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“When Would You Like It?” March 23, 2013

Posted by David Dirks in Keeping Your Customers, Setting Customer Expectations.
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David Dirks

David Dirks

What’s your service model?  Is it to deliver the best service possible at all times?  Is it to over-promise and over-deliver?  Or under-promise and over-deliver?  Or under-promise and under-deliver? Who does that right?

Whatever the combination of your service model, the key to servicing your customers is setting expectations.  How do you set customer expectations?

While I might not have scientific evidence to present you today, I can say with much certainty that NOT being able to set a customers expectations is a great way to cause more problems than you think.

This is particularly true of service providers.  Service providers in any business live and die on three things: price, quality & timely delivery. What I often see as both a consumer and consultant is businesses who in their zeal to “keep the client happy” can’t for the life of them set expectations for success.

What do I mean?  Let me clarify. Everybody seems comfortable asking the basic expectation question:

When would you like it?

But few and I mean very few in the service business are able to make the next statement – after the customer answers the above question:

Let me check with (our team, production schedule, etc.) to confirm if we can meet that date.  If we can’t, I’ll give you the date we can meet.

You also have to keep in mind this: most customers are not expecting to get your service YESTERDAY.  Most business transactions that I’ve witnesses over the years, customers have reasonable expectations.

However, if you only ask one question: When would you like it? – and then sit there and write it down and nod your head, you’ve just built your own sword that you will fall on.

Why do business owners commit themselves to a (mostly) arbitrary date without even knowing if they can do it?  Without checking back at the office to see what’s already in the production queue? They leave the meeting or call with the customer thinking that there’s no problem.

The reality is that making customer commitments without understanding if you can is, well, crazy in my view.  After the commitment is made, they head back to the office or shop and announce that “the pressures on!” and everyone must drop everything to move heaven and earth to meet this commitment…other customer commitments made before be damned.

That sets into motion a series of events that usually lead to the following:

1.  Other customers being pushed out of the queue for service because of this latest “911”.  That doesn’t help things.

2. The staff is thrown into unproductive disarray.  Employees who operate in a culture of constant chaos because of reckless customer expectations setting are drained of energy.  They burnout. They get cranky.

3. The rush to meet ridiculous expectations in order to “overserve” the customer leads to lower quality.  In the rush to get the service prepared and delivered, mistakes are often made.  What good does it do to make the superman effort to deliver services where the customer finds errors in the product?  You know what happens.  The customer is not happy and all your “heroic” efforts to over-deliver are negated.

4. Customers get used to running the show on service expectations – it’s like a drug. They want it when they want it and they know you’ll keep delivering and jumping as high as they say when they say it.  Like a seal at a circus.

5. The constant barrage of unrealistic customer expectation setting often leads to being unable to meet the real “911’s” that truly need the team to make a superhuman effort to meet.  Those get mixed into all the other artificial 911’s that are of our own making.

Want to get the best mileage from your efforts and still deliver consistently great service? Don’t overpromise.  Don’t abdicate responsibility for setting expectations entirely to your customer.  Don’t complain when you find you and your staff running like mice in cage every day of the week.  Don’t create swords that you can fall on.

How Nice But Incompetent People Survive March 18, 2013

Posted by David Dirks in Management, Performance issues.
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DirksProPhotoHaven’t you been a bit curious as to how people you work with who might be nice (but sometimes not) and are incredibly incompetent…but yet survive to live another day.  In business, you run into these people and often end up shaking your head…wondering how they do it.  How is it they can be so incompetent – often at a very noticeable level – and still have a job?  What gives?  And you know the people I’m talking about!

A few years ago, the secret to the incompetent success was revealed to me.  There was a person whom I and more than a few senior managers knew was about as incompetent as they come.  Nice guy who couldn’t manage his way through a paper bag.  Probably came close to getting fired more than a few times in his career but nonetheless survived.  How?

Ready for this?  Here are three reasons he (and the other incompetents) survive:

1.  They often work cheaply.  Low price point?  That can be the winning number.

2. They’ll often work like dogs and do what they are told to do.  I guess there’s something to be said for people who don’t talk back.

3. They’ll take abuse and keep on ticking.  Remember as a kid – the inflatable bozo the clown that you could punch and it would come right back at you?  That’s the one.

Apparently there is some utility value of the person who has a low labor price point and who will do the dirty work that others will not do.

Of course, there’s always the family-member problem – where a completely incompetent gets to stay because the have a blood line connect to the owner of the business.  Not much you can do about them as blood truly is thicker than water, as the saying goes.

Since learning this about incompetents, I often just smile and keep on going.  Incompetents have their place in the business world and I get it.