When the Sales Department Fails to Deliver on Customer Service: An Outsider’s Perspective

January 22, 2018

Last week, I had one of the most frustrating sales experiences of my life. Allow me to elaborate:

Our cell phone contract was up for renewal and we were comparing our existing agreement against options from other phone service providers. As it turned out, our provider wasn’t the most competitively priced option but had delivered good enough service over the years for us to consider staying with them.

Keep in mind, despite working for a sales training company, I am a marketing guy. I don’t have the business acumen, knowledge, or negotiation skills that many of my colleagues possess. Nevertheless, I called my cell phone provider to see if they would be willing to offer me any perks as an incentive to stay with them. I was simply a consumer trying to find a good service and willing to pay a fair price for it.

I could not have anticipated that reaching out to my cell phone provider to learn about my options would launch me into a journey akin to Dante’s Inferno.

Over the course of four days, I spoke to six different representatives who each overpromised and underdelivered. Each person gave me information that I later learned was incorrect. For example, I was told that we could save $5 off each line if we were to sign up for autopay. Later, I learned that option was not available on “grandfathered” plans. Another time, I was quoted a price promotion that had expired a full two months earlier.

After a few of these phone calls, I wasn’t so much concerned about the savings anymore, but with my sense that rules were made up on the fly. I had the impression that the representatives would say whatever it took to keep my account open and then hope that I would overlook that promised $5 discount which would never be applied to my invoice.

Finally, I had enough and signed up with a different company. My old cell phone provider lost a 5-year-old account over poor customer service. That made me think about how critical customer service skills are to the world of sales. The hassle I experienced put a sour taste in my mouth which no discount or apology could fix.

With that experience in the books, I want to share four customer service tips for sales professionals — from the consumer’s point of view:

Focus on what your customer wants
Listen to what is important to the customer and try to align your solution with their wants and needs. While I was shopping around for other cell phone plans, I had to repeatedly explain that we don’t require an “unlimited” data plan because we rarely exceed 5GB of data usage per month. I felt like I talked to a robot who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) pay attention to what I was saying.

Upselling and cross-selling can be great opportunities for both buyer and seller, but it has to be done at the appropriate time and has to provide a benefit to the customer. For example, if a representative had suggested that an unlimited data plan would allow me to tether with my computer, I may have been willing to consider that option because it would have benefited me.

Focus on existing accounts, not just on new customer acquisition
Consumers often get passed from one department to another, especially when it comes to large B2C companies. There are benefits to setting up sales specialization roles in terms of streamlining the sales organization, but customer experience shouldn’t suffer as a result.

For example, when I selected the automated phone option to cancel or downgrade my service, I faced a wait time of over 15 minutes. When I chose the sales department to purchase additional options, I was on the line with a sales representative immediately. These tactics don’t go unnoticed when customers are attempting to solve a service issue. This behavior made me wonder if this company analyzes their marketing spent on new customers compared to the relatively modest efforts required to keep their existing customers. B2B sellers should ask themselves the same question — how much love do you show existing customers versus new ones?

Don’t assume your services or products are strong enough differentiators
Selling a great product or service is important, but guess what? There are many other companies that sell widgets comparable to yours in quality. In both the B2C and B2B worlds, too many sellers compete on price alone and set themselves up to be outbid when a more aggressively-priced competitor swoops in.

There are many ways to differentiate yourself from the competition. You can do it through marketing, a strong distribution network, or brand and image reputation. But don’t neglect to factor service into your winning equation. Studies have shown that buyers will pay a premium if their customer service experience is great. A customer service-oriented sales professional can be your secret weapon.

Aim to be a straight shooter
Many sales professionals try to be people-pleasers and only say what they think the customer wants to hear. But many customers would appreciate being surprised and have their thinking challenged if the sales representative’s insights are in alignment with the customer’s best interests.

Was I being misled when I dealt with my cell phone company? I think so. If it had been one isolated incident, I would have dismissed it as a poor performance by one employee. But when it happened repeatedly, I started to question the ethics of the company.

Anyone pursuing a career in the complex world of sales gets this marketer’s full respect. Sales professionals deal with difficult situations all day long. They often race to meet deadlines and sales goals while being hung up on and cursed at by customers. To be the best at your sales job, give some consideration to the points in this post. Treat your customers how you would want to be treated. A little bit of customer service can go a long way.