It is almost a cliché to say “We deliver great customer service” and very rare to hear people declare they want to be a great customer.
However, Jean Gamester of Semaphora, believes that that when we are bad customers, when we are difficult to deal with, we might get attention in the short term, but in the long run we pay the price – with increased fees, damaged relationships and unpleasant working environments.
So how can we be a good customer? Here is Jean’s advice:
1. Selecting them
The starting point is making a good selection – and that’s not necessarily all about price. When selecting a supplier, the price should be fair to both parties, and check that your values match; for example, if you feel strongly about employees being treated fairly, then make sure your choice of supplier has a good reputation as employer.
Kicking things off also involves being clear about what you want. It involves giving them a proper chance to evaluate what it will take to deliver the service.
2. Building a relationship, being accessible
For things to work well, you need to build a relationship with the supplier. It helps in the hard times if they feel safe in coming to you to solve problems together. It is also helpful in the good times - you can learn things from each other or put each other in touch with people who can help make things happen.
3. Being a critical friend
Having a relationship doesn’t mean being weak in the face of poor performance. If you have worked hard to come up with a fair deal and they are not performing, then it is important to give them constructive feedback and a chance to turn things around.
4. Treating them fairly
I’ve seen suppliers set up to fail and I’ve seen them demonised for things that they didn’t do. A bad customer is one who offloads all their mistakes onto the supplier so the supplier can take the blame. Mistakes and problems can be the foundation stone for doing greater things as long as we learn from them. So the blaming customer is not only destroying trust, they are also losing on the opportunity to learn and improve.
Another way to destroy trust is to not pay on time, not pay at all or seek to renegotiate the price when the supplier is committed. If you are known to do that, then the suppliers who don’t walk away will make sure their prices are higher in the long run. Word will get out that you are not to be trusted and might have financial issues.
5. The good customer
I once started a new role where the relationship with the main supplier was dreadful. My new team had no respect for the supplier and the supplier thought my new team were amateurs. I needed a great supplier relationship to deliver a critical project, so I had a choice - get rid of the existing supplier, or make it work with them. I decided to try to make it work and did all of the things I have described in this article. We had some tough conversations and agreed we both had to improve. Not only did we get the project delivered, but we went on to get industry recognition for what we had achieved together.
So let’s be good customers, and watch the good things happen for both ourselves and our suppliers.