Friday, September 08, 2006

Worst Practices In Customer Relationship Management

We are adding onto our house. My wife is managing the project, and I'm trying to stay out of the way. It's been a long process, and it's almost complete. Everything looks great. But yesterday I got a taste of what she's been living with for the last year (caveat: our general contractor has been excellent throughout). Yesterday's case study? The company finishing the new hardwood floors.

What she experienced are some of the worst practices in customer management. If you employ these practices, you are guaranteed to have lousy relationships with customers, no matter how good your products and services are. (My wife tries to explain this to the flooring guy, and he just can't get it. Isn't it good enough that the floor looks good? Answer: no.)

Set unrealistic expectations, then spring surprises on your customer: the flooring company told my wife that the polyurethane would be "low-odor" water-based. Instead, when the finisher arrives, we ask if the poly will be low-odor. He says, "Oh, no. This is the smelly stuff." (Note: my wife has learned you have to confirm every commitment a subcontractor makes. Otherwise it can be as if the commitment never existed in the first place.)

Don't communicate: it would have been OK if the smelly polyurethane were used, AS LONG AS WE'D BEEN INFORMED IN ADVANCE and had time to prepare.

Bait & switch: The office told my wife: "Yes, the owner is available and will be doing your work himself." Did he show? No, sir. Why commit the owner if he was at risk of not showing? Any good feeling we had after the call with the office was more than erased when the underling showed up. By the way, did anyone say, "Look, I know we told you Fred the owner would be doing your project. Unfortunately he's not available. Jerry is very qualified and he will do a great job for you." No.

Don't listen: When my wife told him she was disturbed they'd changed the polyurethane from low-odor to smelly, the owner told her, "Well, we've had some issues with the quality of this product." That wasn't the issue now, was it? The issue was that they'd never told us!

Turn the complaint back on the customer: My wife told the owner that when they'd applied earlier coats of the smelly stuff, the residual odor was strong and it bothered us when we tried to sleep. He replied: "Well, I smell some paint or something now. That's much stronger smelling than our product."

Now, I know what you're thinking: "Of course a small, local businessperson would employ such poor practices, but I work for a large company. We are ISO-certfied, or Six Sigma, or whatever."

Don't be fooled. I've seen variations of these practices at world-class companies over and over again. No one is immune. They are like any bad habits: easy to learn, hard to unlearn.

Look for these worst practices around you, and work hard to excise them. It'll do your company and your customers a world of good.