In an environment where more and more business is won through word of mouth, providing service satisfaction is becoming an ever more valuable sales tool. Your sales people invest considerable effort in trying to convince customers that you provide excellent service, but one of the best kept sales secrets is (and remember you heard this original idea here first) is to actually provide excellent service and then get your customers to spread the word.
Providing good service is not particularly valuable – everyone does it because it's relatively easy. Remarkably good service is altogether another thing. Marketing evangelist, Seth Godin defines something as remarkable if people remark on it! Providing remarkable service just won't happen when you set out to provide good service.
Getting this message through to all of your team is valuable. Sometimes your worst employee can lose you more business than your best employee can win.
Why is it that you can employ two service engineers, one more technically competent than the other and yet get more than five times as many positive remarks on the less competent engineer?
The three 'L's' of property investment are Location, Location and Location!'
The three 'C's of service and customer complaint management are communication, communication, and communication!
1. Focus on the relationship: Never lose site of the fact that the most valuable outcome is to preserve the business relationship. Too many people treat a customer complaint as a competition and win the battle and lose all the future business.
2. Put your hand up: Let the customer know that you are the person in your organisation that will take responsibility for handling their issue.
3. Velocity of response: As with nearly every other aspect of selling, velocity of response is crucially important. When a customer advises you that they have a service issue, have the person in your organisation that is going to own the issue contact the client as soon as possible to let them know how what your process will be to resolve their issue. Get in front of the customer's expectations.
4. Tell them when you have news... and when you have no news! Get back to your customers with regular updates on the status of any service issues. Call them with updates before they call you. Even when you don't have a resolution as yet, let them know you are actively working on a resolution for them (otherwise they may assume you are giving it no priority or effort). The biggest mistake is to put every effort into resolution and not take time out to update the client of progress or non progress. “No one called me to let me know what was happening – I had assumed you had forgotten about me or weren't interested!”
5. Rejoice and embrace the opportunity: In every company I have worked for we have claimed that we provided better post sales service than our competitors. Of course the problem with this is that, true or not, all your competitors make exactly the same claim. Customers simply don't believe 'better service' just because you say it. When clients have an issue, you get the chance to demonstrate it! When a customer called with a service issue, I trained the staff to treat it as a fantastic sales opportunity. Our internal statement was that one well managed service call was typically worth ten sales calls. This is something that every experienced sales person understands and can make them start rubbing their hands together – in a money expecting sort of way.
6. It's not the clients fault: Don't ever assume that the client is at fault until you have all the facts. Every organisation stuffs up. The nature of probability is that if you are part of a highly professional team the customer will still be right at least 50% of the time. After all, it's harder to make a mistake when you are merely receiving, than when you are delivering. If there is a misunderstanding take this as an indication that there is room to improve your communication.
7. Yippee - free consultancy!: If you are getting customer complaints then treat this as free sales consultancy. I had been the sales manager at a new company less than a week when one of the sales reps asked me to tag along to a meeting with a client who always complained about the service. The sales rep wanted me to decide if we wanted to continue doing business with this client. (Some clients really aren't worth the effort). I went to the meeting and listened to a barrage of angry complaints. Within fifteen minutes the client calmed down and I found myself taking notes from the client on ways we could improve our service. I realised that the client placed extremely high standards of service on us because he applied the same standards of service to his clients. Many of the things he advised us of were easy to fix, while a few were not within our capabilities/resources to fix. We prioritised his list as high priorities, low priorities and items that were not worth us addressing . We put the easy things right within a few days and worked on the other items in order of priority over the following couple of years. The free consultancy he gave us was also invaluable to winning business from other clients. When I moved companies this client moved his business over to my new company and over the years I did hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of business with him. (Thanks Doug, if you are reading this!)
8. Set expectations you can exceed!: Think of a realistic time frame and then add a healthy margin. If you think it will take two hours to resolve a problem quote the client four hours. This allows for unexpected complications and if you do get it resolved in two hours they will invariably be impressed that you exceeded expectations. If the product they want is not in stock and you think it will take five days to arrive, quote them ten days and keep them updated with progress.
9. Ask for a reference: Anyone can perform when things go smoothly. Some of the best references are the ones you obtain when you show that you can perform when the plan breaks. When you resolve an issue ask for a reference or ask them to send an email to your boss. When they send an email saying “Peter has done a marvelous job resolving our issues”, they are acknowledging the value in doing business with you. A piece of paper gains intrinsic value when a reference is written on it.
10. Be a drill Sergeant: Remarkable service requires a remarkable team, not just remarkable individuals. Drill all of your sales and service staff on how to manage service satisfaction and complaint issues. Perhaps start the process by printing this out and sticking it on the wall. This may stimulate some valuable discussions on how you can provide remarkable service as a sales tool.
Liam Venter: Author of the popular sales training manual
'The Consultative Sales Professional'
You can obtain a copy here