Customer Service Success = Under-promise and Over-deliver

I was listening to the “Mike and Mike Show” on ESPN radio on the way to work one morning when I heard Mike Greenberg utter a familiar phrase for those of us in the sales arena, “Under-promise and over-deliver.” Even if you’re not in sales you might have heard the phrase before. What you may not understand is why it works so well.

Under promising and over delivering helps make happy customers because you set expectations you should be able to deliver on and that’s the key. For example, does it bother you when you call a customer service number and hear, “Your call is very important to us and will be answered in the order it was received. Right now your estimated wait is five minutes,” and the wait ends up being seven or eight minutes? I know it bugs me.

How do you feel when this happens, “Your call is very important to us and will be answered in the order it was received. Right now your estimated wait is ten minutes,” and the wait ends up being seven or eight minutes? If you’re like most people you feel pretty good…or at least better than you did in the first scenario.

Why is this so? It’s simple. In one case the expectation wasn’t met but in the other it was exceeded. It didn’t matter that in both cases the actual wait time was the same. This is a classic case of “compared to what?” which derives its power from something know as the contrast phenomenon in the study of influence. What we compare something to can make all the difference in our experience.

Most people make the mistake of over promising and then under delivering. For example, a company wants to get a new order and they bid too low only to come back later and raise their price…or try to raise it and anger the customer. They may have gotten the contract but an upset customer will talk to a lot more friends than a happy one so it ends up hurting business in the long run.

Here’s something most of us face on occasion – time away from the office.  When we leave the office we change our voicemail and turn on the out of office message to alert people that we’re away. When I take family time I clearly tell people I won’t be checking voicemail or email but when it’s not family time that’s different. If I’m traveling for business I’m still more difficult to reach so I might us a message that incorporates something like this:

“While I’m away my access to voicemail and email will be limited. I’ll do my best to reach you while I’m traveling but it might be Monday before you hear from me.”

We live in an almost fully wired world where people expect 24×7 communication unless we set a different expectation. When people call or email they’re not thinking about how busy we might be unless we let them in on that fact. My message doesn’t promise the other person will hear from me but when they do I usually get a response along these lines, “Hey, thanks for getting back to me. I know you’re out so I wasn’t expecting to hear from you till Monday.” Do you think they’re happy? You bet they are because I exceeded their expectation. I under promised and over delivered.

I say this often; understanding persuasion isn’t a magic wand that will get you what you want every time. And let me add to that there are always exceptions to the rule. Sometimes there’s the difficult customer who doesn’t care what you’re doing because they want an answer now. For folks like that I always make sure to include in my message a way to reach a real live person in my absence so they can get immediate help when needed.

I love what I do and the company I work for – State Auto Insurance – but I’m not an employee 24×7, nor is work the most important thing in life. I have parameters in my life and to remind me of that my personal mission statement concludes with this – I work to live, I don’t live to work. I’ll never sacrifice my faith, family or personal well being at the expense of my career.

So let me encourage you; set the parameters on whatever you do and remember that under promising and over delivering is the better strategy to take because the science tells us so.

Brian, CMCT
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Influencers from Around the World: Secrets of an Aussie Debt Collector

This month’s Influencers from Around the World article comes to us from down under courtesy of Anthony McLean, CMCT. Like me, Anthony is a Cialdini Method Certified Trainer, the only one in Australia. Reach out to him on Facebook or LinkedIn, or feel free to leave a comment below.

Brian, CMCT
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Secrets of an Aussie Debt Collector

I was recently at a social function where I met a guy who, from the outset, sparked my curiosity. When asked what he did he simply replied, “debt collection.” After a bit more discussion he said something that really intrigued me, “I only work with two types of clients; those who can’t pay and those who won’t pay.

This comment resonated with me because I immediately thought of the complex influence problems we encounter. I thought the most difficult situations often involve a target of influence who believes they can’t say YES or simply won’t say YES.
I probed further into the world of our debt collector and found that he not only ran a very successful business but the more he spoke, the more it became obvious he was intuitively employing all of Dr. Robert Cialdini’s principles of influence in some way.
Of note: Dr. Cialdini originally discovered these principles by watching those masters of influence in a covert manner and then reverse engineered their strategies and validated them through research. Just as Cialdini had done, I quickly realized I was in the presence of an artisan; someone who was effectively employing Abraham Maslow’s fourth stage of learning, unconscious competence. Influence was a part of this guy; he just did it and was successful because of it. We arranged to meet to discuss this further and below are the secrets of a very successful debt collector.
Those who can’t pay
We started off agreeing that those who were happy to pay never made it onto his books so we would commence with those who believe they can’t pay.
Our debt collector (DC) started by saying the introduction to the phone call is critical. He had to be “firm but fair.” DC commences by introducing himself by title and appropriately demonstrating his knowledge in the field. He knows that if he is to influence those who believe they can’t pay he has to get their side of the story in order to understand what happened and, if possible, why. Going too hard will shut them down and that’s not to anyone’s advantage. With the introduction over he commences by getting their side of the debt story and uses this context to start to work through strategies to see how they can start to pay. DC highlights to the debtor that even small amounts are okay and reassures them that others don’t have to know about this situation. This second element is critical because for many “saving face” is integral to the process.
DC says that truthfully telling the debtor that “others have told him that they begin to feel better once they start” often opens the door to further discussions. He stated he highlights that this simple step will also stave off any legal proceedings and will give the debtor time to work through the problem in many respects under their own terms.
DC said that while working through options he avoids putting debtors in a position in which they feel they have to say No”. Once a pathway is identified he gets the debtor to voluntarily commit to a repayment start date and to outline how they will go about making that first payment and the subsequent payments after that.
What DC has found is those who can’t pay are far more receptive after providing their side of the story. This also allows a time and space for him to outline the various consequences and to highlight the options they have open to them. Of course DC said he always finishes by commenting on what the debtor honestly stands to lose by not going down this path, including the widespread attention that is often drawn to public hearings like this.  He’d added his approach is unlike many in his industry and his staff is recruited because of their ability to engage with and talk to people, not just make demands and threats upfront.
During our conversation I was able to quickly note where DC was intuitively using the principles. They were:
Introduce himself with the title of debt collector.
Engage in a very different way to what people expect thus allowing for the contrast to be drawn to other debt collectors and even the debt recovery efforts of the initial service provider.
Providing debtors the opportunity to tell their side of the story and allowing them to do so.
Allowing debtors to make their own choices with one alternatively ensuring confidentiality.
Providing flexibility in repayment options and terms.
Cooperating with the debtor to find solutions allowing for payment rather than making demands.
Genuinely looking at the situation from the debtor’s perspective and letting them know that it was not DC’s job to make this any harder but to in fact help them resolve it without causing further hardship.
By highlighting that others like them have felt better once they commence the payment plan.
Introducing himself by title and organization and quickly explaining the role.
Demonstrating knowledge of options and legislation in the introduction
Carefully ensuring the debtor doesn’t commit to “No” in the early stages thereby taking a stand not to pay.
Getting the debtor to voluntarily commit to a payment plan with a start date and method of payment of their choosing.
Highlight what they stand to lose by this becoming public or by going to court.
Those who won’t pay
DC informed me that as far as those who won’t pay, it’s more a situation in which they often have the capacity to pay, but felt wronged in some way. This could mean they didn’t receive the service or goods they initially paid for or they weren’t told the whole truth about the product and/or service initially. With this history of the service provider under-delivering or failing to deliver, often the debtor has not and will not take proactive steps to repay the debt. In many instances the debtor is happy for the matter to come to a head, such as to go to court, so they have a viable platform to vent their disapproval and highlight the injustice they feel has been perpetrated against them.
At the other end of
this continuum however are those that have learned that if they don’t pay the debt there is a strong chance in the settlement phase the service provider or debt collector will discount the debt in some way to get the debt cleared. Alternatively, if they go to court there is a chance they will have the debt admonished. Either way, by holding out, they “win.”
DC told me that once he identifies someone in the “won’t pay” group he doesn’t waste any further effort and simply serves a summons on them and commences legal action. DC said he does this because history tells him that if they won’t pay they either want their day in court, in which case he gives it to them, or they want to stall on the smallest detail and/or amount to ensure they “win.” Neither of these is worth DC’s time to engage in this lengthy and often non-productive interaction.
DC then stated that in his business only 3-5% of his cases progress by way of summons to court proceedings and almost 100% of this group were from the “won’t pay” sector. Knowing this allows DC to recognize that for 95-97% of his cases, if he or his staff invest time in the debtor and create an environment in which they can work together they will usually get a positive result. The contrast here to others in the industry is evident in that the stereotype suggests that the debt collector will stand-over, threaten or coerce the debtor, making them feel they “have to” repay the debt today and building resentment or resistance.
DC further backed this up with some more statistics saying that when he expanded his business from Australia to New Zealand, by using this approach he was able to immediately achieve a 50% payment of debt level whereas the previous provider could only achieve a 22% repayment rate.
In any influence situation we deal with three types of people:
1.      Those who are willing to entertain our messages/requests/proposals, or at least willing to engage with us and provide an opportunity to influence them.
2.    Those who reject our messages/requests/proposals because while they may be able to be influenced, they feel they are not in a position to be influenced, i.e., because of organizational structure, financial constraints, perceived conflict of interest and so on.
3.    Those who reject our messages/requests/proposals because they choose not be influenced. Whether it is because the outcome may challenge their status or expertise, they may feel wronged in some way and are reacting against us, or they have surrounded themselves with barriers or obstacles so you can’t actually get to them to influence them.
It is important in any influence situation to do your homework and know as much as you can about the target of influence. In DC’s case this is done partly before picking up the phone and partly while on the phone. What DC shows us though is even for those who think they can’t do something, by working with them, doing the small things well, you allow the opportunity for things to at least be considered and influence to come to play. Occasionally the person we are influencing may ultimately not be able to say YES but they will know the person who can.
For those who won’t be influenced because of choice, culture or organization design, you as the agent of influence need to reflect on the time and effort that will be required to break through the barriers and to ask yourself can you spend your influence efforts better elsewhere. If you engage with someone else, whether it is a competitor, a colleague of theirs or even one of their own influencers and they don’t have a seat at the table, scarcity is a great motivator.
Anthony McLean, CMCT
Changing the way people think