Thursday, 29 January 2015

Why should I do business with you?

Every salesperson should be able to answer this question on demand.

Consider for a moment how you would respond if a potential customer asked this question of you.

Most salespeople answer this question directly by giving the customer what they perceive to be strong reasons to do business with their company.  The mistake many people make is that they feel they need to provide an exhaustive list to convince the customer.

Take a look at the example below:

...Because we offer exceptional, award winning customer service with phone lines open from 7am to 7pm.  We have 20 years experience in this market and we also have a price match guarantee.  You will find our back up service second to none and we will provide you with a dedicated Account Manager...

This response sounds impressive in terms of quality (if true) but the salesperson has fallen into the trap of reeling off a list of reasons without knowing if any of these factors are important to the customer.

You could list 20 fantastic points or USP's about your business yet still fail to hit the right button from the customer's perspective.

To avoid the list trap there is a simple 4 step process to follow:

  1. Answer the question by telling the customer that there are a number of reasons why they should do business with your company.
  2. Select one (or maximum two) of the most impressive areas of your business and present these to your customer (tailor these to the customer where possible).
  3. Tell the customer you are interested in understanding what's vital from their perspective.
  4. Finally, ask the customer what are the most important factors that will influence their final decision.
    Customer - I have 3 companies on the shortlist, one of which is yours.  So tell me what's special about your company and why I should go with you.
    Salesperson - There are a number of reasons why you should use (our company) such as the fact that we manufacturer our entire range here in the UK and offer a 5 year guarantee on all products.  However I am more interested in finding out what the priorities are for you.  So what are the most important factors you will consider when making your final decision?
    The beauty of this type of response is that it directly answers the customer's question / challenge without boring them with a long list.
    It also throws the spotlight back on the customer and invites them to open up on their key areas of importance, thus demonstrating genuine interest in the customer.  The customer's response to this question is gold dust for the professional salesperson.  If you gain an understanding of what the customer wants and also what's important to them you are in a fantastic position to successfully present your proposition.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Handling Sales Objections

A sales objection is just that, an objection, not a complete rejection. 

Most sales people understand this principle and will view an objection as an opportunity to re-engage the customer.

In telesales however the window of opportunity is very small.  What you say and how you say it in the few short seconds after the customer's objection will dictate success or failure for the entire call.

A strong response has the power to impress the customer and open his / her mind.  A weak response will almost certainly condemn the call to failure and make the task of re-engagement on future calls much tougher.

The use of questions

 Many people respond to objections with questions.  This can have some degree of success but often ends up leading the call into a dead end as seen in the examples below:

Customer - We have no requirements at the moment...

 Sales Person - Would it be ok to keep you on our database and contact you again in a few months to see if things have changed?

 Customer - That's fine.


Customer - We are just looking at gathering information at this stage, we will come back to you if we are interested...

 Sales Person - ok, is there anything I can help with right now?

 Customer - No thanks.

The responses above are polite, unobtrusive and therefore unlikely to rile the potential customer but crucially they fail to overcome or uncover the objection.  The reason for this failure is that the salesperson has not given the customer any reason to think differently.  This is why questions alone often prove unsuccessful in handling objections.   


Negative Re-enforcement Questions

 These questions must be avoided when responding to any objection.  They invite the customer to re-enforce their negative position.  Take a look at the examples below:

 Customer - We have no requirements at the moment...

 Sales Person - Ok, so you don't have any needs right now...

 Customer - No.

 Customer - The project is still on hold...

 Sales Person - So this has not begun yet...

 Customer - Well clearly not.

 These examples look and sound pathetic but are surprisingly common.  When unsure of how to respond the nervous salesperson has an almost inherent impulse to repeat what the customer has just said, it is the voice betraying the brain and telling the customer that she / he has not a clue what to say next.  The result, the call ends with the customer thinking the salesperson is something of a dimwit.


The value of the strong statement

 The sales objection should be seen as a challenge.  Think of it as the customer throwing down the gauntlet to you.  To meet this challenge you must demonstrate 3 things: 

  • That you understand their objection.
  • That you are confident you can overcome their objection.
  • That you can provide the customer with a credible reason to re-consider.
    A simple way to achieve all 3 is to make a point of responding to the objection with a strong statement first before posing questions.  Furthermore ensure the statement directly addresses the customer's comments.
    Responding to the objection with a strong statement shows the customer that you are not a pushover and that you have the confidence to deal with whatever they throw at you.  Crucially a direct statement also shows your customer that you have listened and understood their position.
    Take a look at the strong responses below.  Notice how the salesperson uses their statement to directly address the customer's objection.  Also see how the phrases "I am keen..." & "I am confident..." work particularly well:
    Customer - We have an existing supplier and we are very happy with them...
     Sales Person - I am confident that we can certainly match and exceed the quality you currently receive and I would welcome the opportunity to show you how we could do this...
    Customer - We have no requirements at the moment...
    Sales Person - I Understand.  I am keen to look at how we may be able to help with projects you have coming up throughout the next 12 months...
    Customer - We have never used your company before....
     Sales Person - That is exactly why I am calling.  I am keen to find out how I can establish my company on your preferred supplier list...
    4 things you can do right now
  • Never use negative re-enforcement questions.
  • Draw up a list of the most common objections you encounter then make a point of writing a strong response statement for each one.  Consider practicing these response statements with a colleague before making live sales calls. 
  • Consider greater use of the phrases "I am keen..." & "I am confident..." when creating your response statements.
  • Remember to take one step at a time.  The objective at this point is not to close the sale, that comes later.  Success at this stage is simply showing the customer that there is value in continuing a conversation with you.

Monday, 17 March 2014

The Aspirational Telesales Introduction

The aspirational introduction is so called because it tells the customer exactly where you aspire to be.
In many ways this is the most honest of all telephone sales introductions and is based on 2 simple steps:
- Tell the customer exactly where you aspire to be.
- Ask for their assistance / advice in how to get there.
Furniture sales example
Salesperson - "I would like to get to the point where we become your first port of call for all office refurbishment projects.  What do I need to do to get my company in that position?"
The beauty of the approach is that:
  • It's direct and your customer is left in no doubt about the reason for your call.
  • It shows you are keen to do business.
  • It shows you have a clear sales focus.
  • It shows your customer that you are not afraid of telephone selling.
  • It's thought provoking.
  • It shows that your priority is identifying what's important for the customer.
  • You avoid bombarding the customer with statements about your business which they have no interest in listening to.
    This approach is unlikely to work as an opening line on a cold call.  It requests co-operation from the customer so they are unlikely to give this unless you have developed some form of rapport or have previously impressed them.  The approach can however be very successful in the following scenarios:
    Previous customer
    - Bought from your business in the past but no recent orders.
    New customer
    - Two or more previous sales calls without making headway. 
    Existing customer
    - Looking to up sell / promote additional lines.
    Lost customer
    - Lost out on a recent tender - looking for future success.
    Some examples from various business sectors:
    "My ultimate aim is to become your preferred broker for pension business.  What is the first thing I need to do to get the ball rolling?"
    "Every time you have a requirement for plant hire I would like our company to be at the forefront of your thinking, so what do we need to do to make that happen?"
    "I would like to get to a position where we become your preferred supplier for all you stationary and printing requirements.  What do you need from me to help us reach that point?"
    If you would like guidance on how this approach could be adapted for your telephone sales calls email me directly

Silent Expectations & Customer Experience

Every service professional is aware of the importance of good customer service.  We all know that failing to deliver good customer service can result in a loss of customers. 

What is often missed is that you can deliver exactly what the customer requests yet still lose their long term custom by failing to understand and meet their silent expectations.

The service industry is full of examples where the customer is provided with exactly what he / she requests yet their overall customer experience is well below standard. 
Consider my basic fast food example below:

I recently visited a newly opened fish and chip shop in my local area.  I walked into the shop and the man serving did not say a word as I approached the counter.  He did not ask what I wanted instead simply raised his head slightly as a signal that he was ready for me to speak.  I asked for a bag of chips and was deliberate in my use of "please".  The man behind the counter remained silent, filled a bag with chips and wrapped them promptly.  His only verbal noise throughout the entire transaction was to say "£1.60" no please or thank you.  I handed him £5 he placed the change on the counter, did not say a word, did not look at me and raised his head again towards the next customer. 

In this example I received the product I asked for, efficiently wrapped by the server so by definition I received customer service.  By contrast the customer experience was very poor. 

This failure was nothing to do with the product (the chips were actually quite pleasant!) it was because the service provider failed to deliver on almost every one of my silent expectations i.e.

  • No greeting.
  • No warmth or rapport.
  • No verbal interaction whatsoever.
  • No willingness or interest in delivering anything other than what is asked for.
  • No offer of basic condiments i.e. salt and vinegar.
  • No option for having the food open or wrapped.
  • No attempt to up sell i.e. drinks.
  • No basic manners i.e. please or thank you.
  • No attempt to hand the change back to the customer.
  • No closing thank you or appreciation for custom.
  • No eye contact.
  • No polite parting comments / goodbye.
    The end result is a customer lost despite that customer being entirely satisfied with the product!
    The lesson to learn is that no matter how brief or inexpensive the customer transaction it is simply not enough just to deliver what the customer wants.  To deliver an exceptional customer experience we must tap into and deliver on their silent expectations - as well as delivering good service / products.
    Silent expectations are a challenge because in most cases they remain just that - silent.  The customer does not outline their expectations at the start of the interaction and more worryingly they often do not tell us if we have failed to deliver on these.  They simply walk away and never return.
    Simple tips
    If you are responsible for assessing the quality of calls within your team / company take time to think about your customer's silent expectations and if possible brainstorm a list of these with some colleagues.
    Now take a look at your internal call assessment sheets / procedures.  Do your call assessments address your customer's silent expectations?  If not (and most don't) then consider changing this.
    The first change you can make is to add a section which looks at the customer's closing comments.  The customer's comments at the very end of the telephone conversation are tremendously revealing and provide an instinctive, genuine and accurate reflection of their experience.  These customer comments are gold dust for the service professional. 
    Internal assessors of telephone quality are often obsessed with making sure staff say exactly the right thing at the end of a call (Thank you for calling...Is there anything else I can help you with...etc) yet they hardly ever focus on the customer's final remarks.
    On your next call assessment, take time to listen carefully and note the customer's exact closing comments.  If the customer has just had a very good experience this will almost certainly be reflected in their closing words. 
    If you would like advice on what you should be looking for or how to amend your call assessment sheets email me directly

Monday, 13 February 2012

Offering Apologies

The value of an effective and sincere apology cannot be overstated.  Get the apology right and you go a long way towards easing the frustration of a dissatisfied customer.  Get the apology wrong and you add fuel to the fire of their frustration.

When dealing with a complaint or an expression of dissatisfaction many service providers seem reluctant to offer an apology.  The main reason for this reluctance appears to be a fear that by offering an apology they are in some way accepting / admitting liability.

The Collins dictionary defines an apology as:
An expression of regret or contrition for a fault or failing.

There is no direct reference in this definition to guilt or liability.  An apology does not need to be a grovelling admission of guilt but does need to convey sincerity and an acceptance of responsibility. 

When an apology is not an apology
Examples of ineffective or counterproductive apologies can generally be grouped into 2 main categories:

Ø  Abdication of responsibility
Ø  The reluctant apology

The abdication of responsibility.
This attempt at an apology often includes the words IF or ANY.   Typically you will hear these examples at a railway station when a tannoy announcement informs you that your train has been cancelled:

- "We apologise if you have been inconvenienced..."

- "We apologise for any inconvenience caused..."

These are lazy examples of scripted, corporate apologies.  They show no willingness to understand the customer's position and take no responsibility for the inconvenience their own actions have caused.

The reluctant apology
There is something of a teenage strop about these apology attempts and the most common example is:

- "I am sorry you feel that way..."

The message this actually conveys to the customer is that you are not sorry at all, that the customer has the problem and they are stupid for feeling that way.

Tips on offering effective customer apologies:

The first thing to recognise is that it is perfectly possible to offer an apology which takes responsibility without accepting liability. 

When offering a genuine apology consider substituting the word "apologise" with "sorry".

Consider replacing "We" with "I".

Rather than focusing on the emotion of an apology i.e. "sorry you feel that way..." instead focus on what has actually happened and what can now be done to help.  Employing this approach will not only ensure the apology is genuine but also allows us to lead the customer on to the options, solutions or actions available to resolve the issue.  e.g.

- I am sorry this has happened, let's see what I can do to resolve this for you...
- I am sorry about this, I will investigate this right away and call you back within 15 minutes.
- I am sorry this has occurred, I suggest the best course of action from here is...

The professional service provider views an apology as an opportunity to defuse the customer's frustrations not as an invitation to add to them.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Dealing with deadlock situations

Anybody who has worked in or managed a customer service team will have experienced a deadlock situation.

This is where a customer is demanding something which you are simple unable to deliver.

Poorly trained customer facing staff (or those who have the wrong instincts for customer service) often respond very badly to these requests with a blunt sounding statement which tells the customer what they are unable to do e.g.

I want to speak to the manager!
My manager does not take calls.

I want compensation!
We can't give compensation.

What is your name?
We are not allowed to give out names here, it is company policy.
Telling a customer what you can't do for them is never acceptable as a first response.

More importantly this type of blunt reaction makes this situation even worse.  The customer not only has the issue they originally called about but they are now having to do battle with the attitude of the customer service rep as well.

Even customer service staff who genuinely want to help customers can sometimes respond in the wrong way.  We usually see that the initial response to a deadlock request is pretty good but the approach falls down when the customer continues to demand the impossible. E.g.
Customer - I want to speak to your manager!
My manager is not available at present but if you give me some details I may be able to help you.
Customer - No I want to speak to your manager.
Well I have just told you that he is not here.

Notice how in the initial response the member of staff offered to help the customer as an alternative.  This offer of help was totally missing in the blunt, second response.  This misguided approach is not uncommon within telephone service teams.

The broken record technique
This is a simple technique to avoid the mistakes outlined above and as the name suggests it involves repeating our position to the customer.

There are 2 critical factors:
First, you must avoid repeating what can't be done alone and instead ensure you also repeat the offer of an alternative solution.

Secondly employ the phrase "As I mentioned" in your response.

This phrase is incredibly powerful and assertive. 

See how these 2 factors are employed in the following exchanges:

Customer - I need this for delivery tomorrow.
- I am sorry, I won't be able to deliver this for you tomorrow but I can have this with you on Thursday.
Customer - That's not good enough, I want this tomorrow!
- Mr Anderson, as I mention I am unable to get this to you for tomorrow but I can definitely have this for you on Thursday and if it helps I will make this the first drop.

Customer - I want to speak to your manager!
Mr Joyce, my manager is unavailable, please let me take some details and I will see what I can do to help.
No, I want the manager.
Mr Joyce as I mentioned, the manager is not available at the moment but I would like the opportunity to help you. Alternatively I can take a message and ask her to call you back when she returns later this afternoon.

If the customer continues to demand the impossible then we go to the next stage which involves additional reassurance and drawing the call to a close.  See the article on Additional Reassurance.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Business retention.

TCTC have seen an increase in demand for training on telephone business retention.  Most typically this is where customers are considering cancelling their policy / subscription or taking their money elsewhere.

When faced with these situations it is essential to remain calm, not to appear annoyed or defensive and to treat the request with respect and professionalism.

When a customer is calling to cancel they are often focussed on that objective alone.  To be successful in retaining business we must first change the customer's mindset.

2 important tips for successful business retention:

- Plant the seed for retention in the mind of the customer very early in the conversation.

- Create a thought provoking reason for the customer to consider retaining their business.

The seed for retention
When responding to a request to cancel or terminate business we often make the mistake of fully explaining the cancelation procedure without even considering alternative options which may help the customer.

The customer of course has every right to terminate and your approach must not block this but simply outlining the cancellation process alone will result in an almost certain loss of business. 

Failure to make the customer aware of all the options open to them is a failure to deliver good customer service.

In most cases there are alternatives.  For this reason reference to options (or similar) in the early part of the call will help plant the idea of retention.

Take a look at the following 2 financial service examples and consider the differences in their approach:

Example 1
Customer - I am thinking of redeeming the funds in my ISA, can you tell me how I can do this please?

- Certainly, you can do this over the phone today or you can put this in writing.  Once we have your instructions it should take a maximum of 5 working days to have the funds sent to you.

Example 2
Customer - I would like to sell my ISA investment please.

- Yes of course, I can help you with that. I will take you through the redemption procedures and also explain some of the other options you have.

The key difference between these 2 examples is the effect on the mindset of the customer.  The first example answers the customer's question directly but almost invites them to proceed with the cancellation.  In the second example the advisor is equally helpful but crucially, opens the customer's mind to the idea that there are other options for consideration. 

Thought provoking reasons for retention.
We need to create a relevant, thought provoking reason for the customer to consider retaining business.

These reasons could include:
- The alternatives to full cancellation e.g. retaining part of your investment / policy
- An outline of the consequences of cancelling i.e. the "what if" scenario.
- An explanation of benefits which the customer will no longer enjoy.
- Highlighting additional benefits associated with a product / service which the customer may not have previously been aware of.

A common error at this stage is to use negative re-enforcements questions / phrases which make the customer feel pressured and therefore invite them to respond in a negative way. 
"Would you be interested in hearing more about other offers we have?

To successfully engage the customer in the mindset of retention we need to identify what is important to them and obtaining the reason for cancelation is the critical starting point.

To see how this works let's return to our ISA example:

Agent - May I ask the reason for wanting to sell your investment?

Customer - I am going to use part of the funds to assist with a house refurbishment.

Agent - ...You mentioned that you are intending to use part of the funds, were you aware that you do not have to sell the complete holding?  You have the option if you wish to withdraw part of your holding and leave the remaining invested in the fund...

Customer - No I was not aware of that and it may in fact be something to consider...

In this example the agent has not asked the customer if they would be interested in hearing about other options.  She has instead taken the lead and subtly provided the customer with a relevant reason to consider retaining part of their investment.

As a result the customer's mindset is now far more open to alternative ideas / suggestions on some form of retention.

For an example of how these retention principles worked successfully on an extended warranty for kitchen appliances read the following article: