I believe that one of today’s most significant business challenges is the velocity at which we are expected to react when meeting the needs of our customers. Once customers decide what it is they want, they want it NOW! Comments such as “I need the quote by tomorrow,” “The counter must be installed today because I’m closing tomorrow,” and “If you can’t get it done by tomorrow, you will be holding up my closing and you’ll be liable for any additional charges we incur” are among the remarks we hear on a regular basis.
When we hear these phrases, it’s easy for us to focus on why these situations are not our fault. However, the consumer doesn’t really care whether or not we believe we are to blame for these problems. And, since we are aware of what customers’ reactions will be, we need to focus on what we can do to not put ourselves in a position to defend why we are falling short of their expectations.
It’s important to remember that many of our prospects have a lifetime of pre-conditioning about “getting it quick.” Based on this premise, they create their expectations, and we are then judged by how we meet them. The primary challenges we face are generally created because we don’t control customers’ expectations as we should and they come to their own conclusions.
I am a big believer that we, as sales/designers, can influence the selling, buying and delivery process, and can therefore eliminate a lot of the timeline challenges we have. We need to control the timeline communication and not leave it to customers to develop their own expectations, which could be challenging – if not impossible – for us to meet.
Believe me, it’s easy to lose control early in the sales situation and tell prospects what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear. Early in my sales career I discovered that there are countless things beyond my control that will make customers leery of my word. Therefore, I always tell prospects the exact truth as I best understand it.
I find it much easier to deal with the true facts than to deal with innuendos. My advice to you is to control the sale early and to keep prospects well informed of timeline expectations so that when you come to deliver products and services, there are no surprises.
I have experienced first-hand the following problem: I tell a prospect that the availability of a specific product is six weeks. The prospect then takes two weeks to make up his mind, but somehow forgets about that time, thinking that the product is now coming in four weeks. That puts us in the hot seat, and it becomes my word against his, and I lose unless I have documentation.
It’s important that you remember that your clients are making decisions that they don’t make often in a lifetime. Customers are pressed and confused, and may find themselves under pressure they’ve never previously experienced. While the emotion you end up hearing is from stress that they themselves are causing, it’s important to remember that these are still real problems. While none of these problems are your fault, you need to know how to deal with the stress emotions of customers, or things may be said that can do damage that’s difficult to repair. I have been in this hot seat, and it’s not very comfortable.
Communication is Key
While I don’t have all of the answers, my company has developed a booklet that outlines the expectations in remodeling. The booklet outlines such things as expected timelines, the challenge of living in an area going through remodeling, and why, after we install a new kitchen, it may be a few days until we fabricate a new countertop.
While it’s impossible to explain all of the details your customers will encounter, you can certainly avoid a lot of challenges through improved communication. At our company, we have a customer service meeting every Tuesday and Thursday at 3:00 p.m. I find it much easier to deal with any communication challenges, or, for that matter, any product problems, as soon as possible. Most often, it’s communication or expectation problems that are creating a bad situation. We try to bring the answer into focus and make sure the consumer is aware of what we are doing.
Even if we have failed on our end, it’s amazing what good communication will do to heal the problem. The benefit you have in solving the problem immediately after you identify it in order to minimize the dollar cost involved. However, and possibly even more important, you’ll also keep your emotional cost to an absolute minimum.
As a professional sales/design person, I suggest you stay close to your customer. I believe you must be as accurate as possible in making sure the timeline expected is known by the consumer. Once you become aware of a problem, identify it and determine the best possible solution. Then stay close to the project and let the customer know what’s going on. Remember, your reputation is at stake.
With your next prospect, you have the opportunity to create a happy customer if you keep control of the sales situation and follow up to assure that both you and your customer’s expectations are alike and met. Through your control, your projects must meet the timelines expected.
Remember, if you let your prospect determine what timeline is expected, you will be in trouble. If you are a good communicator and, from start to finish, you are making your prospect/customer aware of timeline expectations and keep a log of your communication, you will eliminate a lot of confusion. The benefit to you is that you will not be shackled with problems and can keep on selling and designing.
Accept as your responsibility the task of making sure the prospect has accurate information to meet their timeline expectations. Then, fulfill the expectations you have created. Along the way, keep the prospect/customer informed as to how progress is fitting the established timelines. Should something change, let them know so everyone’s expectations can be adjusted. I have found it’s better to deal with a potential problem today, and the best tool is on-time communication.
Will the velocity of today’s business disappear? The answer is no. However, by following these suggestions, you will have done your part to minimize it becoming a problem.