A friend of mine recently purchased a new computer from a major computer brand that shall remain nameless (I will give a hint, however - it starts with an "L" and ends with an "o").
This brand has a reputation for producing quality computers and providing quality support so her experience was quite shocking to me.
- My friend purchased her computer online and assumed that it was processed successfully.
- One week later, she received an email stating that some confirmation was needed to process the order and that she should call the company immediately.
- She called but received a message stating that all lines were busy and that she should leave a voicemail message. She did.
- No response was received the next day, so she called again. The same message was received.
- My friend proceeded to call the company's sales number.
- Sales support was clearly being handled at an offshore call center and communication was an issue.
- The sales support staff my friend spoke to was "indifferent" to her frustrations and there was a constant attitude of "I am not capable of doing that."
- After two weeks, including a botched attempt at changing order information and repeated claims by different sales support representatives that they had no record of her previous calls, my friend spoke to a supervisor who, when told that she was ready to cancel her order, expressed no urgency to save the sale.
- My friend cancelled her order and purchased her computer elsewhere. Ironically, the order cancellation was handled smoothly.
Needless to say, I was amazed at the incompetence and the attitude displayed by this company, especially given its stellar reputation.
In this experience, I think there are four common sense reminders for all companies:
Have your sales and order handling process down.
Once you've earned a sale, the only thing separating you from the money the customer has agreed to pay is order fulfillment. Order handling should be a well-oiled process that occurs quickly and smoothly.
From making sure that there are no issues with the payment to getting the product shipped, a structured and well-defined process, including procedures for handling problems, needs to be in place.
When issues arise, make contact via phone.
If you need to verify a customer's credit card information, for instance, don't send an email. Call the customer personally. And if the customer is not there, leave a voicemail message and send an email with a callback number that has enough "bandwidth" to ensure that the customer gets through during business hours.
Make sure you sales support staff is competent.
No matter where your sales support staff is located, make sure that it not only has the knowledge to deal with sales issues but has the ability and power to deal with them. After all, no customer likes to be told that the person they're dealing with has no ability to help them.
Sales support staff members should know that their goal is to ensure that sales are not lost and that the customer is satisfied. There should be consequences for members of the staff who consistently lose customers and rewards for those who keep them.
Do whatever it takes (within reason) to keep the sale.
One of the most shocking aspects of my friend's experience was that when she informed a supervisor that she was nearly ready to cancel her order and take her business elsewhere, his response was essentially "Ok." This is unacceptable.
The following responses are some of the most powerful in sales:
"What can we do to make you happy?"
- "What can I do to rectify the situation to your satisfaction?"
Letting the customer tell you what he/she wants and delivering it shows that you are committed to providing quality service despite your mistakes.
Additionally, when necessary, offering the customer something of value (a discount, a rebate on a future purchase, etc.) can be a final method of stopping the loss of a sale.
Finally, apologizing and letting the customer know that you've found their experience to be as unacceptable as they have is oftentimes as valuable - if not more valuable - to the customer than a discount.
How your company handles the sales process tells the customer a lot about how their relationship with you is likely to be after they've handed over their money to you.
If you can't close a sale smoothly and quickly, you are likely to lose a customer for life.