What do you expect? What do you expect from the carriers you work with? What do you expect from your agents?
Expectations are the measuring sticks we use in our daily communications in work, in our personal lives, in all we do. The human brain bases its expectation on history. However, we rarely have enough data to guess correctly. When expectations are not discussed openly, which is most common, the relationship suffers. We can easily fall from grace in our customer’s eyes without even knowing why. As telecom agents, our ability to set and meet expectations, as well as hold the carriers to the expectations they set, plays a key role in our well being and financial success.
We have all heard the phrase “underpromise and overdeliver.” As I read through today’s 200-plus e-mails in my inbox, I can see that no expectations are tied to the tasks or they are so vague they might as well not be there at all. Phrases, such as “I’ll get back to you” or “I’ll let you know when I receive the information,” represent typical language without any associated measureable expectation.
When our organization works with carriers, we insist on setting specific, realistic expectations. Unfortunately, we are often met with resistance and sometimes hostility. A question that begins with the word “when” is one of the most challenging. The carrier hears the word “when” and assumes we are in a hurry and we are rushing them. It is somehow implied, but it is rarely the case. When we know “when,” we are able to better plan, organize and set expectations for our clients.
I find that the following strategy works well. A typical question we would ask and probably one asked in some fashion by most reading this blog is, “When should I expect to hear back?” When they respond, “How about Tuesday?”, I answer, “Are you sure that is enough time? How about Friday?” Usually we agree to a date somewhere in the middle. A great deal is accomplished from this exchange. The carrier has learned that “when?” does not mean we are in a rush. They now believe we respect their time, and we now have a commitment that is real, comfortable and one they will adhere to. This enables us to set real expectations with our clients and significantly reduce the stress for our firm and our clients.
A few years ago, a client came to us looking for the impossible. They wanted higher speed and better technology – all for a lower cost … a lot lower. They were a large account and we certainly wanted to help, so we gave the opportunity a great deal of thought. The only carrier we knew that could make this work had an unreliable provisioning process. We were concerned about the quality and that the customer’s expectations might not be met. We brought the opportunity to the carrier. We told them that in order to win the account they had to agree to either of these two criteria:
- Our firm would outline all of the challenges we believed our customer would face. They would agree in writing to the items listed and that their service delivery would be substandard.
- They would agree to credit several thousand dollars if specific benchmarks were not met. The standards were basic SLAs and common deliverables provided to all customers.
The carrier considered the choice. Can you guess what happened? The carrier chose option 2 and our customer received all of the credits promised. The installation was slow and arduous, but expected, so the pressure was low throughout the process.
One of the many benefits in supporting subagents and agents is our exposure and vision into how other sales folks set expectations for their customers. We have found that many are fearful of setting real, measurable expectations – both positive and negative – in the beginning of the sales cycle. As common sense would dictate, this generates a great deal of pressure, which affects their stress level, their health, their family life and their financial success.
In the end, most of us are “middlemen” between the customer and the carrier. Managing expectations is a daily task. Instead of saying that you will respond tomorrow or that you will respond in the morning tomorrow, try saying that you will respond before noon, thus tying down their expectation. Try it and you will be delighted with the results.