Give more than you expect to get—that's the entrepreneur's mantra. That's because the success of your business begins with what you have to offer the world, not with what you'll get in return. Eventually, this "goodwill" will funnel back into your reputation, and your bottom line.
But how nice is too nice? Business owners are often time-strapped, frequently sacrificing sleep or personal time for work. But no matter how much time you give or how hard you try, you just won't be able to make every customer happy. Sometimes, being your best and achieving maximum success means learning how and when to say no. Your sanity and long-term business success depends on it.
You don't have to learn this lesson the hard way. Follow the steps of those who've been down this tough road before you. Here are three scenarios in which "being too nice" is not so nice at all.
Call Me … Maybe Not
If you're running an e-commerce, software-as-a-service or product-driven company, you know that providing outstanding customer service to the people purchasing your products and services is invaluable. It's critical to the success of your business to have a real human being on the other side of your phone line or computer screen. These reps should be empathetic, warm and caring.
But when does accommodation stretch too far? "Customer service isn't consulting," says Greg Ciotti of Help Scout, a scalable customer support platform. "When a customer has your cell phone number for problems and questions, things have gone too far."
The proper response to a request for your private number, Ciotti says, is to let people down nicely. Explain why their request is beyond the scope of what you're able to do for your customers. Then offer a constructive alternative, such as referring them to a consultant.
Solid and mutually beneficial business relationships exist when both parties stand on equally strong foundations—when companies and their clients are partners who are striving to help one another.
"Being too nice is a sign that there's mutual respect missing," says Justin W. Boggs, a serial entrepreneur who founded Bridge Capital Partners, OfferSavvy.com and SigECig.com. Boggs believes that honesty is invaluable for productive business relationships.
"If you're too nice, clients treat you like a doormat," Boggs says. "The right balance exists where there is mutual respect and proper alignment of expectations for the relationship."
If you've got a client who's walking all over you, it's time to pull back and begin setting some boundaries. Don't give away the bank. Instead, offer to do what is reasonable and still profitable for you—but no more than that.
Stop Those Red Tag Sales!
Offering a one-time discount can help seal the deal with a customer who was waffling on the price. But if you're not careful, that one-time discount has the potential to escalate into a river of lost revenue when that customer starts expecting consistently lower prices.
"Being too nice [regarding prices] could spoil your customer, which may be good and bad at the same time," photographer David Filipi says. "I suggest offering discounts in the details, which doesn't hurt your core pricing strategy."
As a freelance photographer, Filipi says he never accepts requests for discounts. "But I have no problem with a little bit of over-delivering," Filipi adds, "like when a customer buys a new camera and needs some advice on how to use it. If it's related to my expertise, I'll offer to help for free."
Before you start lowering your prices or offering discounts to keep your customers happy, think about all the other ways you can add more value to your products or services. It pays to keep your customers happy, but don't take a business loss to do it.
Read more articles on customer service.
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