It was in the crunch of early morning emails when I realized the internet wasn’t working. I immediately started trouble shooting. I rebooted my computer, turned the internet router off and then back on, and pushed a few unnamed blinking buttons on the box. Nothing worked, so I took the next measure. I texted my husband who was away on a business trip.
Me: The internet isn’t working and I don’t know why.
Husband: Turn the power strip off, wait a minute and turn it back on.
Me: What about the button that says WPS?
Husband: Don’t touch it.
Me: Oops, I already did, now what?
Husband: I don’t know, call Xfinity.
So I did and immediately got a recording saying they were aware of internet outages and were working on it. Then the voice advised me to log onto www.Xfinity.com to check for updates.
Seriously? Did they really say that after acknowledging that the internet was down? I could probably log on from my phone or iPad, but not everyone has an additional device. If the internet is out, then why would you direct people to your website for additional information?
Communicating robotically or thoughtlessly is almost as bad as not communicating at all. Part of your job as a service provider is to make life easy for your clients and customers. Given the wealth of competition and options, I would think you would strive for people to tell others how easy it is to do business with you. When it’s not, it’s frustrating and sometimes, hard to keep your cool.
As another example, earlier this year we were awarded a contract with a corporation that attempted to simplify complicated billing procedures by hiring a third party to process vendor invoices. However, this required completing multiple forms, submitting pages of documentation, completing numerous questionnaires and being bombarded by e-mails from a variety of different company departments. When we finally received approval to bill through their on-line-system, their system wouldn’t accept our invoices.
It turns out the so-called simplified process required many more steps, approvals, signatures and actually made the invoice submission even more complicated than the original process. Unfortunately, the client, who clearly has more pressing tasks than navigating a new invoice approval system, had to spend months digging through the corporate maze to file additional work statements so she could continue to work with us and so we could get paid.
In an effort to shed some light on the issue and help the third party become more customer friendly and efficient, I called and made a few suggestions. Instead of listening or trying to understand my frustration, they defensively rattled off a bunch of IT jargon as an explanation as to why a cumbersome system was necessary.
If that’s not frustrating enough, when we were directed to re-submit the additional information through yet another new improved portal, the system rejected it again. Back to the phone, a young woman, clearly confused and bewildered, finally diagnosed the problem.
“You can’t submit the exact amount you’re owed” she observed.
Now it was my turn to be confused and bewildered so I asked why.
“You have to round off numbers when you submit your invoice” she answered.
I explained that when expenses are added to professional fees, numbers don’t always round off evenly. She said other vendors had also complained, but if we didn’t do things the way the system is set up, we’d have to call the client and have them start the entire process over.
Why would a customer want to continue to do business with us or anyone if it’s complicated and time-consuming? It doesn’t matter that we’re victims of a cumbersome system. To the client, it’s just one big hassle. It’s like calling a customer service number and being asked for your account number three times by three different people after you’ve already punched the number into phone. Annoying. Frustrating. You want to hang up. To me, this says the company’s priorities are out of whack.
According to a Customer Experience Board survey, meeting and exceeding customer expectations is not enough. The survey found minimal customer effort impacts customer loyalty more than anything else. So, if you want to make it easy to do business with customers or their customers, start by asking how you can make things easy for them?
Technology is a good place to start. Just because you put an on line system in place to keep up with the times, doesn’t mean you’re making things easier for your customer. Like you, your customers are busy people. They value time. Complex multiple-step technology makes them work harder and robs them of important hours. So how do we make life easier for customers so they want to keep doing business with us?
- Pay attention. If numerous customers are complaining, listen. It doesn’t mean you need to throw out the rules and do everything they say. It does mean being flexible so you can make changes that make things better for your customers.
- No excuses. Instead of being defensive or making excuses, focus on fixing the trouble and being a problem solver.
- Sit in their seats. If the customer is clearly in pain, ask questions to better understand the issues and make them feel their opinion truly matters.
- Nix the biz speak. Instead of rattling off internal jargon to sound smart, help customers through the process. That means speaking their language, not yours.
- Replace “I” with “you”. When we continually use the word “I”, it’s about you. When we use the word “you”, it’s about them. Focus on the customers needs, not your own.
Finally, communicating is not about talking. It’s about connecting. That means being empathetic to your customers concerns, even if you don’t have an immediate solution. Most of us simply want our feelings acknowledged. When someone makes a true effort to understand the customer, that customer feels valued. A valued customer is likely to hang in there with you because ultimately, they believe you will do what’s best for them.