As the pace of living accelerates due to technology and people’s increasingly busy lives, it seems that the virtue of patience has all but disappeared. The result of this lack of patience is that almost every relationship becomes strained. In some cases, it can even be severed.
In the kitchen and bath industry, we don’t have a lot left if we can’t rely on relationships. Technology has brought product differential to a minimum. There is no way to have the cheapest prices in the marketplace anymore, but your prices can’t be too high, either. Therefore, high-quality relationships between you and your prospects/customers are a must to be successful.
A significant part of maintaining these relationships is patience. When patience between parties no longer exists, things are said or actions are taken that are often regretted later. Due to emotions, these actions frequently destroy the relationships. The results are dissatisfied customers, upset salespeople and the expected profits going down the drain. In this situation you lose customers, lose referral opportunities and lose money. The question we must address, then, is what we, as designers and salespeople, can do to minimize this loss of patience.
One of the challenges that we have with regard to controlling situations and not losing patience is overcoming a cultural problem. On the highway, it’s called road rage. We don’t want to stand in line for fast food – or anything, for that matter! Today’s culture is in an “I want it now” mode.
We need to remind ourselves that a lack of patience is part of today’s lifestyle, and as salespeople, we must deal with that. Today’s customers want their expectations met, and while some of their expectations may be on target, others may be self concluded and wrong. Our challenge as salespeople is to devise a way to best communicate with customers to create accurate expectations, and then meet those expectations. A greater challenge for customers is having patience throughout the process, especially when legitimate expectations are developed and circumstances beyond your control keep you from meeting them.
Cause and Effect
There are ways for salespeople to promote patience in their customers. To do this, let’s first look at what we may be doing to create the initial problem. Following are some circumstances that can create conditions for loss of patience.
You tell your customer, “I’ll find out and get back to you tomorrow.” But tomorrow comes and goes and no one gets back to them.
Or how about the statement, “I’ll have the quote done and in your hands Friday.” Unfortunately, on Friday, the quote is not complete and only excuses are given as to why the commitment was not met.
Or perhaps you say, “We’ll be at your home at 9 a.m. to take measurements,” and then 9:00, 9:30 and 10:00 a.m. pass by. Finally, at 10:15, someone shows up and rushes because he is behind schedule, and mistakes are made.
The bottom line is, it’s up to us to keep it to a minimum. Keep in mind that customers are judging your every word and action, all while building expectations. If you fall short in their expectations in comparison to your competition, your competition may earn the sale by default.
When I teach successful selling skills, one of the class projects I assign is for the students to identify the characteristics of the perfect salesperson. Two of the traits that are always given are doing proper follow-up and being a good communicator. Unfortunately, we all believe we follow through, and we all believe we are good communicators. However, when I unravel a problem in our company, guess what’s most often missing? You guessed it. Follow-through – simply not fulfilling what commitments have been made – and communication with the customer on all pertinent information are the two biggest oversights.
Of course, there are other elements that can be implemented that will help maintain your customers’ patience levels.
- Control the selling process. It’s easy to blame customers when they don’t make timely decisions, but have you set the timing parameters wherein decisions must be made? Do you – in writing or verbally – communicate how your process works, explaining what are your responsibilities are what are theirs? Have you set an agenda with target dates to get certain elements of the design and decision-making process done, or do you just wait for your customers and lose control of the situation? I believe customers must know the expectations you have of them in terms of the information you need them to supply and the time lines necessary to keep things on track. Without this control, you will let the customers set the timing factor, and they will blame you if it doesn’t work or, at the very least, put you in a bind trying to meet their unrealistic expectations.
- Keep and date all of your notes, changes, etc. in the development of the sale and designing process. While it’s not a cure, it’s helpful when customers see you keeping precise records of the development of the design and sale.
- Follow-through. Without fail, when you make a commitment, make sure it is done. Even when you rely on others, check to see if their actions kept your commitment.
- Be accurate and honest with information. There are enough challenges in our industry when you tell it exactly the way it is. Even greater challenges will be in your lap – and deservedly so – if you fill your sales presentation with innuendos and misleading information, allowing false expectations to be created.
- Raise accuracy to a higher level by reviewing your notes, drawings, contracts, orders, order acknowledgements, etc. Be thorough, and take your time. You’ll find this time focusing on accuracy is well invested.
When something goes unexpectedly wrong – the broken cabinet, the special-order top is delayed, the hardware is back-ordered for weeks – the customer wants not just answers but action. Your solution is to find the best answer and correct the problem in the timeliest way possible.
The best cure to preserving patience is doing it right the first time – citing the expectations to be met and then meeting them. I hope this information will heighten your awareness of how important your role is in developing the expectations of your customers and then meeting or exceeding them.
The next time a customer shows a lack of patience, do an autopsy of the circumstances and note what could have been done to avoid it. If it was unavoidable on your part, make sure your honesty and integrity are not compromised in the process. This will ensure that you will have other opportunities to succeed.