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How to Manage Customer Relationships When Things Go Awry

By Kate Tyndall

March 16, 2020

In all of life’s relationships, things can sometimes get a little tense.

Whether it’s your relationship with your spouse, your child or your customer, you want to confront the problem and handle it, before it morphs into a situation that is hard to recover from without lasting damage.

How do you avoid this scenario?

Chad Prinkey has some thoughts on the topic that he shared at one of the TISE 2020’s Education sessions. Prinkey is a partner at Neuberger & Co., a sales training and management consultancy with offices in Washington and Baltimore.

“For example, if you’re a flooring installer, and your customer is the owner of the home or a business, there is little you can do about back-ordered products specified by a designer. If you’re a designer there is little you can do as the designer or the manufacturer if the raw materials are difficult to get or costs have gone up.”

So how to deal with customers in a situation like that who think the installer is passing the buck?

Tips for Managing Positive Customer Relationships
Leave a positive impression, despite the letdowns—If you did something wrong, apologize and make it right. That’s so much better than leaving a customer unhappy, Prinkey says. 

Advocate on the customer’s behalf if you can’t fix the problem to provide options and alternatives—He admits situations like these are a little more nuanced, noting, “I wouldn’t go to spend my personal money as a business to right something that isn’t my fault. Companies can work to make the supply company or manufacturer realize that they have a stake in the customer’s happiness. The installer needs to go to bat for my customers, because I should be of value to you.”

Don’t assume people up the chain won’t help—So often businesses take up the problem with the supply company or manufacturer, but it’s a mistake to go this alone. Other people have a stake in your customer’s happiness.

Not going the extra mile for your customers might not show up in this year’s balance sheet, but the bad taste that experience left in your customer’s mouth can come back to haunt you, when you realize that that particular customer hasn’t bought any flooring from you in quite a while. Less traffic equals fewer dollars coming in.

Don’t leave it up to your customers to tell you they are unhappy—It’s not their responsibility, Prinkey says. As a business, it’s up to you to keep keep checking up on your relationships. That’s how you find out what’s going on. Little things that go awry but don’t get mentioned by customers can fester, and eventually lead to a severed relationship. Meanwhile, the business owner is left scratching his head, wondering what he did wrong.

If you do find a problem that the customer didn’t bring up, go back and address it, Prinkey advises. “Set a meeting and try to address dropping the ball, and [say] ‘Here is what we are doing to address the problem, and if you hang in with us, we will keep checking in on you to make sure your experience is up to par.’”

Reflect your Standards to your Employees
When it come to training your sales people and installers, as a company, model the behavior you want them to emulate, Prinkey says.

“As an organization you will never be able to train for every opportunity that occurs. We could write three volumes and no one would ever read it. Set the standard for how you want your people to operate.”

He acknowledges that every situation has its own nuances, but strongly maintains that the company’s standards should be clearly articulated to the team: “We take the customer first; we advocate for the customer; and we track down the problem and deal with it.”

When the opportunity arises for a company to do just that, you rise to the occasion, says Prinkey. You don’t try to protect the company first.

He illustrates with a story: “There was a circumstance [in another industry] where a customer complained about being billed four hours for work that was done within two hours.The customer service agent explained the billing, and the customer said, ‘I don’t think that’s fair.’ The agent said, ‘What do you think is fair?’ and the customer said, ‘I feel that I should not have to pay anything.’ And the agent said, ‘Okay.’

“And the agent was a new hire, who had gotten the talk about putting the customer first. The owner of the company stood up, gave her a huge high five, and said, ‘That was awesome.’ He then said, ‘I want you to find a different way to manage it. But you did exactly right.’

“They managed to get a training opportunity in there, but they also honored the standard they set. You’ve got to say it, honor it, and celebrate it, even when it’s ugly.”