Customer service is often considered as a post-sales activity and only reserved for customers who’ve paid for your product. This has been the case as Customer Service comes with overheads, and considered along with the costs of the product.
But according to Ravi Kewat, Customer Success lead at SalesHandy, requests from newly registered customers who’re yet to pay (or talk to sales) makeup for ~25% of customer service queries.
This reflects a shift towards how customers prefer interacting with brands. They do their own research to evaluate the product, and ask for help from customer service if needed. Which is where the lines between Sales and Customer Service blurs. Because when it comes to serving newly registered customers and helping them solve their problems, it doesn’t matter who does it, but how well it’s done. Depending on your customers needs, it can be either customer service or sales.
So through this article, we’ll understand the importance of alignment between customer service and sales, along with steps and principles to improve on it.
How Misaligned Service and Sales Teams Could Impact Growth
Think of customer interactions by stepping into their shoes. When a customer reaches out to support for help with understanding the product, what happens when they get delayed response because they weren’t prioritized over paying customers?
Similarly, what happens when you ask sales a technical question, you’re redirected to customer support, and asked to reach out to them over a separate channel? Both of these cases present scenarios where Customer service and sales teams operate independently – with their own set of priorities and goals that don’t necessarily overlap.
If both teams don’t have Standard Operating Procedures(SOPs) for handling customers coming from the other department – it results in a broken, inconsistent customer experience. As a consequence, potential customers end up dropping out of the funnel early in the cycle, even as Sales keeps following up, while the customer has already paid for another product.
Customer service is often solution oriented, and sales teams are closure oriented. And customers who’ve interacted with both these teams before making purchase decisions will immediately sense the disconnect.
And this inconsistency results in massive cracks within the customer acquisition process – something you can’t blame Marketing and growth teams for. By aligning both customer service and sales teams, you’re essentially enabling the product and customer experience to be seamless.
So let’s learn what approaches your sales and customer service teams should adopt to make that happen.
6 Principles To Align Customer Service and Sales Teams
1. Customers Over Competitors
There’ll be times where sales and support teams will let their product’s core value of sight and focus on competitor’s flaws in order to sell. While this might work when customers are hell bent on competitor comparisons, it is far from the best approach. Comparisons render the product as a mere commodity, which isn’t the best way to position a valuable product. Comparisons lead to further objections over specifics like pricing, features, discounts, etc., which tends to impact the customer lifetime value (LTV), and this isn’t ideal.
Train both your support and sales teams to lead the customers to focus on how their product is the best suited to solve their problems. Conversations over competitors should happen in a healthy environment. If a customers’ needs are better served by a competing product, they should be recommended what’s best for them. Again, your focus should be on selling your product’s core value proposition, not features that might be identical to your competitors.
Slack has been great at adopting this approach — where they’ve technically faced hundreds of competitors in the business messaging space. But since Slack started as an experiment within internal teams, they heavily relied on customers’ (their own) problems while building out the product. This approach paid off when they launched to the public, and gained thousands of users in the very first week.
2. Value And Solution Driven Communication
In continuation from the last point – sales and customer service communication should strongly reflect the product’s priorities. As highlighted in the last point, features don’t make for compelling selling points unless you’re constantly innovating in your category. This is because features can be copied by competing and new products. Apart from this, not all customers understand features. While some customers can tie features to value — not all customers would know how certain features would translate to the product being a better option.
Know what your customers are going through — and convert it into value statements that would position your product as a solution rather than a set of features. Form a guide, or a bible for your sales and customer service reps to enable them communicate these value statements better. There’ll be times when customers question certain design and feature decisions, or lack of thereof. Customers might object to pricing changes, or existing pricing being expensive. In which case, your teams should communicate why those decisions were made, at the heart of all of it, are your customers’ problems and the value your product brings. This should also be brought into practice within your Marketing and Product teams.
Basecamp is a great example of value driven communication – the founders having embraced remote work and preaching on the same since inception. Their product is one of the most popular ones in the space. And their value proposition lies in the fact that they provide a product that only exists to enable remote teams to communicate and collaborate.
3. Unified customer experience
One of the biggest challenges around customer service and sales misalignment lies in how both teams have different incentives and targets. This promotes a more independent operating environment, which isn’t great for customer experience. Customers throughout their lifetime are highly likely to interact with both customer support and sales teams, and a difference in priorities at both touchpoints is going to be prominently noticeable. And because of this, customers wouldn’t ‘get’ the product and won’t be able to resonate with its’ value proposition.
Set up processes to tag team members from both teams in each others’ customer interactions, so they can be handed over without loss of context. Make it part of day-to-day duties(team members on the other side are likely to ditch these tasks as they consider “it’s not their job”). Have additional incentives in place when and where customers are either closed or retained by team members, making it both rewarding and growth oriented.
Zappos (acq. By Amazon) is one of the best examples of this. Their sales were primarily drawn in by their no-questions-asked return policies. Their service lived up to the promise and made sure customers had a smooth experience throughout their buying a return process, helping Zappos build one of the fastest growing online retail operations.
4. Adopt Empathy And Responsiveness
Thanks to growing competition and technology improvements, customers have upped their expectations. Customers today want hassle free access to support and quick resolutions so their purchases can be more convenient. While companies might deem quick response times as a “nice to have”, there’ll be times when customers could really find it very valuable. Same holds true for customer service disputes, where your customers might look for a refund, but they’re denied, simply because they agreed to the T&C while signing up.
Sending out quick responses to your customers might not take your support or sales teams a lot of effort, but for customers, this builds a lot of trust. It shows them you value their relationship and can be reached out and counted on when they need help. Set up turnaround times for both support and sales queries, and draw out exceptions for your billing and refund policies. When your customers really need/deserve it, enable your teams to make such decisions every once in a while. It won’t burn your company down, at the same time, will have a massive impact on your customer.
Amazon holds the best standards when it comes to customer service responsiveness and policies. I personally have got call backs from Amazon’s support team within a minute or two, and have been offered refunds when I clearly wasn’t entitled to it as per their policies. Their Marketing, and service teams very much keep up with the founder’s vision to build the world’s most customer centric company.
5. Growth Is The Only Constant
Talking of consistent experiences – just because your services are considered great today, doesn’t mean you sleep on it. Over time, as competition heats up, and customers have more options, they’re naturally tempted to gravitate towards those better options. So when you don’t grow to align with your customers’ needs and expectations, they slowly drift away from you. Sales and customer service teams will be the first ones to witness this within your team.
As an organization – make it a priority to let customer success and sales teams have the freedom to be the customers’ voice. More often than not – management doesn’t have a pulse on customers’ problems and needs, and sales and customer support teams only exist as an extension of a service to enable growth. Let customer-facing teams have a bigger role to play and influence within the organization, so on the whole, they can deliver what they premise to their customers, even if it’s tedious and impossible at first.
Apple’s a great example of this philosophy. They’ve produced some of the finest computing devices in our generation and before, but they’ve had their fair share of challenges. Two such instances – one where they had to deal with the complaints on butterfly switches, another with bad thermals on 2018 Macbooks. Both were rectified in subsequent product updates, only to make their Macbooks better than ever.
6. Nurturing vs. Marketing
Sales and customer support teams have been known to increasingly trouble customers by following up and upselling them on a purchase. You can’t blame salespeople – the adage – “it’s a numbers game” pushes salespeople to be more aggressive at sales prospecting. This is also true for customer support in today – where it’s been easier than ever to get hold of a customer who only intended to be educated on the product through customer service, but ended up getting follow-up emails to upgrade. This approach turns customers away from the product, unless there aren’t many options in the market.
Train both Sales and customer service teams to only talk about your product offerings in a passive and non-intrusive way. The focus for both teams, as I highlighted earlier in the article, should be towards clearing all your customers’ queries and objections. The idea is to solve their problems in a way where they get a taste of the product’s value, and once you’ve cleared their objections – educate them on how they can further make use of the product. Follow-ups should be timely, insightful and delightful for customers, not the other way around., In other words – nurture your customers, instead of bombarding them with messages.
Burger King does this really well through their social media presence. Their tweets are meant to be entertaining, at the same time talk about the product and spread its’ awareness. This is a great example of how a company nailed strategy specific to the communication channel – in this case, by tailoring their social media content to be entertaining and gaining virality, all while marketing and spreading their product’s message.
Give The Customers What They Want
Customer service and sales should be treated as channels rather than functions – because that’s what they are to your customers. Majority of the times your sales teams reach out to a customer, chances are, your customer doesn’t want to be “sold to”. But when they need to know about pricing and billing information specific to their needs, customers will be more than happy to talk to sales. Same can be said for customer service.
Customer service and sales teams need to be an extension of the product, and offer a unified experience in line with the customers’ expectations. Customers might not tell you this, but by adopting this strategy, you’re pretty much giving them what they want. And this is one of the best ways to optimize customer experience and growth, which results in growing revenue and profitability.