Role of Customer Service in Sales

In most businesses, customer service is more lip service than anything else. However, a lack of true customer service can sink a sales opportunity or the completion of an expected sale in a heartbeat.

In our showroom, we as salespeople are challenged with not only living up to our own expected high level of service, but also what our customers expect and deserve. I have found that, even when we give what I consider excellent service, our customers may have a different perception. In my many years in the business I have seen the customer-service bar raised in terms of expectations across the board, be it from builders, remodelers, consumers, designers, architects, etc.

I'm not sure if the reported figure of 68% is correct that indifference is the reason people choose not to do business with someone, but I don't doubt it. What can we do to make a positive difference with our customers to earn their business and end up with successful projects?

The first step to good customer service is to put a smile on your face. There is no replacement for a smile. However, now comes the tough part. You need to back up that smile with an attitude to deliver the quality of customer service that you would expect to receive yourself. I always find this to be a good measuring stick.

Service Tips
From a sales position, here are some tips for creating good customer service:

1. Return phone calls. When you tell someone you will be giving them a call at an expected time, do it! When you receive a voice mail that needs a response, follow it up, and make your follow-up as soon as possible.

2. Be on time. Most commitments we make as sales/designers have a time framework. For example, it may be making either an in-showroom or job site appointment. Be on time or communicate any changes that may occur. Being on time is being respectful of other's time. Be on time with your commitments with the quote, the start date and your follow-up with concerns.

3. Follow through. There are many times during pre-sale, the project and post-project circumstances when we have situations where we must follow up to ensure things will be right. In the follow-up, things may be found that will require additional follow through.

4. Act quickly. Solve any problem or answer any concern as soon as possible. My experience tells me that, when we can quickly solve these situations, less expense will be involved and much less emotion will be consumed.

5. Give thanks. Thank you is not out of style. It is often forgotten during the process of the sale. A thank-you card, a phone call or flowers with a thank-you note are nice wrap-ups to a successful sale.

6. Get a response. Ask your customer what he or she thought of the experience of working with you. This could be in the form of a fill-in-the-blanks questionnaire to be sent back or an interview with the customer 30, 60 or 90 days following completion of the project to see if expectations were met. It is much nicer to have concerns about your products and services reviewed with you rather than have the customer passing along bad word-of-mouth in the coffee shop or the office.

7. Be accurate. There is nothing that will replace accuracy as the most important element of customer service. The problems that develop from not being accurate will rob you of expected profits and often emotionally consume not only you but all those involved.

The Right Approach
Within our company, we do a lot of things right. We also do some things and then scratch our heads and ask ourselves why we did it that way, why we responded that way or why it took so long to solve that problem.

Sandy, the customer service representative at our company, sends out questionnaires to customers following the completion of a project and asks the customers to rate our performance. From those responses, we try to identify our strengths and find problem areas that need our attention.

It's always nice to receive compliments regarding the work you have done, and it's important to pass on those compliments. One customer wrote, "The man was so kind, he carried my large boxes of light fixtures to the car for me." Another added, "Even though your price was higher, your delivery people and warehouse personnel made up the difference by their cooperation." Even after an initial problem, a customer wrote, "There was a problem with the countertop, but it was taken care of and now it is perfect."

While not all of the responses are favorable, the negative ones are few and far between, and we try to learn from our mistakes. We've received comments saying that the customer did not receive an expected call, that our guys were late and didn't call, and that there were other communication problems. These responses helped us to identify problems and fix them. When these situations arise, we pay attention and try to prevent their re-occurrence.

I have written before about how selling success is so dependent on a chain of successful events involving a lot of other people. In order to maximize the abilities of the people around you, you must also be able to be counted on for your portion of the process.

An element of making this chain successful from your point is to give excellent internal customer service. This can range from how you interact with the receptionist of your firm, to the controller, to the shop supervisor, or any others with whom you may interact while making your sale a successful one.

So, apply the same bullet points as listed above in ensuring your excellence with internal customer
service. When others perform well, don't forget to tell them, thank them and let them know that you appreciate the effort they put into their work.

I trust most of you are giving what you believe to be excellent customer service, but if you're capable of raising the bar a little bit, you will enjoy the benefits to be gained. Simply put, you will end up with less emotional drain and more profit.

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