Your major competitive advantage is not necessarily your company or your products. It is all the little things you personally do to add value to every customer relationship, always far exceeding their expectations. These are the things that make you stand out in the customer’s mind, adding enormous value to every transaction.
Better than cold calls! Better than advertising and online leads! The very best are up-selling, cross-selling and referral leads from your most satisfied customers. Read more about how to ensure that satisfaction.
This is Part 2 of a two-part article. If you have not already done so, we suggest you first read Part 1.
In Part 1, I described how you can unlock more up-selling, cross-selling and referral opportunities by exceeding customer expectations in these ways:
- Call customers with status reports.
- Always “Install” your product.
- Be careful how you turn customers over to customer service.
- Know your competition.
- Get to know your customers.
- Get to know your customers’ companies.
- Help your customers really know your company.
- Become an expert in your field.
But that is just the beginning. Here are many more ways you can exceed customer expectations.
Keep Serving Your Customers After The Sale
Since you know that every customer you serve is connected to other potential customers, you want to keep finding opportunities to serve them, even if they have nothing to do with what you sell.
Lynne Schwabe, a marketing consultant, tells a story that illustrates this point perfectly. “After completing a project for Client A in San Francisco, I sent him a list of resources directly related to his additional needs. He was so appreciative of the extra service I gave him that he referred me to Client B in Atlanta, who referred me to Clients C and D. Client C has referred me to Client E in Denver and Client F in Galveston, Texas. This is the story that never ends.” As well it shouldn’t, I might add.
By doing a little something extra for one client, Lynne created a chain reaction that may never stop. That’s the power of great service coupled with the attitude of working from referrals. The result: unlimited referrals.
Create A Useful Customer Survey
You should be constantly asking your customers, “How am I doing?” “If we could do one thing better, what would it be?” And you should be asking these questions face to face (over the phone is second best).
But a formal survey of customers can also have its place. Many customers feel more comfortable giving candid feedback if it’s through a written survey. I suggest this survey come from management so it can compile candid information about the salesperson. Very few salespeople want to hear what their customers really think — but they should. Look at the survey as a good friend who is willing to tell you the truth, not matter what, to help you get rid of unproductive habits in favor of more productive ones.
In Beware the Naked Man Who Offers You His Shirt (Morrow, 1990) Harvey Mackay reprints the customer survey he uses at Mackay Envelope Corp. This is a fun book to read, full of great information. The customer survey alone is worth the investment.
Sometimes The Little Things Are The Big Things
“Customers for Life: How to Turn That One-Time Buyer into a Lifetime Customer” (Doubleday, by Carl Sewell and Paul Brown, is a well-known book on customer service. It contains many great ideas and strategies. At the end of each article is a checklist of specifics nearly everyone should be doing with and for customers. With permission from the authors, I have selected some of these specifics to share with you. Do you have this attitude of service? Are you doing these things as a matter of habit? My commentary is in italics.
You cut lawns for a living, and your customer needs the name of a good tree surgeon? Find him one. If he is staying at your hotel and his car gets a flat, change it. Help your customer.
Don’t charge for this “extra” service if you can help it
If it’s something that a friend would do for another friend, don’t charge. Don’t worry, you’ll more than make up the money in future business. And referrals.
You can’t just provide good service between 9 A.M. and 5 P.M.
If you’re going to provide good service, you have to provide it around the clock. Give them your home phone number. They may never use it, but it reassures them.
Talk about the mistakes
Log every single job that is brought back. As soon as it comes in, fix it. Then find out how the problem was able to slip through in the first place.
Keep the service promise
Doing what you’re supposed to do, when you are supposed to do it, is the very minimum required to provide good customer service.
When something goes wrong . . .
And it will, no matter how hard you try, apologize. It’s easy, customers like it (and it doesn’t cost anything), but almost no one ever says they’re sorry. Then, immediately after you apologize, fix the problem while the customer is still there. (If you can, or ASAP.)
You want people to hold your feet to the fire
By setting high standards for yourself, you’ll encourage a certain percentage of people to seek out every potential flaw. Good. It gives you another reason to eliminate those flaws.
Everybody has a bad day
Even customers. If they lose their temper, forgive them. Go out of your way to make them feel comfortable about coming back. (They might be a little embarrassed.)
The customer is always right — up to a point
Your job is to figure out what that point is. We stretch pretty far to decide in the customer’s favor. You should too. It’s profitable.
Be taken advantage of with a smile
If you’ve decided to give the customer what he or she wants, give in completely and cheerfully. Don’t haggle over the amount, and don’t roll your eyes or be sarcastic. If you are anything less than cheerful, it will cost you all the good will you were trying to gain.
Let the customer help you provide good service
Teach them how to get the best service; when it’s a good time to come see you; and what they need to tell you in order to get the job done right the first time.
Explain to customers how you do things
You may have the world’s best system for getting things done, but if your customers don’t understand it, they’re likely to be confused at best — and angry at worst. Once they understand you have systems — and those systems work — they’re bound to think better of you and want to come back.
How often should you say thank you?
Every time you get a chance.
Decide to be the best
Set your goal at the highest performance standard possible, knowing that if you expect more you’re going to get more.
When You Blow It, Make Amends
Sometimes you make a mistake: you order the wrong product or send it to the wrong location. Or the pricing is wrong. Or you forgot to include an add-on. Or the product you specified in the first place just wan’t quite right. Everyone makes mistakes like these. But you can be the unique sales professional who quickly acknowledges making the error and quickly makes the necessary adjustment.
You Can Never Give Too Much
Marketing genius Jay Abraham says that to lift you and your company above the competition:
You cannot service too much.
You cannot educate enough.
You cannot inform too much.
You cannot offer too much follow-up and follow through too far.
You cannot make ordering too easy.
You cannot make calling or coming into your place of business too desirable.
Though we might debate some of these points if we take them apart, I think you understand the spirit of what he’s saying. We must do all these things to gain and keep customers. And it’s especially important now that we realize that every customer can lead us to others.
Use Accelerating Actions and Avoid Decelerating Actions
In his book Selling at Mach 1 (Motivational Resources, 1994), Steven Sullivan lists actions that will either accelerate or decelerate your image in the eyes of your customers. I found this concept and his ideas worth sharing with you. Here are a few:
Periodically deliver something to eat, the more creative the better.
- Call or send flowers, candy, etc. on birthdays, anniversaries and sickness.
- Give a free lesson of any kind (golf, tennis, skiing, etc.).
- Give presents for their children.
- Send music cassettes of customers’ favorite artists.
- Send a postcard to customers while on vacation.
- Give gift certificates for dinner, movies, video rentals, etc.
- Bring in ice cream, Popsicles, or sodas on a hot day.
- Give lottery tickets.
- Bring desserts for lunch.
- Give subscriptions to a weekly sports newspaper or other periodical of interest.
- Use personal thank-you notes.
- Order your customers personalized stationary.
- Contribute articles to their newsletters.
- Arrange trips to your facilities/plant to educate your customers and show your hospitality.
- Not returning your customers’ phone calls promptly.
- Making disparaging comments to your customers about your competition.
- Keeping your customers waiting.
- Dropping by without an appointment. (Call ahead with some of the accelerators).
- Not responding immediately to customer requests.
- Complaining to customers when things don’t go your way.
- Arguing with customers.
- Not thanking customers on a regular basis.
- Showing displeasure when you do something for a customer that is not in your best interest.
- Not communicating regularly with customers about everything that affects the relationship.
- Not understanding your customers’ business.
What’s The Payoff?
I think this article shows you that providing exceptional service to your customers will come back to you manifold in referrals as well as increased business from them.
The better you serve your customers and prospects, the more powerful and “hotter” their referrals will be, and the easier it will be to convert those referral prospects into satisfied customers.
Tom is a printing salesperson in Baltimore. He did a great job with one of his customers, CNN. His customer contact was so happy that she took him around the office bragging about the job and showing it, and him, to other printing buyers within the organization. She wrote him a great testimonial letter and has given him several external referrals to go along with those internal referrals. Tom knows that serving customers helps you grow your business with referrals, the most powerful way to sell.