Don’t irritate your customers

Wouldn’t it be great if every customer was ecstatically happy with you all the time? Imagine how easy your job would be — you’d merrily go about your business serving additional customers, selling more, and creating win/win solutions.

Unfortunately, that scenario can only be seen in fairy tales. We who live in the real world have unhappy customers. Hopefully, this is a rarity, not commonplace. No one relishes dissatisfied customers.

When a customer is upset, it distresses us. Not only does it take time to calm her, but we have to then fix the problem and get back in her good graces. Plus, she’s going to be more reticent to buy other items from us.

How can a savvy sales professional avoid having upset customers? Some of the causes of customers’ discontent are beyond your control, yet some upsets are caused by your behavior.

Some issues out of your control

What can you do when the issue is beyond your control? You don’t manage manufacturing, quality control, vendors or shipping, yet these seem to be the source of many customer upsets.

Even with issues you don’t control, you still rule the communication with your customer. A common customer complaint is to not hear of a problem until the last minute. This can be because their sales rep doesn’t know of the problem sooner, or because the rep has put off making the bad-news call.

If you repeatedly don’t hear of the problem until it’s too late for the customer to do anything about it, then work to improve your company’s internal communication processes. It’s not always easy, as your colleagues may not be as committed to customer excellence as you are. But it’s worth it to see what could be done to notify you as soon as a problem is identified so you can pass on the info to your customer. The challenge for you is to work to identify the communication roadblock without overtly blaming a person or department yet enlisting their cooperation in shifting how they operate. You’ll have to use all your finesse, diplomacy and win/win communication skills!

Sometimes the complaint is with someone no longer with your company. As a young sales rep new to a company, a customer berated me for my predecessor’s failure to deliver on promises. There was nothing I could do about the former rep’s bad behavior, so I listened politely, apologized for him, and promised to rectify what I could. I religiously returned this customer’s calls promptly and followed up assiduously to any communication from him. Even when the problem isn’t at all related to you, you still have to fix it.

Preventing problems within your control

What are some of the customer annoyances over which you have direct control? Anything involving your behavior. While it’s not fun to admit one can irritate others, it’s critical to do so if you want to avoid creating upset customers and you want to retain them for future business.

While avoiding the following should be common sense, unfortunately it’s not. I’ve heard multiple buyers complain about all of them. Here are some common ways salespeople exasperate their customers:

  • Don’t call as soon as you know there’s a problem. Since these calls are often unpleasant, often resulting in the customer yelling and expressing their anger, it’s easy to put off these calls. However, the longer you put off making the call, the less time the customer has to figure out how they’ll deal with the bad news. Your procrastination exasperates the situation. If done repeatedly with the same customer, you’ll soon lose the account — and maybe your job!
  • Don’t quickly respond to customer inquiries. You may not respond immediately because you don’t have the answer, don’t want to take the time to figure out the response, or are up to your eyeballs with other customers. Have the courtesy — and professional savvy — to at least respond with a message of “I got your message. I need a little while to give you the answer, but I should be back to you by XX.” Then at least the customer knows you’ve received their message and are working on a response. This will garner you much respect, repeat business and referrals.
  • Talk too much.
    Customers complain that salespeople just tell them what’s new, rather than asking what the customer is working on then making suggestions specific to their needs. Ideally, the customer should be doing 75% of the talking and the salesperson doing much less, but his comments are laser focused on the customer’s issues.
  • Late to appointments.
    Everyone can be late occasionally when encountering unexpected traffic. If so, you need to call the customer immediately so she can plan her time. But if you are perpetually late, you’re not managing your calendar nor your time well. Better to be early and catch up on email in a customer’s waiting room than to be consistently late. People interpret lateness as disrespectful and flakey. You don’t want anyone to think you’re either. So schedule better, and communicate immediately when you know you’ll arrive a few minutes after the appointed hour.
  • Arrogance.
    When salespeople feel they don’t need to show proof that their product does what they say it will, or have a “of course I’m right” attitude, it does nothing to endear them to the customer. Arrogance also appears when the customer has a problem and the salesperson doesn’t provide the attention to resolve it.
  • Overly friendly.
    Initially, it’s hard to see that friendliness could be irritating. But when someone acts as if he is a good friend when he isn’t, that’s smarmy, not friendly. It can be an irritant. This effusiveness can be with the customer or her staff. Either way, it makes for a strained relationship so there is less grace when a problem occurs.
  • Too much chit-chat. This is related to being overly friendly and talking too much. My clients repeatedly complain about how sales reps think they’re building rapport by asking about family, vacations, or golf games. One put it bluntly: “The sales rep is not my friend, but is pretending to be. I don’t want to share my personal life with him. We’re here to do business and I’d appreciate it if he’d keep the conversation focused on business.” Another said, “I see 5 or 6 reps a day. If each one takes 5-10 minutes chit-chatting, that can add up to nearly an hour of wasting my time. Get down to business from the start!”
  • Not paying attention to personal grooming.
    That tuna sandwich with raw onions and garlic fries was delicious at lunch, but your afternoon client will be much happier if you brush your teeth and add a mint before the meeting. It may seem superficial to worry about one’s personal care, but it makes a difference in whether a client will take a meeting with you or not. And if he takes the meeting, he’ll want to cut it short to get you out of his office.
  • No follow up.
    When you say you’ll send a quote, brochure, specs or other follow up, you need to do it promptly.  If not, the customer will have to chase you down to get it and she’ll be annoyed. Or worse, she may just ask another supplier for the same info and you’ll lose the sale. When you promise something, get it to the customer promptly and you’ll find yourself standing out in the crowd. Many salespeople don’t realize that the sale often goes to the first one responding to requests.

What will you do?

The bottom line is most people have an irritating habit or two that no one will point out. Yours can come between you and your customers. So best to solicit candid feedback from those you trust to tell you the truth — not just what they think will spare your feelings. It’s not always easy to find true trusted advisors like that, but it’s worth asking. Don’t just ask your boss or best friend; also ask a client with whom you feel you have a strong relationship. They will help you see what you’re doing that may be turning customers away from  you — and your company.

It takes courage to ask for this kind of feedback. But if you don’t, you’ll never know what you’re doing that is costing you business. Salespeople are bold by nature. Turn that boldness into some personal continuous improvement.