There are business people who categorize customers. They label them the "shopper," or the "crank," or the "penny-pincher," or the "perfectionist." These labels are almost always negative. They place limits on the way people interact with customers. By approaching customers with preconceived notions, or by sizing them up too quickly or too superficially, these business people close off a part of themselves. They place arbitrary limits on what the possible outcomes might be.
The best business people remain open. They're the people who miraculously resolve the problems of upset customers. They're the ones who enjoy talking today to the dissatisfied customer who called yesterday. They possess these skills because they don't confront customers as a type, they interact with them as individuals. They are active listeners and responsive problem-solvers.
Customers want to be recognized; they sense when they are being lumped together like so much cattle into the herd. They resent being categorized and depersonalized. People want to connect with other people. If a customer put up a defensive wall because he or she is dissatisfied, the best business people will tear it down, brick by brick, by directing all their engergies to making a genuine connection with that customer.
A Different Perspective
We have all experienced customers who cannot be satisfied, customers who are unreasonable in their demands. But the best business people remain undaunted. They know a simple truth: Never let an exception become the rule. Treat that difficult, unreasonable customer with the same deference you would show your best customer. What they may take from you will be nothing compared to the loss of your optimism.
I am reminded of a person who greets all toll collectors with a "Hello," followed by "Thank you" after he pays the toll. He even turns down his car radio out of respect for the person he is approaching. Sometimes the toll collector reciprocates; many other times the collector is gruff or dismissive. The point is, the driver never lets a toll collector's discourtesy alter the respect and courtesy he shows them. His commitment to civil social interaction is unshakable. A business person's commitment to his customers, good and bad, must be as unshakable.
I also know some retailers who send thank-you notes to prospective customers who don't buy from them. What a marvelously optimistic idea! It's all a question of perspective. The cynical strategists will cast off these customers. They'll project a negative label upon them, because they had the nerve to waste their time and not buy from them. They take rejection personally, and as a defense mechanism they must, in turn, reject that customer.
But business people who truly love their customers have a different perspective. They say to themselves, "Perhaps I didn't meet their needs this time, but I appreciate the time they took to consider my products and services, and I'm going to let them know that. I'm going to let them know my door is always open to them." Retailers I know who have sent thank-you cards to prospective customers have gotten business from these prospective customers' family members and friends. Imagine the customer who doesn't buy from you being a fertile referral base!
Do you have people in your organization who are cynical about your customers? It doesn't matter if they are a salesperson, an installer or an office person. If you do, invest in training them. If they can't or won't change, get rid of them. People who don't love your company's customers don't belong in your business.
Jim Donnellan is sales manager for central and southeast United States and Canada for Comfortex Corp., Maplewood, NY.