If you don't like the behaviors you see in your clients, don't waste time evaluating their behavior and trying to force change. Instead, look at your own behaviors and processes and see if it is you who is inadvertently causing the undesired client behaviors.

The flight

As I was packing and preparing for my return flight on a recent trip, I received an email from the airline informing me the first leg of my flight was delayed and would arrive too late in my connecting city for me to make my second flight.

I called flight services and quickly learned I wasn't going to get home that day; I would be staying overnight in the connecting city.

The agent then connected me to someone who helped me make a hotel reservation. When I asked about a hotel voucher, I was told I would have to take care of that once I landed in my connecting city. No big deal I thought.

The check-in

So, I got to the airport and checked in at the self-serve kiosk. The kiosk then offered to let me check in and print my boarding pass for the next morning's flight, which I did. Unfortunately, the kiosk charged me a $25 bag fee for each flight. This didn't seem fair since I was only taking the second flight as a result of the airline's own delay.

The complaint

I then went over to bag drop and complained about the second bag fee to the agent. "Well, I agree, the second fee doesn't seem fair. You really shouldn't have paid the second fee. Next time you're asked to do something like that, don't pay the fee." After clicking around on his computer he tells me, "I can't help you here; you will have to deal with this tomorrow morning when you check in."

So, I arrived in my connecting city ready to ask for my hotel voucher. The agent looked up my confirmation number and presented me with a voucher – for a different hotel. I explained my earlier reservation made through the airline's service center. The fact that their airline helped me on the phone to make my hotel reservation clearly surprised them, "We shouldn't have done that," they told me.

They called the hotel for which I already had a reservation to see if it could be cancelled or the voucher applied. The answer was "no" because of the way the agent booked the reservation.

The advice

It feels like déjà vu all over again. The agent told me, "I know it was our service center who took care of the reservation for you, but if you are asked to pay for something that doesn't make sense, don't give them ("them" being their own airline) your credit card number". His advice was to keep the original room and submit my receipt for reimbursement to the customer service center.

Sure, I knew it wasn't fair to pay a second baggage fee, and I expected to be provided a hotel voucher. But when it is the airline's kiosk and the airline's own agent telling you what to do, it's not easy to argue against the process/answer when there is a plane to catch.

While everyone was pleasant and helpful enough, the airlines processes have now caused me to have a negative experience, caused me to have to do more work, and I suspect, cost me a night's hotel stay and an extra baggage fee. Their suggestion of changing my behavior sort of seems like they were blaming me instead of their own processes. Not only did their processes cause me problems, it created more work for the airline employees, and also slowed down the line for everyone behind me.

Teaching behaviors

This got me to thinking about how company processes end up driving undesired client behaviors and create unnecessary work. You can have the friendliest, best-trained staff ever, but if your processes don't make sense you end up with frustrated clients whose resulting behaviors cause more work for you and have a ripple effect on other clients.

And, just like I imagine those two agents were frustrated with me questioning their answers, you end up frustrated with your own clients who are only reacting to the processes you have established.

Have you ever become frustrated, or even angry, when you realize your clients are letting another broker quote? Yet, not that long ago you were the other broker asking for a chance to quote their business. Can you legitimately be frustrated and/or angry when it is your process of getting new business that reinforces the undesired behavior?

Or how about the client that calls you with every little problem, most of which they could get handled faster and easier by calling a carrier's customer service number or using their website. Remember, their goal is to get a question answered or a problem fixed. They don't really care who fixes it, as long as it gets fixed. Yet, the client calls you because it's what you instructed them to do as you were looking to earn their business. "Call me with anything you need" you tell them, even when it doesn't always result in the most desirable outcome for them.

Now, instead of an almost immediate answer from the carrier, they call you, you call your carrier rep, who in turn takes the situation to the very same person the client could have called directly. Then the answer has to work its way all the way back through the same communication chain, creating more work for too many people and slowing down the answer for your client. Here's the worst part: if it's not the answer the client wants, the answer is now coming from, and reflecting on, you.

I hear the frustration about these types of client behaviors all the time. But when you look closer, it is really the process of the agency driving the behavior.

Be sure to regularly re-evaluate your processes, especially those that have a direct impact on your clients. A great first place to look is any area where you are consistently frustrated by the behavior of your clients. When clients are behaving in a consistent way (good or bad), there is a very good chance it is a direct result of their interaction with you and your process.

If you want them to change their behavior, start by changing your process.

 

Photo by Ben Ostrowsky.