Overload: Avoiding crisis in the shop by managing expectations

Guest editorial
By Paige Geddings, Generation Next Governor at Large, Lee Transport Equipment Inc.

This article was published in the October 2019 edition of NTEA News.

Brought on by a surging economic period, demand at every level — from manufacturer to upfitter — has exceeded capacity for most. While backlogs, missed promised times and irritated clients are usually considered a production problem, it’s not solely an issue that resides in shops.

As salespeople, it’s important we understand our role in this, especially how we can lessen the frequency of customer dissatisfaction. For me, the most significant aspect is managing client expectations. Though we all know this, it can be difficult to do on a consistent basis, especially if it may cost a sale. Following are a few strategies that work for me.

Understand client expectations up front
Of course, you listen to customer needs, but it’s easy to focus more on the tasks they want our products to perform, and the design, function and cost of our solution. During the initial needs assessment period, it’s critical to gain a general understanding of lead times up front. While this isn’t a positive thing in a sales situation, it may help prevent future issues. The most valuable thing your client has is time, and it can be frustrating to put forth effort in the early stages of a sale only to find later delivery times make filling their need impossible. It may cost a sale, but we’re in this for the long haul, and a dissatisfied customer is far more costly than any single sale.

Clear and realistic timelines
Salespeople need to be aware of their inventories and production capabilities daily in order to provide reasonably accurate, realistic timelines for project completion. This may seem obvious, but some salespeople leave this area a bit gray to retain the sale, especially if a commission is involved. This type of short-term thinking can easily lead to an upset client as well as jeopardize the relationship, and should be avoided at all cost. As a rule, we always add a bit to expected completion time to give us a small buffer.

We all know Murphy’s Law: If something can go wrong it will, and admitting it is sometimes painful. No one wants to make the phone call delivering bad news. However, immediate notification of delays, damaged goods or unforeseen expense — done without resorting to excuses or blame — communicates to your customer that you’re honest and upfront, even when the update is not pleasant. This news should be delivered during a phone call or in person, if possible — not by text or email.

Stay in touch
With some project times stretching a year or more, it’s essential to remain in contact with customers. Even if things are on schedule, set reminders to reach out to clients on a regular basis. If you become aware of a potential issue, inform the customer as soon as possible. While it may seem easier to wait and see if the circumstance can be resolved, the sooner you alert the client, the more likely you can mitigate a negative situation.

Be a partner
If there is a problem, make sure customers know you see their perspective and are working to help resolve the issue. Search for possible solutions to assist them, even if it involves utilizing a competitor. By approaching the difficult task of overcoming problems with the mindset of a true partner, it will show in your actions and will not be forgotten. Remember, while product, pricing and delivery are all imperative, the relationship of trust with customers is often more important.

Generation Next gives new industry professionals support in developing skills and building peer relationships in the work truck industry. Involvement is free to employees of NTEA member companies with less than 10 years of industry service.

For more workforce development resources, visit ntea.com/workforcedevelopment.