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You ask somebody for something – like help with technology updates, an infographic or something written and the answer that comes back is:
“Got it. Thanks. This is ninth on my list of priorities.”
Say what? Way to make me feel special. LOL.
And I know why people say that: Because it’s the truth, so A+ for honesty. I always appreciate honesty. From a customer service perspective, though, telling people where they fall (unless they are No. 1) hardly ever makes them feel better about the relationship.
Of course, airlines make a big deal about prioritization. “Group 523, you are now able to board. Welcome on board. Good luck finding overhead space near your seat.”
That doesn’t feel good when you are in Group 523 and of course you can change that by buying priority (or whatever your airline calls it) status or by flying them a lot. So that’s one model!
Seeing the prioritization language in the professional services field though – with external and internal clients – doesn’t usually make us feel helped. So why do people do it? Some of my theories:
- It’s a long-done thing to say. “We’ve always done it this way!”
- Maybe it reminds us how busy we are
- It sets the expectations – (afterall, who can work with 15 Priority 1 cases?)
If you have other reasons, send them to me in the box below and I might add them to the list:
In my years as a content marketer, journalist and entrepreneur I have learned to not use this strategy at all. Everyone gets priority access and I’ll figure it out behind the scenes. Why do people need to know where they fall on my priority list anyway? Or that I’m working on it at 2 am or 10 am or whenever. Or that it takes me 10 hours or 2 or whatever.
“I can do that for you <insert client name>, but it will take 10 hours of my precious time.”
Oh no. At least it’s not 10 hours of my time! 🙂
Check out my customer service book for more on the topic of how to always put the customer first:
I like to be open and honest with my clients (internal and external), but telling them that I won’t get to their stuff now or as soon as they like just doesn’t help me be as customer focused as I’d like to be. So here’s what I do:
I use technology to my advantage. What pieces can be automated? Am I even using the right technology? I hate wasting time in unnecessary workflows. Why do I have to do this step again? Oh, because we don’t want the step’s feelings hurt when we cut it? Got it. I’m ignoring it. Of course, sometimes it’s actually the feelings of the people who added that step to begin with. Don’t be so attached to old processes. Be known for improving them – which is probably what happened when this step first came around. The unnecessary step today used to be a useful step back in the day.
If technology can help me optimize a workflow while not losing authenticity, I’ll do it!
Use deep breathing techniques
You didn’t know this was a self-help blog? LOL. Seriously, some days can be stressful. Email doesn’t slow down, calendars are filling up. I use Calendly to book some meetings (it allows people to book on my calendar directly) but when my Calendly looks like this it’s hard to give people priority access:
Here’s how: Usually people will email and say: “I booked something three weeks out, but let me know if something opens up earlier, please.”
I won’t reply with this: “Will do, but currently you are 28th on my list of priorities.” Nope, I’ll see if there are other things that can be moved or are just placeholders in the next coming days. Often there’s some wiggle room. I’ll send them those options and just prioritized them over me taking lunch or doing another task or whatever.
Of course, this customer-focused system can only be grown (aka scaled) when we either add better technology or add team members. For example, I’ve had people say to me before that they couldn’t believe how much I could get done with so many different projects. In reality I’m not that efficient. I use the right tools and push the right tasks over to different team members to help.
Take pride in being customer-focused and not stressed
Sometimes it feels good to say out loud how busy I am: OMG, I get up at 4, go to the gym, then work, hang out with the kids, etc. etc. etc I’m SOOOOO busy. I will reply to your email when I’m less busy.
Instead, I enjoy being helpful and the collaboration and the fast pace. Yes, I can fit it in. Once I took a last-minute call while at the gym before 6 am! When there’s a will there’s a way or something like that.
That doesn’t mean I don’t schedule tasks out. One reason my calendar is sometimes booked solid is because I hold time to work on tasks like:
- Blog writing
- Email marketing
- Other tasks that just involve me
Of course, these tasks can often also be moved to a degree. If a paying customer bumps in with a request and I was just going to update my email marketing list, the email marketing task moves to another time.
And then the more traditional things that involve other people:
- Meetings (of course)
- Strategic consulting calls
- Product demos
- Speaking at conferences
- On-site training sessions with clients
- Travel (though traveling can be highly effective to get things done as well. Related: My tips for the business traveler)
I know some people who’ve done this and it just ends up meaning that they work 15-hour days. I try not to do that and when those hours are starting to creep up, I look at the priorities – but that never includes telling the customer. It means, I either have to cut some workflow or hire some help. I try not to cut customers! 🙂 “Currently not accepting customers” isn’t my slogan!
Have a conversation about when something is actually needed
Instead of telling customers when I can get to it, I’ll just ask them nicely: When do you need it or what’s your timeline? They might reply: “Oh in three weeks. Would that work.” As it turns out that would put it right in the spot on the list where it would have fit anyway, but see, I didn’t have to tell them they were low on my list. As far as they know and care, I’m meeting their need and timeline.
I’m a big fan of prioritizing and figuring out how to get something in digital marketing and content marketing done. Personally, I’ve found that when my priorities circle around my own priorities only, I have less brain power to focus on my clients’ (internal and external) priorities. So I try to be customer-focused and think about their priorities instead!
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