Serious About Improving Service?

Accenture 2013 Global Consumer Pulse Survey found that:

  • 51% of U.S. consumers switched service providers in the past year due to poor customer service experiences, up 5% from 2012.
  • 81% said the company could have done something differently to prevent them from switching.

Are your customers switching to your competition? Are they getting ready to switch? Where do you start to improve customer retention at your organization? 

Surveying your customers is a first step to obtain quality assurance and satisfaction measures. This can be a post customer service call questions and customer relationship surveys conducted periodically.

Improving customer service at your organization should include the review of  business practices and the working relationships among internal customers. Everyone takes a turn being a “customer” or “provider” to another co-worker.

Realize that business processes and staff behavior does have an impact on co-worker relationships. This creates an image of your organization that is readily perceived by the external customer and community.

Trust me, your staff will have valuable insights and examples on service gaps and improvement opportunities. You will need to have the courage and thick skin to question your staff for their input on service. I do not suggest this unless you are really open-minded to what you will hear and are prepared to effectively respond with action.  Ask them the following:

1) What causes poor customer service at our organization and your department?

2) What do you think our organization and your department can do to improve  customer service and retain customers?

3) What do you think , that I as your manager, can do to improve customer service?

4) What do you think you can do to improve your own customer service effectiveness?

5) What do you see as improvement benefits?

“Bank Retail Staff Sales Prospecting To Increase Deposits”

Sales expectations have increased for branch retail staff. Cross-selling is a way of life for tellers and platform staff. Prospecting and outside cold-calling sales objectives have been assigned to generate new business banking customers and leads for the loan department.

The following are prospecting hints to guide retail service-focused staff to make a confident and smooth transition to sales.

  • Prospecting can be the most time consuming part of the sales process involving regular planning, follow-up and qualifying to locate viable prospects among the unscreened leads in the marketplace. There may be 10,000 businesses in a region with prospecting involving the assessment of who will or won’t be a customer.
  • Review your current customer base to develop a profile of your typical customer.  Start with your top customers and develop criteria to qualify and target prospects.
  • Focus on your target market to leverage your productivity in closing business.
  • Develop an introductory opening line tailored to the business called on.
  • Create a “prospecting” offer. This could be a special deal – “first 500 transactions free” – that gets the prospect’s attention to learn more.
  • You will encounter sales objections. Anticipate what they will be and be prepared with the appropriate response.
  • Block out time in your schedule for sales activities (cold-calls, follow-ups, appointments). 

Unlocking Your Business’ Potential Now

Some businesses have used the difficult economic conditions over the past few years as the ideal time, not for the status quo and pullback, but for taking action to ensure that they maximize their performance during the economy’s upswing.

 They determined that performance improvement opportunities for increased profit, sales and expense reduction existed in their businesses’ everyday operation.  They closed gaps in operating business practices resulting in improved results and better-spent dollars.

 The following are examples of improvement actions that may be relevant solutions for your organization.

  1.  Market potential assessedBusiness serviced 20 accounts but identified an additional 50 similar prospective businesses for their sales team to target.
  2.  Sales leads visible.  Leads were developed through the typical sources including advertising, website or cold calling. The organization instituted a system to track and monitor all sales leads and activities. This greatly reduced the   likelihood that leads were “forgotten” and lost to the competition. Whether or not the deal was closed was also documented which created critical learning opportunities about sales skills, product value and the marketplace.
  3.   Sales conversion rates benchmarked.  Business had verifiable and reliable data to more accurately evaluate sales agent performance to distinguish the strong from mediocre performers. This also provided valuable implications for training needs, staffing and the creation of relevant incentive plans.
  4.  Standard operating procedures documented.  This increased efficiency, ensured consistent behavior among staff, rather than everyone doing it their way, and achieved consistent and satisfactory customer service.
  5.  Operating practices linked to strategy. Work was translated into outcomes valued by the customer.
  6.  Strategic objectives clarified and communicated. This controlled opportunities for “flavor of the day” management, missed goals and staff confusion
  7.  Planning actions detailed with designated accountability. New solutions and ideas were successfully executed. Business experienced the value and importance of assigning accountability for implementation.
  8. Productive meetings.  Organization viewed this as one of the biggest costs associated with lost productivity. “Open items” remained open week after week.  Meeting agendas were established along with a project or task status reviews at meeting.

“Will Your Staff Close the Deal?”

Every one of your of your employees should be ready to sell. They represent you, your products and services. With the information explosion, there are multiple ways your staff interacts with prospective customers: telephone, email, retail floors and front counters are all selling opportunities.

Think about it. Sure, your sales account staff is paid to sell.  But what about your other staff? You spent all that money on a new ad campaign or search engine optimization to drive web traffic to your websites, but will your staff be prepared to turn that call or lead into a sale or an appointment?

I  have seen it with all types and sizes of businesses – from major publishers, a national product distribution company to optometrists, landscapers and building contractors. Their office and customer contact staff plays a vital role in contributing to that organization’s revenue growth, yet they are overlooked. They are the voice or face of the organization and need an effective selling approach to generate new orders. They need to know how to answer inquiries about your products and services that will result in a sale.

The  following is a checklist to introduce your staff to the selling process. It starts with a practical definition of sales for easy application.

1. What is Sales?  Explain to your employees that “Sales” is a problem solving exercise. Understanding needs or  challenges is the primary driver for the entire sales interaction with the prospect or customer. No matter how experienced your staff is, that is something very basic for your employees to keep in mind while engaging in the challenge of company sales.

2.  Product Knowledge. Employees should know your product’s features and benefits. Will product or services benefit the customer by making their life better, save them money, making things easier or making them feel better about themselves?

3.  Competition Knowledge. Does your staff know who the competition is? They should be familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of your competition. Why not ask your experienced sales people how they would sell your competition against you! You might learn a great deal about their effectiveness.

4. Product Uniqueness. What distinguishes your offer and service from the competition – how are they unlike you?

5.  Ask for the Appointment or Order. Tell your staff to always ask for the appointment or order. This could be considered a trial close. The “trial” close “tests” to see if the person is ready for the close. It brings out the objections to determine what the needs are. If your staff does not ask for the sale and encourage a decision, then the process stops.

6. Typical Objections. Develop a list of the typical objections your employees encounter and create responses to overcoming the objections. Once your staff attempts to make an appointment and encourage a prospect’s decision, the likelihood is that they will encounter some resistance.  Inform your staff that objections are not a bad thing. Objections help you understand what the needs are.

7. Close:  After your staff have addressed the objections and offered solutions, they should ask for the order or appointment again.

Finally, have a weekly meeting and ask’ “Why did we get the sale and why we didn’t?” This is your opportunity to reinforce what worked and what you need to fine tune.  Also, you will learn about what your potential customers want as well as what the market demands.

“What if You Worked for the Competition?”

A worthwhile sales preparation tactic is to have sales people play a role as if they worked for the competition.

How would you sell products and services of the competition against your offerings? And, of course, the reverse as well.

Use the following questions to build a ” competition matrix”: a valuable sales tool for a head to head comparison with each of your competitors.

  1. Describe the typical customer and their needs that the competition and you are targeting.
  2. What do they want you to solve? Sales, after all, is a “solutions” process.
  3. What are your products and services? And the competition’s? 
  4. What would someone buy from you? From the competition?
  5. What is your competitive edge? What distinguishes you from the competition? And they from you?
  6. What are your product/service vulnerabilities? Where is the competition vulnerable?

We Don’t Think Small Enough!

Question 1: Ten customers approach your retail sales person asking for information about one of your products.  The first objective is to close that sale, but how many of those customers do you cross-sell to another product or service?

 Question 2: If your current cross-selling conversion rate is 1 out of 10 or 10%(meaning one of every 10 customers says yes to an additional product), and you add just one more, you have doubled your sales production. More importantly what does that increased production translate to in incremental revenue? 

 Apply this percentage to your whole customer base…what if each customer took one more product?

 Where am I going with this?

  • We don’t think small enough.  We really don’t see how small incremental improvements leverage into overall impact and what the cumulative benefit will be. In the example above, instead of thinking that is only one more sale, think about it as double the production, then calculate what that could mean on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis.
  • Outcomes for your big picture items always standout and receive the most of your attention. 
  • What are easily overlooked are the below the surface key performance indicators like sales conversion rates that can sneak-up on you and have a significant impact on your big-ticket performance outcomes
  • Too often sales goals are set without any analysis to determine historical performance. That the goal setting process is essentially like shooting in the dark establishing goals that are either too low or too high based on past results.

Some thoughts for your consideration:

  1. Determine the value of a typical retail transaction.
  2. Benchmark your current performance before establishing sales performance goals.
  3. Make goals realistic. Find the level that is attainable but requires a performance stretch. Staff should feel rewarded and motivated. If you want higher production, then set additional performance levels incrementally above the goal and pay accordingly.
  4. Don’t be cheap. Put the expense for the incentive in the context of the financial benefit to your business. For example, what does $100 in incentive yield in revenue.
  5. Do a sale contest. If sales incentives are new for your organization,  do a contest to track outcomes to assess potential performance results. Again, it is suggested you benchmark first. Focus on what you learn.

“Breaking the Sales Objection Deadlock”

You have critiqued your selling approach in your meetings with your prospect and are confident that you captured the essentials to overcome objections. The prospect trusts you; they feel you are credible since you answered their questions confidently and completely. They were sure you understood their needs, and that your solutions were relevant. But they are still resistant to moving forward. They may have expressed concerns about product, competition, price or their boss is the obstacle. Or, you haven’t determined their true reason for holding back.

 I suggest two broad recommendations to break the deadlock: 1) Get them involved in the solution, and; 2) Determine what the real reason is for their objection so you clearly understand what you are dealing with. The following is a strategy to accomplish that and attempt to overcome their resistance: 

  • Say the objection back. Repeating it does wonders in attempting to qualify it as true. It clarifies that everyone heard the thing and is in the same page.” Ok, you are concerned about moving forward because_____________? Why do you think that way?”
  • Express respect for their point of view. Even if you don’t agree or feel it is justified: “I understand how you can feel that way.”
  • Clarify that this is the real objection. “Would you buy our product or use our service if that wasn’t your concern?”
  • Include them in the solution process:  “What do you think we can do to move forward?
  • Confirm the proposed solution. “Ok, if I will _____, which should make this feel right for you?
  • Keep steering the conversation back to proposed solutions, repeating them and product benefits
  • Summarize key-points of your prior discussions demonstrating how you worked through a solution process together. This can help reinforce the value of what you discussed and your commitment to their needs.
  • Ask again for order to close it again.
  • Thank them if they are still resistant.