As a leader, it’s critical to reflect on how you and your team talk about your customers’ behaviors, needs, requests, and issues during internal meetings. I say this because your narrative sets the tone for how your employees will interact with customers, not to mention how they will think about and interact with your products and services. While a company’s success is shaped by its culture, values, and vision, its customers drive the business.
In a word, our customers keep us in business and deserve to be treated with respect – whether in-person or during internal team meetings.
Customers aren’t dumb, and assuming otherwise robs you of opportunities to improve your products and services. If your customers are asking the same “dumb questions” about how to access a particular functionality, then that feature probably needs clarification or better documentation.
As the Managing Partner of a company with a major product line in inspections, we have a smart customer base. I’ve attached a basic electrician’s training worksheet here its pretty complex. Frankly, it contains more math than I’ve used in 20 years of building software. The point is that almost all of your customers are experts in something, just not in the same things as you. (If they were, they wouldn’t need you.)
Though our customers at ExAM4Inspections.com are often not technically inclined, if we simply dismissed their challenges, it would rob us of the opportunity to determine whether a feature is poorly documented, a field is poorly named, or a button is in the wrong place…And it could prevent us from growing our base through word-of-mouth advertising, user friendliness, and customer service.
Bottom line: Nothing is simple enough until all of your customers can understand it. The more understandable you make your product or service, the better positioned your customer will be to succeed and foster your success.
That being said, if you find yourself in a “dumb customer” situation, I recommend that you do the following two things: (1) be kind, charitable, and solve the customer’s problem, and then (2) ask them (in a non-sarcastic way) how they reached their conclusion. Where did they look for the feature button? Why did they think it was worked in the way they thought it did.
Over the past 20 years, I’ve discovered that if you ask a few clear and respectful questions, you will find that most customers are pretty reasonable and are full of insights. They thought the button would be somewhere it wasn’t because of some other software they’ve used, or it was a matter of logical inference. They asked for a last minute change because they wanted it, not because they wanted to make your life awful two weeks before the project finish line.
A further advantage of taking this approach is it can create a feedback loop into your product that can be game-changing. As a case in point, we spent almost a year working with a customer who had new users leveraging our inspections app, and their number one challenge was resetting passwords. One of the issues was getting the customer to type the correct URL into the app to complete the log in. Simply put, it was a long string and, for the most part, their inspectors were older, late adopters of technology. Eventually, we decided to create a screen that housed existing enterprise customers’ URLs behind their logo. By clicking on the right logo, it would fill in a user’s domain URL. Not only did this solve their problem, it reduced our customer support requests by almost 80%.
What about those rare cases when the question has an obvious answer, or you’re working with someone who is unreasonable to the point where there isn’t any value in their feedback?If you follow the process and mindset I’ve outlined above, you will find that this happens far less often than you may think.
When I shifted my thinking from wondering how a customer could have made that mistake to investigating issues through a customer-centric lens, most of the concerns were not limited to one person and could be corrected through thoughtful design. Things I would have written off in the past as a customer being unreasonable – like a project change at the 11th hour – became opportunities for me and my team to clearly document and discuss sources of friction so that we could develop a shared understanding.
In responding to the issue outlined above, we realized that we needed to adapt our customer engagement methods to manage change at the outset of a project. Only then could we avoid costly and time-consuming disagreements on these items downstream. While this didn’t stop our customers from requesting changes late in the game, it enabled us to refer back to our previous conversations and navigate changes through the process we had agreed upon. This has significantly reduced our overall stress and has ensured that we take a solutions-oriented approach to improve our practices – without resorting to treating the customer as a scapegoat.
Finally, some customer requests are going to be – how shall I put it? – under-informed. A fraction of the issues that cross your desk will be things that no customer should have missed. When this happens (and it will) it’s important to frame the customer in a positive light to ensure you perform your due diligence on every request. It’s also important because no matter how far off base, how uninformed, or how terrible the request is, they are still the reason why you are in business. Trust me, one of your competitors would gladly take a few more minutes to explain the concept for the hundredth time; spend a few more minutes to politely listen to a “stupid” feature request; or move a deadline a couple of days to get it right in the customer’s eyes.
Ultimately, your team and your employees will take their cues from you. If you blow off a customer request, it will seem ok for them to do so as well. Even when you decide that you are not going to move a customer’s issue or idea forward, it’s important to work through the process – if for no other reason than to set the standard for your team.
When leaders take every customer request seriously, and commit to putting the customer at the center of their universe, their teams will too. This will benefit your customers tremendously and, by proxy, it will help your business tremendously. After all, happy customers make great businesses!