Here is an article written by Steve Tobak for BNET, The CBS Interactive Business Network. To check out an abundance of valuable resources and obtain a free subscription to one or more of the BNET newsletters, please click here.
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Never before in history has a society bought and sold so much stuff. We’re all part of a giant food chain of products and services. That means, in all likelihood, that you’re not only a customer, but you have customers, too.
Since you’re on both sides of the equation, it stands to reason that you’d treat your customers the same way you’d want to be treated, right? It seems so obvious.
But do we do that? Do we do the obvious thing? No, most of us don’t. Instead, we hoist customers high up on some pedestal. And because we revere them, we treat them differently … when we shouldn’t.
We think of our customers as authority figures. And how do we interact with authority figures? Our parents, our teachers, our bosses? Differently. We’re not genuine with them because we’re afraid it will change their opinion of us. We put on airs. We spin the truth.
That’s dysfunctional behavior with all sorts of unintended consequences.
I’ve been selling products and services as far back as I can remember. My customers have ranged from corporate giants to tiny startups, from engineers to CEOs, from Tokyo to Istanbul. And you know what? They all want the same things. Some are relatively straightforward while others are counterintuitive. In any case, here they are .…
1. Your honest assessment of the competition. This is counterintuitive, but for the most part, customers want information. And if you can be balanced and honest about it, they’d love to get your assessment of the competition. After all, who knows your comp better than you do? But if you show the slightest sign of BSing them, it’ll do more harm than good.
2. Bad news. No, not just for the heck of it, but when you’ve got bad news to deliver, give it to them straight, face-to-face, in a timely manner. Moreover, be prepared to pull out all the stops to make things right for them. Bad news is part of life and business. It happens. Deal with it.
3. The truth about your company or product’s shortcomings. Really. You know they’re going to figure it out sooner or later. Don’t you think it’s a better idea for them to hear it from you first? Encourage them to provide honest feedback in real time so you’ve at least got a chance to address their concerns openly.
4. Be there when they need you. Availability in real time is everything, these days. It saves them time and that’s huge. Be there when they need you. It’ll make all the difference.
5. Something that goes beyond the call of duty. I once had a manufacturer’s rep company that went out of its way to make introductions between consenting clients, when it made sense, i.e. a potential business relationship. I actually ended up with a new job that changed my career, as a result.
6. Cut out the small talk and personal BS. Sure, if they get going and you’ve got a personal connection, that’s different. But time is everyone’s most precious asset these days; don’t waste it.
7. Make their jobs easier. You think you know, but when was the last time you actually asked what will make their jobs easier, what their specific priorities are with respect to the product or service you provide, what you can do differently to be a better vendor, or what keeps them up at night?
8. Give them your undivided attention. This pretty much goes for any business relationship, whether it’s a customer, vendor, employee, peer, boss, whoever: don’t take calls or visitors when you’re meeting with them. Don’t get easily distracted, either; just pay attention and listen when they talk.
9. Pick up the phone and call. No, not to waste their time, not so often that they cringe at the sound of your voice, and certainly not just to BS. But when it’s something important to them, picking up the phone and calling instead of emailing, every so often, is a big deal.
10. Thank them for their business. No, don’t send them a card, write it on an invoice, or buy them anything – unless you have a long history and that’s part of your relationship. But the next time you see him, her, them, whatever, look him straight in the eye and tell him how much you enjoy working with him and appreciate the opportunity.
Bottom line. Every single one of you could have written this post by putting yourself in your customer’s shoes. It should be easy, since you’re somebody else’s customer. So do that. You’ll be amazed by what you come up with.
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Steve Tobak is a consultant, writer, and former senior executive with more than 20 years of experience in the technology industry. He’s the managing partner of Invisor Consulting, a Silicon Valley-based firm that provides strategic consulting, executive coaching, and speaking services to CEOs and management teams of small-to-mid-sized companies. Find out more at www.invisor.net Follow Steve on Twitter or Facebook.