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Be Easy to Do Business With

One of the greatest challenges in working with people is having consistent behavior with customers. A customer can encounter one employee one day and a different person the next. Their styles can be very different. Even encounters with the same person don't always produce the same interaction. Our moods depend on many things, some of which relate to personal factors. Because business involves humans, behaving in a consistent way in terms of professionalism, attitude, knowledge, and skills can be challenging. The key is customer expectations. If they come to expect a certain response to their needs, and less is provided, they may be disappointed, surprised, or angry. The relationship will be diminished. Almost more than the level of response, customers value consistency. If I go to a restaurant that consistently offers a moderate level of service, I know what I can expect. I can rely on it. But to have them attempt to deliver a higher level of service, only to succeed sometimes and fail others, is worse than not attempting to do it at all.

If you can deliver consistent service, you can capitalize on it as a selling advantage. If you can exceed the minimum expectations and do things that are unexpected but welcomed by customers, so much the better. But too many providers ruin their opportunities for ongoing customer relationships by being unreliable and inconsistent.

In his book Leadership Is an Art, Max DePree describes how he put the principle "the customer is always right" into practice in his company. If the customer wanted something, his employees' reaction would be "What can we do to get them what they want?" not "Our policy [or our computer, or my authority, and so on] won't permit me to do that." If the customer wanted billing on a certain date and in a certain format, even if the company's computer was not normally set up to do it, they found a way to make it happen. If the customer asked for what seemed like the impossible, they worked creatively to make it possible. DePree defined the real meaning of "the customer is always right" and made it easy to do business with his company. "The customer is always right" doesn't mean that customers may not be misinformed or do things that are wrong. It simply means that if you listen to the customer's request, you may find a way to satisfy it. It is a matter of perspective: looking for ways to satisfy the customer's request rather than finding reasons why you can't.

How consistent are you at delivering what customers expect? How do you know? How easy is it to do business with you or your company? How do you know? There's only one way to find out: ask.

More than being a resource, you can become a partner with your customers. You are a partner when customers can't do without you. You are a partner when you are aligned with the customers' goals, making sure that you know those goals thoroughly and that whatever you do supports their ability to achieve those goals. When you are a partner with the customer, you are privy to information that isn't available to everyone.


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