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The customer service people at Sirius XM satellite radio insist that I still own the 2002 Ford F-150 that I sold five years ago. No matter how patiently I tell them that I no longer own this vehicle, they continue to pressure me to reactivate my subscription for the radio in that truck. It’s Siriusly annoying.
Or maybe you’ve experienced the frustration of navigating Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems. That’s when you call into a company and a kindly and authentic-sounding robotic voice takes you on a circular trip through menus that seem intentionally designed to make you abandon all hope and hang up in frustration. I’m convinced that if there’s a Hell, the only way out is through an IVR system – meaning you’re stuck there forever.
While you’re on hold, many companies try to push you to their websites with this message: “For immediate service, please visit our website, www.AbandonAllHope.com.” This almost never works – submitting a message, a request or a complaint through websites is even worse than the IVR experience. So, most of us hold on, trying to figure out what words we can yell into the phone to make the system connect us to a human being: “CUSTOMER SERVICE! OPERATOR! ANYBODY, PLEASE! HELP!”
Here’s one thing that often works: social media. I once received absolutely terrible service from a restaurant and could not get any help from the staff, so I posted a complaint on Yelp. Within a couple of hours, the owner reached out to me with her cell phone number. I called her, we resolved the problem and I subsequently removed the bad review. I’ve seen companies react similarly on Twitter and Facebook.
The reasons companies respond to complaints on social media is that the whole world can read about your terrible experiences there, which can hurt sales in a big way. Nothing like a little embarrassment to get a company to react. Are your customers complaining about your company on social media? Who’s responsible for checking on that for your company?
Distributors Are Not Exempt
Just about every distribution CEO I know thinks his company offers great service. But few of these individuals ever call their own companies to see for sure. If you are not a customer of your own company, can you really understand what it’s like to buy from your team? Obviously not.
Way back in my consulting days, I’d look up the phone numbers of new clients, call customer service posing as a prospective customer and ask questions, and sometimes place orders. I’d report the results to the executive team and – often – it was apparent that these individuals hadn’t bought from their own company for a long time, if ever. All of us know the adage “You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” but an allegory might be, “You can’t understand what you don’t experience.” Ergo – if you don’t experience being a customer of your company, you do not understand what it’s like.
Sales vs. Inside Sales vs. Customer Service
All of these functions interact with customers. If you, as a distribution executive, aren’t personally experiencing your company’s customer service channels, the odds are very long that you know what’s really happening in outside and inside sales. For that matter, when’s the last time you bought something on your own website?
I was a marketing executive for four large distribution companies, but I can say with absolute certainty that the value of your brand has little to do with your advertising. Your brand is made or broken based on the experience customers have when they interact with your company. What are your customers experiencing? Are your employees talking about topics that are as outdated and irrelevant to your customers as my old Ford truck is to me?
Organizing for Sales and Customer Success
The solution is to get the right people into the right roles, give each group the kind of work that plays to their strengths and then make sure they’re all delivering great experiences for customers.
Of course, two big trends are changing the requirements for all of us:
- E-commerce. Customers now do much of their own work to understand and order products, leaving customer service people to focus more on more technical issues or on expediting orders and solving problems. That’s more difficult than the simple order entry calls that made up a lot of their work in the past.
- Millennials. Now the largest single generation in the workforce, millennials are digital natives. Have you taught your sales people how to build relationships with these customers? They need to communicate with new channels, including social media. Also, are you changing your job roles and training as you hire millennials into your own workforce?
Three Steps to Delivering Great Customer Experiences
If your company relies on sales, inside sales and customer service professionals to grow, that means your selling costs are probably your largest expense item. Just as you measure the return on capital investments like branches and trucks, you should ensure you’re maximizing profits from these expenditures. Here’s are some steps to help:
- Get the right people and the right work into the right roles. Don’t have outside reps make deliveries or expedite orders, for example. Similarly, don’t try to turn your customer service team into an outbound-calling group.
- Be your own customer. Back in its heyday, The Home Depot executive team would spend a few days each week traveling independently (and often anonymously) in the field. Saturday mornings, they’d get together and share what they’d observed and experienced and how the company needed to improve. What’s your plan for ensuring your executive team knows what it’s like to be a customer of your company?
- Invest in your team’s understanding of how other distributors have transformed their sales, customer service and inside sales functions. A great way to do this is to attend MDM’s upcoming Sales GPS Conference, taking place February 20–22 in Las Vegas. This is our third annual conference and we’re bringing in previous attendees who will talk about how they’ve applied what they learned and help you understand how you can drive the same kinds of transformative results in your own business. Of course, we’ll also have leading industry thinkers on stage, including the legendary Mike Marks.
You can register at www.salesgpsconference.com. Take advantage of Early Bird pricing by registering soon and get discounts for sending more than one person. Contact me if you have questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to seeing you in Las Vegas. I’m driving my non-existent 2002 Ford truck there.