Money is Tight. Where’s the Biggest Customer Experience Bang for the Buck?


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The VP of Sales at a software company I worked for frequently chided his sales force not to boast to prospects about recent wins. “Customers are always unhappy within the first 90 days of an install.”

He was right in one way: our customers were invariably disappointed early. But he was wrong in accepting customer rancor as inevitable, and his myopia cost his sales force and the company substantial revenue. What was the company’s strategic CRM blunder? I’ll describe that in a moment.

If you graph customer expectations over time, one inarguable high point comes immediately following the sale. Why? Because salespeople have an understandable tendency to over-promise results, especially when quotas–and jobs–are on the line (been there, done that). On the customer side, harsh spotlights turn on the decision makers as anxious colleagues look for quick, tangible improvements, or detractors salivate for opportunities to say “I had serious doubts about the vendor choice.” Meanwhile, the decision makers seek validation for why they made the best decision from a pool of qualified competitors. Word-of-mouth is in hyper-drive. My experience has been that a significant number of queries are exchanged immediately post-sale (Although I haven’t taken formal measurements, I’m interested in learning if anyone has).

If there’s ever a time to love your customer, it’s when you shake hands and refer to your former prospect as Customer for the first time. Hugs all around–for 90 days! What better time to provide the decision makers with every reason that he or she made the best choice?

What did my employer do? Management scrutinized departmental financial performance for every part of the delivery, and customer satisfaction measurements were omitted from the equation. What did that mean? Revenue was split between departments: custom development, warranty support, packaged application sales, installation and training, and product management. Expenses were measured down to the penny. From a customer perspective, support was grudgingly parsed. Meters were ticking for every direct customer interaction–and behind the scenes as well–because no department wanted to “eat an expense,” an expression that became well-worn at internal client meetings.

What dynamic does this problem create for a sales organization? Notwithstanding the incredible amount of time a salesperson must spend responding to calls and emails that open with “Before we bought this, you told me . . , ” consistent service breakdowns destroy credibility. When that happens, sales don’t repeat easily, and cannot scale–two must have’s for growth-oriented strategies.

What should my company have done? Hindsight offers vivid clarity. A management planning horizon that extended beyond the current quarter would have helped. A business strategy that included in its financial calculus the lifetime value of the customer would have made general ledger expense silos less dysfunctional. At the very least, internal bickering would have been minimized as managers strategized how to create value for customers as well as themselves.

Business strategies have the best opportunity to work when a customer says “I made best choice given what I knew at the time, and if I had to make my choice again, I’d do the same thing.”


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