Managing the Customer – Training Notes

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Happy customer - system engineerOut there, in the working field you sometime find yourself facing or handling all kinds of customers. When you have to deliver “bad news”, say “no” to customers or to people in power, you are often tempted to placate with a “yes”. It is indeed a challenge trying to balance the need to be customer-oriented and the need to deliver difficult messages to our customers. You always want to provide exceptional service to both your internal and external customers.

However, in the real world, things might go wrong and mistakes are made. Nevertheless, your goal is to have a happy customer through communication, that involves respect for the boundaries of oneself and others. It also presumes an interest in the fulfillment of needs and wants through cooperation.

We All Work for the Customer.

Obviously! But, is it always visible, at hand? Let’s try a schematic visualization on the situation. The example is a fairly big organization, with internal and external value and cash flow.

What can be pretty easily seen from the picture above, is that the customer is the only source of continuous and sustained income, for the entire company. As anyone could expect.

Regarding expenses, many more may be added to have a complete picture, we keep it simple for our purpose.

Let’s now take the example of a support team inside “My company”. They have no direct contact to the external customer to pays the money. Good for them! … or not. Do they still have customer? Somebody needed to be satisfied? Yes they do. It’s the project team(s) they support. The teams that work with the external customer that pays for all. They have internal customers they need to satisfy. Because all in the company are in the same boat that needs to float and even fly. All must do their best to help to keep the income flow source happy. So he pays and returns other times also.

The conclusion that can be drawn from here is that satisfying and keeping a happy customer (even if not directly visible), is the single and most important purpose of all in a company. Without a customer, there’s no more business. No other purpose exists beyond out customer.

The Customer from hell. Customer Types.

There are several kinds of customer you might encounter. Their behavior, and possibly reactions, depends on their current interests and needs, or maybe the pressure their are also under.

Also, there is a great deal of personal touch in the relation with any customer, as after all, everything is reduced to communication between people. So, whomever you are talking to, client or supplier both within and outside your organization, keep in mind that there is a person in front of you, that can think and act both subjectively or (condus de sentimente). And people can have a bad night sleep, a morning fight with wife, or even don’t like you. Cultivate your interpersonal skills, your image and the relation with people you work with.

1. You’re most lucky when you’ve got a benevolent a cooperative customer.

The one that tries to help you because ultimately it’s in his own interest. He is technically literate and know what he want and whether it’s possible. This customer will give you a lot of detailed information, and try to anticipate your questions and needs. You finish in time with great results. Everybody is happy.

2. Not-knowing-what-he-wants customer.

He may be new to the technology, or just a non-technical customer.
A typical situation is when the customer only have a vague idea about the final product or service. And that idea is only communicated to you.

What do do in this situation? Ask! Ask a lot of whys. He wants a chair that flies .. Why? Because he wants to relax and feel light. Why? Because …..

3. Angry customer.

And you’re not angry, yet. Control yourself, make sure yo keep calm. You cannot argue with this customer. Cannot negotiate, at least not yet.

As told before, we are all people. So you must understand and not underestimate the human side.  That the first thing you have to cope with. Forget anything else until you get him calm. There are a lot of techniques described all over negotiation is treated, the need for empathy, understanding of his situation, and so on. These are not the focus for now, feel free to search for them.

Remember that somebody who lost his temper will not think rationally when the emotional side takes over. More, he won’t want to. This is a no win situation.

After you have a person ready to discuss, you can start approaching the topic at interest, carefully. If there’s no chill, politely put an end to the conversation and plan for a follow-up, or try another neutral topic that may also be needed to be clarified. If that works and you are both rational after that, then you may retry the sensitive one.

Some things to remember:

  • Don’t let them get to you
  • Listen – listen – listen -> Actively Listen
  • Stop saying sorry
  • Empathise

4. The non-returning customer.

This is the most difficult one. A lost case, one may say. Opposed to the one above, you don’t even know why the customer is unhappy, and you find yourself unable to even try to satisfy him. More than that, you loose precious feedback about your weak spots and needed improvements, feedback that will be gladly handed over freely to both your competition and other customers you have.

The result is that you’ll loose twice: your competition might listen and build on your weak areas, and your other customers might retreat as well.

5. Technical / non-technical customer

Sometimes you might find yourself working with a technically savvy client, the one you can discuss details and work the problems out together. He understands your job and is eager to help out, tweaking his requirements and solution concept to fins the optimal resolution.

Or, you might work for a customer that only sees the project from a business perspective. He doesn’t care about your technical constraints, just wants the solution quickly and cheap. In this situation, you can encounter the paradoxical situation when your customer enforces a technically/physically impossible (or at least, not feasible) feature or even solution.

Facing Client / Supplier Types.

Within the customer-supplier relationship, several situations are possible based on the moment in time they meet and the business pace that characterize each. Here are some of the common situations, and some sketches of how to deal with them.

1. Unhappy customer / Not caring supplier.

Nothing could came out of here. The customer is already dissatisfied, and maybe doesn’t expect too much any more. And the supplier exactly meet his expectation. So, the client might want to finalize the current project, but later cooperation is greatly jeopardized.

Why not just get up and put some effort change the customer’s view? It won’t be too easy when you got in this situation, but you can start small to delight him on features easy for you, but unexpected and very useful for him.

The bottom line is that, if this state of things doesn’t change, you loose the business.

2. Customer with an important goal / Late supplier.

What if the customer works for an important milestone, but the supplier is always late? The pressure will propagate at all levels as the customer is himself under pressure.

There’s an important case here for both parties how to handle the communication. Maybe the most efficient thing to do in a first step is to start to prioritize together.

3. Urgent customer / Not caring supplier.

What if the customer has an urgent deadline, but the supplier doesn’t even care? This situation puts all the communication effort to the customer in need side. He must try to get something out, and might recall the supplier several times. This seemingly puts the supplier in a force position, but the situation will end quickly as the customer resolves its crisis. And definitely, no future business for that supplier.

4. Vague customer / Professional, ready to help in supplier.

This might happen when working with a customer that doesn’t exactly know what he wants, or doesn’t describe it properly. The communication effort goes to the supplier, which in this case is a professorial that is able to cope with the situation. He must ask a lot, working together with the customer to clearly define his needs. A lot of scenarios and proposals are presented to the customer, so he can accept or ask for the concept refinement.

Actually, this is a happy situation, as the end result is a common understanding and agreement.

Problems That May Appear or Cause a Bad Customer Relation.

  • stress – this is the outcome of any conflict situation. Pressure, lack of a clear solution or roadmap may push people to elevated stress levels. One can mitigate stress by communicating much, but using the correct approach.
  • personal pride issues – might result from the interaction. These might further amplify the entire dispute unless properly identified and managed.
  • communication problems – very generic. Nevertheless, one might find himself not able to establish contact to attempt situation improvement. On the other hand bad or lack of communication will surely lead to a worsen relationship.
  • misunderstanding – might happen due to a lot of different reasons, as: different mother-tongue of parties, education, lack of listening or interests, or even view of life. One must work to clear things out, rephrasing what’s been said, trying to put into perspective. Anyway, this is a matter of will and effort.
  • intercultural communication issues – might arise when the partners come from very different cultures, like an Asian and an European. A basic understanding of each other’s culture and principles, beliefs is required.
  • personal non-sympathy – not quite professional, but might happen. Should be no problem if these feelings are held back and communication is approached professionally. Else, one of the partners should be replaced.

Instead of Conclusion

Some measures to prevent an unhappy customer: squeeze requirements out of him as soon and clear as possible, watch out for his budget, promise what you realistically can deliver within the budget (or even less, then you can amplify customer satisfaction by delivering more). Before offer, understand and define his problem and its context.

There several aspects one need to be aware of when interacting with the customer:

  • Understanding Different Communication Channels and Their Effect
    • Face-to-face Interaction
    • On the Telephone
  • Assertive Communication
    • Difference in being passive, assertive and aggressive
    • Goal of Assertive Communication
    • Benefits of Assertive Communication
  • Strategies for Handling Dissatisfaction
    • Understanding the nature of Customers’ Problems and Emotions
    • Managing Our Own Responses
  • Communicating confidently and calmly, under pressure and saying things in the right way
    • Listening and Responding with Empathy
    • Avoiding certain Triggering Words
    • Defusing Phrases & The Art of Saying No
  • Managing the Extremes
    • When and how to address what is unacceptable
  • Recharging Yourself
    • Dealing with your own feelings (anger, frustrations and residue of that) after having one difficult encounter before facing the next tricky situation with a clean slate
    • Exploring how you are feeling