It’s amazing, really. A small dose of kindness can turn into friendship, or transaction, or whatever ‘merit’ you assign. Could it really be that simple?

Dr. Henry Cloud feels so. This best-selling author and lifelong behavioral psychologist agrees that kindness is key in personal and business relationships among bosses, employees, and customers. But, is there a limit or a trick to kindness that does not turn into being taken advantage of? Turns out, there definitely is.

Managed Expectations

The trick, Cloud said, is what the managerial among us would call managed expectations.

“Disappointment is the difference between expectation and reality,” said the Christian-based author. Let that sink in for a minute.

A boyfriend suitor represents himself as kind, devoted, and honorable. (By the way, one of those traits is, according to Cloud, the most important attractant to females.) Yet, during the relationship, meanness and dishonorable activities ensue. Disappointment sets in.

A company claims three-day delivery of your package, which has been promised to be “plug-and-play simple,” with full support. It arrives seven days later, with directions written by a struggling student interpreter. The on-hold time to customer support gives you time to grow a reasonable beard. Disappointment accompanies reaching for the return instructions.

A fellow team member says they’ve got your back when confronting a missed work deadline that was out of the control of both of you. Yet, at the first opportunity, they un-blame themselves, leaving you twisting alone in front of the boss. Disappointment, distrust, and unwillingness to cooperate ensues.

All of these are examples of regular disappointments that dampen progress and put a death notch in future communication. And it’s not just the immediate repercussions, but also the ones carried forward.

At Hudson Ink, our most difficult sales conversion is not to the contractor who can’t afford our programs, but to the ones who’ve just gone through a miserable episode of dashed expectations with another company. We, therefore, underestimate our results in an effort to re-bolster their trust.

Ever deal with a customer recently burned by another contractor? Or one who stayed up late watching contractor sting episodes? While these precursors are not your fault, you have to undo the damage.

The Customer is Not Always Right

The customer is sometimes an irrational, unworthy jerk who needs a slice of cascade cake. (The ever-eloquent Cloud didn’t write that. I did.)

Nope, they may not be right for you, but they may be perfect for someone else. In other words, you have my permission to fire them, but only after reasonable attempts to maintain them. This also starts with expectations and limits.

Cloud goes on to say, “Trusting individuals are generally more kind than the average person and, thus, can get stepped on in relationships.” In this way, you set kindness limits and consequences.

The perfect customer service representative is a perfectly good listener, but when the conversation escalates with a rude loudmouth, limits must be imposed.

“Sir, I am here to help you, but another curse word and I’ll have no option but to terminate the conversation. So, you can be civil and get help, or be uncivil and lose my help.” This generally takes them from berating to reality in a hurry.

Likewise, setting and meeting expectations from you to the customer should happen early.

We create “handouts and leave-behinds” for contractors at the first visit. The handout is a company newsletter and discount certificates for future calls or to give to neighbors and friends. Sometimes it includes a free dessert coupon for a nearby restaurant, obtained free.

These handouts also include a sheet, explaining:

• Who you are;

• What you do;

• Why you’re different; and

• Mutual expectations from the service relationship.

You think the above is being done by your competition? You’re right.

The leave-behind goes with the invoice and is a soft-sell piece that reinforces your service mission, has a URL to leave comments and reviews online, and includes a customer service hotline to report concerns, praise, or complaints.

You think the above is being done by your competition? Right again. (Both of these forms — printed and online — are given to PowerSuite customers.)

After the visit, customers get a call from a customer service rep that goes over any issues (manages expectations again) and politely requests referrals as “a way to help grow the company family with other great customers like you.” Those words are structured very carefully to deliver the right psychological messages
of cooperation.

The point is that you’re already setting a differentiation standard right along with what they can expect from a top contractor instead of the pretenders with a white van and a completely forgettable message.

Don’t be that guy. Be the company that offers a home to those who are sick of that guy. Manage expectations and you’ll better manage your future.

Publication date: 10/20/2014