Customer Expectations

HeadacheI find too often that new growth initiatives get derailed by the unimportant, at least what appears to be unimportant among my circle of priorities.  Regardless of the industry our customers tend to make things urgent for us and sometimes their emergencies become our emergencies and it’s real easy to get caught up in the whirl wind of panic as the end of the world nears in the minds of our customers.  The perception is always the same; yet in every circumstance somehow it’s entirely your fault and it needs to be fixed now.  Sound familiar?? 

All too often the causes of these emergencies tend to be self-inflicted and could have easily been avoided with the right communication for both you and your customer.  As sales professionals it’s up to us to walk that tight rope and determine what levels of action need to be taken and when.  We want to maintain a strong level of customer service; however we also don’t work for free and want to maintain a high level of productivity while delivering great service.  A lot of this can be handled in the beginning of the process by level setting the customers’ expectations upfront.  You know the old saying “Under Promise and Over Deliver” somehow seems to ring true here.

With that said there are circumstances in every transaction that warrants a little customer responsibility.  This needs to be pointed out in the beginning otherwise you may find yourself on the receiving end of some pretty heated e-mails, phone calls and worst of all lost business.  If the facts of the deal are not communicated effectively upfront; the customer’s expectation of your services could end up being a lot higher than what you are capable of delivering on.  When that happens the happy euphoric world you successfully filled your customers buying experience with really does come to an end.

Here is an example of what I’m talking about:

CarA customer purchases a used automobile that is no longer covered under the factory warranty.  The Business Manager presents different Vehicle Service Contract options that are available for the customer to purchase.  The customer is presented with pricing options and chooses the product that best fits their budget.  They close the deal and the customer is happily on their way to enjoy a newly purchased vehicle.  Six months later in the heat of the summer the air conditioner no longer works and the customer discovers that they are responsible for the entire cost of the repair.  Why?  It turns out that when the customer purchased the vehicle the only product that fit their budget was the basic power train coverage of which the air conditioner was not part of.  Makes perfect sense when you break it down to the bare bones of the situation after all the coverage the customer purchased did not fit the problem.  However this is not how the customer perceives the problem, as a matter of fact the customer feels deceived and wants a new air conditioner stat.  This of course is not only a problem for the customer but a problem for the entire dealership and presents a huge customer service issue.  This particular customer left the dealership with a piece of mind that was not clearly communicated by the business manager.  A simple disclosure and explanation of coverage that fit the customers budget at the time could have ramped up the customers awareness of the risk and responsibility involved in the level of coverage they purchased.  This added communication could have alleviated a lot of the customer’s anger down the road especially when they get presented with a pricey repair order from the service writer. 

Is it possible the customer would never have bought the car to begin with if the Business Manager disclosed what kind of coverage they were really getting for the money?  Maybe or maybe not, the real question to ask is how many potential customers now do you think will be affected by the perception problem this Business Manager created overall?  I would argue quite a bit, probably more than we could possibly measure. 

Here are a few quick tips to keep in mind when managing similar situations:

1: Never Short Cut Your Presentation:  After a while if not careful a sales person can get caught up in a lot of assumptive traps.  If you have been in your role for a while it is easy to assume that the customer is familiar with the lingo, product and process.  What happens is the sales person is either in a hurry and wants to move on to the next deal quickly or wants to satisfy the customer’s impatience by getting them on their way quickly.  What they really end up doing is skipping very important steps along the way and quickly closing the deal.   As redundant as the process may feel on your side of the fence, remember that this may be the first time the customer on the other side may be hearing what you have to say.  So take your time and present your product in its entirety.

2: Always Balance Price with Value:  People don’t buy unless the value of the product exceeds the amount of money they will need to fork over to buy it.  Sometimes you may come across a customer that is so focused on staying within their stated budget that the entire interaction becomes all about price.  You may come to an agreement on price, however if what you’re getting is not laid out correctly the product purchased might not be what the customer is expecting when it counts.  The situation above may have been avoided if the sales person pointed out the limitations and recommended a product that both fit the customer’s budget and their piece of mind.  Sometimes that may require pushing them beyond their budget and if that is the case and the value is there they will buy it.

3: Review the Deal before Closing:  It is always wise to recap the conditions of any pending transaction and point out any holes that may affect the customer down the road.  This may open up a deeper discussion around the customer’s needs and bring the deal back to the negotiating table for added products and services in case the customers real needs were never addressed.  It’s very tempting to finish the close when you’re ready to “sign on the line that is dotted”.  Remember, the best and most successful sales people in today’s economy play more of a consulting role with their customers.  This will help your customer build trust and faith in your expertise.  If they have trust and faith in your expertise they will continue to buy even if problems occur. 

Level setting your customers’ expectation will allow you to hold your customers a little more accountable to the purchase decisions they make.  Problems that occur after the sale are never fun; however a lot of the pain can be mitigated with a few simple habits.

Happy Selling

How I Got Into Sales Part 2: A Lesson In Customer Service

The Interview:

HerbWhen I walked into the dealership for my interview, I was met at the front door by one of the senior sales people.  He seemed mildly interested in me as a potential customer, but I could tell, as he eyed my Dockers and skinny tie, that it was pretty obvious to him that I was not going to be his big sale of the day.  The store was your stereotypical old school Lincoln Mercury dealership.  Its 1960’s style showroom with wood paneled walls housed a few other sales veterans standing at the entrance dressed like they were getting ready to audition for WKRP in Cincinnati. I told the salesman who greeted me that I was there for an interview with the general manager.  He immediately turned around and yelled across the showroom to the two other salesmen sitting at their desks, “He doesn’t count!” and then disappeared into the back office.  I felt awkward, like a lost dog, standing in the middle of the showroom not sure which way was home. 

Finally a friendly face came out and said hello. I told her who I was and she then walked me over to the General Managers office.  I stood at the door as he proceeded to finish his phone conversation or, better yet, his grinding session with a local advertiser for some print ad mistake.   He got up immediately shook my hand and closed the door.  He did not waste a single moment.  He looked me in the eyes and got right into the interview.  He talked about how much he loved the car business and everything that went along with it.  He talked about all kinds of things about the business including his desire and intention to own the dealership one day.  He talked about the thrill of closing a deal and, of course, the financial rewards that can follow.  He assured me that succeeding in this business would be all up to me.  This was exactly the kind of passion I wanted in a job. I kept thinking to myself about how great it would be to get that excited when talking about what I did for a living.  I didn’t have that for anything in my life.  Throughout the interview I didn’t really get to talk very much and thank god I didn’t because this guy was on a roll and I certainly didn’t need to blow another interview for myself.  Despite the chaos of sales people coming in and out looking for his help on deals, we finished the conversation and the deal was done. Yours truly was going to test his metal and learn to sell some cars.

First day as a Sales Consultant: 

MoreSalesIt was a Monday morning, I showed up at the store at 8:15am gearing up for the weekly sales meeting.  I’m sure anyone can relate to this feeling, it was one of those moments in my life where I felt the most vulnerable; uncertain as to how everything would work itself out.  The idea of the auto industry defining who I would become and the path my career would take was so far out of mind I might as well have gone through the day with a blind fold on.  There were two other guys starting with me so at least I was not the only new kid on the block.  I was one of 7 sales people, 6 of which had been in the business so long you would think they were around slinging cars the day the earth cooled. 

We all piled into this tiny conference room around a rectangle table covered in donut dust and half used pink and blue sugar packets.  The room felt as old as the stained and worn out white board on the wall next to the door.  I looked around the table feeling like the odd duck because everyone around the table wore a sport coat except for me.  I had to wear the same outfit I wore 3 days prior in my interview. I had nothing else to wear and couldn’t afford to buy any clothes because I blew all my money buying the $50 1979 Toyota Corolla that drove me to my interview.  8:30am on the nose the GM walked in the room, stood in front of everyone and said “Good morning everyone!” The staff returned the salutation in an unmotivated tone.  He paused for a second and glanced around the room clearly annoyed at the lack of enthusiasm.  He turned and started to write on the board, he wrote in big letters “Customer Service = More Sales“.  He began to tell a story about how he lost 3 potential sales in one day because he was so concerned about the next deal walking through the door that he would lose focus on the deal he had in front of him. He talked about how he was so concerned about the next “up” that he would skip steps in the sales process.  Half way through telling the story he stopped, turned to the door, opened it, stuck his head out, looked both ways and shut the door again. Then he pointed right to me and said in one of those sarcastic locker room tones “Leigh!  What was the best blow job you ever had??”  I was stunned; everyone in the room was looking at me as to how I was going to answer this crazy question.  If you’ve ever seen a horror movie when the camera zooms in on the character and everything behind the character zooms out, that is exactly what it felt like. 

So what did I do?  If you can believe it, I actually took him seriously.  I sat there and thought about it.  I wondered was it her? Oh no, maybe it was her?.  Finally, the GM stopped me mid-contemplation and yelled “The one you’re having right now!!!”  This may sound crazy and some of you may be thinking, wow! How unprofessional and you would be right.  However, that was when I really got it.  Not only did I get it, I got it on day one of my adventure into the world of automotive sales.  You can’t think about a past or a future sale.  The best sale you’ve ever had is always the one that is right in front of you.  Honestly, I don’t think I would have gotten it any other way.

The purpose of that meeting was to get everyone to understand that the customer experience needed to be enhanced and if you are to succeed among your competition it is your responsibility to make that happen.  I walked out of that meeting not knowing how to sell a car yet, but I did know that I would embrace every customer interaction as if they were the only one on earth.  It would never matter how fruitful the next opportunity appeared.  Each customer was the only customer. That level of service resonates with the customer.  It guarantees more success; whether you close the deal or not.  This has proved itself to me time and time again.  This one lesson of service became the cornerstone of my career. Now, I don’t encourage using that analogy in today’s overly sensitive, politically correct world, however the moral of the story speaks volumes as to what kind of sales professional I would be in the years to come.