Many big companies today continue to operate in silos, which is a dangerous proposition given that endless price wars in almost every industry have led to customer experience being the last true differentiator. Salespeople continue to be incentivized on one key metric: new customers in the system. Marketing often operates separately, focusing on upper-funnel activities like brand awareness or acting just as a support staff for Sales. And Customer Service?
They’re not even involved in the sales process.
The problem with this setup is while it might make sense for the company, it doesn’t make sense for the customer. The customer wants a consistent experience, and one that persists beyond the sale. He or she doesn’t care how your company is organized.
Let’s look at two real-life examples:
A friend of mine (we’ll call him Joe) finally acknowledged the inevitable: his house needed new windows. He had salesperson after salesperson come to the house, and sat through what seemed like the exact same sales pitch for every one. His favorite line: “Your cats will be so confused! They’ll go sit in the sunlight and not feel any warmth!” (False.)
He decided on one of the high-end window providers – all wood, to maintain or increase the value of the house – mostly because he and his wife liked the salesperson. And for 31 windows, he thought, the salesperson had better have liked them!
The installers arrived, and they were great – friendly, considerate, efficient, and they cleaned up after themselves. Joe tipped them generously. The only problem was that four of the ground-floor windows which were supposed to be tempered by code (safer because they can better withstand that wayward baseball) arrived non-tempered. Thus, Joe failed the requisite town inspection. The installers apologized, and promised to return with the right windows once they were ordered and produced.
A week or so later, Joe opened his door to find a different set of installers; as he found out later, they were actually the repair team, not the installation team. (Note that as the customer, he didn’t feel like his windows were “installed” yet because he hadn’t received the right windows.) This team also showed up with non-tempered windows, so he had to send them away.
Two weeks after that, a third crew arrived – it’s important to note here that Joe has now had to stay home from work three times – and the moment he opened the door, he knew something was wrong just by the look on the foreman’s face. “Let me guess,” he said, “you have non-tempered windows in your truck.” “Yes,” the foreman replied sheepishly. He was sent away as well.
At this point, Joe tried calling the salesperson, because he was more than a little bit frustrated with the installation experience. The salesperson promised to look into it, but he never called back. Joe called the Customer Service line and demanded a refund for the four tempered windows that he never received. They declined the request. Finally, another three weeks later, a fourth crew arrived with the correct windows.
The company never apologized; they never offered my friend any compensation for his troubles, which included four days off of work to wait for installation crews. And he never did hear from that salesperson again. The result was a high-priced purchase which inevitably left Joe with buyer’s remorse, even though the quality of the windows is great.
Now let’s compare that experience the one my other friend (we’ll call him Seth) had buying a car. He carefully researched makes and models in the “premium” category, and finally decided on an entry-level BMW which had won best-in-class awards from a number of automotive magazines. After test driving the car, Seth felt that the company’s motto, “the Ultimate Driving Machine,” was perfectly accurate.
Like Joe, Seth had a good experience with his salesperson. Not only was the sales process easy, but the salesperson took the time to answer all of Seth’s questions and even sat with him to demonstrate all of the car’s features. He also called Seth a few days later to make sure he was enjoying his new car and to see if he had thought of any new questions.
When it came time for Seth’s first service appointment, he was pleasantly surprised to see a TV screen right as drove in that welcomed him by name (a computer read his license plates as he drove in). The service associate was friendly and once again answered all of Seth’s questions. Seth was pleased to hear that all of the work being done was covered by his bumper-to-bumper warranty, and that he would be receiving brand-new wiper blades even before they were due to be replaced. He was even more pleased when he entered the waiting room to see plenty of comfortable seating, free Wi-Fi, and a full-time chef preparing made-to-order omelets and egg sandwiches for breakfast and unlimited coffee, juice, bottled water, and sodas.
Although Seth had to wait about 90 minutes for the work on his car to be completed, he barely noticed the wait because he was eating a delicious breakfast and catching up on work emails on his laptop. When it was time to retrieve his car, the service associate let him know that they had also given him a car wash at no charge.
Here’s the interesting thing about Joe and Seth: They both spent about the same amount of money on their purchase, and they both had good sales experiences. But for Joe, the positive feelings associated with his new window purchase evaporated quickly when the “repair team” and Customer Service failed him. For Seth, his positive sales experience was reinforced several times during the service experience.
The result? Seth is a happy BMW customer for life (and will likely upgrade to a more expensive model in the future), while Joe is writing negative Yelp reviews and telling all of his friends never to buy windows from the vendor he used. One is a brand advocate, and the other is a brand detractor.
So what can companies to do be more like BMW instead of the window company?
- Align Sales with both Marketing and Customer Service. Ensure that what Marketing is promising matches what Sales is selling, and that Customer Service is ready to reliably help out if something goes wrong.
- Teach salespeople that the sale doesn’t end when the commission check clears. Sales staff should take responsibility for ensuring a flawless installation or delivery, and should check back early and often with a new customer to ensure his or her satisfaction.
- If something goes wrong with a new customer, the salesperson should not delegate to a “repair team” or Customer Service. They should take personal ownership of the problem and figure out how to fix it. Don’t just shrug your shoulders and tell a new customer to call a 1-800 number for help.
- Teach salespeople that the customer experience is what drives future sales. The window company may have sold Joe one set of windows, but that’s the last sale they’ll ever get out of Joe or anyone Joe knows. BMW, on the other hand, is likely to make one or more additional automobile sales from Seth or Seth’s friends because they have treated him like a valued customer.
- Remember that the entire customer experience matters. Offline experiences which once were only shared with a few family members or friends can now be shared with the world on social media, to potentially brand-damaging effects.
This tale of two sales has a happy ending for one of these brands. Seth’s wife is now in the market for a new car; guess which brand is her top choice?