Strive to avoid business practices that alienate your customers.
Let’s take a lesson from the consumer business playbook. You can apply it to your business-to-business processes or, if you do much single-unit residential work, your business-to-consumer processes.
What are some of the things that consumers hate being subjected to?
• Being passed from one representative to another. When someone contacts your company via phone or e-mail, the person handling that contact should take ownership of it. This means that person handles the entire problem or directs the incoming contact to the right person the first time. And if the latter, don’t make people repeat the entire story each time.
• Phone trees. It’s a mystery why any business uses these, considering how much consumers hate them (according to consumer satisfaction polls). A typical plant engineer is working long hours and under pressure all day long. Why would you waste this person’s time? Nobody wants to listen to a menu of nine choices, none of which apply to the reason they are calling. Find another way, or you’ll lose customers. If it’s a very important account, provide a designated contact with a dedicated phone number.
• Complex billing processes. Make it simple for your customers to pay. What payment methods do they have in addition to paper checks? Many companies prefer electronic billing and payment; talk with all of your accounts and try to meet their preferences. You’ll get paid faster, and your customers will appreciate the simplicity. Even if you do great work technically, other aspects of dealing with your company can send them to your competitors.
• Haranguing follow-ups about purchase orders. It’s understandable that you don’t want to keep waiting on that check to arrive. But the solution is to manage the expectations. Let your customers choose the terms upfront. For example, net-15 is free but net-30 is an additional 8%. Corporate finance departments jump at even tiny discounts; you could try net-15 with a 2% discount and net-30 contains a built-in finance charge of 2% that they simply don’t see.
• Complex job terms and information requirements. An industrial services firm in Jackson, Tenn. assigns each customer to one sales engineer. This person makes on-site visits and takes job orders orally from the plant engineer during a walk-through, submitting a written quote based on the conversation. They get a lot of repeat work from their client base this way. Most of the work consists of jobs that are too small to bid out, but collectively these jobs add up to valuable projects in terms of revenue. Going after the work and making it easy to give you the work; is there any reason not to do that?
Don’t forget your vendors. They can make or break your business. Steer clear of these bad practices:
• Complex payment processes. This applies to your vendors. If you waste their time with hoop-jumping, they are going to prefer other customers. That great deal on an overstock situation? They won’t tell you about it, they’ll tell your competitor. That lead on a new job? Same thing.
• Long payment cycles on purchase orders. This applies to your vendors, again. Forcing them to obtain outside financing while you sit on their purchase order means you give up benefits you’d otherwise get. For one thing, they may factor that into your pricing simply because they have to do that to avoid a loss.
• Order cancellations. You tell them to go ahead and order X units of something for you, then when the stuff comes in you change your mind. Do this even once, and you may trigger deposit requirements.
• Confusing specifications. Vendors often get blamed for mistakes that aren’t their fault. When one of your customers does this to you, does that inspire you to go out of your way for that customer? Make your communications as clear as possible.