Preparing Customer Facing Staff - Managing Expectations

by Eileen Nonemaker

Eileenís long, successful career in sales and sales management makes her an easy choice for those leaders and managers who are responsible for generating revenue and achieving corporate goals and have no time to waste getting there. Clients appreciate her ability to help them quickly select, assess, train and develop their sales teams whether they are selling products or services. New teams get brought up to speed quickly and experienced teams develop what is necessary to perform at the next level. Through goal setting, skill refinement and the development of accurate forecasting skills, she has helped both individuals and teams develop strong success strategies. Utilizing her formal training as a business coach and consultant to supplement her natural ability to connect with people, Eileen gains the trust and respect needed to interact with both leadership and team members. When coaching individual clients, Eileen becomes a 'lady on a mission' to help them succeed. Eileen is able to help them stay focused on their objectives and establish goals that take them to that next level in their personal and/or business lives. Her coaching typically involves teaching people how to set measurable goals, how to look at goals objectively and how to re-evaluate them periodically to stay on track. Eileenís goal as a coach is to help her clients find the right balance between career and family so they have the best of both worlds.

Sometimes it is difficult draw the line between being a business person, a coach or consultant and just being a consumer. I always wonder if I am too critical or demanding because I know what should happen in the "customer experience" and have minimal patience when it doesn't.

Recently I took a purse back to the Coach store where it was purchased. I have accidently put an ink mark on the leather several weeks prior and had gone back to the store for advice or leather cleaner. The sales associate was helpful, opened a bottle of cleaner and with a soft rag started to clean the spot off the purse. I purchased the cleaner and completed the process when I returned home. Unfortunately, now I had a "really big" light spot where the "very small" ink spot used to be. Needless to say, I wasn't happy. Disgruntled and feeling somewhat hoodwinked into buying the cleaner that destroyed my purse, I headed back to the store.

The sales associate I previously met with was not there, but I was approached by a district manager, who observed that I was not happy. As I explained what happened she listened intently and used her thumb to rub on the light spot. As we were talking the natural oils from her hand started to make the "really big" light spot less noticeable. She explained that the natural oils would help restore the leather to its original color if I continued at home what she started in the store, and it did.

Although I was a consumer in this experience, reviewing the situation has helped me to develop some basic principles for dealing with customers in handling both Business to Business and Business to Consumer issues.

It is key to manage expectations. Not only do we need to manage the customer's expectations, how soon we can process a request, return a call or email, or simply can we do what they need us to do. We also need to manage the expectations of the person on this side - ourselves or our team who are facing the customer.

What can we expect from an unhappy client? Are we prepared for the worst? What will make them happy, loyal and a returning client?

Here are some skill areas that once developed, can help manage expectations on both sides.

  • Product knowledge - The more we know about the product or services we provide, the better. There may be times when we do not have the answer, but do we know who does, and how long it will take to find out? The greater our product knowledge, the better we may understand what the client's issue is - because we know what we can provide, and what we cannot. The more we know about the product or service, the better we feel about ourselves and our ability to field questions and concerns.
  • Ability to step back - Can we see the big picture and remove ourselves from the immediate issue? Do we ask questions that peel the onion to find the underlying concern or problem - and possibly not the one that appears upfront? Do we understand the emotional issues of disappointment or embarrassment?
  • Empathy & understanding - Do we have empathy for the person in this situation? How many times do we deal with someone and not truly understand why they are upset? As we explain what may have happened or why something did not happen, we expect the client to understand that things go wrong, but do we really understand why they are upset or concerned?
  • Active Listening - We all know the expression "we have two ears and one mouth," so we should listen more and talk less. Do we use those ears and our minds to actively listen to the person on the other end of the phone or across the desk? What are the techniques to demonstrate active listening? Do the clients we face expect us to listen to them? Do we expect them to listen back?
  • Confidence - When we face a situation with confidence, we instill that confidence and a sense of security to those we deal with. Having strong product knowledge, a big picture view, empathy and the ability to listen, clearly add to that level of confidence and empower us to make the right statements and do the right things to best diffuse a potential conflict or uncomfortable conversation. We can feel good about the process.

Going back to my initial story about the Coach bag, my expectations for an expensive item were that it would last a long time and be sturdy and look great. I expected to be helped with the ink mark, but did not expect to make the situation worse after advice from a "knowledgeable" person. What I did not expect, and was pleasantly surprised with, was the calming, understanding and technically savvy second visit with the district manager. She expected me to be upset and understood why, but her empathy, confidence and knowledge helped deflect my concerns and frustration. She managed the outcome by exceeding my expectations.

Preparing our staff and ourselves for the most rewarding customer experiences is a combined process of education, training, role playing and attitude adjustment. Fine tuning and managing the expectations of the situation reduce the number of "trial by fire" experiences resulting in greater satisfaction with results. The under promise, over deliver philosophy truly excels here and when we have the skills to handle the issue and the expectancy that we can, we are better prepared to manage the outcome.