The Art Of A Tough Conversation, Part 2

In Part 1 of this article, I talked about the moments in everyday business that, if you hold ground and call out a customer, can lead to big margin improvements.

So what does this look like on the front line of your business and what’s some language that might help in the situation?

Take a scenario where a customer calls up and says something like, “I’m out of stock and I urgently need next Monday’s scheduled delivery before close of play this Friday.” Your staff could well be caught off-guard unless there is a game plan in place for responding with strength.

What usually happens is that your staff acquiesces, accepting the extraordinary circumstances, and reverting to the ingrained belief that they must help because “the customer is always right.”

There’s often a perceived threat, and sometimes a real threat, that the relationships will suffer. The customer may get angry, refer the matter to a more senior member of staff or threaten to take their business to another supplier.

Fear and fatigue are powerful drivers. That’s why it’s important to take small steps when responding to these tough situations. The last thing you want when you’ve had a rough week is find yourself in the midst of a new customer storm.

But it costs you doubly if staff members don’t speak up or act in your interest. Your business will pay the price, and the customer’s approach and your staff members’ acquiescence perpetuate until they become the “norm.”

As a supplier, you want customers to be satisfied and remain—but on your terms. If customer satisfaction is only ever on the customer’s terms, your business margin will get picked off around the edges again and again.

This is a great time to develop and practise the “If you…I will” clause for working with customers. It sounds something like this, “Great to hear that your business is going so well. If you would now like your delivery brought forward to Saturday, I will organise for a special delivery, provided you are happy to cover the $1,500 weekend service surcharge.”

Or it might be, “If you need me to come and look at your operational disruptions at 3am on a Sunday morning, I will do it, provided you agree to pay the $2,000 call-out fee.”

Or even, “We are more than happy to have our design people mock-up 15 different samples for your research and make a further 10 refinements thereafter, provided you are prepared to pay the agreed per-hour rate for their time.”

By framing your responses to customers in “If you…I will” language and practising the anticipated responses to “above and beyond requests,” the tough conversations become so much easier and your staff become “match fit” in dealing with what were once confronting situations. More importantly, you continue to fortify a mutually respectful relationship that begins and ends on your agreed terms.