Customer service should start at the point of sale

Report: KJ Elsdon

Doug-TuckerMost companies, from small businesses to multinational corporations, spend a great deal of time, energy and money on their customer service strategies.

Of course, it makes sense to nurture a healthy relationship with one’s clients and if this means maintaining a large department dedicated to ensure that this very important aim is achieved, then surely this means that this is a worthwhile effort.

Better good customer service than the febrile horror of customer complaints, surely?
The philosophy of customer service, however, is just one way of considering the challenges of winning and holding on to clients. An equally valid response is to ensure that the sales team includes the principles of customer care and customer service in their approach so, from the outset, clients and prospective customers feel valued.

Doug Tucker, MD of Sales Commando, a company that specialises in training sales professionals, has worked closely with three high-profile multinational corporations over the past six months and confessed that he was surprised by the way that the concept of customer service was regarded as something that should remain entirely divorced from sales.

“If the concept of customer service is not built into the sales philosophy from the beginning, there could be trouble ahead. If you are a talented sales professional you can sell anything to anyone – once. The real challenge involves building relationships with clients so that you are the first person that they think of when they need to buy the type of product or service that you are offering, and that they recommend you to others,” he stated.

Tucker has also suggested that that the current shift of emphasis away from one-on one customer contact has quite possibly been caused by the preponderance of high density call centres. This, in turn, has resulted in a whole generation of sales people who are entirely ignorant of the skills that their professional forebears employed to build solid relationships with clients.

Tucker believes that the model of ‘battery-farm’ style call centres, backed by an impregnable customer care section that does more to protect the company’s sales figures than help the client, has been especially injurious. “Very often these call centres only allow their sales team to operate from a script, which is a disaster for them because they have no autonomy and are effectively unable to build up a proper relationship with the clients. However, it is even more harmful for the client, who is often badly let down once the sale has been closed. Thankfully, current trends indicate that these are being phased out, because these places live and die by the single sale philosophy. Once the deal has been done that is it; there is no on-going dialogue, no regard for the client as a living, breathing human being and no sense that this person could be persuaded to be a repeat customer. Of course, if you can install enough phones and employ enough people then there is no doubt that you can make money in the short term, but this is no way to build a lasting business.”

It is small wonder, then, that the Sales Commando website features a quote by the American World War Two Field Commander, Omar Bradley: “Set your course by the stars, not by the lights of every passing ship.” This is a philosophy that, while very much result focused, also stresses the importance of the long game.

Tucker is convinced that, as the emphasis shifts away from the sterile impersonality of the call centre, companies need to arm themselves with the tools that they will need as the discipline of sales returns to its face-to-face roots. While there will always be a very important place for the customer service department, he feels that the sales team should be working harder to restrict its ambit.

“When your clients imagine that sales always involves them feeling bullied and rushed into making a decision that they may well later regret, it makes everyone’s life more difficult and less pleasant. What this ultimately means is that you have to spend a lot of time overcoming resistance to your profession before you can get down to the business of promoting your product,” says Tucker.

“The point is that there are a number of measures that can be taken to ensure that customers feel that their needs are being met by the sales team. This should be accomplished at the point of sale but, if it isn’t, this means that the customer service department is likely to be overworked.”

“Sales teams need to be armed with the ability to develop long-lasting relationships with clients, so it was quite shocking to hear that so many companies are still failing to provide their sales people with the tools that they need to do their job effectively and efficiently. Customers should feel that they can speak to their contact in sales at any time and voice their concerns and reservations. My belief is that sales professionals should always take the extra step. Doing a little bit more than your job requires is an excellent investment for the future.”

Much of the intensive sales training that Tucker recommends revolves around nothing more complex than common sense and empathy. He emphasises the necessity of bearing in mind that, if the client is investing money in one’s product or service then it is essential to invest time in reassuring him or her that this decision is the right one.

“Sometimes it’s as simple as answering your phone and making sure that you’re available to iron out any problems as they arise, not making promises that you cannot keep and being helpful, even when there is no immediate profit in it,” he recommends. “Just remember that nobody has ever complained that their sales contact has over-delivered.”