Handle With Care, or Pay the Price
You step away from your desk and look out your office window to see the first signs of Spring — cardinals fluttering through trees, small green shoots pushing through the matted grass, people walking the grounds with coats nudged open by a gentle breeze.
Your pulse drops several beats as you take a deep, relaxed breath, savoring the approaching birth of a new season. Your phone rings with a mild bluebird-like chirp.
You smile gently and pick up the phone.
YOUR !#@!!*&#@!#! FREEZER JUST RUINED 12 MONTHS OF RESEARCH!
WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT!!!
Like death, taxes, and election debates, unhappy customers are inevitable. Unlike the first three, you have an opportunity to make the fourth work in your favor — before, during, or after a sale.
This is the first of 3 articles that discusses the essential need and real-world options at your disposal to convert a fire-breathing customer into a loyalist who opens the door for new business at and beyond her institution. The stories you'll read are true. Names, products, and services have been changed to avoid lawyers, but the facts are based on nearly 20 years of one-on-one experience with researchers, department heads, purchasing executives, and in one case, a roomful of orthodox rabbis.
Customer care. More than a buzzword.
Every company talks about taking really, really good care of the customer. The Internet made that absolutely, unforgivingly essential.
Sales: With one tap on a screen, every potential customer has an opportunity to learn how you treated the unhappy customer who claims your HPLC resin irreversibly bound his monoclonal. Will your actions be interpreted as concern, compassion, or contempt?
Bad news has never travelled faster. Then again, neither has the good stuff.
Marketing and technical support: Vendors used to be the sole provider of fundamental promotional and support activity such as:
- Information about product features and benefits
- Application knowledge
- Product or service expertise
Not any more. Dozens of portals such as Biocompare, Scientist Solutions, BiteSizeBio, SelectScience, and BioForum provide effective alternatives to your marketing and technical support departments. That these groups can't match your depth or breadth of product expertise isn't the point. What is germane is that your competitors aren't your only competition. Customers have many sources to turn to for assistance if they don't like what they hear from you.
Product development: Another word for complaint is feedback:
- On your product or service
- On the instructions you provide
- On your packaging
- On the people with whom the customer spoke before they reached you
Free, unfiltered feedback — a gift from the market-research deities. Information that can improve your current cloning kit or guide design of a next-generation cell sorter — if your staff recognizes the gift that they've just been offered.
Problems as opportunities: costly and valuable
Problem as opportunity might be the most hackneyed cliché in business, but that doesn't make it false.
Think of the money your company invests creating opportunities to engage with customers. Just for starters, how much capital spending has your organization invested in:
- Lead generation
- Content marketing
- Content strategy
- Programmatic advertising
- Analytics and data mining
- Sales training
Don't forget to add the human capital required to drive these important functions. Clearly, creating quality engagements with customers is very expensive.
Treating a complaint as anything less than a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is equivalent to building your dream home and not insuring it.
Train for success
"Success is where preparation and opportunity meet," according to 3-time Indianapolis 500 champion Bobby Unser.
Sales training is common, and many life science employers pay for degree and certification training for various marketing skills, but how rigorously do firms prepare support staff to transform problems into profit?
My 20 years of problem resolution took place at what was Pharmacia Fine Chemicals, which evolved into Pharmacia Biotech, Amersham Pharmacia Bioscience, and now, GE Healthcare Life Sciences. Whatever the organization was called, taking care of customers was a sincere and concerted commitment. We walked the walk every day.
But the knowledge was gained through direct experience, observing colleagues, and by sharing stories and beers. There were huge volumes of training, but on products, technology, and applications, not on methods to satisfy unhappy customers, so best practices weren't documented beyond a bar stool. Strategy and tactics varied with the manager.
How much time and money does your organization invest to develop, teach, evaluate, and update your corporate problem-resolution strategy?
Essential. Invaluable. Fragile. Threatening. Wonderful. Devastating.
All words that describe the opportunities that unhappy customers offer us every day.
So what can you do get the most from your opportunities? We'll discuss that in Part 2 of this series, where we'll review the strategies, tactics, and attitudes that help convert anger into appreciation.
Until then, consider the oft-quoted biblical excerpt from Matthew:
... do to others what you would have them do to you...
Apparently, the prophets knew a thing or two about profits.
Image courtesy of Photokanok at FreeDigitalPhotos.net