Onboarding Your Customer

Last week I received a note from my air conditioner service provider, whom I’ll call GreatAC, offering me a summer special on maintenance for my one year old system and notifying me that they had merged with another company whom I’ll call All-Service. I called GreatAC and made an appointment. When the technician arrived yesterday, he wore an All-Service company shirt. He was very polite and introduced himself before going into the attic to service the unit. He came down a few minutes later, told me he that I needed a $1500 system which he could install, and might just be able to get discounted to $1250.

Since my entire heating and cooling system was replaced last year, I was surprised at the finding. He also went on to tell me he thought the air handler (which is working fine) was probably not the right fit for the house and made other disparaging remarks about the quality of work from the other company that I had been using for over two decades.

At that point, I began asking questions about the ‘merger,’ which the technician re-defined as “We bought their customer list. You have no warrantee with us. Your warrantee was with a company that is now out of business.”

At that point, the service call was terminated.

So, what had he done wrong that caused me to take extreme action? He failed to onboard me as a customer. I first came across the customer onboarding concept in a Harvard Business Review1 article that looked at customer service in five companies over the end-to-end customer journey. ‘Onboarding’ is a common phrase, usually associated with the steps used to bring a newly hired person into a company.  

I am using onboarding in the context of customer service to note that when you meet a new customer or client, you need to take the time to establish a rapport and build a foundation of trust.

I will give the guy credit. He did establish rapport when he took the time to introduce himself upon arrival and talk about his background. I was comfortable allowing him to enter my home. However, prior to initiating the service on my unit, which was what I expected him to do, he started pitching me for expensive products and a long-term service contract. He discredited the work by GreatAC, which called into question my past decisions to contract with GreatAC. We terminated the call since he had not gained my trust, and in fact, he had gained my mistrust since my system was operating well and this was only a routine maintenance call.

According to McKensey & Company2, emotions drive decisions when it comes to making purchasing decisions. They found that the key to converting customers into ‘committed brand followers’ was the ability for the company to earn trust and loyalty with that customer.

Building trust and loyalty, particularly in ‘Moments of Truth’, which McKensey uses to describe the customer interactions where the customer is investing emotional energy in the outcome, lies squarely on the shoulders of the company representative in that moment. These individuals need to possess a high degree of emotional intelligence to read the client to understand that they are engaged in a ‘moment of truth’. They also need the ability to put the customer needs first in addressing concerns. This requires self-control to put the customer’s needs ahead of their own agenda and their company’s agenda. They also need a degree of freedom from the company so they can pursue creative solutions.

When All-Service showed up at my home, I had been expecting GreatAC.  All-Service was jumping into the middle of a long-term relationship satisfactory relationship I had with GreatAC. However, the technician put his own agenda, getting me to buy more services, head of my need to have my system serviced. He did not have the emotional intelligence to understand that by throwing the company I had a relationship with under the bus, that he would be calling into question my own decision process. At that point, it didn’t matter if I actually had issues that needed to be addressed, I was not going to address them with him.

All-Service had made an investment in buying a customer list and the good will that went into building a loyal clientele by GreatAC. They were squandering that investment by not taking the time to build trust. I felt disrespected when a clear representation had not been made regarding the relationship between my old company and this new one. If my unit had been serviced first, and while concluding the transaction the technician had mentioned some concerns he had, I would have listened to him with a more open mind to continuing business since my needs in the transaction had been met. But that is not what happened. The up sell was the first thing on the technician’s agenda.

When I worked for a large defense think tank, I was given three rules of marketing: 1) Proudly provide your list of relevant experience; 2) Point with disdain to the work done by the others; and 3) Offer a better solution. I have had years of successful sales and I always omitted step 2. There was no reason to disparage another provider. The client, if they were talking to me, had already decided that a change was needed.

My industry is a close one where people talk. I wouldn’t want a competitor to disparage me or my products and I believe in the wisdom of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

1Rawson, A., E. Duncan and C. Jones. 2013. The truth about customer service. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2013/09/the-truth-about-customer-experience

2 Beaujean, M., J. Davidson, and S. Madge. 2006. McKinsey Quarterly. Retrieved from https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/the-moment-of-truth-in-customer-service

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