A Lesson In Service: How Not To Treat Prospective Customers

by / ⠀Startup Advice / April 23, 2013

Sales CallAfter whittling down prospective suppliers, Helen Cross was expecting to be on the receiving end of a positive sales call. However, with it ending up as a disaster, Helen shares some tips on how things should have gone.

The 20th March marked the first ever International Day of Happiness. However, it was a decidedly unhappy customer experience on that day that led to me to write this article. In a climate where winning new business is harder than ever, I’ve pointed out some worrying common pitfalls businesses are making when it comes to making a good first impression.

You had me at hello

The experience in question was a call to an online marketing company. After doing my research, I was confident that I was going to be left impressed. However, things got off to a bad start straight away. A receptionist picked up the phone perfectly politely, but having explained what I needed, she said I’d need to speak to someone else, and I was abruptly put on hold.

Rather than being soothed by music for the following 30 seconds, I heard static noise, then typing on a keyboard. Oh dear. Had the telephone system ever been tested?

Hold music is a contentious issue. There’s nothing worse than awful, barely audible Muzak being blasted down the phone line. However, just because you’re not talking to a prospective client, doesn’t mean you’re not making an impression.  It’s easy to forget that, because you’re not experiencing it, being on hold can be at best frustrating and, at worst, put you off using the company entirely. Music isn’t the only option, you could have on hold messages, perhaps explaining your background, a latest client success story or industry development. Not only does it give you a ‘big company’ feel, it can stimulate questions and conversation which can lead to a sale.

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Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

You may have noticed I didn’t recall much of a conversation with the receptionist; because there wasn’t one! This meant the chap I spoke to next didn’t know who I was, or what I wanted. I had to therefore repeat myself whilst he desperately thrashed around for a pen and piece of paper.

It’s easy to blame individuals here, but this is a management problem. There should be a process in place for how calls are taken and distributed. The advent of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems have made it easy to log details of prospective and existing clients, so within a couple of mouse-clicks you are up-to-speed with contact details, where they are in the process and even when their birthday is! The best CRM systems are linked into marketing too. For example, a tailored email can be sent out chasing prospective clients, or to promote an additional service to existing clients based on purchase history. Quite simply, it’s a hi-tech way of giving them that warm feeling that they’re the most important client to you, a difficult task if you’re a growing business.

Avoiding the sales script

I’d obviously caught this company on a bad day, as the call got no better! After outlining my woes, the salesman got straight to a qualifying question “What is your budget?”. The right question, delivered with the subtlety of a brick.

A good sales person will quickly be able to tease out timewasters with qualifying questions. However, it’s important not to give the impression you are following a robotic script. The problem with asking this question then was that he hadn’t given an inkling to if or how he could solve problem, and what it would take. Therefore, what exactly was I budgeting for; a month’s worth of work? A year’s? This is what I had to ask him in return.

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Say what you can do, not what you can’t

After talking through costs, I told the salesman it all made sense.  What followed was what I can only presume as an attempt to impress me; they were unable to take on projects until May. So, should I have been impressed they were in demand, or concerned they were under resourced and potentially unreliable?

The problem with this apparent boast was that it wasn’t explained. Having used a similar service in the past, I knew that these kind of online marketing projects needed a considerable investment in time to work; there aren’t shortcuts. Similarly, it was normally more effective if a single person is responsible, as it helps them to really get to know the client.  None of the reasons were brought up, however.

Resource is an issue that affects any business. To be profitable, the key is to maximise efficiency. Consequently, it’s not realistic to have extra staff sitting around just in case you receive a sudden barrage of enquiries. Scalability is important though; could you deal with sudden growth without it affecting delivery and service?

Consider the impact negative of negative answers such as “that’s not our policy” or “we don’t do that, not to mention the dreaded word “can’t”. Could you instead say you’ll look into things, and escalate the matter? Weigh up the situation; if your business model is based upon high customer numbers and one-off purchases at low-cost, bending over backwards for each client may put you out of business. On the other hand, if you work with a handful clients for a number of a years, going that extra mile is crucial.

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Besides the catalogue of errors above, I wasn’t asked if I had any more questions, or what time I would need a quotation by. These are cardinal sins, as the salesman is therefore unable to provide a tailored follow-up which addresses my concerns, and his quotation may come after the deadline I’ve set to make a decision, rendering it a waste of time. Needless to say, I won’t be choosing this company to work with!

Have you faced a similar experience, or addressed issues within your own business? Share your examples in the comment field below, or via Twitter @Under30CEO.

This article was written by Helen Cross from the British Assessment Bureau, providers of quality assurance, certification and training in order to improve service and customer satisfaction.

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

About The Author

Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on Under30CEO.com, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.


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