Can you believe your prospects?

Do our prospects always tell the truth? Some think not and they may be right. As I offer professional services I need a new client to be as committed to our relationship as I would be.

Over the years I have been in practice I have had apparently successful meetings with people who assured me they would be delighted to have me act for them, only to find that I never hear from them again. Should I keep following up and leaving messages? I am inclined to think I should not, because if they are avoiding me they do not wish to commit to me and I need to be paid at some point if I do the work.

So why do some positively encourage us to spend a long time with them with the prospect, in our mind at least, of a happy business relationship? There are two possible explanations. One is that they are not as comfortable with us as we are with them. The other is that they think they can pump more information out of us without having to pay for it. The truth from my side is that often we can fall into the trap of giving useful information which proves to be free in simply selling our services.

For example, if my prospect says that he is unhappy with the tactics used by his current professional in a tax investigation, if I honestly agree that the incumbent adviser is on the right track I will say so. However, if I suggest that I would take a different line, I might hope that I would get the business, but the prospect might simply suggest that his current practitioner change tack in the way I had suggested.

In another instance I came across, the prospect signed up and got past my usually reliable intuition when it comes to spotting hidden agendas. Our relationship did not last long because he would not share vital information with me, and I can only suppose he had some ulterior motive for consulting me in the first place; perhaps a family dispute.

If we keep honesty on our side in terms of what we can do for prospective clients, we will sign up most of them, assuming we are comfortable with them. We must not let such knock-backs from people who are using us get us down. On the contrary, we should be happy we can rise above them. Do you rise enough?

 

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Shouldn’t you part from your ungrateful customers?

List of titles of works based on Shakespearean...

Giving thanks

We should always thank those who give us good service. It oils the wheels, makes them feel good towards us, and it is only polite. It is a question of respect, and most of us know this.

Unfortunately not everyone understands. We know thanking people is the right thing to do because we like our hard work and attentive service appreciated. As Shakespeare wrote:

Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
Thou art not so unkind
As man’s ingratitude;

Now and again there are customers and clients who take advantage of our excellent service to make continuous demands, taking advantage of our attentiveness. They call and ask for extra advice they do not wish to pay for. They resist an increase in our charges even at less than the rate of inflation. They never thank us and they are brusque in their letters and emails.

I do hope that any clients you have who are like that do not represent a substantial part of your business, because if they do, you are their employee rather than their service provider. As long as you are not beholden in that way, then it is time for you to ask that client to find someone else.

I like good relationships with all my clients and from my side do my very best to look after their business needs to their satisfaction, but all relationships are two-sided. If a client is gruff, demanding, unappreciative and fee-resistant then they regard what your business provides as a commodity with a price. They do not see the value in what they get. They do not value what they get from you. They do not deserve to have you.

As you like it

There are always times when we have to ask our clients to find someone else because they must be unhappy whatever we do, but mostly because they make us unhappy. I like my business to be fun. Do not be afraid to weed out the unhappiness in the nicest possible way.

Have you parted with an ungrateful customer recently?

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Customer service is what makes us different

 

More than just the figures

Choices

Our prospects need to differentiate between a huge number of offerings. How do they know to choose us? For small businesses it is often going to be through recommendation; referrals. How do we get those referrals? It can only be by delivering great service and by perceived as being that bit better than the rest. We need to give our customers a nice warm feeling inside.

The wrong way

Recently there has been a very amusing thread on an accountancy forum where the querist has apparently been reluctant to pick up the clients’ books and records or to deliver them back. He thinks it is an expensive exercise to do that and wants to charge the clients for doing it.

What a strange attitude! Surely a client would look forward to a visit? It would make her or him feel that they matter to the accountant and that the accountant is interested in them. They may have questions they wish to ask.

At the same time the accountant will gain more background to the business that may be relevant in understanding the client and preparing the accounts. There may be an opportunity to sell more services. If the client has that nice warm feeling they will be happy to pay for a good service. If they just get their accounts prepared on a production line they will get price sensitive and shop around for the cheapest option. Alternatively they will go to someone else who will give them that nice warm feeling. We need to have a relationship with those who matter to our businesses, and they are the people who provide our income.

Accidents

Of course no matter what we do, things may go wrong, but it is how we then deal with them that makes all the difference. Accidents will happen. We may have to swallow our pride or suppress our emotions.

Play the ball, not the person

I do a little customer service work for one of my clients. Recently they had a complaint from a customer about something which had gone wrong, and really it was one of those accidents. My client could not have prevented it but it was within our power to fix it. By “our” I mean as in my client and me acting on my client’s behalf.

The strange thing was that I had been on the wrong end of some very bad customer service meted out by this individual on behalf of her large corporate employer. Nevertheless I was “all sweetness and light” and dealt with the problem. I wrote to her and advised her. I asked her to let me know if there was anything else I could do. She did not thank me or even reply, but I guess that was no surprise. We do have to stay professional and keep our emotions out of it.

What we do for our customers and clients should give them a warm and fuzzy feeling and give them reason to recommend us. The value of what we provide is our USP, isn’t it?

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Come on, rabbit, don’t be shy!

Rabbit shape

Image via Wikipedia

Quite often when I am taking my evening walk, I pass a man of about my age scurrying back from the rail station. No doubt he is a City worker. He does not meet my eye and scoots past like a frightened rabbit. Generally when I pass someone out walking, I say hello, especially if I quite often see the person. None of my attempts at greeting this guy have elicited any response, so I have given up.

The ant hill

To a degree I understand the man’s attitude. It is a sort of defence mechanism some adopt when they work in a big city, especially a capital city. There are just so many people. I know what it is like to find my way through an enormous number of people especially at a mainline rail station. One is reduced to ant status, almost climbing through and round the crowd to get where we want to.

This defence mechanism often extends to the workplace too, particularly if people are unhappy and just turn up, keep their heads down and work just because it pays the bills. I used to do that too. I stopped doing it because if you keep your head down people really do crawl all over you, and at the time it was a conscious decision. I realised I was not getting anywhere at the place I was working and that I was badly undervalued. I left and got a much better job with more responsibility, which was much more rewarding and which gained me a lot more pay.

The warren

Once we have our own business, we can’t be frightened rabbits. After all, rabbits are social animals really. We have to be seen and noticed. We have to network and build relationships in person and online. You know that already.

As an employee I DID make a conscious decision to go for better things.

When I set up my own business it was still pretty tough for a natural introvert like me. I had done a course on public speaking as an employee, mainly because I had to do a course and I had done all the others. It didn’t train me to present myself properly, because you only learn by doing it in practice. I have to thank BNI for that because it is where I cut my networking teeth. Getting business there was not all that successful because I could not get my ideal business category, but I benefited a great deal from the training.

To see me online you might not think I am a shy person, but by nature I am. We need to be ourselves when we network, but for many of us we still have to overcome our inhibitions and not hide away even when we would like to. I have got used to being “out there”, and that’s what we all have to do, but at the start it’s not easy, is it?

 

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Letting clients go

Quite a few years ago I worked for a very large firm of accountants. One of the less pleasurable aspects was in dealing with difficult clients. There were clients who paid their bills late of course, there were clients who didn’t take advice, clients who let their affairs get into a mess, and, worst of all, clients who were downright rude.

In a large firm of accountants, each client is allocated to a partner or director. Some of these clients will have been won by the partner etc. and some will have been inherited. Either way, beyond the annual Christmas card, the contact between our bosses and their clients was generally fairly minimal. It was the staff who had to take all the flak, the bad behaviour and the rudeness.

I believe there comes a point with some clients when one really has to review whether they are worth having both in terms of fee recovery and the stress of having to watch the clients’ backs with frankly no gratitude or any form of appreciation, as the clients go their own sweet way. This is true of large firms such as my own former employer, though of course the partner may not protect the staff or even the firm when there is a theoretical loss of revenue no matter how difficult or unpleasant the client.

With smaller businesses though, it is really within our control. If we have had enough of the client in terms of stress, because all the other sorts of bad behaviour cause stress, it is best to tell the client to find someone else.

Dropping the Pilot by Sir John Tenniel, from Punch, March 1890, showing Chancellor Bismarck leaving the German ship of state, watched by Kaiser Wilhelm II.

At certain times we need to be strong and insist the client finds another adviser. There are often protestations and we may be told “things will change”, but sometimes enough is enough. Be polite as possible but get the message over. Let the client sail on into the sunset on his or her own. With less to worry about we can concentrate better on our marketing to find new, better and more appreciative clients.

© Jon Stow 2010