Putting Words, Images and Ideas to Work
This morning I received a customer satisfaction survey from an auto dealership that I’d visited, but had not bought from. I briefly thought about hitting “delete”, but am of the opinion that if the business doesn’t know that there is something wrong, let alone what the issues are, there is no way for them to fix them. And so I freely gave them my 2-cents worth.
However, I don’t always limit my advice-giving to when it’s asked…there have been instances when no one asked, and I shared my insight anyway. In fact, over the years I’ve come to realize a few things about myself.
First, that I like to fix problems and help people if I can and, good or bad, I will often offer my unsolicited insight, if I think it will be appreciated and useful to the person or company I’m offering it to. (Perhaps that’s why I enjoy offering up my opinions and advice in this blog.)
Second, that I am opinionated. I’m not the wishy-washy, indecisive person I was in my youth. Comes with experience…and I’ll write about that topic in a future blog.
Now, I’m not saying you should go around telling people your opinion on things all day long. There’s a time and place for everything. And often it’s best to keep my opinions to myself. But, still…
I’ve Told Complete Strangers…
I don’t let people, even complete strangers, walk around with bugs on their clothing or toilet paper attached to their shoe, and I hope they wouldn’t let me either. So, the other day, I asked the Target cashier, (a complete stranger), if she was aware that there was a 6-inch, white thread hanging from her hair. She promptly bent towards me, offering her head to be relieved of the errant thread, and thanked me for letting her know. I suggested it was probably from working with clothing.”Yes!”, she replied. “I was just in back, folding clothes.”
I’ve Contacted Companies Out of the Blue
More often than not, my unsolicited “help” relates to something bigger than a piece of thread or bug or toilet paper attached to a body part. Let me give you a few examples.
Example 1. I recently had the gall to tell a graphics designer, whose business card I’d picked up at a networking event, that his card was hard to read. Although I’d only met him once before, so I really didn’t know him well enough to reach out in this manner, and despite the fact that as a graphic designer he, of all people, should have recognized the design flaws, I sent him an unsolicited email to suggest that he might want to consider enlarging his fonts, and not use white type against such a faint beige-brown background, as it was difficult to read.
Pretty nervy. And obviously, I wrote it in such a way so as not to be insulting, and to state that I just wanted to help….and he responded that he had been considering the same thing and appreciated my telling him so.
Example 2. I’ve often sent suggestions to web sites, where our company’s equipment was advertised, to alert them to one thing or another….for example that a pop-up arrow they’d added to point to a new site feature was obscuring paid advertiser listings…mine as well as others…and after a few emails, eventually they fixed it.
Example 3. I told another website that the category headings they were using didn’t make sense to me, and suggested they change them. They agreed with some of my suggestions, disagreed with others.
But in each case, I offered suggestions for what they might do to improve the site, the issue, whatever…not just complain to them without also including a recommended action. Bottom line, some of these vendors, ex-colleagues, and so on, now call to bounce their ideas off me, when they are considering site redesign or a new trade show booth, or whatever.
Back to the original story about buying a car… The other day I actually did buy one. The story about that will follow in a future posting…but…here’s a short story related to the dealership that I actually chose to work with:
I’d negotiated a pretty good price with the sales rep on both the new car and then on my old car’s trade in. The sales rep went off to see if his sales manager would approve. The sales manager came back, sat down with us at the table, and for the next unbearable ten minutes, repeatedly told me, “I just can’t make that deal.” He went on to inquire how I’d arrived at the figures I was offering, and I calmly explained how we got there.
Again, he repeated he just couldn’t do it. So, trying to lead him to negotiate with me further, I twice asked: “So, what is it that you can do?” But, he never answered the question.
Eventually, after going round and round, I did offer a slightly higher price and a deal was struck. Had I not already shopped around to know that, even at the higher price, I had a very good deal on the table… and had I not wanted to make sure that my truly EXCELLENT sales rep, (thank you Robin!), got the commission, I might have walked out, as he (the sales manager) was really annoying me and I couldn’t get away from him fast enough.
But…the point I’m leading to, (in my usual round-about fashion*), is that a few days later, when I returned to the dealership and got stuck waiting around for about 1.5 hours while they added the free wheel locks and pin striping that they threw in as an after-deal ploy to offset the higher-than-hoped-for sales price, the sales manager came over to say “hello.” Since he was alone, I pulled him aside and quietly asked if he’d sit down with me for a minute, as I had something I wanted to share with him.
I then told him, I hoped he didn’t mind, and what I was about to say was only intended to help, and therefore I hoped he would take the information in the spirit in which it was intended, but, next time, I would suggest that he not just tell the customer that he can’t agree to an offer, but tell them what he can do.
He was astonished — not that I was offering unsolicited advice — but that he hadn’t made a counter offer at the time. He apologized and thanked me, and as we continued to chat, I got to know and like the guy! Turns out he’s actually really nice and has an interesting story to tell, and one day, if I start up a new section of this blog site on careers and how people got into the line of work that they did, you may be reading more about him.
In the meantime, I’ll simply say that if done politely, respectfully, and with good-hearted intentions, sometimes (but not always), offering unsolicited feedback that includes a recommended course of action rather than just a complaint is appreciated and a good thing. My opinion is it ultimately will help the business provide better customer service.
What’s your opinion?
* P.S. – Although I often ramble on in these blogs, to all future employers who may be reading this, I actually do know how to make a point succinctly. I can draft on-point press releases, or bulleted text for ads, direct mail, collateral and so on. It’s just that for purposes of my story-telling, I choose not to.