30 Mar 2009

On Customer Interaction

Author: q | Filed under: Pontifications

What kind of customer are you? If you have an interaction with a vendor that doesn”t meet your expectations, how do you approach it?

I had two very different interactions with customers today, both involving invoices. I called a customer of ours this morning to check on the status of a support incident he had open, and after discussing the issue, he said "Hey, I”ve got a question about your last invoice." He brought two items on the invoice to my attention, I acknowledged that a mistake had been made, thanked him for bringing it to my attention, corrected the invoice, and resent it to him. Took all of about 10 minutes to go over the items in question, find the issue, and correct it. Both parties walked away happy.

I also got an e-mail from a new customer who had just received his first invoice from us. In the message,he pointed out how "outrageous" it was for us to have billed him the amount we did. His tone was condescending throughout,and his claims about the time spent working with him differ significantly from what was documented about his support issue.

Personally, I”m in the "honey" camp of the honey/vinegar approach. Having spent 20+ years in support management, I”ve heard all kinds of complaints (and yes, you get far fewer compliments than complaints) for all kinds of reasons. People who approach me in a calm and collected manner will get my full attention. People who approach me ranting and raving generally get blown off, depending on what the issue is (someone who”s in a panic because they”re server is down and they”re losing business gets more of a pass than the person who is outraged because of a difference of $50 on an invoice).

Don”t get me wrong – I am concerned when someone is not satisfied with the services we have provided. I do want to make sure that we are at our best at all times, whether trying to save a dying server or get a printer connected to a workstation. All of our staff have ingrained in them that we maintain a professional attitude at all times. In return, we”d like a little of the same.

I have always advised my staff that in whatever the situation, so long as they follow procedure and document everything they do, I have their back when it comes to a customer complaint. When I can go back to a customer and explain what was done, when it was done, by whom, and why, generally they come to agree with the actions and results. Not always, because you cannot please everyone, but most people can be dealt with logically. If my staff haven”t followed procedure or fully documented their actions, however, and I”m right there on the customer”s side, again, generally.

I understand frustration. I”m a small business owner in a region with challenging economics. I get stress. I get trying to "do more with less." Really, I do. But I also get that in many situations you don”t have to resort to attitude, yelling, screaming, or obscenities to raise a concern with someone. Most of the time you can approach a party with reason and work towards a mutually satisfying solution.

So, if you”re wanting to continue working with my organization as a provider of services, check the attitude at the door. Life is too short to deal with rude customers, so we don”t.

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