Any Questions?

In a previous column, I made recommendations in response to frequently asked questions about procedures. This column covers three of the more common concerns I’ve been hearing about.

We’ve been debating about keeping a couple of employees who are fantastic workers but are chronically late or absent. We’re wondering whether getting what we can of their performance is really worth it in the long run.

The short answer is, it isn’t. Someone you cannot count on with certainty is a problem, not a plus. Fantastic work delivered erratically doesn’t pay off, so don’t be seduced into keeping a lousy employee.

Only a small minority of chronically late and absent employees change their patterns. So after you’ve given these employees all the counseling and suggestions you can without getting excessively involved in their personal lives, if their attendance doesn’t improve, it’s time to replace them.

Such situations are often signals to review key operating factors. In this case, it may be wise to reevaluate your attendance policy and procedures. Are they fair? Are they directed toward outcomes you want? Are they unnecessarily punitive?

What can we do to get our third-party supplier to perform better?

When you review a contractor who isn’t living up to expectations, a good place to begin is with the liaison assignments. Do the contact people in each business have sufficient expertise to make good decisions? Do they have the authority to make sure their decisions are executed? Too often, liaison responsibilities are relegated to personnel with inadequate experience in the work to be accomplished, not to mention vendor management or client relations.

Another factor to review is the documentation of your requirements. Lack of clarity or excessive changes cause confusion and resentment at both ends. Frequent contact by e-mail, by phone, and in person is also essential. A supplier organization isn’t a machine that you can turn on and leave to run by itself.

Finally, are you sure you are paying a fair price for the services you want? This is particularly an issue if you chose your supplier based on a low bid, or if you’ve added requirements after the contract was signed but no concomitant price increase has been applied.

Due to a sequence of unfortunate mishaps, we disappointed a lot of our customers. What can we do to make it up to them and keep their business?

It depends on how you disappointed them. Nondelivery or wrong delivery usually has a more negative long-term effect on repeat business than does poor customer service interaction. Customers are more inclined to try you again when they’re distinctly happy with your merchandise even if they’ve been somewhat disappointed by your service. (Note, however, that this does not apply to third-party or ship-to gifts if the recipients were unhappy with your service and complained about it to your customers).

If you know that something has gone wrong or is about to go wrong, the first rule is do whatever you can to let customers know. Call or e-mail and give them information about the situation and alternative ways you can handle the problem, even if it’s only a choice between a prompt refund, a substitute item, or waiting for another shipment to come in. Most customers feel more satisfied when they can exercise some control over the event.

The second rule is to apologize. Say you’re sorry in both word and tone, whether you’re communicating by e-mail, letter, or telephone. Give disappointed customers an incentive to stay with you. Gift certificates can be excellent mollifiers if they’re of sufficient value to make up for any harm done.

Liz Kislik, president of Liz Kislik Associates, specializes in planning and implementing customer marketing and service efforts that involve people and phones. She can be reached at 99 West Hawthorne Ave., Suite 200, Valley Stream, NY 11580, or by phone at (516) 568-2932.

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