Great Customer Service is a Sustainable Advantage

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 31-01-2008

Customers expect more today from customer service than ever before.  Customers are raising expectations of service every day and so must you.  Customer Experience expert Seth Godin noted that more than 90 percent of customers change their opinion of a company based on the manner in which the company deals with them on the phone.  A potentially negative experience or product error can be damaging but when handled by expert customer service professionals who have been trained and empowered can turn this into a positive experience that can lead to a life-long customer.  This is the kind of experience that gives you repeat business and customers who become customer advocates and are pleased to recommend your company to others.

Ask yourself these questions:  Is great customer service a core value in your company culture?  Are your customers happy when they buy from you and want to tell others?  What is your customers opinion of your service?  How does your customer service compare to your competition?  When customers call your office do they get a live person or an impersonal complicated menu of options? 

Are your customer service people good or are they great?  What’s the difference?  Good customer service people know their products and handle negative issues with ease.  Great customer service people create a favorable impression of the company from the moment they answer the phone.  They up-sell the customer to a better product or higher quantity demonstrating better value to the customer.  They ask questions and work on account penetration and increase profits for your company.  Are you satisfied with just “good” or do you want “great”? 

Do you monitor your customer service people as they interact with your customers?  Are they empowered to make decisions in the best interest of the customer?  Do you support their decisions or do you criticise them?  Do you provide your team with the knowledge, information and tools to perform effectively? Ongoing training ensures a consistent and satisfying customer service experience and keeps the customers coming back.  Us your best skilled CSR’s to demonstrate ‘best practices” to new hires and less skilled personnel.  That’s a lot of questions!  So how do you measure your success or failure?

Are You an Order Taker or an Order Maker?

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 26-01-2008

I’ve written previously about complacent sales people and how easy it is to fall into the “order taker” trap.  A new rep joins the team and after a period of time, typically one or two years, they arrive at a point where their earlier efforts to build an account base has succeeded either their own gains, or through some other means of account acquisition, and they now have one hundred active accounts or more.  The trap is that you depend on those commissions and know that every time you get an order you get paid.  You go out every day and see those accounts and spend your time getting orders and not prospecting for new business or account penetration.  You may be busy but you are NOT working smart.  You’re simply taking the easy way out having convinced yourself that all you have to do is maintain what you have.  Wrong!

Unlike many years ago when sales was about making lots of calls, handing out catalogs and flyer’s and walking through a lot of doors, business acquisition today is entirely different.  Prospects get offended when you walk in the door without an appointment or purpose so you just blew your first chance to make a good impression.  Sales today requires some stealth, research, creativity and a lot of relationship building.  You don’t go into a prospective account and immediately try to close the sale.  You probe, interview and create a need for the prospect to do business with you. 

We recently earned the business with a new account.  I knew this prospect was shopping us against three other office furniture competitors.  When we won the business we asked the prospect, “Tell us why you chose us over the competition?”  The prospect replied, “You were the only company that bothered to come to my place of business and talk to me face-to-face and identify what my needs really were.  Everyone else wanted to do business over e-mail or the telephone.  You genuinely cared about what I needed, not what you wanted to sell me.”  His original budget was $1800 and the sale ended up over $6400 because we identified his needs and provided a solution, and when he called our office for information we had a rep contact him within one hour and made an appointment to meet him the same day.  The competition simply wanted to sell him what they presumed he wanted without doing the research.  They were order takers, not order makers.

Most likely you have an experienced customer service team at your business that is more than capable of handling orders and other customer issues.  Utilize those CSR’s to the best of your ability and make them a part of your success, that’s what they are there for.  Train your customers too place their orders either online or call your CSR.  Whenever possible a CSR should be assigned to a sales rep so they become intimately familiar with those accounts.  They become an extension of that sales rep and in most cases can respond to potential issues much faster than a rep out in the field.  As a rep your time is more valuable to yourself and the company when you are doing business reviews, prospecting and working on account penetration activities than you are visiting and taking orders.  As an exercise keep a written log of your daily activities for the next 30 days noting the times and time spent on each call (and function) and what your daily time is spent doing.  Then analyze your log at the end of those 30 days and see where your time is spent.  Learn to plan your work week in advance so when that opportunity clock rings and your feet hit the floor you have an action plan ready to go.

Do you plan your week in advance?  When was the last time you did a business review with a customer?  How many prospecting calls did you make last week?  Post a comment and share your success strategies.

Delivery Personnel, Your Front Line of Defense

Filed Under (Uncategorized) by Don on 18-01-2008

I was out for lunch the other day and noticed a Staples delivery guy stopping to make his delivery.  He got out of his truck with his cigarette hanging out of his mouth and talking on his cell phone.  He wondered around the truck and opened the rear door and disappeared for a few minutes.  Shortly afterwards I saw his cigarette butt flicked out the back and he emerged with his hand-truck and a couple of boxes of supplies.  His facial expression and body language told me that he would rather be anywhere but where he was that day as he slammed the gate on his truck.  He rushed into the business and quickly returned to his truck where he resumed his cell phone conversation again and sat in his truck for another fifteen minutes before pulling away.  I have a pretty good idea what his attitude was when he entered the customers office.

Our big box competitors have hundreds of delivery personnel and those people typically don’t stay in those positions for a long time so it is difficult for them to develop relationships with the customers and for most I expect their job is temporary until they find something else.

However, most independent dealers have smaller numbers of delivery people and with a more family oriented workplace they stay much longer.  These delivery guys (or gals) are a critical element in your strategy to gain new business and in your existing account penetration efforts.  You should take the time necessary to train your delivery staff on more than just company safety policy.  Today’s business environment requires more than just be friendly and courteous in the customers office.  I trained my drivers to always keep their eyes and ears open.  They are to be attentive to the customers needs and when making their delivery to listen, and look for signs that the customer needs attention.  These signs would be things such a a new printer or fax machine that needs supplies (hopefully you know this because you sold the equipment), perhaps someone is discussing a need for a new file cabinet or desk.  Perhaps they overhear plans to expand or move into a larger space.  Maybe a competitor is, or has been, there trying to get the business and left a catalog or portfolio.  Maybe the customer isn’t buying all of their supplies from you and the competitions has just made a delivery.  Don’t you want to know who that is?  Maybe the guy in the back that signs for deliveries tells your driver that they just got a big contract and will be expanding their warehouse to handle the new business or there is a supply issue with someone in the office that is making a real “stink” about their dissatisfaction.  All this leads to opportunities for you and your business!  This information needs to be immediately communicated to the sales rep and/or sales manager for follow-up.  Your driver is part delivery man, part customer service rep, part sales rep, and part secret agent.  A good observant driver can be a driving force in your efforts to meet the needs and wants of your customers and many times will see the same customers far more often than your rep does.  Use that to your advantage!

Also, have a policy where your sales reps ride one day each month with the drivers.  This simple act affords them an opportunity to see what the driver see’s every day.  The rep isn’t so pushed to be on appointments and can observe new or existing businesses they may have otherwise ignored that are in the same area.  A good rep should have already saturated the area before moving on but we know that isn’t always the case.  Therefore take the time to train your delivery personnel to be observant and watchful and to keep you well informed.  These people are out in “the trenches” every day and can be (should be) a critical element in your strategies to grow your business and another weapon in your arsenal to combat the competition.

2008 Offers New Opportunities for Independent Dealers

Filed Under (OP News & Views) by Don on 08-01-2008

Although historically an election year means business slows down in the O.P industry, I think this year history will not repeat itself.  In 2007 three of our big box competitors, Office Depot, Office Max and Corporate Express lost as much as 76% of their market valuation with Office Max taking the worst hit.  These three blamed the economy, they blamed the credit crunch, they blamed everything but themselves when in fact the problems lie with their poor judgement and loss of customer centricity.  When their sales weakened they had knee-jerk reactions and laid off hundreds of sales reps.  Their poor handling of customer issues, a complete lack of corporate directives and a clear customer service commitment has nearly broken their back.  If the economy and credit problems were to blame then why did dealers such as WB Mason and others grow their business in the double digits last year?

Obviously this is great news for the independent dealers.  The sales reps they laid off need employment and the dealers are ripe to make big gains in market share by acquiring these experienced personnel.  Many dealers are finally beginning to realize that their web presence is more than just an order entry portal.  It is a resource for their customers too learn about new products and information to help them grow their business.  Everything “eco” or “green” will be important this year.  Don’t let the big boxes beat you to market in this arena! Consumers are slowly beginning to realize that the big boxes have deplorable customer service and their years of hipe about their prices being so low are not true.  The pricing game they play with their contracts are constantly being discovered by the states to which they are contracted.  Office Depot’s business catalog contains about six thousand items and of those I have a list of 1658 items that Depot charges retail price and higher.  Independent dealers need to continue to educate consumers on the benefits of keeping their dollars spent on a local level.

I’ve already started planning for our September consumer products show and I’ve filled our sales meetings schedule with training and information for the next eight months.  What changes have you made to your web presence?  Are you going to market your business more aggressively this year? Do you have your business and personal goals defined and written down in a place that you can see them every day?  If you’re a business owner have you shared your business goals with your staff and made them accountable to help acheive your vision?  Share your thoughts and ideas and leave your comments today.  Best wishes for a prosperous new year!