Customer Service Neutralizes Efforts of Your Sales Force


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I am more convinced every day that the most overlooked and under-rated sales function in most companies is their customer service department.

This extends beyond toll-free phone numbers and includes the people you meet when you walk into a company’s retail locations too.

When was the last time you ended a conversation with customer service feeling thrilled that you were a customer of companies like Dell, Verizon, USAirways, Charter or Microsoft?  Would that change if I typed Apple instead of Dell?

It’s really simply.  There are several customer service issues that, in essence, SELL or convince you to leave a company.  They are:

  • Transferitis
  • “you’ll need to call this number instead” 
  • “let me transfer you to someone who can help” (again)
  • Incompetence
    • “OK, so let’s try something else and see if that works”
    • “That shouldn’t be happening”
    • “Let me ask someone else and see if they’ve heard of this”
  • Rude
  • Slow
  • Unresponsive
  • Repetitive
    • “I’ll need to get some basic information” (again)
    • “Can I have your name and account number?” (again)
  • Argumentative
    • “Sir, you have to provide this information – it’s a rule”
    • “You must enter your information in this kiosk”
    • You’ll have to answer these questions or I can’t proceed”
  • Scripting
  • Companies spend a lot of money on marketing and sales calls to acquire customers.  Then they spend money to train and develop their sales teams to improve their effectiveness at finding and closing business.  Then, because the people in charge of customer service simply don’t get it, they encourage customers to walk away because they aren’t wiling to address some of their customers’ most basic needs.

    On a recent visit to a Verizon company store to conduct a simple free exchange for a new, unopened, incompatible device, it took over an hour, required multiple calls to customer service, and ended with them wanting $85 for the free, preapproved (by Verizon Customer Service) exchange.  When I refused to pay the fee (it was just $50 to simply buy the correct device outright) I left them with the device I was attempting to return and canceled my account.  They sent me a bill for $185 for early termination!  

    If you have your own horror stories feel free to leave them here but don’t miss the point of this post.  Customer service must treat customers the way you want to be treated. It should not be a group of people whose primary function is to regurgitate your company’s policies and rules.  Retention is the key to growth.  When you can retain and even grow your existing customers, new customers represent real growth.  When you are losing existing customers, new customers only replace what you have lost and sales remain flat.

    Republished with author's permission from original post.


    1. Great point, Dave.

      Although service reps don’t directly sell in most cases, our research finds that the service experience is a huge factor in customer satisfaction and loyalty.

      And loyal customers are much more likely to buy more, with less effort from the sales rep. So it makes sense to provide effective service to encourage customers to stick around and reduces the obstacles the sales rep faces.

      Why is it, then, that many (most?) companies still consider customer service almost a “necessary evil” and do everything they can to cut costs? Don’t they see that it just makes the selling job harder?

    2. Bob: service organizations often adhere to a process. And adherence becomes the objective–not providing the desired customer outcome. Hence the rigidity Dave describes. I’m reminded of the famous FedEx story in which a driver was unable to open a drop box to remove packages, so he simply unbolted it from its concrete pad and put the entire box in his truck so it could be emptied at the dispatch center.

      I’m not sure of the validity of the story, but wouldn’t it be great if all customer service people could be similarly empowered–and creative–in delivering the outcomes customers need.

    3. You both made good contributions and perhaps someone can suggest a solution to the second biggest problem facing companies trying to attract add-on business. The biggest problem? 74% of all salespeople suck!


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