Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Best Way To Never See A Customer Again

Tina* (name changed) called the other day to discuss a problem she was having with one of her clients.  "The client just won't call me back and I can't get the job done unless I have very specific information from them."  The question was:  "Why wouldn't the client call back?"  Because Tina had done everything possible to drive the customer away.  How did she do it and are you making the same mistake?

One of the biggest complaints companies have about using single entrepreneurs or freelancers is their communications styles.  Either they don't respond quickly enough or at all, or they answer with reasons the client's request can't be done.  In Tina's case, it was the latter.

The client wanted an event - a book launch - set up within 10 days of the contract being signed.  Tina's first response?  "I can't get it done in that amount of time."  First red flag.  Already, she's telling the customer Tina can't get it done.  The client gives her a second chance by giving her the details of what she's already accomplished; the client had the site reserved, knew who she wanted to cater and had a list - complete with addresses, emails and phone numbers - of everyone she wanted invited.  Basically, all Tina had to do was contact the invitees, get some publicity for the launch, and then coordinate everything for the two to three days leading up to the event.  As a skilled marketing consultant in a previous life, Tina should have been able to get it done with her eyes closed.

Tina's response?  "That's not enough time to get that all done."  Strike two.

Strike three came when Tina was explaining to the client why it couldn't be done.  She said these magic words, guaranteed to drive a client away faster than the speed of sound:  "You have to listen to me.  You have to get me this and this."  This wasn't said in a kind way; instead, it was in a demanding way.

Stop and think about that for a minute.  Clients are paying you because you're the expert at what you do and you're telling them it can't be done and then scolding them for not answering you.  These are clients, folks, not children.

The lifeline of any business is their clients, especially those who are or have the potential to be long-term clients.  You could have the highest rates in town, but if you do the best you can to please the client and get their needs met, on time and within budget, they'll stay with you forever, unless your communications make them feel you're too good for them or as if they're children.

How could Tina have handled this better?  Why did Tina react this way?  Those, too, are common questions with common-sense solutions.  Tina could have said up front that she couldn't get the job done in the right amount of time and then not taken the client.  The client would have been impressed that Tina was smart enough about her own capabilities to know when she couldn't get something done.  Then, she could have passed the event on to a larger company with more resources.  Her client would have come back to her the next time, if for no other reason than to get a referral.  Eventually, the client would come back and stay, realizing the value of having Tina as part of her outside team.

Tina reacted the way she did because, like most of us, she's a perfectionist.  She wants everything to be perfect and when she's faced with a situation where she might fail, she gets defensive and starts to back up.  The problem comes in if that's your main style of communication.  You set yourself up for failure if you immediately think of reasons why the job can't be done.  And it's a habit that's seen all too frequently in the small business world.

This habit can be resolved by, instead of trying to figure out all the ways the gig can go wrong, figure out how you can succeed.  A negative attitude going into a client meeting will only have negative results.  You're an expert!  You know what you're doing!  Anything a client throws at you, you can either get it done yourself or find someone else to partner with to get it done.  If you doubt any of those statements, it's perhaps time to get out of owning a business and go work for someone else.

Having confidence in what you do, what you know and your value to potential customers is the biggest calling card you can have as a business owner.  Delivering on that confidence in a way that acknowledges the client's wants and needs will create a customer for life - something we all want and need.

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