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Best Advice I Ever Got: John Hall

The CEO of Influence & Co explains how to keep customers happy so you don't have to put out fires later.
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If you want your business to not just thrive, but to survive, it's critical to ensure that you maintain high customer satisfaction rates. There's nothing easier than putting a dent in a company's reputation, after all, by contributing negative feedback to sites such as Scambook or The Ripoff Report. Those kinds of posts on social media or a blog can go viral in minutes. So what starts out as a minor customer service faux pas may snowball into a PR nightmare. 

Companies devote massive budgets to resolving customer complaints, but they often fail to realize that these problems could have been prevented. As an entrepreneur, the best advice I received was to put out fires before they get started--especially when clients are involved. Here are some ways to set expectations correctly, so your customer satisfaction rate isn't doomed to fail from the start.

1. Remember that transparency leads to better communication.

I used to think that if clients knew anything negative about my company, I'd immediately lose their business. This led to a lack of communication on my end. Ultimately, I was forced to deal with customer satisfaction issues. People see through the B.S. Their gut tells them when things don't feel real. If you have a good business and you treat people well, you shouldn't feel nervous about being completely transparent with clients.

Everyone makes mistakes. By covering yours up, you're probably making the error look worse than it really is. Worse, people then wonder what else you're up to. Humility and a frank acknowledgement of your mistake(s) can make you far more likeable--and can work in your favor by boosting customer loyalty.

2. Set limits and make sure expectations are reasonable.

Most decision makers are managers or leaders who are in those positions for a reason. They lead, push, and don't give up until they maximize value. When dealing with intensely driven clients, make sure you set limits. Don't set yourself up for failure just because you want to win their business. This will inevitably lead to underperformance, which will kill your customer satisfaction rates and result in less business down the road.

So if you're running a successful pizza company, don't promise a catered Thanksgiving dinner just to make a sale. Jumping into areas you're not prepared for, pushing your team beyond capacity, and setting unrealistic deadlines for yourself are all recipes for disaster. Know that it's better to specialize and set realistic standards rather than to try to be everything to everyone. Whatever your business, clients will ultimately respect you for holding your ground.

3. Be consistent, no matter what the position.

A common mistake is for different team members to set inconsistent standards. For example, the president of your company could speak to a potential client at a conference, who then schedules a phone call with the vice president, and who meets later on with an account manager. This convoluted communication process leaves way too much room for mistakes. Customers can use these opportunities to take advantage of the services you provide--they may claim, for example, that a salesperson promised them a better rate or a better package deal when they spoke over the phone.

So make sure you train your staff across the board on what you can deliver, and teach them how to communicate that clearly and firmly. The bonus: Keeping everyone on the same page will further your image as a transparent company.

Customer satisfaction will always be a moving target. I know what it's like to get a phone call from a livid client. But if you make sure to find customers who are good matches for your company and you keep them informed--and set them up with realistic expectations from the get go--you'll give yourself a serious head start.

Because this article was published, a donation will be made to Reading Is Fundamental so a book can be given to a child.

John Hall is the CEO of Influence & Co., a company that helps individuals and brands grow their influence. The firm is one of the leading providers of high quality expert content to the world's top publications. Connect with John on Google+@tweetJohnHall




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