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Improving the Overall Effectiveness of Customer Visits is as Easy as A.B.C.
By Michael C. Dennis, MBA, CBF and Steven Kozack

Customer visits are time consuming and expensive, but they can sometimes provide valuable information and insights about a specific customer, their needs and their business operations. To make personal visits more productive, follow the A.B.C's:

  • Always make an appointment. Don't show up unexpectedly and uninvited - unless the only reason for the visit is to try to obtain payment from a seriously delinquent debtor.

  • Always take the time to confirm your appointment in writing by fax, email or letter.

  • Always notify your sales department of your plan to visit the customer, and ask if there are any issues that the salesperson would like you not to discuss with the customer. If sales objects to you meeting with "their" customer, explain that by resolving problems and gathering information first hand that you will be more likely to be willing and able to help the customer in the future.

  • Ask the customer for a tour of the facility when you first arrive. Most customers will proudly show you their operation. This is a good way to break the ice. It also is a valuable source of information for you about the business operation in general.

  • Ask your customer to send you a list of issues they would like to discuss.

  • Asking for updated financial statements during a personal visit is fairly common, and it is much harder for your customer to refuse to provide this information when you are face-to-face with them.

  • Be courteous even if the person you were scheduled to meet with is "unavailable." If you are offered the opportunity to meet with a subordinate instead, do so. Keep this meeting brief. Outline what you want to talk to their manager about - and then try to reschedule the original meeting.

  • Be on your best behavior during your visit. No matter how difficult or contentious the negotiations become, you are your customer's guest and should act accordingly.

  • Before the meeting, send a list of issues you want to cover along with any relevant supporting documentation. If you want to discuss disputed items, send a package including supporting documentation at least two weeks ahead of time, and preferably a month ahead of time. If you do, chances are good that the customer will already have handled many of the issues before you arrive.

  • Confirm your appointment again the day before the meeting by telephone

  • Confirm with your manager your negotiating authority limits - if any - before you actually visit a customer

One final thought: Do whatever you can to assure the customer that your visit is not intended to be a disguised threat or an insult. Retaining customer goodwill is every employee's job.

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