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If you ask a medical practitioner what they fear most, a common answer is the patient who has browsed their condition(s) intensively (and often endlessly) and come up with a false self-diagnosis. Perhaps I should write a blog on how the web stimulates hypochondria (not just in medicine but in any customer service situation).
More practically, any supplier faced with increasing frequency of customer self-advice or self-diagnosis needs to follow these ten rules:
1. Don't react with anger or frustration, but find out what your customers are doing. Ask them how they have reached their conclusions.
2. If you think they have gone the wrong way about it, tell them, and tell them why, but allow them to come back with a counter-argument.
3.. Make sure that where the customer goes, you go too. Make your advice prominent
4. Ensure that the advice you give also handles the objections that might be posed by other advice givers.
5. Give customers the tools to reach the right diagnosis or conclusion, tools that take into account the great variety of customer situations and needs. Where possible, help them simulate how life will be after they have made their choice.
6. Take account of the possibility that the customers most likely to exploit the ability of the web to put them in the position to "beat you up" may be "bad customers", ones you want to get rid of (if you can).
7. Build this "bad customer" possibility into your diagnostic approach and your and processes for advising, selling and servicing.
8. If possible, help your customers get advice from "good customers", which in this situation means ones who give good advice. Monitor the dialogue where you can.
9. Learn from your successes and failures.
10. Train your staff in how to handle customers who use the web in this way - and make it fun, because some of the things customers - and companies - do in this situation are quire funny (even if they are also sad).