There are many reasons customers experience poor service in a retail, sales and service business including; a lack of resources, outdated policies and procedures and poor choices of behaviour made by staff to name a few. There are however, several widespread causes of the provision of poor service.
The first is a lack of training of staff in the fundamentals of customer service. Staff must be skilled in areas such as how to be polite, professional and effective communication. If they don’t have an awareness and understanding of these and other essential elements, inadequate service can be the result, simply because they don’t have the skills.
In some instances staff may be well trained however, if management are not clear on the standard of service the business expects to be provided to its customers, staff don’t know exactly what is required of them. They haphazardly provide customers with the level of service they feel comfortable with, which may or may not be at an appropriate level.
In other cases, there may be little or no accountability to these standards and are therefore disregarded by staff. Accountability includes being corrected or coached when the standards of service are not met or, when customers are not served to the level expected by the business. Accountability also includes positive feedback, recognition and/or reward when staff do a great job of serving customers well.
This leads to a major factor influencing the level of service provided to customers and that is, how the staff are treated by their managers and the business in general. If morale is low, as a result of management continuously disrespecting staff, they will have minimal enthusiasm to want to do the right thing by the business or its customers. Ultimately if staff are treated well, they are more likely to treat customers well.
As a customer, we often look at the person serving us poorly and place the blame wholly and solely on them however, consider what is behind the poor service. Do they even know what good service looks like? Have they been trained to provide quality service? Do they have clear service standards to follow and are they held accountable to standards such as being applauded when they do a great job? Lastly, are they treated respectfully by management, in a manner in which the business would like to see customers treated? If the answer is no to any of these questions, staff are not completely empowered to provide customers with a good service experience. When staff have the right tools and right the support, they are better equipped to make good customer service choices.
I can’t recall where I first heard the saying “Smile, it’s part of the uniform”, but it certainly stuck. It sounds obvious for any person in a role that involves interacting with customers to have a smile on their face however, this simple yet powerful social skill is often overlooked.
You don’t realise the impact a smile has on a customer until you’ve been on the other end of an unsmiling employee. In fact, over the last few week’s I have experienced grim-faced service staff on several occasions; in a retail variety store, a food outlet and a printing service. On each occasion, it was apparent the person assisting me disliked their job and didn’t particularly enjoy serving customers. I found myself feeling unwelcome and generally uncomfortable. I couldn’t wait for the experience to be over and I certainly don’t have any desire to return to these businesses.
Facial expression has a big influence on the overall message communicated to a customer. When a person is smiling, a customer is more likely to perceive them as friendly and helpful. It can also create a warm and welcoming environment.
A smile communicates the person’s enthusiasm and positive outlook on their role and on the business in general. On the other hand, when an employee looks miserable, it can be interpreted by the customer as disenchantment, disapproval and even disgust. A customer should never feel this way.
The phone should also be answered with a smile on the persons face as it changes the tone and inflection of their voice, making them sound more friendly and personable.
Of course there is a real smile and a fake smile. While a genuine smile that radiates in one’s eyes is preferred, research shows with both a real and fake smile, the brain still releases ‘happy chemicals’ or Endorphins therefore, even a smile that is intentional can have a positive and uplifting effect on the person forcing the smile.
Customers easily pick up on the atmosphere of a store or business. They can sense when there is a gloomy vibe. Alternatively, they can sense when the vibe is upbeat and positive. Facial expressions are a major contributor to establishing this positive atmosphere.
A smile should always be part of the uniform. If an employee doesn’t have a smile on their face, quite simply they are not dressed for work.
If ever I receive poor service in a retail business, I walk away, making a conscious choice not to purchase and swear never return again. I am adamant, I will not tolerate being treated poorly when I am paying good money for a product or service. However, there is one type of business which I am ashamed to say I have more than once accepted less than mediocre service and that’s in a nail salon.
I am positive I’m not the only one who feels this way, who struggles to comprehend how we continually accept the poor service we regularly receive when visiting these establishments. Time and time again, we let our dissatisfaction go unmentioned and have even been known to reluctantly return to the same place only to be disappointed again.
It seems we have become to expect a certain level of service within the nail salon industry. It starts when we first walk through door, when an annoyed acknowledgement is yelled at us from across the other side of the shop. Our experience proceeds with sometimes minimal communication or explanation of the service we are interested in and we are rushed to make a decision based on little information or understanding. We have been known to leave the premises not one hundred percent happy with our final result due to the quick, lacklustre and anything but thorough job. On the occasion we do work up the courage to query or complain, we are too often made to feel as if it’s our own fault, with no offer to rectify our displeasure and ensure we leave a satisfied customer.
With this substandard experience still in mind, the next time we look for that manicure, pedicure or polish, we decide on another location only to endure a similar experience. We soon realise this is the norm within the industry and we’ve become conditioned to accept it.
Although I am a campaigner for quality customer service, I too have become to accept this substandard level of service within the industry. I am however an optimist and hope one day I will find a nail salon that will go against the trend.
It certainly wouldn’t be difficult to differentiate oneself in this industry, by offering customers something a bit little different and improved on what customers have come to expect. This is the case in any retail business today, with customer service regularly below average. It isn’t hard these days to stand out from the crowd and begin creating a positive service reputation for the business and the industry.
Mystery Shopping, also known as Secret Shopping, is a widely used practice in the sales and service industries. Staff dread it, Managers often misuse it but when it’s conducted competently and the information obtained used effectively, it can be an invaluable tool.
What is Mystery Shopping exactly? It involves a person acting as a customer, either visiting, calling or emailing a business, with the purpose of evaluating aspects of the businesses’ operations, sales and service. Often the person conducting the Mystery Shop, has a number of specific things they are on the lookout for, such as the presentation of the shop or showroom, the level of customer service provided, execution of the steps of selling and the knowledge of the person who served them. At the completion of the experience, they write a detailed report to provide feedback from a customer’s perspective, which should always be done in an objective manner.
The benefits of Mystery Shopping are many. It can be used as a baseline, to determine where a businesses’ strengths and areas for improvement are, identifying any gaps where training or development may be required. It may also be used as a way of following up on the implementation of any training provided, in regards to how and if it is being utilised by the staff. Adherence to company standards can also be observed and can be a way for Management to obtain feedback on staff’s behaviours during times they are not being supervised.
Management do need to be mindful when interpreting and providing feedback on the information they acquire from Mystery Shopping. While providing feedback to an individual on their performance can be beneficial, it should always be done in a constructive, objective and in a timely manner, praising a job well done or, with the intention of providing training or coaching in areas for development.
Where Mystery Shopping results really become useful, is looking at the strengths and deficiencies of the business, a site or a team overall, by identifying commonalities or patterns across these groups. This allows for plans and actions to be put in place to build the skill level in required areas and ultimately improve the customers’ experience.
Many people in a sales or service position fear being mystery shopped, believing it is an inaccurate time waster however, the real insecurity often lies in their exposure of not following sales and customer service standards or, showing a lack of skill. If staff treated every customer like a mystery shopper or a VIP, always utilising training, following standards, with the goal of always providing customers with a quality experience, they would have no need to worry.
Being in a frontline role such as a receptionist, service counter, sale assistant or concierge, comes with enormous responsibility. These positions are the face of a business, often being the first and last point of contact for customers or clients, in which their perception of the service provided by the business overall is largely based on.
There are many skills a person can learn to be efficient and effective in these roles such as communication techniques, phone etiquette and complaint handling however, there are basic fundamental behaviours a person can apply with little to no formal training. They are simple and might seem like common sense however, they are at the core of providing a quality service experience each and every time. They are the six P’s; being present, patient, polite, professional, prompt and positive.
Being present means being fully engaged with customers or clients. Giving them full attention and showing interest with appropriate eye contact and actively listening without distraction.
Being patient is having an understanding that people operate at different paces when communicating and processing information. Being mindful of this and never showing frustration or annoyance.
Being polite with good manners never goes astray. “Please”, “thank you” and “you’re welcome” will always be magic words. It is also polite to avoid using technical or industry jargon, as the person may not always have this type of knowledge and could feel inadequate or become overwhelmed.
Being professional isn’t simply immaculate dress and grooming. It’s having a professional demeanor, leaving one’s personal problems at the door and not letting one’s mood negatively impact a customer. Complaining to or in front of customers or clients is unprofessional, as is criticising the business, management and the competition.
Being prompt is showing customers a sense of urgency but never making them feel rushed. Following up within suitable and promised time frames, shows a respect for people’s time.
Being positive starts with a smile. A popular saying is “a smile is part of the uniform”. This couldn’t be more accurate, with a smile portraying warmth and friendliness. Having a positive mindset communicated through facial expressions and tone of voice, is crucial in creating a positive upbeat vibe.
Anyone in a frontline or customer service position should keep the six P’s in the forefront of their mind in preparation for, as well as during each and every interaction with clients or customers. They are essentially choices a person makes in regards to their attitude and behaviour and are the foundation of a quality positive experience with a business.
Today when walking into a pharmacy, you would be forgiven for thinking you’d walked into a retail variety store, surrounded by shelving, displays and bulk stacks filled with a wide range of retail products. Everything from cosmetics to food items, gift ideas to cleaning products, they take up much of the front of the store. The dispensary generally occupies a small area at the rear, with traditional pharmacy items taking a back seat.
This focus on retail has a lot to do with the pharmacy industry experiencing a reduction in profits in recent years, largely due to the prices of common prescription medications being lowered as part of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). In response, pharmacies have had to find new ways to regain profits, with those failing to adapt or innovate, struggling to stay afloat.
Filling the shop floor with retail products has become a popular solution, in the hope of attracting a larger number of customers into the store, as well as encouraging additional purchases while customers wait for their scripts to be filled or, enter the pharmacy to purchase a single item.
This change has seen a shift in the role of Pharmacy Assistants whose sole responsibility once upon a time, was to provide customers with advice about their medications and pharmacy items in relation to their health conditions. Whereas today, they are expected to sell a wide range of products that aren’t necessarily ‘must have’ items, requiring a completely different set of skills.
In fact they require sales skills, such as being able to uncover customers’ wants and not just their medical or health needs, as well as build value in products, encouraging customers to not only purchase one item but the complete solution. Showing companion items on the retail shop floor and from the dispensary to ensure customers obtain the best health outcome possible, is a big part of ensuring complete customer satisfaction as well as increasing profits.
This can be a major hurdle for pharmacy owners, with their staff not seeing themselves as having a sales element to their role and struggling to accept the shift in mindset. These new behaviours and the intent to apply them, can take time and ongoing support to develop.
When a pharmacy has invested a large percentage of their floor space to retail, they also need to invest in training to provide their teams with the skills needed to confidently sell these products, while still maintaining a duty of care and customer focus.
Upon a recent visit to the bank to deposit a cheque, I was advised by the teller all cheques under $5000 were no longer accepted over the counter and I would have to deposit it via the ATM located just outside the door. The helpful teller offered to accompany me outside and show me how it was done.
We waited in line together for over five minutes for a customer who was struggling with his ATM transaction, even though technically she could have processed my cheque within moments at the counter, allowing me to be on my way sooner however, she apologetically explained this was now against company guidelines.
A few days later at my local Big W store, I approached the registers with my purchase and was faced with the option of no queue at the self-serve registers, while multiple customers lined up waiting to be served at the one and only staffed checkout open. I opted to wait in line for a person to serve me, just like numerous other customers, while the self-service registers stood idle.
I then encountered exactly the same thing at the supermarket, where people were opting to wait in line for a checkout operated by an employee, rather than processing their own purchase at one of the multiple self-serve registers available.
It dawned on me, it wasn’t customers driving the increase of self-serve technology in bricks and mortar stores, rather businesses pushing people towards this option by giving them little choice or in some cases like the bank, no choice at all.
Certainly people in recent times have enjoyed the convenience of online shopping, taking themselves through the entire purchasing process however, when they actually take the time to visit a store or branch, they seemingly still prefer to be served by a person rather than a machine.
We even see customers becoming annoyed when less staff are employed at the expense of technology, some even boycotting self-serve registers or the business altogether.
It’s no argument, it’s tough for business facing increasing cost of wages among other challenges but if they choose to push customers in a direction they don’t really want to go and customers see little point of difference or benefit in visiting a bricks and mortar location, they will do nothing but push people towards shopping online. Or, towards a competitor who is bravely standing out from the crowd and giving people what they want and that is old fashioned customer service by a human being.
Once upon a time, the only sales process salespeople had to master, was for foot traffic or, customers who physically came into the business and possibly the occasional phone call prior to them visiting. However, the nature of customer traffic and what constitutes a sales opportunity has changed. More and more customers are using the internet to research and purchase products and services, including big ticket items such as a new car or building a new home.
The old school salesperson may struggle to see online customers as genuine sales opportunities, believing if the person was legitimately interested in purchasing, they would take the time to visit the store or showroom. However, for a variety of reasons this is not necessarily the case. Today, people are time poor and shun the inconvenience of going from store to store to make a buying decision. With the amount of information now at people’s fingertips, many are choosing to start and continue a sales conversation from the comfort of their own home by browsing websites and submitting online enquiries.
This means, a shift in mindset for some salespeople is necessary, to not only see an internet enquiry as an opportunity but being open to learning a new process on how to handle them effectively and with confidence.
When a customer enters a store or showroom, a salesperson is able to greet, answer questions and chat with a customer to build rapport. With an online enquiry however, they are required to engage customers and build a relationship and trust without even meeting the customer. This is usually done through a combination of email and phone calls, depending on the nature of the business and requires a whole new set of skills.
Many businesses have mastered this process by bringing their procedures, systems and salespeople up to speed on engaging, nurturing and converting online customers. Those that haven’t, are running the risk of burning potential customers, not to mention the negative impact on their service reputation if online enquiries are being ignored, not responded to promptly or handled ineffectively.
Traditional foot traffic in many industries, is on the decline and large sums of money is being invested by businesses into having a website that attracts customers and encourages them to make contact or interact. These leads should be seen as potential customers or as opportunities that need to be maximised just like any other.
The question “Would you like fries with that?” certainly has negative connotations, with the notion of someone trying to sell us something we don’t need or want just to make an extra dollar. However, it can be viewed from another perspective. Let’s say, as you’re ordering a burger, the person behind the counter asks you if you’d also like some fries. It then hits you, that’s exactly what you feel like to complete your meal. All of a sudden that one question offers you a satisfying solution to your hunger.
There are plenty of examples where another product can compliment, enhance or even be a necessity to your initial purchase and it wouldn’t be good customer service if the person assisting you didn’t suggest it.
Take purchasing the latest toy for a child, which is to be that exciting Christmas present unwrapped first thing on Christmas morning. The excitement of that child is very quickly going to turn to disappointment, when they realise you’ve forgotten to buy the batteries that are required to make it work. A sales assistant, reminding you of the batteries at the time of purchase, is not just helpful but necessary to ensure you don’t go home without them.
This is also the case with complimenting items. For example, you purchase brand new large screen television and you can’t wait to get it all set up and watch your favourite action movie. The experience would be much improved, if the salesperson also recommended a sound bar or home theatre to ensure you get the complete experience and not be disappointed with the very basic sound that comes out of many of the televisions these days due to their slim design.
There are countless examples where a sales assistant would be doing you a disservice by not suggesting an additional related product; a hair straightener without a heat protector, a laptop without software, a barbeque without a gas bottle, a camera without a memory card or an expensive pair of suede shoes without the water and stain protecting spray.
Customers aren’t always aware of what else they may need or what is available to enhance their purchase therefore, it’s up to the person assisting them to bring it to their attention. Certainly when irrelevant items are recommended for no valid reason, this becomes a blatant attempt at adding on but good customer service is about offering customers the complete package or entire solution to ensure complete satisfaction. It is then up to the customer to say yes or no.
With the increased foot traffic of Christmas trade a distant memory, retailers are now in the process of reviewing store labour hours to achieve correct staffing levels for current traffic patterns. They are also looking at ways to maintain or increase profits by reducing costs.
With wages being one of the main costs of running a retail store, it’s regularly an area that undergoes intense scrutiny. Rosters are analysed, looking for any opportunity to save a dollar.
While there may be necessary changes with the fluctuating trends of retail, making unrealistic cuts to store labour hours can be detrimental to the businesses customer service offering.
A business must be mindful when adjusting or reducing hours, asking whether the number of staff on the shop floor, will be sufficient to not only serve the number of customers who enter the store but be able to serve them well.
Various factors including the nature of the products and services sold, will determine the ideal amount of time a staff member must spend with a customer to ensure complete satisfaction. When hours are reduced, the time available for each customer may also be reduced, forcing staff to rush or shorten their interactions. This may result in a customer deciding not to purchase at all or, the value of the transaction being reduced, due to customers not benefiting from a complete service experience.
Even worse, reduced hours may see customers go completely ignored, with insufficient staff on the shop floor to ensure every customer is acknowledged. This has a detrimental effect on the business, doing damage to its overall service reputation.
Often a business will have customer service standards in place, with certain expectations of staff in regards to how they interact with customers. Staffing levels should be realistic to be able to maintain these standards as well as meet the expectations of customers.
Keeping in mind, staff also have operational tasks to complete such as getting stock on the shelves. Reducing hours may put even more pressure on staff to focus on completing these tasks therefore ignoring customer service as a result.
Although reviewing labour hours regularly is necessary, it is imperative the ability of the staff to provide the level of service expected, is considered when making adjustments. Cutting costs of wages to ensure profit is a constant temptation but at what cost does this have on the level of service provided to customers and the service reputation of the business?
Acknowledging customers when they visit a store or a showroom, is an essential part of creating a positive first impression. Getting the timing of this acknowledgement right however, can be tricky to ensure the customer doesn’t feel they’re being ignored or alternatively, being pounced on.
This can be understood by highlighting the difference between actual wait time and perceived wait time. Actual wait time, is the time in which the customer has actually been in the store before being acknowledged. The perceived wait time on the other hand, is how long the customer feels they’ve been waiting.
It’s amazing how time distorts. Anything over a one and a half minute wait, feels a lot longer to a customer. It’s worth being mindful, the customers experience is based on their perceived wait time not the actual wait time.
Added to the challenge is the fluctuation of customer traffic. One moment things can be busy with customers everywhere, then the next, there’s not a customer in sight.
When you’re in the middle of a busy period, it’s easy to be completely focused on the customer in front of you and forget to acknowledge those who are waiting. Research shows, when a customer is acknowledged, they are more likely to wait and wait longer for assistance rather than walk out feeling ignored and annoyed.
Good queue management is also important. Many customers get frustrated waiting in a line. Some people even give up, leave the goods they were wanting to purchase and walk out. Being polite and thanking people in the queue for waiting, can go a long way in minimising frustration and encourage them to wait a little longer.
Times when there are fewer customers around, can be very intimidating for the lone customer who enters. They feel like they stand out and are being watched by the staff who are ready to pounce. These customers need to be acknowledged of course but not immediately approached as this can be too much too soon.
The key is for staff to look busy by undertaking cleaning tasks, rearranging stock or anything which makes them appear less threatening to customers. Simply looking up from the task, saying “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” then leaving the customer for a short time, can allow them to settle before approaching them.
Regardless of how busy a business is, a customer’s presence should always be acknowledged to make them feel welcome and appreciated. Because of its importance, it is vital staff are trained on when and how to do this appropriately, as well as making it a standard or policy that is followed by all consistently.
Being a top performing salesperson comes with its rewards such as higher commissions, accolades and praise from the executive team. Sometimes top performers are even rewarded with a promotion to a management role. While promoting someone who excels in sales to a leadership position seems like a logical idea, it isn’t necessarily one that results in success.
On side note, by promoting the top salesperson, you have most likely removed the person with the highest turnover from the sales floor, leaving a big gap that needs to be filled by the other salespeople combined or by a new comer. Those people may not have the same skill level, experience or ability therefore, you have just seen an instant drop in sales.
The skills that make a good salesperson, are not those that make a great leader. A salesperson is mainly responsible for motivating themselves and achieving their own goals. A leader on the other hand, has the responsibility for keeping a team inspired, motivated and focused to achieve a team or company goal. They must always have the best interests of the team and the company in mind and not just themselves.
Being able to communicate a clear vision to a team and getting everyone on board is also an important part of being a great leader. To obtain buy in, a leader must establish trust and credibility in the eyes of their team. While the team may respect them as a capable and successful salesperson, earning trust as a leader requires a completely different set of qualities.
Great leaders have qualities such as being innovative, forward thinking, honest and transparent to name a few. Having self-awareness to identify their own strengths, as well as any qualities or skills they may be missing, can help them become an even greater leader through continuous learning and development.
As well as developing themselves, leaders are also responsible for developing the people they lead. This requires the ability to train, coach and support people, demonstrating empathy and patience. Being able to identify unique qualities in others and developing them to reach their potential, can add enormous value to the individual as well as to the team.
While there are often big expectations of someone who has achieved great things as a salesperson, expecting them to automatically continue that success in a leadership role, the outcome may disappoint. The appointment of a leader should be made with consideration as to their suitability in the areas of leadership and where gaps are identified, training and support provided.
In sales today, there is a great deal of focus on price, both from the customer and the salesperson. Often when you visit a store or a showroom, the first words out of a salespersons mouth is “I can do you a deal today” or “I can give you a good price”. They offer a discount before finding anything about the customer and what’s motivating them to purchase. Contrary to the belief of many salespeople, price is not always the biggest factor considered by a customer when making a purchase.
Price is almost impossible for businesses to compete with these days, with the amount of heavy discounting that occurs. Alternatively, salespeople’s focus should be on what they do have control over, which is the value they build in the product and the experience they offer the customer, to help differentiate themselves from their competition.
What is the difference between price and value? Price is the amount of money to be paid to purchase something or the amount the customer is asked to pay. Value on the other hand, is what it is worth to the customer. It’s their desirability or, how much they want it.
A buying decision is generally made when the customers’ perceived value is higher than the price. If a customer does not see enough value in the product, they may deem it’s too expensive and raise a price concern. Therefore it is vital the salesperson builds personal value for the customer.
Value is a very personal matter. What is of value or importance to one person is not necessarily the same for someone else. A salesperson must discover what that particular customer values, by asking good research questions and listening for clues as to how they want to benefit from the purchase. Rather than focusing on the features of a product, the salesperson must focus on how the customer will personally benefit from those features. For example; how will their life be improved by the purchase?
Price becomes less of a factor when the salesperson has created a personal need and desire in the customer based on this uncovered information.
If a customer is presented with a ridiculous price, the salesperson might close the transaction today but the ultimate goal is to create customer loyalty. Selling on price generally won’t win a customer’s loyalty, but showing customers why a product is of value to them personally and providing an amazing customer experience is much more likely to.
Dealing with customer complaints is a part of sales and customer service. Complaints can occur for many reasons; a faulty product, expectations not met, poor service, lengthy wait time, a mistake and the list goes on.
Regardless of the issue, a complaint must be handled with sensitivity and professionalism. How the situation is handled, may very well determine the overall outcome and whether the customer will choose to do business with that company again.
Body language, facial expression and tone of voice of the person assisting the customer with their complaint, all have an impact on how the customer perceives the situation as well as the outcome. For example, the person should aim to keep their voice low key and slower paced. This tone is calming and makes it difficult for the customer to get wound up or angry. On the other hand, if the person speeds up and raises their voice, the customer is much more likely to match the tone.
It is also important to have a system or process for staff to follow when handling customer complaints, as this can see them resolved quickly and effectively. For example;
Step 1: Listen and don’t interrupt.
It can be tempting to jump in to reply or dispute what a customer is saying however, resist the urge and don’t interrupt. Give the customer full attention and let them finish before responding.
Step 2: Thank the customer and apologise.
Once the customer has finished explaining the problem, thank them for bringing it to the attention of the company and sincerely apologise. Many customers don’t take the time to make a complaint. They dwell on their frustration, tell other people about the bad experience and never do business with that company again. A company would much rather know of a problem and have the opportunity to rectify it and prevent it from happening in the future.
Step 3: Show empathy.
A customer needs to feel that the person assisting them is on their side and that they genuinely care. Show empathy by understanding the situation from the customers’ perspective.
Step 4: Offer a prompt solution.
No one wanting to take responsibility to find a solution and passing the customer from one person to another, will only frustrate the customer more. One person should be responsible for handling the complaint and follow it through to the end, finding a solution promptly.
Through having a clear process for staff to follow and providing them with training in how to deal with these sometimes difficult situations, it is possible to manage complaints effectively. It may even see an unhappy customer become a satisfied loyal customer, simply by the manner in which their complaint was received and handled.
For professional services such as accounting and law firms to be successful and grow, they continually need to source and obtain new clients. Few such businesses employ a sales professional specifically to do this. In most instances, opportunities come in the form of leads or referrals, in which the accountants and lawyers themselves must convert into business, requiring them to sell themselves, the business and its services.
These professionals often don’t like to think of themselves having a ‘sales’ aspect to their role. When they hear the word ‘sales’, they immediately picture the stereotypical pushy used car salesperson. Therefore, sales in professional services is more commonly referred to as ‘business development’ rather than selling.
The first step can be a shift in mindset, understanding that sales shouldn’t be about pushing products or services onto people they don’t want or need, rather it is uncovering a person’s wants, needs and ideas, then matching a valuable service or solution to suit.
Although sales is in fact a large part of their success, it isn’t common for accountants and lawyers to receive any training or formal instruction in this area. They undergo years of study in their qualification but receive little in the way of skills required to maximise opportunities in converting leads or referrals into new clients.
Professional services generally have a brilliant understanding of their industry, and are a wealth of technical information. Impressing potential clients with this knowledge however, isn’t enough for a client to see value in doing business. A big part of winning new clients is building relationships and establishing trust, through asking effective questions and actively listening to show understanding. Ultimately, a client needs to feel the professional is working with them to achieve the same goal.
As well as obtaining new clients, maintaining and nurturing relationships with existing clients is also an important aspect of business development. Adding value to clients through educating them of the other services offered, is a way of maximising the relationship for the business, as well as offering the client a full and complete service. The goal is creating loyalty where clients become a source of further referrals and leads.
No matter what you refer to it as; sales, business development or converting clients, professional services regularly wear a ‘sales hat’. Learning to wear that ‘hat’ well, can be a determining factor in the growth of their client base.
Working in a sales or customer service position, we come across all types of people. Sometimes we encounter customers who we instantly click with, making the interaction smooth and enjoyable. Other customers, we seem to clash with or are completely frustrated by them, making the interaction more challenging.
Much like people in the other areas of our lives such as family, friends and colleagues, the customers we interact with all have different experiences, characters and styles of behaviour. No two customers are the same however, there are generally four different types of customers we encounter on a day to day basis. Understanding these general customer types, can help us recognise them and adapt to their style of communicating and making decisions, to help make our encounters more successful for us and for them.
For example, there is the fast paced type of customer who tends to be very focused and doesn’t like to wait around to be served. They can be assertive and often seem demanding in their expectations of you and your service. The good news is, these customers make decisions very quickly and often know exactly what they want.
Then we see the customer at other end of the scale, who can be indecisive and take a long time to make a decision. They don’t like to be rushed and need a lot of reassurance. They also need to know you are sincere about helping them and if they feel you genuinely care, they will often become a loyal customer for life.
We are all familiar with the customer who loves to talk. They treat everyone like their new best friend and are more than happy to stop for a chat. They are optimistic and have great energy therefore, it can be fun interacting with them however you will bore them if you provide too many details, as they prefer to keep things light and upbeat.
On the other hand there is the customer who loves to know all the facts. In fact, they have often done a great deal of research prior and like to see that you know what you’re talking about. They sometimes ask a lot of questions but prefer to keep things professional and on task.
Because we don’t know what type of customer we are going to encounter next, it’s important to be flexible and adaptable. Rather than having, a ‘one size fits all’ approach, interacting with customers in a way that works for them, is going to provide the customer with a positive experience, as well as provide a better outcome for you and the business.
It is common to hear a top performing salesperson say “I’m the top salesperson, I don’t need sales training”. They blitz targets, rank as the number one salesperson in the company month after month and make themselves a bucket load of commission. You can’t blame them for thinking they don’t need to know anything else.
The top salespeople, might be number one in terms of sales turnover but are they building relationships with customers and creating advocates for the business? They may close a large number of transactions and put dollars in the till today but may do very little to create a positive lasting perception of the business.
In some companies, attending sales training is seen as a chore as just another boring training session salespeople are required to attend. Or, it’s seen as punishment for poor performing salespeople, only to subconsciously send them the message to ‘lift your game or else’. No wonder training gets a bad reputation.
There are benefits to having the entire team attend sales training, new or old, top or low performing. First, it ensures everyone is aware of what the company’s expectations are in relation to sales and customer service, leading to improved consistency in the experiences provided.
Sales training isn’t necessarily about overhauling a salespersons interaction with customers. For some salespeople, it may act as a refresher or a refocus. Perhaps they’ve been in the business for many years and just need a little inspiration. For others, it might be picking up one or two tips to help them improve certain areas they struggle in. For those newer to a sales role, sales training can give them a place to start, knowing what the expectations are and providing them with much needed confidence.
It’s also a way of remaining relevant. The sales and service industries are fast moving environments. Things are constantly changing; customer’s expectations, trends, products, the economy and so on. If one day has gone by, the whole game has changed. Therefore, if salespeople keep doing what they did five years ago or even six months ago, it may have been relevant then but it may not be as effective today.
For businesses who find themselves dragging their salespeople to sales training kicking and screaming, it’s time to shift the perception. Rather than communicating attendance at training as a task, promote it as an opportunity. Endorse it as a means of ensuring everyone is on the same page, refreshing and upskilling, leading to business and personal growth.
It’s amazing how often we place an order in a restaurant, a drink from a bar or a snack from a café and the person serving gets it wrong. We end up with something completely different from what we ordered or a variation of, only for us to complain and ask for a replacement which ultimately, costs the business money.
This isn’t limited to the food and beverage industry, it’s rampant with service providers everywhere. Although we are being asked “Can I help you?” our response isn’t completely absorbed with errors and misinterpretations common place. It’s mind boggling how often a person assisting or serving, doesn’t listen and gets it wrong.
Staff’s listening skills are a continual frustration of customers. One reason why this occurs, is our tendency of hearing, a physical process of perceiving sound, without listening which is a mental process of processing meaning. A classic example of this, is being asked at a checkout “Would you like a bag?”, even if we respond “no”, the person proceeds to provide us with a bag anyway. Although this can be partially linked to habit, the frequency in which this occurs, demonstrates a worrying trend. Our active listening skills, need some work.
Wikipedia states, active listening “requires the listener to fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said”. Increasing awareness and providing staff with training in active listening is one way in which businesses can improve this vital element of providing quality service. Taking this one step further is upskilling in reflective listening, where a person repeats the order or request back to the customer, to confirm their understanding. By repeating or paraphrasing, the person is more likely to remember what the customer has said and as a result, get the order or request right the first time.
Reflective listening also shows an intent to listen and understand. Too often, it seems there is a lack of desire to truly understand customers’ wants and needs. Assumptions are made, hoping it will be enough, to satisfy and allow them to move onto the next customer.
All of us as human beings have a basic desire to be heard and understood. Therefore, having a genuine intent to listen to customers and fulfill their request with accuracy, is a basic in customer service. Although we can train staff to improve these skills, largely listening is a choice. A person makes a conscious choice to hear, to listen, to understand and then to serve.
In the past week, I’ve read two separate articles regarding two very different national retail businesses in all sorts of trouble. One is having a massive closing down sale after going into voluntary administration and the other making record losses.
Both articles discussed various contributing factors to their downturn such as; the impact of online shopping, increasing running costs and international competition. When I saw the names of each of these troubled businesses, I realised there was another common theme, I’d had poor customer service experiences in both of them.
One of these businesses in particular, over the last decade I had seen a decline in service provided to customers in many of their stores throughout the country. A lack of staff on the shop floor, policies that weren’t customer friendly and service that was now almost non-existent.
The other store I’d been into on several occasions, each of which I recalled the staff busy chatting amongst themselves, ignoring customers and making it an unwelcoming place to visit. I’d therefore never actually purchased from the store, choosing to shop elsewhere.
That’s exactly what shoppers will do if you don’t give them a reason to shop with you. They will chose to go to a competitor or even shop online.
Online shopping is a growing challenge facing bricks and mortar stores. One of the major differentiators retailers have over online shopping, is the shopping experience they provide their customers with. Therefore, it’s vital this experience is a positive one otherwise, they may do nothing other than drive the customer to shop online.
The service experience is also a huge factor that sets stores apart. With similar products available at similar prices in numerous different stores, a business must give customers a valid reason to shop with them, rather than choosing the competition. Unfortunately however, too often customers are provided with reasons not to shop in a particular store.
When I read about profit loss, impending staff cuts and store closures, of course I feel sad at their demise however, I think back to shopping experiences in many of these retail stores and can recall nothing but disappointing, unsatisfactory and deterring experiences. You can’t expect to survive, if you are not winning and retaining customers.
A retail store relies on customers, they are what keep the doors open. The focus and priority therefore, must be customers and providing them with quality experiences. If they don’t, they too might be displaying ‘Closing Down’ signs and become another empty shop in the shopping centre.
There is a lot of talk in sales about the importance of following up with customers, yet so few salespeople actually take the time to do it. This is despite the significant amount of time salespeople can spend with customers, uncovering wants and needs, providing detailed information and building rapport. Therefore, they have the perfect opportunity to make a polite phone call a few days after the interaction.
There are two types of follow up calls a salesperson might make. One where a customer has made a purchase or buying decision. The other is when a customer has not made a buying decision and perhaps wants to think it over.
When a customer has purchased, the salesperson’s call should be made a short time after the customer has received or used the goods or service. The intention of this call, is to enquire how they are enjoying their new product or service.
One of the main reasons salespeople don’t make this call is because they’re afraid of what they’ll hear from their customers. They fear they’ll be faced with a complaint or the customer might tell them they are unhappy with their purchase.
Unfortunately, a lot of the time when customers are unhappy with a product or service, they don’t let the salesperson or business know. However, they complain to everyone else about their dissatisfaction and simply never return. Uncovering and effectively handling issues and complaints provides the opportunity to build customer loyalty.
On the other hand, if the customer is loving their purchase, the salesperson calling and asking for their feedback, can make them feel valued.
On those occasions when a customer hasn’t purchased, salespeople tend to shy away from making follow up calls because they don’t want to appear pushy. A follow up call in these cases, should not be about pressuring a customer to purchase. Rather, it’s a polite call, to enquire if the customer has any further questions and letting them know they are there to help, if needed.
The customer may not have purchased on this particular occasion but “today’s lookers are tomorrow’s buyers”. A follow up call may be all it takes for them to be inspired to contact that salesperson when they are ready to purchase or, the next time they are in the market.
Salespeople do themselves and their customers a great disservice if they don’t follow up and build upon the relationship and experience they have spent time establishing. Follow up should always be part of service, not only to maximise opportunities for the business but to complete the experience for the customer.