23 Mar 2018

Handling Special Requests


How do you want to treat your customers?

More than likely you have thought of all the things you want to do to keep your customers happy and returning to you. You have considered all the things like product selection, pricing, sales, loyalty programs and so on. No matter how much you try to think this all through and make everyone happy, some customer will through you a curve ball and ask for something you never considered.

When running our business, I felt we should treat every customer the same. That way the production crew did not have to learn and remember different steps based on “special” clients. The same things applied the shipping, customer service and billing.

Well, it didn’t take long for a client to ask for something special. Being taught that the customer is always right, I agreed with the client that we could do that. They were thrilled and told me it showed they were appreciated –  That was the warm fuzzy part. When I told our staff about it there was a major rebellion within the team!  And I have to admit I saw their point, but I had already agreed to the special needs they wanted-there was no way I could pull that away. So I ate humble pie, bought lots of lunches for the staff that week, and generally tried to keep the boat from rocking to much from side to side. It was never a popular event when one of these orders would arrive at the plant. I eventually was saved, since the client didn’t order this special very often.

Here is what this taught me. First, it brought back a memory of my Dad saying, “Yes, all customers are equal, some are just more equal than others.” Which I still don’t fully grasp-but somehow it made sense. What he was really trying to tell me is this. When a customer asks for a special product, price or delivery time….think about it. Let them know that you think the idea is interesting and tell them you will get back to them in a day or two. The customer still feels like they are important and you hear them. Again, you have built loyalty with your customer.

This gave us time to think seriously about what this request entailed. We had to determine if we had the ability to meet the request without impacting other clients, how would other clients feel if they found out about this and we didn’t offer it to all customers. What was this going to cost us to do, could we do it consistently every time the order came in.  All those details and many more had to be considered. Then when we reached a decision, we would let the staff know and they usually brought up some point we had not considered. That didn’t always change the decision but they knew they were part of the decision so we didn’t have rebellion in the ranks. Sometimes they point out something very basic that we forgot and it made us change the plan and realize we had to say no to the client.

When we went back to the customer with our decision….if it was “yes” of course they were happy, felt noticed and respected/valued by us. Now when we had to tell the customer we could not give them the special treatment they requested, we were very careful to let them know we fully considered their idea. We also explained all the factors that led to the decision. By pointing out the areas we looked at to reach the “no” answer they still felt we value/respected them, appreciated their business and seriously considered the idea. The biggest hurdle in the “no” answer was them being upset and saying I spend this much money this year and you won’t do this. To be ready for the objection we were always mentally prepared with things we were already doing for them based on the size of the account, that no one else was getting. It usually ended with one party or the other saying…”so you can only stretch a rubber band so far until it breaks.” However, it ended with the customer knowing we were not just flatly saying no, but that we really tried to find a way to implement the request but it wasn’t something we could do with consistent results.

So, when you think you might have everything right for your customer, don’t hesitate to look at special options for a customer when they knock on your door. Some might work, some might not but either way your client knows you have considered their request.

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