar ways themselves, whether passively or assertively. It can help to avoid this negative spiral if staff practise focusing on the solution, rather than the problem. Having the right attitude is the key to dealing with disgruntled customers. Build rapport by showing you care, containing the issue and working towards a resolution. Establish the underlying causes, and deal with them. Staff often try logic to explain why things have gone wrong, believing this to be helpful. Often their efforts create more tension and loss of rapport. Why? Because customers neither know nor care about your internal processes or structures – it is all one to them. They do, however, care about whether you care about them.

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