Managing the Business

Question: I was recently asked to stop a partially completed client project and leave without finishing. What might I have missed that caused this embarrassing situation?


Admit there is a problem. It may have been caused by you. “You are right; this project is not going as planned. Let’s figure out what went awry and decide on a corrective plan we both can live with.” It may have been caused by the client who didn’t understand your bid and the amount of “project management” you would provide. Or it might be due to neither of you. But, admit there is a problem that you will address and correct. How? That is what you need to work out together.

You probably missed being customer focused. Standing in the shoes of your client and seeing issues from his/her perspective is the first issue you may have missed. You are thinking, “this project is costing ME money out of MY pocket.” “This project is taking too much time away from other profitable projects.” These thoughts are all ME focused, not THEM focused. To be customer focused, you have to ask, “Tell me your concerns and let’s see how we can work through them.” The solution needs to be one that both you and your customer can live with and satisfies their issues with your performance.

Own the problem. You are the expert on whatever it is, painting, contracting, landscaping. You know more about what to do to correct the issue. Own the solution. When you do that, the client will see that you are seriously customer focused.

Apologies need to be genuine. When you say, “I am so sorry to hear that you are not satisfied. I am here to make sure this project ends correctly with you being happy with our work,” customers know that you are serious about making the situation right. By apologizing you are owning the situation and defusing the customer’s dissatisfaction.

Put your best people on the solution. Not only should be they be good at their craft but good at customer interaction; talking to the customer; advising them of the steps you have taken and are going to take makes for a more satisfied customer. Much of customer dissatisfaction comes from not knowing what is being done to correct an issue or not know where you are in the project.

There are some keys to building a customer-focused team that you might consider if you have faced an issue as described above:

Hire for attitude, train for skills

Train for culture. If employees have the right attitude, you can train them to be customer focused.

Everyone must be on the same page. Every team member needs to understand and internalize your company’s mission, vision, and objectives and they need to be able to articulate your mission in all that they do.

Create a learning environment with empowered employees. Provide them opportunities to learn and allow them to experiment in solving customer service issues on their own. Let your team learn from one another by sharing customer experiences.

Check out Shep Hyken’s

Make the time to read these great customer service books and share them with your team: Hey, I’m the Customer, Ron Willingham, Customers for Life, Carl Sewell

Remember, when someone is dissatisfied, they tell more friends and family about the poor performance or customer service than they do when they are satisfied. Word of Mouth (WOM) is your most powerful marketing tool, and you don’t want it to be negative if you are done address head-on customer issues.

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