Time to Startup!

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You Want Me to Do What? Dealing with Customers Who "Order Off the Menu"

Jun 15, 2010, 03:52 AM by
Read 'You Want Me to Do What? Dealing with Customers Who Order Off the Menu' at 'Time to Start Up,' the small business blog by BizFilings.
jakeIt is inevitable in every new business. You are working with a good client; they are pleased with your product. You are excited to have the client, and you are being extra careful making sure he or she is happy. The client is pleased with what you are doing so he or she asks if you can do more. It is a compliment, and you are excited; however, now you have a problem. Do you create a new product or service for the client or do you tell the client "no" and possible jeopardize the relationship?   Here are a couple of things to remember:
  1. You should not answer now. Your customer knows that you are an intelligent individual. He or she hired you because you are careful, and you pay attention to detail. Your customer wouldn't expect you to change your product or offer a new service on a whim. He or she wants a quality product and knows that takes time. Unless you market yourself as the "do-it-all assistant," answering "yes" or "no" at the first mention will actually erode his or her confidence in you. Your customer wants predictability more than anything. Your best response is usually, "I'll look into it and let you know if we can do that." Short, simple, and gives you time to make a rational decision.
  2. Repeatability is more important than profit. The mistake that new business owners make is their first question is often, "Will it be profitable?" The real question is, "Can I repeat it for another customer?" You may be able to make an extra $1,000 a month making sure a customer's lawn is well-landscaped, but you are an IT expert. I know the example is farfetched (though not as farfetched as you think), but your customer is asking you to change your business and create a new product. Unless that new product makes sense for your business, you will probably regret having added it.
  3. Consider the profit. Yes, profit is an important part of the equation. You need to make sure that you can afford to add this new product. Make sure that you have an accurate view of the costs, including the lost opportunity cost. Remember the time that you are spending on this new service is time that you are not spending on your core product. Ordering off the menu is a premium service. It also takes you out of your core domain. Your costs will be higher than you expect, and you are doing the client a favor. Adjust the price accordingly.
  4. Would it be better to refer them to someone in your network? Oftentimes the best response is to introduce your client to someone you trust. If he or she does a good job, you will still get the credit in the eyes of your customer. Many times you can even receive a share of the commissions from the new vendor. Sometimes this commission is more than you could have made anyway. You have the bonus of keeping your business focused, and you will be seen as a go-to contact for both the client and vendor in the future.
The big fear for a new business owner has in this situation is jeopardizing his or hard-earned relationship with the customer by saying, "no." The reality is you customer is far more likely to jeopardize the relationship by saying, "yes." You want to be known for being the best at your product or service; not for doing an OK job on anything. We all have valuable experience to share. In the comments, share your experience with a customer request that you declined or one that you regret accepting. Jake Hayes is a small business fanatic. He is the founder of Enterprise Launch, a development group for small and emerging business owners. In 2007 he started InSource Executives, a business advisory company and is a business adviser and professional speaker. He can be contacted at Jake@EnterpriseLaunch.com. Follow him on twitter: www.twitter.com/JakeWHayes and www.twitter.com/LaunchUSA.