If you can master the communication technique Set Them Up For Future Reference — I convert it to the fun acronym STUFFR — you will be sure to meet and exceed your customers’ and co-workers’ expectations. STUFFR consists of identifying and understanding a potential problem and discussing it with the person in advance. You also need to note their (and your own) exact words and commitment to not failing.
The number one benefit of Set Them Up For Future Reference is accountability. Most people want to make their word good after they make a commitment to do so. People feel obligated to live up to their word. If a customer or co-worker doesn’t live up to their word, you can play back the words they committed to during your prior conversation. Arguing with your own words is tough to do. People usually acknowledge, apologize, and then adapt their behavior.
Here’s the four-step process for STUFFR:
- Obviate. This means to anticipate and prevent. A simple form of obviating is looking out your window, noting the gray skies, and grabbing an umbrella in case of rain. You don’t have to see raindrops to anticipate that you might get drenched later. Obviating requires skepticism. You need to look at your company’s situation, your situation, and the customer’s situation, then discuss what could go wrong and what the two of you can do to prevent it.
- Set clear expectations. Don’t just say to a customer, “We need your request ASAP — we get jammed up around the holidays.” Say more specifically, “If you want your new system installed by the end of this year, I would need to place your order for hardware and all the peripherals by December 9th. That way, even if there’s a one- or two-day delay in shipping, we will still have time for configuring our software and the system before our installers take their end-of-year vacations December 23rd through January 1st.”
- Recap the conversation to ensure that you both agree. You could recap the previous conversation by saying, “So you’re OK making a decision by December 9th or waiting until after the New Year to have your new system installed? If we don’t place the hardware order before the 9th, I can’t guarantee installation that month.”
- Write it down! Don’t rely on your memory to capture details of your discussion. Make notes during the conversation (and enter them into your CRM system when appropriate). Again using the previous example, the customer could email you their order on December 20th and expect an installation date of December 30th. When you call them back, the customer could say, “But for new systems at our other locations you’ve always been able to install them in 10 days or less.” If you don’t have clear notes, you could start doubting yourself: “I swear we had that conversation three weeks ago – did I forget to tell them about the installers taking time off for the holidays?” If you properly STUFFR and made good notes, all you need to do is open up your CRM and share with the customer details of that conversation. Memory jogged and management crisis averted.
STUFFR is a two-way street. The customer or co-worker knows what steps they need to take to get the outcome they desire, and you have committed to them the actions you are going to take as well. Using the above example, you have promised if the customer places their order on December 8th, their new system is guaranteed to be up-and-running by the end of the year. Just like you can play back someone else’s words … they can play back yours.
Avoid the word “try” when setting someone (or yourself) up for future reference. It’s unclear and it also softens any commitment. “I will try to email that link to you today” is far different from “I will email that link to you by the end of business today.” In the words of Yoda from Star Wars: “Do or do not. There is no try.”
So now that I’ve convinced you to like a new business acronym, let me try to warm you up to an often despised task: homework.
This is an exercise I use during my professional development sessions with Vantiv partners through our PaymentsEdge Advisory Services division. I ask reseller or developer staff members to map out an upcoming customer or co-worker interaction using the four-step Set Them Up For Future Reference framework.
- Obviate: What could go wrong and how you can prevent it.
- Set clear expectations (remember to be clear and specific).
- Recap the conversation: What will you say to them to conclude the conversation?
- Write it down: What specific notes will you keep on file?
This homework assignment has several upsides: it’s due whenever you like, it won’t be graded and, best of all, it will positively impact your business.
Jim Roddy is a Reseller & ISV Business Advisor for Vantiv’s PaymentsEdge Advisory Services. He has been active in the POS channel since 1998, including 11 years as the President of Business Solutions Magazine, six years as a Retail Solutions Providers Association (RSPA) board member, and one term as RSPA Chairman of the Board. Jim is regularly requested to speak at industry conferences and he is author of the book Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer.