One topic getting too little attention is how to handle customers or prospective customers who waste the company’s time.
On one hand, time spent with customers is frequently productive. Customer communications help foster positive relationships, build trust, increase loyalty and gain future revenues. Unfortunately, if it’s permitted, some customers also will waste significant amounts of your time.
Some of the most common customer time wasters are excessive small talk, discussions not fitting your offering, debating company purchase or shipping requirements, routine price shopping and uncertain timelines.
Let’s be honest, customer time wasters occur because we allow it. What’s more, many, if not most, employees aren’t trained how to handle these situations.
How much time or dollars does the average business lose from time wasters? That’s hard to say. Clearly, the cost to a business can accumulate quickly.
For example, if an employee wastes 20 minutes a day on small talk, it will accumulate to over 80 hours a year. Think about that, two full weeks of productivity potentially gone. Now, multiply 80 hours by the number of employees likely to experience time-wasting customers, and then multiply by an average hourly rate to see what it’s costing your company.
I’ve asked audiences to do the math during speeches or during client coaching sessions. Many are shocked, while others aren’t surprised. And yet, virtually no one is doing anything about the problem. Why?
One possible reason is because getting time with a customer or prospect is what every prosperous company desires; it’s their lifeblood. Since no one wants to risk losing a good customer when trying to handle a tricky situation, it’s often easier to avoid the problem by doing nothing.
Here are five ways to manage customer time wasters while still giving friendly service.
1. Communicate your limitations of time. Whenever customers engage in endless small talk, offer a legitimate reason for needing to end the conversation quickly, such as, “I have a customer appointment in five minutes.” This helps smooth over the customer’s feelings and lets you juggle multiple customer needs.
2. Ask if you can set a follow-up conversation. When it’s not possible to help them, as in the previous “appointment” example, ask for a convenient time to have a follow-up conversation. This leaves customers feeling like you really want to help and builds goodwill.
3. Find out the urgency. Try asking something like, “Are you placing an order for this right now? Or is it something you’re just thinking about and want some ballpark prices?” This allows you to establish the priority, determine whether you should handle it yourself or if referring it to someone else would be better. A side benefit is it may accelerate the customer’s desire for your product.
4. Set the expectations. Explaining how you operate, how to best reach you and your normal working hours may seem unnecessary, but they set helpful parameters for customer expectations.
5. Use customer-benefit language. To avoid giving a customer the feeling you are putting them off or don’t value their business, use verbiage like, “To provide you with excellent service, let me …,” or, “Your business is very important to us, can I have Tom call you tomorrow morning?” This helps convey a strong interest in your customer’s business, while providing a way to control your time.
Time is money and wasting time means wasting money. It’s essential to limit time wasters caused by customers, but also do it with friendly service.
Consultant and professional speaker Mark Holmes is president of Springfield-based Consultant Board Inc. and SalesRevenueCoach.com. He’s also the author of “The Five Rules of Megavalue Selling.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Bark Yard dog park and bar concept launched; Charity Fent Cake Design LLC moved; and a pair of business owners collaborated on opening The Hidden Hut LLC.
This poll is not a scientific sampling. It offers a snapshot of what readers are thinking.
Heather Kite, owner of startup business Rooted Deep Farms, talks about tough times during the winter of 2020-2021. She says determination was a necessary component that kept her going.
Jeramey and Julia Henson, co-owners of HM Dentworks Academy, discuss the importance of family in work-life balance. They say you can’t make up for the major life events. HM Dentworks Academy is also co-owned by Chris McWhirter.
Rachel Barks, owner of Artistry Pottery, talks about her struggle with PXE, or Pseudoxanthoma elasticum, a disease that affects the eyes. She says that despite her struggle, she is ultimately thankful.
Jessica Burkland, a Missouri State University business instructor in the Department of Management, talks about small business start-up trends in a post-pandemic year. Burkland, who owns Activate Consulting & Training and volunteers as a small business mentor for SCORE of Southwest Missouri, says startups that offer new services and products to help people work from home or that enhance mental health could find greater success.
Jim and Debbie Meinsen, co-owners of TCI Graphics, say the past year has been one of the toughest they have faced. Now in the company's 50th year, the couple says they learned a few things in 2020.
Charlie Rosenbury, president of Self-Interactive, calls on his experience in programming to illustrate lessons he has learned running a business and life in general. Springfield Business Journal's 90 Ideas is presented by Great Southern Bank.
Darline Mabins talks with SBJ’s Christine Temple about growing up after a tragic accident took the lives of her mother and older brother. Mabins is now the regional branch sales manager for Arvest Bank. No Ceiling is an SBJ podcast, going in depth with local women, sharing their journey to the top of their professions.
Caleb Scott, owner, coach and player for Queen City Insane Asylum semi-professional football team, talks about the ways that the team works to support each other on and off the field. Scott says you can’t force people to become leaders, they have to come naturally.
Steve Williams, owner of Crosstown Barbecue, discusses the role relationships have played throughout the 51 years that Crosstown Barbecue has been in business. He says that while he puts effort into providing the best food he can, ultimately “people like to do business with people they like.”
Randy Bacon, professional photographer and humanitarian, relates his experience building relationships with clients since he became a photographer. He says building relationships with his clients and perfecting his craft are the most important things he does to spread his business.