The next time you react fearfully to an irrational client demand, consider the implications your promise creates with other valuable clients. We live in an industry in which emergency triage for costly buyers commonly trumps standard operating procedures to create undeserved problems for profitable customers.
Consider the recent event at United Airlines during which a beaten, bloodied passenger was dragged off an airplane. The video of the episode went viral and sparked controversy about the culpability of airline employees, law enforcement, and even the rebellious customer. Regardless of blame, the event was a botched public relation fiasco ... and eventually an opportunity in disguise.
To be fair, this isn’t a problem unique to United; all airlines involuntarily bump passengers. In the case of United, the incident led to positive changes including a review of public relations procedures and changes in boarding policies where customers are offered higher compensation that inspires voluntary schedule changes.
Consider the many airline passengers who have been involuntarily bumped from various flights over the years. I was a victim on a United flight nearly 10 years ago and haven’t flown with the company since. Now consider the many customers who have been involuntarily bumped from your delivery and service schedule over the years.
During a group training session, one inside sales representative described the challenges he routinely faced when his outside sales partners made demands for his time and delivery services that created conflicting priorities. At a facilitated dialogue with another client, every salesperson complained that their company’s “four-hour delivery promise” frequently was not kept. Numerous other clients have experienced similar problems of clients demanding immediate action to put out emergency fires.
The real challenge I face as an industry adviser is not helping clients change their policies, but getting them to believe it’s possible. The fear of saying “no” is based on the belief that a client will instantly find a new supplier if emergency demands are not met. The idea of “retraining” a client to plan effectively is met with the resistant belief he or she won’t listen. Instead of finding solutions, employees and companies wallow in perceived victimization. There are actions you can take.
1. Say “no” with an option. The next time you receive an emergency demand, let the client know you can’t fulfill their request, but offer an alternative. Use the words, “I have commitments to other clients I would have to break if I do what you ask right now. I must honor my word to them, as I do for you. But here is what I can do …”
2. Use emergencies to prevent future problems. You probably agree that the majority of your emergencies are created by the same minority of contractors. Try saying, “We have had quite a few of these emergencies and they’re costing us a lot to fix. But my bigger concern is what they are costing you. Let’s meet to discuss ways to avoid the fires in the future …”
3. Break some eggs. When all else fails, let angry customers follow through on threats to take their business elsewhere. Most agree that, after this happens, they come back as better clients after the experience.
Problems and bad public relations we create with clients usually begin when we accept promises we can’t fulfill. You can’t put two people in a single seat on an airplane and you can’t have a delivery truck in two places at the same time. Manage your promises with rational dialogue to build a customer base of unbreakable loyalty.