Profiting from Customer Service
By Barry Bailey
As Published in Sales & Marketing Excellence Magazine, November, 2002
As good old "Webster" states, "a customer is one who purchases." Now it seems logical to say, customer service is taking care of the person who purchases. Sales people should be trained to help customers make good decisions. When customers make good decisions and purchase a product or service that "fits" then everybody is happy! What happens when that product or service doesn't "fit" or is not performing to expectation? Or worse, doesn't work at all?
Many sales people cringe at the thought of facing an irate customer. They view the irate customer as someone who takes them away from their selling time and ruins their day! Instead, the irate customer should be viewed as an opportunity. What happens when you turn the irate customer around? What happens when you don't? When you turn them around you have opened paths for additional sales! When you don't satisfy the customer, you not only close the path to that customer for additional sales, but other customers' paths as well! Remember customers talk to each other.
Customer service is becoming a lost art and this is very sad. If a business takes good care of its customers, it flourishes. The business not only grows but it will have a good name and be reputable in the community. Let me give you an example. A friend of mine told me a story about receiving superior customer service. He was having trouble with his central heating furnace. It was an old house and had the original heating system. The repairman found a burned out fuse but did not have a replacement for it and did not know where to get one. My friend went to a locally owned hardware store. One of the managers looked at the burned out fuse and said, "We don't have anything like that, but we have a little box in the back room with all kinds of odds and ends. Let me have a look" He disappeared into the back room and some twenty minutes later returned with not one, but two fuses. "How much for the two of them?" my friend asked. "Oh" he said, I have no idea how to price them. Would fifty cents be ok?"
Was the investment of twenty minutes of a manager's time for fifty cents a good idea? It would not appear to be on the surface, but my friend became a customer for life. What would have happened if the manager had just sent him to the customer service department? Taking care of a customer's needs, particularly when the customer seemingly has no where else to turn, can go a long way toward building long term customer loyalty. It will also give you the best advertising you can get, "word of mouth". This is the kind of advertising that money can't buy and all businesses covet.
A company can improve its customer service by taking the time to train their workers to be friendly, courteous, knowledgeable, and focused on the customers needs. In other words, they need to be selling themselves and selling their company. Sales professionals need to be customer service professionals too! In fact sales people need to be as good as if not better at customer service than the customer service department. Early in my sales career I learned that handling unhappy customers resulted in higher sales! It did not take long for me to realize that volunteering to take the unhappy customer, opened paths to sales success!
People that have direct customer contact with their customers should be the most courteous, friendliest, and most knowledgeable people you have. How do we achieve good customer relations? With good customer service! How is good customer service achieved? With a staff of sales professionals that are well trained and know when they are doing a great job. Their training should include:
- How to develop and maintain creditability and trust.
- The art of effective listening-the key to understanding customer issues.
- How to ask well-crafted and well-thought out questions.
- How to respond and send the right message.
- How to identify and resolve any customer objections.
Your sales people need to understand how to become problem solvers for their customers. Becoming a member of the clients' problem solving team takes time and energy. A professional shows true confidence, gains the customer's trust, and truly values the customer's needs. You know that follow on business is paramount to success. It takes planning, creativity and great interpersonal skills to retain customers.
Important complement to the sales effort is the customer service department. It should be staffed with people who are well trained in selling skills. Customer service departments are vital links to the customer. They should be knowledgeable of the full range of offerings and be able to discuss them with confidence. Many times the customer may need an alternative offering to satisfy the issue at hand. The customer service employee should be able to offer an alternative or up sell to provide the proper solution. In other words, another path to higher $ sales is to make sure your customer service people are well versed in basic selling skills.
A path to higher sales and profits is for both sales and customer service to focus on increasing value. Sales can increase customer satisfaction through the process of addressing and solving many issues that customers face, even after the sale. Customer service has the ability to increase profitability through customer retention and higher sales as well. Both working in concert with each other provides the company with contact personal that their customers will grow to appreciate and continue to purchase from.
Good customer service and good customer relations can make or break your company. Create a vision or goal for your company. We should keep in mind that all people are your potential customers at one time or another. How far are you willing to go to achieve this vision or goal? Are you willing to take the time and energy to train your people? Think of the rewards if you succeed. Don't the Pro's outweigh the Con's? The end results of a well-trained staff are money in your pocket and customers that keep coming back.
The Barry Bailey Group provides consulting & management support to organizations that leads to increased shareholder value!