We have all heard of amazing instances where a large contract has been lost because a surly lorry driver has refused to drop his delivery in the place most convenient for the customer, or perhaps one of our members of staff in accounts was rude to a customer’s staff leading to a review of the business relationship.
These issues are invariably dealt with in hindsight. Individuals are taken to task and you may even embark on a ‘Customer Care’ programme with a few punchy slogans positioned around the office in a half-baked attempt to ensure employees realise that without customers their isn’t a business to run.
However, you can proactively use all of your staff to generate new business income rather than just relying on the sales people or worrying about whether those employees that are not customer facing are going to lose the business you have spent a great deal of time winning in the first place by not being customer aware. Everyone in a business needs to be a salesperson or at least customer aware to secure us short- and long-term cash flow. Is this possible to achieve?
To completely satisfy your customer requires your entire team to understand your customers, and be able to sell your business benefits.
This poses managers and leaders a challenge. We recommend three focus areas: awareness, attitude and empowerment.
Awareness starts with your goals and customer needs. To completely satisfy your customer needs your team must be aware of your business goals and the part members of your team have to play in those goals. For some they may have to improve your margins, for others they may need to sell more of the same. However diverse the goals may be, you will need to give clarity for the role you wish your employees to play in delivering your commercial targets. This knowledge is key to give your team members an understanding of what you consider to be the right actions to take for your business.
To apply this internal understanding to the customer your teams will always need to be able to unlock and uncover customer needs. Coach them in the art of asking great open questions designed to elicit information. When with customers, use opening words like ‘why, where, how, what, when’ to allow the customer to talk and debate their business or the challenges their customers are facing. Don’t assume we know what our customer wants. Match their needs with our goals. They can often be surprisingly similar.
Second, demand positive attitudes from your teams to your customers. Attitudes are infectious. An attitude is often the outward manifestation of how we feel inside. As customers what do we see as a positive customer attitude? In our business we want our suppliers to listen to us, own our issues and deliver us a solution. If it comes with a smile that’s great, but primarily we want action. Ask your customers what they see as great customer facing attitude?
When we have asked in the past ‘passion’, a sort of ‘knowledge on fire’ approach, always comes in the top three answers. Challenge yourself. Are your teams exuding great passion for your customers? It could be a source of competitive advantage.
Our final focus area is empowerment. We believe that staff that have the authority to act on their own judgement in certain circumstances will always be appreciated by your customers.
Jim Collins’ excellent book ‘Good to Great’ advises that great companies ‘built a consistent system with clear constraints, but they also gave people the freedom and responsibility within that framework’. He recommends we should all build a culture of freedom and responsibility within a framework. We should encourage our staff to fix things for customers. Research shows customers come back if we show this real interest in their problems.
What does this look like? The oft quoted example of the hotel bell boy in the US who decided to take an 800-mile round trip to deliver an attach eacute; case that a customer had left in reception is a great example.
Normally though, daily empowerment can be quite a simple affair. Give your teams the guidance that they need to ensure they can take responsibility for solving large and small customer issues.
It is as simple a start as moving from the products that your customers believe they need to recommendations of new products that will help them do the same job better. Or taking personal responsibility to chase the invoice or delivery they are enquiring about.
Expand this approach. How can you work with your customers on joint business issues that need a new approach? Get an industry reputation for your business as one that delivers great solutions for your customers through providing customer support that has the customer’s interest at the front of mind.
Combine, in the terms of your Features > Business, awareness, attitude and empowerment in every team member you have and you have made a start on the delivery of a group of people that can always sell the benefits of your company to customers – from whatever position and situation they find themselves in.
We believe everyone in our business needs to be a salesperson.