I’ve been in the customer experience game for over 20 years now, working in industries such as IT, Food & Beverage, Retail and the Services Industry and this has led me to believe that superior customer service leads to sales. That statement sounds like a no brainer right? I believe that in every industry there is only a handful of those “Superior Customer Experience” providers who can deliver on that promise. While it’s true that no two companies are the same, it takes a certain mentality and consistency to stand out from the crowd. My philosophy around superior behaviours is that we have to believe, we are all sales people, either directly or indirectly. And only when you are embracing that sales mentality and start focusing on a positive end to end sales experience, will your customer start to recognise a superior customer experience. With that said I want to share my experiences on why walking the customer experience is a journey worth travelling and how deploying a sales business model that encourages out of the box thinking will give you an edge over your competition. I will also touch on how embedding measured customer communication into your culture can identify problems early and avoid bad customer experiences. We will then run through my top 4 tips on why you should stand out from the crowd, why it is better to under promise and over deliver, why communication is king, and why empowering the team to make decisions is so important.
We are all sales people
As a newly recruited junior Technical Support Representative in a small two person call centre in 2000, the manager introduced me to the team. There were only twenty people in the company back then and I asking one of the guys there “So what do you do?” His response was “The same as you. I’m in sales”. I began to correct him “No I’m the new tech support guy”, before he interjected, “We are all sales people here mate”. My impression at the time of a salesperson, was the dodgy car salesperson who persistently called you after a test drive and made you feel like you were about to lose your first child if you didn’t sign up that day. This was confusing to me, as I certainly didn’t consider myself to be one of them. As a Technical Support Rep, you’re hired because of a genuine desire to help people and provide advice. That is why you would follow this type of career. I certainly didn’t consider myself a sales person.
The End to End Sales experience
After many years in and around various customer support, technical support and customer care roles my observations have lead me to change my perception in that, we are all salespeople in the end to end sales experience. Obviously, my colleague wasn’t literal when he told me I was a salesperson. After all in Technical Support (TS), what did I have to sell? In most cases, it is up to TS to help customers who are frustrated with their products and services issues and get them back up and working again. However, what is derived from these observations is that it was the customer’s end to end experience that would ultimately dictate the decision of the client to buy again. The TS team played a critical role in that customer’s sales experience and many cases it was the TS team which brought them back from turning away for good. It has become apparent; we are all salespeople, but not ordinary salespeople. We are all here to sell the end to end customer experience, and each person in the company from marketing, sales, finance, support and services play’s their part in any potential future sale.
Walking the customer experience is a journey worth travelling
One interaction with a customer is not what you are not evaluated on. The typical customer’s decision-making process will mean that you are judged on their experience over the entire journey with your business. Most customers are forgiving and will allow for a mistake or two; however, one bad experience could mean you never get that opportunity to impress the client again. In today’s digital age that whisper of a bad experience can travel fast to others. That’s why walking the customer experience is a journey worth travelling, and you need to put yourself in the client’s shoes on a regular basis to understand how easy or difficult you are to do business with. I performed this exercise when working in tech support. It became the norm getting complaints about delivery delays. I thought it was normal. One day a customer ripped right through me as he explained his frustration at us delivering a critical part two days late and I couldn’t accept it as the norm any longer. This was a moment of truth situation where it was important to find out what caused the customer to unload on me.
Under promise and over deliver
What we uncovered was that it wasn’t the fact that our parts were late at all. In fact, we had sent the parts within our standard SLA’s, which was five business days. What became apparent was that whenever we quoted an ETA to a customer, we would always provide a range that it will arrive in 3-5 days. It wasn’t obvious back then, but all the customer heard was that it should arrive in three days’ time. While our delivery team, relied on the five days and would not put any effort into exceeding that timeframe. Customers want certainty so if something might take five days to arrive, commit to five days, however, do your best to exceed that, and you’ll have a happy customer when it arrives at their door earlier than expected. Without walking through that journey with some of our clients and identifying that pain point, we would have continued as normal and potentially lost customers along the way.
Embedding customer communication into your culture
If there is one thing I’ve learnt from working in the customer experience industry, it’s that customer communication needs to be embedded into your culture to enable successful customer relationships. I recall an incident where one of our customers had a major issue with their system, and it was expected that the parts would take several weeks to arrive. No doubt the fact the parts would take several weeks was a concern, to begin with. This customer had engaged our company for years and understood that there were long lead times associated with these parts in question. The customer then called us up with a couple of days to go and asked how their parts were travelling. That’s the moment the house of bricks fell over. If only we had kept the customer informed along the way! It turned out the parts had been delayed by a week and the team involved hadn’t passed the message along to the account management team, hoping the parts would miraculously arrive on time. It’s a mistake you only want to make once, and if we had installed a regime of continuous communications, both internally and externally, we might have avoided an awkward situation and given the customer a chance to make alternative arrangements.
Give the power to make common sense judgments
I recount a story of a young retail trainee keen and eager to impress. He was working the returns department for a couple of weeks and in general, things went smoothly, with customers approaching and returning damaged/faulty goods, with receipt in hand. One day a woman with kids in tow arrived with a bag containing school shoes with the sole peeling back. This trainee had worked the shoe department before so he knew they were our shoes; however, the policy at the time clearly stated no receipt, no refund. The women pleaded with the trainee and wanting to make an impression with management so he stood his ground on that ruling. The woman then proceeded to ask to speak to a manager. And to my surprise, the manager sided with the woman. When I reflected on this situation, it’s easy to understand the reason behind management supporting the women’s claim. She seemed honest in her complaint; they were school shoes and should last longer than a few months. She claimed to have legitimately lost her receipt, however, what continued to frustrate the trainee and other team members not in management positions was that they were not given the power to make a common sense judgment. This ultimately impacted team moral, and it wasn’t until after a couple of staff members left the company and completed an exit interview did management begin to understand the impact that had on the team.
It’s some of these lessons that have helped me grow as a customer experience professional. And there are four core philosophies that I go back to on a regular basis that I’ve discovered works when creating superior experiences to remember:
Customer Service Tips:
1) Recognise everyone’s contribution to the sales experience
It’s important that everyone in the business recognises what they are doing can ultimately lead to a sale, and therefore could be considered part of the sales experience.
– Finance contribute through timely invoices
– Technical Support provides sound advice and timely resolution of problems
-Supply Chain help by getting the product out on time.
-Sale team engage directly and communicate with the customer
Without each and every one of these groups contributing to the end of end experience, we wouldn’t have a sale.
2) Walk the customer journey
You must walk the customer journey to understand truly how easy or how hard you are to work with. Spend time with the customer, listening to their needs and what works and what doesn’t.
3) Communication is king
By keeping the communication flow going throughout the process you’re not only keeping yourself honest by keeping track of the customer’s request, but you’re also given the customer options should something not go to plan. Even in times of bad news, the customer is likely to respect you for being honest and open in the long term, which is why communication is king.
4) Empower the team
Empowering the team to make judgment calls is critical in building a team of trust. People make mistakes. However, it’s what you learn from those mistakes that counts. Empowering your team to make important customer decisions, while providing some space to make the odd mistake helps build a strong culture of trust and rapport.
Author: Clinton Smith