December 15, 2016
Have you ever made this customer service mistake: You promise a customer to handle a problem quickly, such as a delivery delay, then end up letting it slide due to other demands on your time. It’s a big blunder.
If you think that you aren’t likely to make a habit of not following up on complaints from customers, consider the case of Bob. Bob is no different from you. If you looked at his desk, you would see stacks of paper on it. If you listened, you could hear the never-ending calls from customers, happy and not so happy. All day, he juggles orders. Unfortunately, he’s learned a little trick. Big accounts get almost all of his attention, while small accounts get proportionate service—sometimes no service at all.
There are consultants who would suggest that this makes tremendous business sense. It’s the 80/20 rule, in which 20% of your accounts—the big ones—account for 80% of your revenue. But there are some assumptions here. One is that these smaller accounts won’t ever grow to a size where their business will matter to your company, and the second is that those with whom you are now dealing will not have long memories. Or, here’s another potential situation: The small accounts might get together at a trade conference, compare notes, and take their business, en masse, to another supplier.
This last is what happened in Bob’s case. And, worse, his supervisor heard why from one of the people with whom Bob dealt. He wasn’t fired, but he also wasn’t given an opportunity to demonstrate that he could change. The boss brought in someone else to handle smaller accounts. This individual demonstrated that in time he could bring in more revenue from the smaller accounts than Bob had. When the next management position opens up, Bob isn’t sure who will get the promotion.
Is it too late for Bob to do anything to improve his odds for promotion? Actually, it isn’t. He needs to take a lesson from his competitor and, first, build a tighter relationship with the buyers from the big firms. It’s time for him to go out into the field and check to see if they are happy with the products and services they’re receiving. Just as important, on these trips, he should be observant about other sales opportunities.
Could Bob have prevented this situation? Yes, but let’s be realistic. If Bob was a busy as most managers are today, keeping track of every order from every buyer, big accounts and small, might have been impossible. The situation might have demanded more of a management solution than a service one.
Problem solving to improve service
Let’s consider two options that might have been available:
Determine if there is a pattern in the problems occurring. If there is, practice preventative management. A process called problem sensing is based on periodic monitoring of workflow to identify any recurring situations that could be creating problems, such as delayed shipments to smaller accounts. For instance, the warehouse might have a system in place that gives short shrift to smaller orders, such as storing supplies for smaller buyers in hard-to-reach locations. Or the accounting department may bunch smaller orders, addressing the needs of the big contractors first.
If Bob could have identified the cause of the problem with recurring delays, he could have asked for a systems change that would have put an end to delivery complaints.
Ask for help. Why not? You can hire new staff if you can make a strong enough business case. Bob could have gone to his supervisor with a proposal that more revenue would be possible if he had staff support, so he would be free to work more closely with the big accounts. Bob’s new report would be assigned to work with the smaller buyers, looking for further sales opportunities. Any increased sales might be due to the newcomer’s work, but Bob would have gotten the credit for the idea. And he would have shown his management skill to his boss, thereby demonstrating his readiness for promotion to a management position.