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Very few areas of life have been on the sidelines of Covid-19, especially in the business world. At the beginning of the crisis, for example, we saw customers abandon brand loyalty as items came off the shelves and shoppers migrated to online channels. This is a fairly common cycle: when circumstances change, people explore other options because this process helps them determine if their current choice is really right.
Unfortunately, this experimentation has real consequences for companies. A survey of small business owners found that 82% lost their most profitable customer after Covid-19 swept the country. And while payments from the Check Payment Protection Program inject cash into hundreds of thousands of small businesses to keep their payrolls, many still haven’t been able to keep their doors open. In July 2020, just five months after the initial blockades, an analysis estimated that more than $ 1 billion in PPP loans had gone to missing companies.
These kinds of statistics are not exactly comforting for small business owners and entrepreneurs, and as a result, many have decided to lean back on their customers in the hopes of keeping them long-term. But even though I understand the feeling, becoming a yes will not have the effect you want.
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The art of saying “no”
When increasing customer retention by only 5% can increase profits from 25% to 95%, it’s natural to want to satisfy all requests with a confidence that “approaches”. But customer demands may not always be met exactly as expected, and it is dangerous to try to place a square peg in a round hole.
As the leader of a software company, I have seen time and time again that customers generally know what kind of results they want, but sometimes their requests and desired results are not the same. In these cases, we must be good partners and pull back. Business leaders trying to improve their retention should adopt a similar mindset, focusing their effects on being a good partner, not a flatterer.
Still, saying “no” can be tricky, so here are some strategies you can take to push back without getting customers out the door.
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1. Prepare the stage
In my own business, I’ve found that the best way to make sure clients ’projects don’t get off the rails is to set clear expectations in advance. At the beginning of each project, we take the time to ask research questions that reach the heart of what the client is trying to achieve. Normally, this will prevent us from following the path of doing something just because the client asks us to, even if it doesn’t necessarily make sense for the goals of the project. This openness about why we may or may not do something sets the tone for the whole relationship.
Do you also talk if the project fails? What if you exceed your budget? And what if things go awry? As you progress through the project stages, be sure to check with your client regularly. Sometimes the scope and expectations of a project will change, and that’s fine, but you need to make sure you update your contract along with those changes to protect your business.
2. To radicalize
You are an expert in your industry, but it is a mistake to act as you know it all. So when a customer makes a dream request, he resists the need to be brutally honest about how bad his idea really is. This kind of nasty aggression will only make you look arrogant and rude. Instead, work to build mutual trust by developing a relationship based on radical sincerity, a style of communication popularized by author Kim Scott in 2017.
In short, practitioners of radical sincerity are able to challenge people at the same time by proving that they care. Traditionally, this style of communication has been applied to supervisor-employee relationships, but is equally relevant to clients and customers. A customer request may be almost impossible to satisfy, and you need to communicate it in a way that proves it. that you have your best interests at heart. It’s about pointing out how a particular route might sabotage your long-term success, and since you’re raising that “no” in a way that shows you care about your future, you’re more likely to land the point.
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3. Offer alternatives
Apple is probably one of the best examples of a company that understands how to develop a seamless customer experience, even in the complicated world of technology. Its Genius Bar employees, who serve customers with technology issues, use the three F’s (feel, feel and find) to empathize with frustrated customers. They then use the APPLE mnemonic (meaning approach, probe, present, listen, and end) to guide customers to a conclusion they believe is their own.
When you have to reject an idea or request from a customer in your own business, you should always have an alternative solution waiting. Being a true partner, after all, means acting as a resource. And when it comes to offering options, research from the University of Minnesota shows that three is the magic number.
Companies are struggling to drive better customer retention because happy customers are their biggest sellers and their biggest advocates. But saying “yes” to all requests and ideas won’t get you there. Instead, learn to gently push back on your clients or customers using the tips above and observe that transactional relationships turn into lifelong partnerships.