A lesson in customer service aka managing client expectation

I'm sorry you can't have it

At the end of the day we deal in a service industry. Whether it's flipping a burger, manufacturing iron girders, slapping a sticker on and reselling products or bulk import export types of business. It all requires someone who sells. Sometimes this is the owner / proprietor, sometimes this is a dedicated sales person. On the other side, there is someone else who buys and in between there is a murky world of customer service. With cheaper, sometimes more raw products, you do expect the experience to be less complete whereas at the top end, you expect it to be OTT.

In the design world and service industry, customer service is paramount. The big word at the moment (well, on our lips anyhow) is 'expectation management'.

We see expectation management as:

  • ensuring that the client understands what they are going to get
  • how they are going to get it
  • when they will get it
  • what it will look/be like or what the deliverables are (in plain english)

This requires communication akacustomer service. Little things like: regular emails, phone calls , notifications when agreed items are completed and also completing things last minute when the client is faced with an immediate/urgent design request. These little things make and break business partnerships and dealings. We know this.

To quote the sergeant from Oliver Stone's Platoon:

'when the machine breaks down, we break down'.

And yes, during our ten year business run we have been there and done that. Yes we have refunded a client because his new business card green colour that we'd designed and printed didn't match his homemade inkjet-printed letterhead colour. Ludicrous in retrospect, but since then we have managed expectation by introducing simple measures such as more rigorous proofing and proof statements explaining colour changes at print. We went on to get more work from this client and several recommendations.

Lessons learnt. Job done. New business made.

So, this brings me on to lessons in customer service pt1.

Recently I had paid for some items to be shot blasted and powder coated by some specialists in Caerphilly. This essentially involves blasting paint off a metal item and then spraying in paint. Let me take you through the ups and downs of this process.

1. Don't phone. I had to phone despite them having my number, only to find out the work hadn't even been started.

2. When I then phoned a second time, they tell me how they had a bigger job on and had to push my job to the side. Not feeling loved now.

3. When I phoned again, the person on the phone didn't take responsibility, they simply said 'sorry mate, Dave was dealing with that I don't know naffin'. Phone back later mate'. Great!

4. They did admit mistakes. On phoning again and speaking to 'the boss'. I am informed that the work wasn't completed satisfactorily and they want to redo. Ok. Here, they score brownie points in my book. I appreciate his honesty, and we're back on.

Then I come to collect said items. All nicely wrapped. I am then subjected to the spiel by the boss how they've been going 10 years and how they've never laid anyone off and won all these awards blah blah. I put the items in my van. Say thanks (reluctantly) And I think. Job done. Nope. I get the items out and guess what. They aren't what I expected. Bits of paint missing on key areas. Now I am thinking that nothing was done in the previous 5 weeks and that a few porky pies were told to me, including the sucker punch of 'they weren't done well enough - we're going to have to redo them'.

Which did I prefer?

Being told they were pushed aside for a big order or the so called honesty of 'we weren't happy with result so we redid'. Who redid? My 8 year old son with poster paint.

Blood boiling. I return with said items. Speak to 'the boss'. Very apologetic and probably dying a little on the inside (I hope anyhow), especially after that it wasn't perfect product after his stringent quality standards and the full-on 'how great we are' soliloquy.

I collect them today. Not sure what to expect. I will let you know... but...

What have I learnt from this recent altercation and 10 years experience in the design industry:

  1. Communicate regularly
  2. If things aren't on track, let people know. Sooner the better. Not an hour before or even worse, when the client phones on deadline day!
  3. Do things before they are due if / where possible
  4. For those smaller jobs, get them in and out as quickly as possible.
  5. Under promise. Over deliver
  6. Do not lie (repeat ten times)
  7. For bosses / managers / account managers - Honesty is great but if you have to make excuse for sloppy workmanship, do you have the right staff / team? Make sure this is rectified ASAP so you don't have to do again. Its a truly shitty place to take the hit for sloppy workmanship.
  8. Make the client feel special - if you accept a small job or working on a 'small job'. Ignore the value and remember that you (or the company you work for) have accepted this work, money is now irrelevant, that was purely a business deal. You now need to deliver, and well.
  9. 'Slowly slowly catchy wolfy. From small acorns grow ... '. Taking time with growing clients can grow dividends
  10. If things go sour, be polite and formal and be prepare to walk away and move on. Learn from it.
  11. Reputation is paramount. Protect it.
  12. If you answer the phone, you are representing the company / business you work for. Listen and acknowledge their problem, take their number, look into it and get someone to phone back. Simple.

I am proud to say that in ten years we can count on one hand clients we have lost. Partly due to how we have changed as a business some down to mistakes that have been rectified. Yes, small mistakes will always be made along the way, after all we are all only human, but we now accept jobs differently. We are openly transparent in what they can expect and are also far fussier with clients we work with (sorry dance music  promoters & rack-em-stack-em night clubs, but we aren't for you).

So, in conclusion

If you've got a job to do you've got to do it well'

Or go flip a burger.