Growing up in the Midwest, I was always spellbound by the big summer storms that would roll through. I was fascinated by the tall trees as they whipped back and forth, branches shaking every which way as Mother Nature unleashed her wrath. Occasionally, the force of the storm was too great for an unyielding tree and the entire tree would come crashing down, leaving a tangled mess in the yard. The trees left standing were often tattered and torn, but in the end it was their flexibility that got them through the storm.
Our current economic conditions remind me of watching those storms. Many companies are hunkered down, battening the hatches, bracing themselves and following the rules – yet what is essential during these stormy times is flexibility. Flexibility and adapting to current circumstances is what will leave companies standing long after the economic storm has passed. To that end, when interacting with your customers, do your employees know how to be flexible when following your company’s policies and procedures? Do they know how to balance the needs of both company and customer during these tough economic times?
A recent example: For several years, I have had a quarterly arrangement with an exterminator for pest control in my home (no formal written contract). For a variety of reasons, I opted to skip the 4th quarter treatment. And since it was the middle of a Midwest winter, I didn’t see the value in spraying for bugs when none were around. I called to cancel the visit and was informed that skipping the treatment would subject me to a triple digit reactivation fee as well as a surcharge for the extra material needed for the next visit. Extra material? Reactivation fee? Reactivation of what? To me, this was a simple arrangement where a guy shows up with a container of liquid that he squirts around the baseboards of my home and since it was the dead of winter the frigid temperatures had already taken care of any pesky critters that survived the 3rd quarter treatment. Upon bringing all of this to the attention of the representative, she simply stated that it was policy to charge the fees. Period.
I ended the call without booking the service visit. The rep’s rigidity in enforcing the policy and inability to balance my needs and the company’s needs resulted in the loss my business now and forever. Was this her fault? Perhaps…or maybe it was the result of her real or perceived lack of power to find a solution that would serve us both. Surcharges, cancellation fees and penalties are an accepted way to dissuade customers from abusing a company’s goods and services. But when an employee lacks the knowledge, desire or authority to consider other viable options and simply quotes policy, they may be failing the very company and revenue they are trying to protect. Now more than ever, it’s critical to be flexible and to consider that the potential financial loss of that customer and their future referrals would likely supersede any revenue gained by enforcing rigid policies in the present: In other words, “Don’t step over a dollar to pick up a dime.”
If you want to preserve your current customer base (and who doesn’t?) now may be a good time to assess what authority your reps have to negotiate with your customers. Give them the power to make your customers feel heard and valued. Talk to them – ask them if there are policies that are costing you customers – they’re the ones that will know! And if there are, then take a look at whether the rules can be bent and how far – and then give the reps the power to do it. In these uncertain times, some companies will survive and thrive, some will be tattered and torn and some will crash in a tangled mess. In the end, it’s a company’s flexibility or lack of it that will determine if they stand or fall after the storm.
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