I’ve had some interesting customer experiences in the past two weeks.  I want to invite you to reflect back on your own good and bad experiences that you have with your vendors… and then turn the spotlight on your own organization and see what’s working well… and where you’re damaging your brand, your top line, and your bottom line.

 These are three of the most common mistakes:

1. You’re in trouble if your unintended customer experience involves over-promising and under-delivering:  I’ve been working with a web-services vendor who shall remain nameless.  My project is 6 months overdue, incomplete, and they’ve come back to ask for more money once.  This has been the topic of numerous phone calls, escalation attempts, and a whole lot of empty promises.  What a contrast to the sales pitch, where I was wooed with promises that they are highly efficient experts at what they do (and yes, they have good testimonials to support that) and that they pride themselves in creating wonderful experiences and happy clients.  So what went wrong?

  • Empty Promises: The VP of Sales who sold me never communicated the promised deliverables to his project team – ever had those disconnects in your business?
    Takeaway:  Match sales promises to deliverables with great documentation, not good intentions.
  • Unsupported Junior Staff: This was scoped as a small, simple project… which it was… and was assigned to a junior project manager, with assurances that her work would be overseen by a senior resource.  That resource was visible for the first month… and then disappeared, creating a snowball affect the first time deadlines and deliverables weren’t met.  I’m a big supporter of helping junior staff develop, and as a veteran of many projects, I OK’d this approach.
    Lesson to learn:  if your business model has juniors and seniors and your promise oversight… make it start to finish, not ad hoc.
  • Ineffective Escalation:  There’s nothing worse than being a customer screaming in cyberspace.  This group uses an online project management system for all communications, and it’s a very closed loop system.  So as things went south, I repeatedly copied the senior resource, the sales VP, and the CEO on the exchange – none of them engaged to support the junior team member, get to the bottom of the issue, and take care of the customer.

Action: embed active listening in every dialogue with a customer, instead of a cone of silence.

2. Never Make a Customer Feel Fired: 10 days ago I received a single-paragraph email saying “Our senior team has reviewed this project and determined that we have spent too much time on it therefore we are closing it effective immediately.”  Let me ask you what YOUR reaction would be when being left hanging after receiving that type of communication on an incomplete project.  As a Taurus and a redhead, you might be able to imagine mine!

Takeaway:  Sometimes there needs to be a parting of the ways, but do it gracefully.  I had been asking for weeks if I needed to find alternate resources for what they seemed incapable of completing, and they continually reassured me that they were with me until the end and that I would be completely happy with the results.  Once again, they over-promised, under-delivered and THEN made it “all about them”.  At the end of the day I’m significantly out of pocket without a deliverable that I can use, yet contrary to their website and sales pitch, their only concern seemed to be their billable hours.  You never want a customer to feel that they’ve been slapped in the face with a cold fish.

3. The Inaccessible CEO:  The Taurus redhead took the bull by the horns… only to find no way to reach the CEO via email, website, or voicemail.  All paths lead to very nice people who took messages (no voicemail) and no return calls.  I finally reached him through LinkedIn, suggesting that I could share my issues with him or share them with the world through social media.  Even the LinkedIn mail was screened… fortunately by someone who knew enough to see that the message got through.

Lesson to learn:  If you’re the face of the brand, you need to be reachable.  By all means have help to screen your calls, but if there’s an upset customer on the line, take the call.  Your business may depend on it.

So how about it?  Are you ready to ask for a referral to this vendor?  Or are you running for the hills?  How do YOU rank on aligning sales promises with what’s delivered, keeping an ear to the ground for early warning of potential trouble, and being easily accessible when there’s trouble afoot?