Some customers just canât make a decision. They may have too many options.
One of the greatest skills we can learn in life and in business is the art of communication. It is one that can be sharpened throughout our lives, if we are observant enough to learn from both our successful and not-so-successful dealings with others.
As regards doing business specifically, Iâm remembering a recent exchange with a customer of mine. It prompted me to think about the way many of us deal with customers; in particular, our tendency to be so accommodating that we wind up tying our hands behind our backs.
I was about to respond to a phone message from a customer requesting that we meet ASAP. As I began dialing, I looked at my planner and saw that I was already fully scheduled for the week.
As my call rang through, I made a decision.
My customer answered and after the customary greetings, I said, âI got your message, and unfortunately Iâm absolutely slammed right now. Itâs going to be at least 10 days until I can get to you.â
He hesitated, then said, âThatâs fine. What day are you thinking?â
âThe 12th is the best I could do at this point.â
âO.K.,â he said. âWhat time?â
âI could do it first thing. But first, could you give me some idea of whatâs up?â
Five minutes later his problem was solved, I was hanging up the phone â and my morning of the 12th was still open.Hereâs what I was thinking as my call went through: âMy week is crazy enough already. Iâm not going to alter my schedule unless there is no other option.â
No other option. What powerful words these are!
Many times, when we get a message like the one my customer left, we spring into action â scarcely remembering that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Juggling my schedule was certainly an option, but the decision to do it only as a last resort helped both of us get what we really needed.
All of which got me wondering how often, in trying to personify the customized nature of our work, do we give the customer more options than he needs?
Iâm not advocating a dictatorial approach to customer relations. What I am saying is that it makes good sense to put your experience to work in helping guide your customers to good decisions â decisions which ensure a result meeting all of their functional and aesthetic requirements, along with your bottom-line concerns.
Most of us have become mired, at one time or another, in a customerâs indecision. But have we stopped to consider its source? Often as not, weâll find it in a nearby mirror.
In our growth as both businesspeople and woodworkers, we develop favorites: certain finishes, a given wood for use in a given color scheme, a particular style of cabinet construction. We make these choices with good reason, perhaps the best reason there is: they are what we believe works best.
So why do we turn off this favoritism when it comes to counseling customers?
Letâs take the example of decorative hardware.
How many of us willingly acquiesce when a customer asks to see a full catalog so they can make a hardware choice â or worse, volunteer the book and ask them to get back to us with their decision?
On its face, this may seem like the âcustomâ thing to do. âIf picking the hardware makes them happy, why wouldnât I do it?â many of us reason.
Iâll tell you why. Because youâre the one building the project, and nobody is more qualified to choose the right hardware for it than you. Care to guess who is most likely to choose the wrong hardware?
My recommendation: Donât even bring decorative hardware into the discussion. If your customer mentions it, say, âIâve chosen something that I know is going to look and work beautifully.â
Have a picture of it with you in case they ask to see it â but not the whole catalog.
If they press you to be involved in the hardware choice, be prepared. Have five more pictures, and tell them any one of them will work aesthetically â but that you believe the one youâve chosen is the best for your design.
Why am I suggesting limiting your customersâ options, if not squelching them altogether? Because, as the old saying goes, time is money. And the more you demonstrate a willingness to get bogged down in your customersâ indecision, the more willing theyâll be to âspendâ your time.
If you feel it is somehow incumbent upon you to turn small aesthetic decisions over to your customer â so they can feel âinvolved in the processâ â thatâs fine. Just donât say I didnât warn you when you are producing 17 different sample shades of the same finish for customer approval â or when the customer holds their approved sample up to the wall unit youâve just installed and asks why it looks different.
Suddenly youâre not only a custom woodworker â who may or may not get paid the balance he is owed â you are now a wood finishing instructor. All because you thought your customer should feel âinvolved in the process.â Are they involved enough for you yet?
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. If youâre lucky. If youâre not, the reaction may prove both unequal and unreasonable.
You know what works, what you like and what you think is best for the project at hand. If you can bring that confidence to your customer interactions â and do so tactfully â your job will become a whole lot easier.
Anthony Noel owned and operated Noel Custom Woodworking for 15 years. He is now a consultant helping custom shops with the business of woodworking. He has written for the magazine since 1994. Past articles are available at www.iswonline.com.
This monthâs question is not from one person, but many.
In a recent poll, readers of CWB were asked what they would like to see addressed in upcoming âManagement Strategiesâ columns. Their topic ideas were diverse, interesting and appreciated, and Iâll be putting them to use in future columns.
Several readers, however, had specific questions and used the survey to ask them. Hands-down, the most-asked question was this: âHow do I motivate (blank).â The blank in some cases was âemployees,â other times it was âsales reps,â but most simply, âpeople.â
Iâve long believed the words of my favorite management expert, Robert Townsend, from his classic book, âUp the Organization.â âThe door to motivation,â he said, âis locked from the inside.â
Thereâs not one thing you, I or anyone else can do to create the spark of motivation in another human being. That spark â most essential to success â flashes inside the individual. The things that generate it are as unique as the person himself.
Sure, if an employee doesnât want to get out of bed and get to work on time each morning, there are things you can do as a manager in an effort to make him show up. Or if your sales rep isnât making the calls she needs to, there are things you can do to hold her feet to the fire.
But do any such strategies actually motivate people? Do any, in and of themselves, create that spark, that drive, which pushes a person to excel, to remain enthusiastic about life or work or anything else?
No. That has to come from within, as Townsend so eloquently puts it.
In truth, all any manager can do is try to hire people to whom the work matters and administer a management approach consisting of three things: Goals, Accountability and Consequences.
I call this the Managerâs Tripod, because if you donât have all three elements, your management approach will not stand.
â¢ Goals. The people youâre managing can give you what you want only to the extent that they understand what you want.
â¢ Accountability. You can only hold people accountable for the goals they fully understand. If youâre not crystal-clear about whatâs expected, how in the world can you think they are?
â¢ Consequences. Be they reprimands or rewards, you can penalize or praise people only within the context of the Goals youâve clearly established and their success or failure (Accountability) in
For people lacking that initial, essential spark, even the sturdiest Managerâs Tripod will have little effect. But for those who genuinely want to succeed, youâre actually doing them and yourself a disservice if you donât have an excellent Tripod in place.
Thatâs right, excellent. Adequate, good or even very good will not cut it.
People who bring to your company a drive to succeed deserve clear Goals, standards for measuring their progress (Accountability) and the chance to enjoy rewards for their consistently excellent work (Consequences).
Similarly, those who lack that spark need to know what Goals they are failing to reach, the reasons they are failing to reach them (Accountability), and that continued poor performance will not be tolerated (Consequences).
As you can see, the Managerâs Tripod is great for eliminating employees who donât demonstrate the drive necessary to succeed. But where a carefully planned and administered Managerâs Tripod really shines is in enabling your company to maximize the opportunities that excellent employees represent.
In companies without an excellent Managerâs Tripod, even the best employees feel under-appreciated. They will continue to search for an organization where they are challenged (Goals), scrutinized (Accountability) and rewarded (Consequences).
The beauty of this management technique is that it makes the same demands of you â the manager â that it does of your people. It forces you to become a Goal-oriented manager who assesses his progress (Accountability) and makes adjustments based on the degree to which you do or donât succeed (Consequences).
Once youâve used it a few times and seen what a straight-line, no-nonsense approach it is, youâll use it all the time.
So maybe you canât motivate people. But you can give them something to aspire to.
If you donât, youâre not doing your job as a manager.
Questions for Tony?
Got a question? An experience youâd like some feedback on? Send your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put âAsk Tonyâ in the subject line. Even if your question is not used in the magazine, Tony will do his best to respond personally via e-mail. Because CWB reaches the desks of company owners and managers, we gladly preserve questionersâ anonymity upon request.
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