Crummy Customer Communication: My Story
No matter what technology you sell or what vertical market you sell into, the story I'm about to recount provides some lessons we can all apply to our businesses. As the GM of Corry Publishing, I rarely play the role of customer, spending the better part of my day working for our readers and advertisers.
My duties changed for two days recently when my company forked over nearly $2,000 so a co-worker and I could attend a publishing conference in Chicago. The conference itself was great - filled with actionable ideas implemented by leaders in the publishing field. I have no complaints there (except for the stick-in-the-mud publisher who recommended taking away your sales staff's computers because pen and paper is more manageable. Somebody needs a VAR! But I digress ...)
Here's my crummy customer communication story: Show attendees were invited to topic-specific dinners the first night of the show. In the welcoming speech, a member of show management promoted attendance at these dinner events, concluding by saying, "As far as paying for dinner, they'll take your orders, and at the end of the meal you just put your credit card on the table. Don't worry about it."
I chose the B2B management dinner, as did about a dozen other attendees. Two members of show management attended the dinner as well, including the publisher of the magazine hosting the event. (I won't use his real name, but another show manager said they call him Big T around the office.)
At the end of the meal, Big T got one bill and said, "Pass your credit cards to the middle." A budget-minded attendee sitting next to me and I inquired about our individual bills. "We're splitting this," replied Big T curtly. I asked to see the bill - $1,723 for 15 people, an average of about $115 per attendee, well above my budget. I gasped. I quickly computed that my baked potato was costing me about $30.
We reminded Big T about what they said at the beginning of the show, but he told us (the customers) that it was our fault. We misunderstood what they were saying. We briefly protested - I didn't know "put your card on the table" meant you're paying for the entire room - and he just stared at us. We requested that he ask the waiter to split the bill individually. Begrudgingly, Big T left the table only to return 10 seconds later. "Can't do it," he shrugged.
Being from a magazine that reports on point of sale technology, I knew this wasn't the case. But I passed my card to the middle of the table and grimaced from this customer experience. I wasn't so upset about the money itself. I just felt like my customer concern wasn't remotely important.
5 Customer Communication Lessons To Be Learned
1. Ask questions of your customer. Clarify every detail of what you are going to do for your customer. Understand and manage their expectations.
2. When you see a customer, shake their hand - always. My dissatisfaction with this situation would have been lessened if Big T would have, before or during the meal, walked over to me and said, "Thanks for coming to the show. Tell me about your magazine." He didn't have to spend the night laughing at all my jokes, but he could have at least shown that he cared I attended.
3. Don't trust anyone nicknamed "Big T." This statement isn't meant to disparage or anger Mr. T.
4. If you sense a customer is not 100% satisfied, talk to them about it immediately. Don't let them leave the room (or hang up the phone) without addressing the issue. If you don't talk to them about their dissatisfaction, there's a good chance they will talk to your competitor about it.
5. Fight for your customer. When the waiter said he couldn't split the bill, Big T should have fought for his customer. Even if the answer still would have been no, at least we customers would have felt he genuinely tried to fulfill our request.
I'm sure this isn't the first time you've heard these lessons. But every once in a while, we need to be reminded that no matter how good our product is, we have to communicate effectively with our customers.