With much of the reading I did in 2015 regarding best practice in sales there has been a recurring theme, or, more accurately, a recurring question:
“What is the difference between good customer service and good sales technique?
The line has definitely blurred over the last twenty years or so, everyone agrees on that. ‘Pushy’ people are no longer welcome in the modern sales team and ‘BDM’s’ are all about ‘value adds’ and ‘total customer experiences.’
Sales has become something of a dirty word which is why many companies try to completely eradicate it from their job titles and corporate literature without actually understanding what the real issues are.
It’s not the wording that is the problem, it’s the function and focus of the people responsible for attracting new customers and the methods employed that’s the issue. Let me try to give you an example to illustrate what I’m referring to:
Just before Christmas I ventured out with my wife to find a Christmas tree. The garden centre we bought last year’s tree from seemed an obvious choice to off we went. When we got there a man pointed us in the general direction but added that ‘we’d left it a bit late’, whatever that meant?!
Undeterred we set off in the direction indicated. All the trees were outside and were extremely wet. The choice was a bit limited but we did see some trees toward the back that we quite liked the look of. There was no-one on hand to help however and we didn’t fancy getting soaked trying to reach them.
After fifteen minutes of scratching round we left, vowing never to return. We drove five miles out of town to a farm advertising Christmas trees for sale. It was still pouring down when we got out of the car but we were met by a cheerful chap with a huge umbrella and a smile.
“Good afternoon folks, how are you doing?” He escorted us to where the trees were and asked us what we were looking for ideally as we walked. We told him we wanted a 5ft tree that would not drop pine needles all over the place if possible?
He stood us in a sheltered barn and went off to find some suitable contenders. As he did so a lady approached us and asked if we’d prefer tea, coffee, hot chocolate or a mulled wine – all complimentary.
We had some hot chocolate whilst listening to the carols being played in the barn and started to feel quite Christmassy. The chap re-appeared with three splendid specimens and explained which would retain the needles the best and why. His knowledge was impressive and very helpful. He left them stood in front of us and said if we wanted to see some more or would like to buy one of his choices then we should pop across to the office. With that he was gone – no sales patter, no pressure.
We chose the one we liked the best and went across to the office. We were instantly rewarded with several bags of sweets and were asked to pick our favourite teddy from the display, again all totally free. The tree was netted and carried to our car for us.
Now, ask yourself. Can you imagine leaving this place without buying a tree, seriously? So, was this great customer service or great sales and, perhaps more importantly, where do you draw the line? My take is that there is no need for a line if all departments and teams are aligned to the same goal – total, complete and unflinching customer satisfaction no matter what.
Consider our experience and compare it to how you treat your customers. Being met by a smile and an umbrella was a small, no cost action from the tree seller but made such an impact he had us from there on in really. The choice of drink, the show of the trees on offer already geared toward our criteria and being treated to a festive ambience all added to the experience. As for the after sales (free teddy and sweets) this ensured we’d be back!
Compare this to the garden centre we first visited and you quickly realise that the way we all interact with our potential clients from the very first touch is critical to the experience and overall result of any such interaction.
The US has reported that customer service staff have as big an impact on sales figures as sales staff and some companies have gone a step further and engaged technical engineers to do their ‘selling’ for them. No spin, no hype, just a cold delivery of the facts and an allowance for the customer to make her own mind up.
So, the next time you’re recruiting staff to increase sales you may wish to broaden your horizons and look for someone who knows how to serve hot chocolate!