If you don’t treat customers with courtesy and respect, you soon won’t have them. The prime responsibility of a commercial manager is the production and maximisation of profitable income for the long term future of a business. Profitable income is produced by anticipating and satisfying customer requirements, which means that customer satisfaction must be at the centre of a commercial organisation’s thinking.
Customer relationship management has become increasingly important over recent years.
It is generally recognised that it is easier and cheaper to retain profitable customers than it is to find and gain new ones. However, businesses still need to find new customers and sources of trade because of natural wastage, while at the same time seeking to maintain a healthy customer base. To maintain that base, companies need to establish and maintain good customer service. As markets have become more competitive, the standard of customer service required has become increasingly important. How well a customer is treated can therefore become central to a customer’s attitude to do business with a company or to decide to go elsewhere.
A recently published article by a specialist in customer service, suggested that many of the “Golden Rules” of customer service have become outmoded, as consumer attitudes have changed. The article stated that there are a number of generally accepted service principles, many of which have become commonplace, but suggested that many of these principles were obsolete or wrong.
Customer relations in business to business transactions tend to be impersonal and generally follow what may be considered normal commercial rules and practice. However, in consumer markets, while a supplier has to be professional in their relationship with their customer, the customer considers their transactions in a very personal way, with attitudes that may appear less rational and more emotionally driven.
How should a commercial manager react to a difficult customer?
If a customer has a complaint or is dissatisfied in some way, it is important to find out the underlying reason. If the organisation is at fault, it needs to admit its fault to the customer and seek to remedy the problem as soon as possible. If the customer has been seriously inconvenienced then the commercial manger may need to consider a form of compensation if it is appropriate.
In reality, for a variety of reasons, the customer is not always right, but knowing how to explain to a customer why they are wrong, without destroying the customer relationship, is an important but essential skill. In the age of Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp, the negative comments of dissatisfied customers can very quickly be magnified via the Internet and do serious damage to an organisation’s reputation and business.
If after examining the facts of the complaint, it transpires that the customer was wrong, it helps to be sympathetic and empathise with the customer’s position, while at the same time politely explaining the situation from the business’s perspective. There is no generic right way to deal with a customer’s complaint, but if an organisation plays fair with its customers, customers will generally respect its reputation.
Although all customers are important, some are more important than others. The value of a customer that is habitually difficult or complaining has to be established from their overall contribution to the business, both in financial terms and market influence. Those difficult customers that have an important contribution might require greater patience from the organisation, while the retention or otherwise of others that have less influence or contribution might need to be considered.
It may be a good aspiration to get everything right every time, but it is important to accept that occasionally things will go wrong, usually through human error or from unexpected external events. Understanding the underlying reasons that cause things to go wrong, enables them to be put right or avoided in the first place. Not seeking to understand the underlying causes of problems encourages their perpetuation, which may cause greater problems in the future. Admitting a mistake and if necessary, going the extra mile and expense to put it right, can help if you want to retain the customer and maintain the organisation’s reputation, which otherwise might be quickly damaged via social media.
Regardless of anything else, every customer deserves respect, good manners, and consideration. Training should be given to employees at the point of hire, not later when bad habits may have already taken hold. The first principle of customer relations is to remember that “He who has the money makes the rules.” For the Commercial manager, at the centre of the business is the customer, who provides the money to the organisation that satisfies their needs. If the organisation does not satisfy the customer’s requirements, of if the customer does not feel valued by the organisation they can always go elsewhere.
A successful business depends not only on anticipating customer requirements, but keeping the customer satisfied with the product and especially the service they receive.