Understanding Customer Service and Sales

“A sale is not something that you pursue it is something that happens to you while you are immersed in serving your customer”. – Unknown

Customers expect that every interaction they have with your company is pleasant and memorable. These experiences are what help to shape the opinions they have of your product and company – if they are treated well, you will be paid back with repeat business. If not and they become severely irked, you can be certain that it will spell big trouble. What is even tougher is that bad customer service experiences outweigh everything else, even a bad sales pitch or a poorly done media advertisement. They probably would not notice or at best laugh at it. However, sloppy service and a shoddy product are going to make them take notice in a way that will not be good for your company. They will respond with comments via social media, tell friends and associates and may walk out towards your nearest competitor.

Sales may not be core to customer service. However, customer service must remain at the core of sales, marketing, promotions – every gamut of the company’s offerings. The main aim of a sales pitch is about coaxing the customer to buy what is being offered and could result in a sale or a customer not wanting to buy at that point in time. In customer service however, the goal is to ensure that the customer is happy and their needs are met, and this is not about your company’s product. It could be anything. Poor customer service will cause the customer to be unhappy and most probably leave and not return. Sales personnel would be more successful if they knew when to digress from the sales tone and adopt a customer service tone ensuring that the customer is left with a good last impression.

It is important for companies and their representatives to understand the differences between customer service versus sales. A service staff would need to understand the problems and issues a customer is facing and resolve them proactively whereas a sales staff would need to draw the customer’s attention to the benefits of the product or products they are trying to sell. The scenarios for customer service and sales staff also vary. Customer service staff is quite often dealing with customers with issues, irritated or even irate ones and they would need to think immediately about how they would deal with the situation. In the case of sales staff, they would be dealing with sales inquiries and would need to know which benefit of the product they should highlight in order to convince the customer. Customers are normally not in an emotionally charged stage when listening to a sales pitch.

Customer service staff needs to be adept in communicating with customers via many different channels. Also the expectation from customers now is that customer service is available to them round the clock given the advancements in technology that allows connecting from around the globe possible. However, for a sales person the first interaction with a customer is probably via the telephone and if the customer is convinced at that stage, they finally meet the customer face to face in a bid to sell.
Service staff must also have some amount of technical skills in order to be able to assist customers with certain problems. Troubleshooting over the phone to help customers resolve an issue is a service that customers expect and appreciate. For sales staff too, some amount of technical competency would be required to answer certain questions. The fact is that customer service representatives are often the first contacts a client makes with a company and how they are treated at this juncture takes precedence over other interactions.

Another aspect that is important to customers is the kind of approach used by companies. They are more open and comfortable with a personal way of interaction. The company’s image is portrayed at the first point of contact – if the approach is personal and welcoming that is the impression customers will carry. It must be remembered however, that this approach must be consistent across all touch-points to ensure continuity of service style. An inconsistency in service styles will confuse customers and they will assume that the company is not responsible enough to provide the kind of service or quality they expect. Customers are sure to speak about this inconsistency to others, which could be damaging to your company’s image and its brand. There must be cohesion between sales and customer service and both must use the same approach consistently.

The fact is that there will always be complaints and issues but what will differentiate your company is the way these are managed. A well-managed complaint often results in a loyal customer. Proper training and coaching to both service and sales staff will help to keep their approach personal, simple and with a focus on creating loyal customers. The approach for both realms must be pro-active and it is vital for customer service to move away from a reactive approach since this approach often leads to having a defensive attitude towards a customer complaint.

Using a cordial and empathetic approach is best for both realms and would mean that even apologies are rendered with a smile and managed swiftly and responsibly. The focus of sales is to get a customer to buy – an immediate return for the sales pitch and customer service is more often focused on saving costs for the company. That is probably how it works but it is vital that both teams use a personal approach and accept responsibility for their actions. It is crucial that customers do not perceive your company as one that is always trying to sell and if this ‘sales mode’ seems apparent on social media sites, customers are unlikely to perceive your company as one that places importance on customer service and therefore will not take their needs seriously. Create the right ‘buzz’ for your organization and its products through the appropriate approach – customers and potential ones will feel more comfortable speaking with you.

Despite the importance of both teams and the need for them to work cohesively, there continues to be strife between them. The battle is about the customer service saying that the sales team, in a bid to sell and make commission, make promises to customers that are not possible to keep. The sales teams constantly bicker about how shoddily the customer service team is treating the customers they managed to ‘acquire’. These arguments and differences would not exist if they realized that both teams are actually ‘two sides of the same coin’.

At the outset if the customer first contacts the customer service team, it is the experience they have that will make them come back or not. Similarly, if the first point of contact is a sales person, this interaction too must be memorable and must be an experience. The customer is more likely to buy if they had a pleasant experience. Both must present the same great experience if the customer is to believe that to be true of the company. If either of the teams fails to live up to the impression created by the first point of contact, the customer would most probably refuse to do business with the company. The message must be one, the ‘face’ presented must be the same and the experience that the customer has must be the same great one. This is crucial for a company to be portrayed as unified and also that a common culture pervades every department in the company.

There is really not much difference between customer service and sales. Both are about addressing the needs of the customer rather than forcing the customers to commit to anything. Both departments must work together to show the customer that the company is focused on providing them the best service, best products and is committed to keeping them as customer for a long time. Customer service and sales must work together to provide a united front to customers.

“Nobody counts the number of ads you run; they just remember the impression you make.” – William Bernbach

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