The importance of customer education

You know, nothing is absolute in business.  I don’t like to use the word “mistakes,” mainly because I believe in the old saying “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  But the truth is, nobody is perfect.  Sure I’ve made some bonehead decisions along the way, but that’s how you learn, right?

Some of the biggest “strengthening discoveries” (for lack of a better term) I encountered were during our first 4 years in business.  I could go into detail, but each of them basically amount to not setting proper expectations with customers.  If you’re a small business in today’s business climate, do yourself a favor and take a look at the expectations you set.  You may just find that the reason clients sometimes get upset with you is your own doing.

Here are a few examples from our own experience:

    • Not enforcing change orders until it was too late.
      When we first started out in business, we inadvertently did more work for free than we we were paid for.  How did this happen?  Simple little changes.  It would always start with something seemingly minimal.  The big problem is that once you let the first one through, a precedent is set.  Sometimes, these “minimal” requests would cause us hours of retooling business logic because something was added as a “must have” criteria that was not part of the original scope of work.  We felt that we couldn’t charge the customer.. after all, we did the last one for free.  Trust me on this one, that is a load of crap.  If you do work based on specifications, and they suddenly change, even in the slightest, bring the change to your client’s attention along with a cost estimate.  One of two things will happen:  They will either approve the change or decide it wasn’t as important as they thought.  Either way, you don’t do extra work without getting paid for it.
    • Not educating clients on all of the services we do.
      These were quite possibly some of the biggest “DUH!” moments we ever encountered.  Nothing makes you want to kick yourself than to have a client call you up and say something along the lines of “Hey, I am having {insert competitor name} work up an {insert product} for me and they need something from you.  Can you assist?”  In our first few years, we did a lot of “private label” work with a local graphic designer and I witnessed his clients do this time after time – for almost every service he offered.  For us however, we have in the past year stopped offering some services (more on this below) so it has been just as important for us to educate clients on what we DON’T do.

So, for our typical client, here are a couple of ideas you can use to make sure your customers are educated about what you do:

    • If you are a service business, make sure you detail every aspect of the  service you provide.
      You live in your industry day in and day out, so you understand that certain things are “just part of the job” – but I’m willing to bet if you asked a random sample of 10 clients, at the most 3 of them will know what goes into doing your job.  This means that up to 70% may be taking your service for granted.  One easy way to accomplish this is by providing clients with a simple checklist that details every service you perform, no matter how minimal it may seem.Explain care and cleaning instructions in detail along with why they are importantMake an easy return policy and make it prominent in the literature you deliver with your productMake sure you highlight any special features or benefits your product has that competitors don’tIf you sell a product, make a bold statement about its quality and stand by it.  Letting your customers know how confident you are about your products is one of the easiest ways to build customer confidence.  Here are a few ways you can communicate the quality and value of your product:

Our #1 piece of advice (and this is one we practice ourselves every day) is to put yourself on what we would call a continuous improvement cycle. We’re going to write a more detailed post on this later, but in a nutshell it amounts to this:

    • Challenge yourself daily.                                                                                        That’s it.  It is beautiful in its simplicity, but it can create such a huge difference in your success.  It has for us.  2010 was our best year ever and 2011 is already on track to beat it.  What exactly did we do and what were the results?  That’s the detail that will come in the next post, so stay tuned. 🙂
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About the Author

Though his chief ambition is to one day control the entire Internet, Jim busies himself in the meantime running our little web development and marketing agency. He's a certified super nerd who ranks coding in old, outdated languages and watching Star Trek reruns just a bit too high on his list of fun things to do. Outside of work, Jim enjoys Hockey (Tampa Bay Lighning, to be specific), more genres of music than most people realize exist, riding his Harley (he calls it "two wheel therapy") and exploring the world through travel.