It is a fact of life that inevitably difficulties will crop up during your business dealings with you customers. How you deal with those difficulties is crucial for the on-going development of your business relationship.
When difficulties arise
Difficulties can include any issues that have the potential to disrupt the business relationship. They include situations such as:
- A late delivery to your customer
- Having a particularly aggressive negotiation over terms
- Mistakenly giving the customer incorrect information
- Not following through on a commitment you make.
Whilst we do what we can to avoid these situations, when they do arise we need to address even the smallest of difficulties. Just because something is not, on its own, enough to create a big problem it is important to know that if we ignore it or respond in a way that doesn’t truly satisfy the customer then it can then compound. And then the next ‘small thing’ could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
The easy solution
These small individual difficulties are called ‘pinches’ and the Pinch Model describes what happens if we don’t deal with individual pinches effectively.
When we first become aware of a pinch, the temptation might be to resolve it in the quickest way possible. For example, if we send out an incorrect invoice and our customer queries it, we may be tempted to simply correct it and send out a new one.
But this doesn’t address the wider effect of the error. The mistake may have impacted our customer’s trust levels, or made them feel less confidence that we can take care of the detail. They may feel less valued leading them to question other things and the quality of our relationship.
What we should do
When there is a pinch, even if it is only small, we must fully address the issue to prevent future issues building up and damaging the relationship by creating a ‘crunch’.
The first thing to do when we become aware of a possible pinch point is to recognise that this is something that might be really important to the customer, and then use it as a way of going back to them to:
a) let them know we are concerned and want to address the issue in the right way, and
b) use it as an opportunity to create more clarity on how we will be working together going forward to avoid similar issues occurring.
By stating relationship expectations and ways of working in this way we continually build a stronger relationship going forward.
How to do it
One thing that can hold us back from having difficult conversations is that we don’t know how to approach it and we are fearful of the possible reaction. There is no substitute for being honest, and it is best to address the difficulties as they occur. You can say something such as:
“I have just realised that I gave you some mis-information and because our relationship with you is important I want to put that right”, or
“As I think back to our negotiations last week I am concerned that I might have been too aggressive and I want to talk about it so that it doesn’t negatively impact our relationship”.
If you want to raise your game in building lasting customer relationships then think ‘pinch’ and ‘crunch’ each time you have a problem and use the opportunity to strengthen your relationship.
Have you had any customer experiences that you wish had gone differently? We would love to know, please comment below.
Having just returned from a lovely holiday I have first-hand experience of a hotel turning a problem into a deeper customer relationship. What a great thing to be able to do…here’s how it happened:
We arrived at 7pm to check-in looking forward to getting to our rooms – we had booked adjoining rooms for the children. Imagine our disappointment when the receptionist said that only one of our rooms was ready and we wouldn’t be able to get the other room until 9:45pm! This after a full day of travelling and us arriving at the hotel plenty of time after their 2pm check-in time. We were tired, frustrated and were clear with the receptionist that this was simply something that should not have happened.
In the moment of the problem there was nothing more that the receptionist could do. It was a problem but the adjoining room was occupied and it would not be available until it was vacated and cleaned. We checked into one room and waited while they prepared the adjoining room. Next day we went to breakfast and on returning to our rooms were pleased to find a bottle of champagne and a hand written note from the manager of this (very large) hotel apologising for the check-in situation. Also, the children had a teddy bear, some sweets and two bottles of fresh orange juice. What a lovely surprise.
That afternoon there was a knock at the door and it was the manager who wanted to apologise, tell us that it was an unacceptable situation for us and that they had taken steps to ensure it would not be able to happen again. He said that whilst the check-in situation was not acceptable he wanted to check that there was nothing else that he could do personally.
The easy thing to do would have been to send a bottle of champagne and assume that the situation had been ‘sorted’. What did this manager do differently and what are the lessons we can take?
- He took the time to write a personal note of apology – it let us know he took the problem seriously
- He mentioned the steps they were taking to ensure it did not happen in the future – it let us know they wanted to learn from the situation
- He gave us gifts! Always nice and whilst the cost to them was low, the value to us was high in terms of goodwill
- He paid us a personal visit to check that, whilst the problem had occurred, it had been dealt with to our complete satisfaction.
What a great example of customer service in the face of a problem. We are now firm advocates of the hotel – they admitted a problem and talked to us to ensure we were satisfied…they did not assume or do the minimum to satisfy.
There is a well known model called The Pinch Model (Google it or read more in Brilliant Selling) which describes this. All of us will experience problems at some point in our customer relationships, a relationship Pinch. When a problem occurs it is too easy to take quick action to get the problem off our desk and then assume the customer is satisfied. The smart sales people do not do this. They do not make assumptions. They use these issues to find out more about how the customer feels and how they can work better together. They use a problem to help define how the relationship should work making customer expectations explicit and, through this, deepening understanding, trust and the relationship.
You can’t always prevent problems but you can turn them into something more positive. You can take ownership and use them to develop greater understanding. This is what great salespeople do.
Do you have any Pinch experiences to share? Drop us a line.
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A lot has been written about questioning in the context of sales and we are probably all aware of the ‘good practice’ points. These include asking open questions for information, closed questions for agreement and so on. In previous blogs I have also talked about the importance of understanding customer values through specific questioning. Yesterday, I was sitting on an advisory panel. It was not sales related but we had a really interesting discussion and one of the other panel members said something that made me think…
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