“Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”
- Margaret Mead
My goal with this customer service article is to do nothing less than provide the blueprint for business-to-business (B2B) companies to change the world. Why? Because customer service is the single biggest issue in American business-to-business relationships today. If you are an organization selling services or products to another organization, the customer service lessons below are directly applicable to you. These lessons are true regardless of the size of your organization, or the size of your customer.
Are you saying to yourself “but, Regis, in my line of work, I don’t have customers.” Think again! Every role in every organization has customers. My team at Quicken Loans has no less than 3 customers: external customers (i.e. the Clients visiting our website who get mortgages from us), internal customers (other teams who rely on us to get things done online for them), and executive customers (senior executives who rely on us to execute business strategies). Bottom-line: Show me a business model that doesn’t have customers, and I’ll show you a business model that is about to fail.
15 Ways to Deliver Great Customer Service (in B2B relationships)
- Turn your customers into raving fans. This should be the goal of every customer relationship you have, regardless of the situation. You want to create customer relationships where your customers want to “shout from the mountaintop” about how great you are! Everything else on this list is simply a way to help you get to this goal.
- Provide multiple ways for your customers to easily communicate with you. It’s never been more important to be transparent in your communication with customers. Providing multiple ways for customers to easily communicate directly with your team is critical. Goal: every customer should be able to reach you via: cell phone, office phone, email, phone conference, and video conference.
- Encourage immediate problem solving with customers. When a customer contacts you with an issue (via one of the methods in #2), get the right people on the phone immediately to deal with the issue. Stop wasting time by “scheduling meetings,” “filing support tickets,” and “meeting internally first.” Instead, have open, honest conversations with customers and key problem solvers at your organization.
- Never tell the customer they are wrong, simply suggest alternatives. Your customers’ perceptions are your reality. Whether they are right or wrong, whatever they think is the reality you have to work with. Yes, they are paying you for your expertise. However, if you continually tell them how they are wrong and you are right, they will start to tune you out. Remember when your parents took that approach with you?
- Never assume the customer remembers what you told them previously. Your customers are usually paying you to advise them. What you deliver is rarely the customers’ only focus or daily focus. Therefore, presume you need to refresh their memory on key decisions, reports sent via email, and previous discussions. Doing so will increase the effectiveness of your interactions.
- Never assume you know more than your customers. The second you assume you know more than your customers, everything changes: your tone, your patience, your propensity to ask questions, and your openness to new ideas. Try to understand your customers’ business as well as they do, but be humble enough to know you never will.
- Never assume you are meeting your customers’ needs. Even if things seem like they might be going well, they might not be. What you don’t do in a customer relationship defines you just as much as what you do. Your customers have more to do than simply tell you when you are not doing well, or when you are not meeting expectations. Check-in frequently with your customers to ensure you are meeting their needs, and conduct anonymous customer satisfaction surveys to get additional feedback.
- Find every opportunity possible to thank your customers for their business. Surprise your customers with your gratitude! Every time you send an invoice, visit a customer, or hit a milestone together, you have an opportunity to say thank you. The Thanksgiving holiday is a great time to thank your customers that day.
- Constantly bring new ideas to help your customers make money or save money. Your customers need new ideas, even if they don’t ask for them. The pressure on them to generate or save money is greater than ever before. Become a trusted advisor by giving your customers new ideas that help them do this, even if they aren’t related to the services your customer is paying you to deliver.
- If you have a misunderstanding, take the blame, then relentlessly follow-up until you get it right. If you’ve missed your customers’ expectations, immediately take the blame. Be brutally blunt about your strengths and weaknesses. Then, do whatever is necessary to fix it and follow-up daily until it is done. Then, follow-up at regular intervals (weekly, monthly) making sure that the solution still works, and that you continue to fulfill on your customers’ expectations. This same method should be used after you have sold a customer something you have never done before.
- Don’t commit to more than you can do. Only make promises you can keep. Although sometimes it’s hard to do this, set expectations low with your customers and always exceed them. Deliver on what you say you will do, and you will build trust with your customers. Fail to deliver, and compound that failure with excuses, and the trust your customers have in you can evaporate overnight.
- Don’t force customers to live by your rulebook. Companies create “rulebooks” – established ways to deal with problems that are rarely customized for a particular customer’s situation. They do this to make life easier on them, not the customer. Throw these rulebooks out, and challenge anyone who wants to create one! Customers want personalized experiences, and fast resolution on their issues. Rulebooks do neither.
- Don’t assume that what your customer is asking for is what they really want. Practice using the 5 whys question-asking method to get to the bottom of a customer request. Often, customers will come to you with a solution that they have developed. Don’t throw out that solution (see #4 above), but instead take the time to understand why the customer needs it. Listen more than you talk. Doing this will help you get to know your customer better, and help you recommend alternative or complimentary solutions.
- Ask really good questions. Your customers are tuning into everything you do. Are you inquisitive? Do you understand their business? Do you understand their current need? Tip: prepare a “20 list” (a brainstorming technique where you write down 20 questions you would ask the customer) before a big discussion with a customer. You don’t have to ask all 20, but the exercise will help you generate really good questions to ask.
- Check your greed at the door. Don’t simply look at the current sale as your only interaction with the customer, and milk it for everything you can. Think about the future value of the customer relationship too. Will this customer be a referral, or provide a testimonial for you? Will they be a great addition to your customer list? Will this project introduce you to other new customers? Factor this value into your pricing model.
Bonus: Customer Service Manifesto
My team at Quicken Loans has a customer service manifesto that guides our work. Inspired by Tom Peters, the key points of this manifesto are outlined below. Feel free to adapt this for your team!
- We ONLY do two things: continuously improve our website user experience and develop leaders
- We ARE our customers + our projects…and that’s how we’re remembered.
- Every single one of our projects makes a difference, or we don’t do it.
- We are only as good as our customers who push us the hardest.
- Our customers are the source of our reputation.
- We spend 80% of our time with customers
- We push our customers to tackle new challenges and soar to new heights
- We are paid to lead our customers to success
- We focus on our legacy (What do YOU want to be remembered for here?)
- We relentlessly serve our project teams, because we know without them we are nothing.