Strategic Relations Journal

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Brought to you by Justin Hitt, Strategic Relations Consultant. Thank you for reading.

Issue #42 -- July 22, 2002

A weekly journal about building stronger relationships in business. Subscription information is available at the end of this newsletter. Thank you for reading.

The last article in this series of customer relation win-falls comes to you today, Quality Customer Relations Deserves Prompt and Courteous Follow Up. As I write this message, I have been on hold for 45 minutes -- so, maybe I should add to these tips -- When your customer wants prompt assistance give it to them.

Fortunately, I can put the call on speakerphone and continue with my work.  Little does this company know that I might write about the way they treat customers -- the only reason I am willing to wait is that their services influence my customers? ability to get the products I provide. I am on hold with my merchant account provider (banking services).

I do not have this problem when I contact my community bank, so I am sure this is an isolated situation. The issue pertains to accepting payments from credit cards from countries outside the United States. Anyway, I am going to pitch a subscription to the Strategic Relations Journal so they can learn why they should not let this happen again.

Next week, I will address some of the questions I have received lately about maintaining business relationships in times of uncertainty. An article I hope you will never have to use, but could save you in the future. Until next time, keep sending your questions, I am looking forward to serving you.


Justin Hitt
Strategic Relations Consultant, Author & Speaker

Ps. I think I am going to leave a message and have my merchant provider call me back. I assure you I will not put them on hold (as long as they have done me), but I will be timing their callback. Have a profitable week.

Quality Customer Relations Deserves Prompt and Courteous Follow Up

In building lasting relationships with your customers, it is important to maintain strong communications. Have you ever had to delay a decision until a call back from a vendor? Anytime your people delay in returning calls, providing proposals, or status reports to your customers they are putting the customer behind.

Here are 12 customer relations win-falls for maintaining prompt and courteous follow up:

A. In returning phone calls and email messages to customer

When your company receives a question or request by any medium it should do its best to respond promptly. Here are some guidelines for phone and email communications that build stronger relationships in business.

1. Turn around customer questions quickly with preparation.

Utilize lists of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) or a corporate knowledge base to assist customers in finding the answers to questions they have. Adequately train your front line staff in not only how to solve problems for your customers, but where to take the customer if they do not have the right answer. When you provide accurate answers fast, customers return for more.

2. Make sure all calls get to the right party.

A few of my service providers will stay on the phone while they transfer a call to another party, then come back online to verify the new party knows who they are talking with. This offline effort makes sure the customers message makes it to the right party and that the person receiving the call is actually the person to address the issue. Your front line people should not just forward a call like a receptionist, they should make sure the call get to the intended party.

3. Make answers available to customers readily.

Technically 72% of all customer questions can be addressed by using education in customer interaction points. You can also make the answers your customer seeks available online, by product catalogs, or in specialized training programs. Try to anticipate the customers? questions in your process as you serve them. You cannot be more readily available than to educate the customer in advance of their need.

4. Get back with the customer within 24 hours with something.

Even if you do not have an answer, your customer deserves a return call within 24 hours of any on demand communication (phone call, email, personal meeting). You can at least leave the customer a note stating what progress you have made, when you expect a solution, and your findings thus far. Do not leave them wondering where you stand in a response.

B. In providing estimates and invoices to customers

Estimates and invoices are the lifeblood of your company. If you are not closing new jobs or billing for the ones you have completed then you are not operating like a company at all. Lacking in this area tells the customer you do not care about the business they do with you.

5. Build in checkpoints for accuracy and metrics.

Periodically verify information and collect details about the customers? interaction as you work with them. It saves time and eliminates errors that may occur when trying to remember what happened. Utilize certain points along a project to document relevant information necessary to produce a final invoice or the next cost estimate.

6. Set guidelines for turning around accounting related communications.

During the rush of the late 1990?s, my previous company was so busy that it took between 60 and 90 days to turn an invoice around to a customer after project completion. Obviously, this provides for some interesting cash flow surprises, and makes it difficult to collect the actual payment. You may be surprised how long it takes to invoice your customers after work completion. Set targets in your company for estimates and invoices, no matter the project size these numbers should be no longer than 2 weeks.

7. Utilize technology to store historical details.

Whether it is a knowledge base to track customer issues, or a contact management system for recording milestones; if you document along the process you can be prepared for future needs a customer may have. Technology by far can bring all your companies information into one place, easy to recall, and process. One warning here, do not over do technology, train your people too.

8. On conclusion start all over again with an offer.

When you complete a project, nothing says ?long term relationship? like an offer for something else that will help the customer. Continually look for other things you can do to improve your customers? performance. A couple of solid customers can help any business ride out the toughest times.

C. On providing prompt project status and schedules for the customer

I have seen a number of mistakes in project status and scheduling. Some projects do not require any reporting (or have longer periods between reporting) only to find at the first sign of trouble everyone start-pointing fingers that someone else dropped the ball. Even if your customer does not require it, I suggest the relationship will be better for the long run if you follow these tips.

9. Outline expected communications in the proposal.

Document your methods of communications as required by the customer or provided by your firm in the actual proposal. Make sure it is known what information is expected to be shared over the duration of the project or during the delivery of a product. Note what kind of information will be provided/received and when it is expected.

10. Provide weekly checkups in writing no matter what.

Encourage your team members to provide in writing to their next higher up a weekly report that provides the status of tasking, deliverables, and the current schedule. This does not have to be more than a single page but provides a ?no excuses? alert of current happenings. Train staff to provide their status reports with single sentence descriptions of what is on time, where delays may occur, and note any concerns they may have about progress.

11. Perform quarterly auditing on your projects overall efforts.

Quarterly have another part of your company audit project profitability, evaluate staff, and review performance. Make sure you are providing what the customer expects and the quality the best represents your company?s commitment. Don't wait till you have a problem, take a few hours each month to work though each project and checkup on yourself.

12. Make your project schedule the reference point of any communications.

Your high-level schedule should note key deliverables, events, and any other relevant information to providing the customer exactly what they requested. Help your customer work from the same page by providing project updates with a copy of the schedule available for referencing. It's easier to explain delays relevant to your last status meeting then it is guess on where the problem started.

Many of these tips are strictly project management in nature. Employees should understand how to manage their own time in accordance to their customers needs. The better your employees can keep management informed, the more informed customers can be -- and, you will have fewer misunderstandings or surprises in business.

These tips should get you started in not only staying on top of your customers communications needs, but also giving them a better understanding of for the value you provide to them. This understanding builds confidence in your management and puts you on the track of building long-term profitable relationships. Which of these tips can you start implementing today?

Justin Hitt, a strategic relations consultant, author, and speaker. Author of training Tool Kit, 27 Ways to CRM Return on Investment, available at  For more information, or to send your questions about strategic relations, write

© 2002 JWH Consolidated LLC dba Center for Strategic Relations, All rights reserved.

Questions & Answers

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