This afternoon, we had a problem with a critical tool that we use. I am currently on the road, running from meeting to meeting, but I had to address the problem, it was impacting our people and work they were doing.
I called customer service, got a very good agent. Unfortunately, the answers she was giving me weren’t satisfactory so I asked if I could speak to a manager. She was pleased to have me do so, but couldn’t transfer me. “We don’t transfer these calls to managers, I have to send a note to a manager and someone will get back to you. But if you can give us several ranges of time, we will try to get back to you during those time frames.”
They had designed a process that enabled them to manage the workflow and priorities in a way that made them most efficient.
The problem was, it made me very inefficient. In this case, the time I had was “right now.” I had a small gap between meetings and I needed to solve the problem. Through the end of the week, I would have difficulty carving out time when I knew I would be available. I was scheduled in meetings, in airport travel, etc. I knew I had some little slots available here and there, but unless we could set a precise time, it was difficult to make sure I could be available without massively changing my calendar.
So while they had designed a process that was very efficient and effective for them, it was unworkable for me–the customer. Based on their customer engagement/experience model, the only way I could get my problem solved was to change my schedule (the time I was spending already was burdensome).
This type of thing is pretty common. It’s not limited to customer service, but I see it in sales, marketing, customer service and other parts of the organization. We design our programs and processes around our efficiency and convenience, not the customers’.
Some simple examples. We have a global business, expecting customers to contact us in a central location, say the West Coast of the US. We put “office hours” at 9-6 PST. But customers on the East Coast may want to talk and even place an order at 9 EST. Or we’re a customer in Paris, so we have to wait until after 6PM Paris time until we can place an order.
Or all our contracts, documentation, and so forth is in English–but we want to address a global market.
Or we only accept payments in USD, not in local currencies.
Or we design our account coverage based on what’s most effective for us, not the way the customer wanted to buy?
(Or we are managers with a global team and we schedule calls during our business day, so the poor people halfway around the world have to get up in the middle of the night.)
Organizations (and individuals) tend to be very self centered, though we may claim we are customer centric. We design things to optimize our efficiency and convenience not the customers’.
If we want to maximize our effectiveness in connecting with customers, what would happen if we designed our customer experiences starting with the customer first? What if we designed the experience to make them most efficient in their ability to communicate and work with us? Then, working backwards, we designed our processes and approaches to be effective and efficient for us. It’s a pretty simple process, it’s called being easy to do business with.
It’s funny, but most of the time, when starting from the outside, working in–starting from the customer perspective, what we design, is actually more effective and more efficient than if we do an inside-out approach.
As an example, some years ago, we were helping a very large organization redesign how they handled strategic accounts. They had teams working at the major locations of each customer, and territory sales people handling smaller offices of these customers (along with the rest of their territories). The process of managing these strategic accounts was very complex and resource intensive. They wanted to find a way to improve the account coverage, but reduce the complexity and expense in their current model.
So we suggested, “Why don’t we engage the customers in these strategic accounts to help us design how they want to be sold to?” The results were profoundly different than what they might have designed from the inside out. Their original design for covering their largest most important customer resulted in a design of roughly 50 full time sales equivalents to cover the account. 3 teams of roughly 10 people each at the major locations, and territory people assigned part time responsibility in the smaller locations.
When we designed it from the customer perspective, we found some interesting things. First, the customer really appreciated being involved. Our client was a strategic vendor, so it was in their best interests to get great sales coverage. Looking at things from their point of view, understanding they had the greatest needs for sales and support, how they made decisions, and other factors, we developed a design with 23 full time sales equivalents–27 fewer people than the inside out design. We had 3 teams of 5 people in the major locations, and a team of 8 inside sales people–split between two locations to cover everything else.
This design mirrored the way the customer bought, made it more efficient and easier for the customer to buy, as well as significantly reducing both the complexity and costs our client had in covering that customer. Within 18 months, the smaller team was able to grow sales at a faster rate than they had ever done before–all because they had a customer driven design of their engagement process. We saw similar results across all their strategic accounts.
It’s important for us to be efficient and effective. It’s more important for our customers to be efficient and effective in their ability to engage us. If we start there, usually the result is far more effective and efficient for both of us.
Did my problem get solved? Yes, it did, I decided not to follow their process. I designed a process that was very efficient for me. All it took was a 2 minute conversation with the executive assistant to the CEO and my problem was solved.
See there’s another thing that always happens–the customer always opts for what makes them more efficient and effective–despite anything we do. So if it’s calling the CEO or finding another vendor, the customer will always be efficient. So it really makes sense to start with what they want to do anyway. It’s really a win-win.
We’ve all gotten the call, the phone rings, it’s a sales person. Somewhere in the first 5 sentences of his pitch, he says, “I can save you more than you are currently spending,” or something similar.
How utterly stupid!
Paraphrasing Ian Brodie, “How can you make that statement until you know what I’m doing and what I’m spending?” I’m a little more sadistic than that. Any sales person calling me with that claim, I immediately say, “That’s awesome, how do I take advantage of the deal?” The sales person gets excited, continues their pitch, I interrupt, “You’ve sold me, don’t talk past the close. But I’m not spending anything on your category of products, so if you are going to honor your commitment, I assume you will be paying me to use your product.” You can probably guess where the conversation goes from here.
But think about it, who would train their sale people to use that approach without first learning more about what the customer is doing, what they are currently using, and a whole lot of other information you need?
Who would train their sales people to start the whole sales process making the single differentiating issue price–more importantly, a guarantee that you will be lower than current pricing?
Why would sales people or their companies set them up to lose from the opening sentences of their first prospecting call?
Or worst, some companies use this tactic as a way to entice the customer into listening and engaging them. They don’t intend to honor that statement, they just want to get their “foot in the door,” getting the prospect’s time and interest, then shifting to what they really wanted to sell in the first place.
Yet we all experience this. Each of us gets any number of unsolicited calls or emails with the same claim. People don’t want to compete on value. They don’t want to understand how they can create value. They don’t want to compete for customer loyalty–because buying solely on price means they will always be willing to shift vendors to get a better deal and lower price.
This is an extreme case, unfortunately, it’s used all too frequently. There are other variants that are just as poor.
What about the customer calling asking for a quote or pricing? We all get these calls, customers call asking, “How much does it cost to buy this?” “What do you charge for that?” With the availability of all sorts of information about products and services on web sites, customers will often call just asking for pricing or quotes.
And what do most sales people do? Anxious to please, thinking the customer is really interested, we respond. We may ask a few nominal questions like, how many, what color, what delivery dates, and so forth–basically the information we need to provide them a price and quote immediately. We skip our entire sales process, going to the very end, thinking that if we provide the pricing, we can then get the order–even though we don’t even know if we are dealing with a qualified customer.
We may be eager enough, we immediately enter the opportunity into our pipelines, anticipating a quick sale.
But we’re missing some important information, information critical to proposing a business justified solution that wins the business. We’re missing things like:
What are they trying to achieve and why?
What’s their sense of urgency? Why are they calling about solutions now? Are they really looking to do something or are they just looking for a second/third quote, or pricing for budgetary purposes?
What is the problem they are trying to solve? What caused them to be interested in our potential solution? What alternatives are they considering?
Who’s involved in buying, what are their roles, how will they make a decision? How will they get funding from their management and approval to move forward with implementing a solution?
Is the solution they are asking for the right solution for what they are trying to achieve? Should we be suggesting a better solution?
And the list of information we need before we can tell them “how much it will cost,” goes on.
All we have to do is look at our sales process. It gives us the clues of all the things we need to know, all the things we should be doing to align with the customer’s buying process, guiding them through the process in a manner that maximizes our ability to win. But too often, anxious to please, we respond. We provide a quote, we provide pricing–or at least a range.
When a customer calls, asking the price (at least for complex B2B solutions), the only reasonable response is, “It depends…..,” quickly followed by, “May I ask you a few questions about what you are trying to do, so that I can prepare a response that best enables you to achieve your goals?”
We may even consider another alternative. The price is really not the most important thing to the customer. The results the solution produces, expressed in business justified and financial terms is really the most relevant discussion.
So when the phone rings and a customer asks, “What is your price for this……?” How are you going to respond?
Sales people are obsessed with products. We know every feature, function, feed, and speed. We know the most nuanced details of the product and how it’s used.
We know the competitors, comparing each thing the competitor does with what we do—”The competitor’s only comes in black, we offer four colors…….
We have endless analyses, brochures, case studies and testimonials about the superiority of our products. We have demos, benchmarks, and other tools that prove the superiority of our products.
We can spew endless features, advantages, and benefits. We are prepared to pitch anything about the product at a moment’s noticed–anxiously jumping at every opportunity to get in front of a customer with the product.
We may wrap fancy words around our products, calling them solutions. But too often it’s a thin veneer–we really focus on the products.
But all of this doesn’t make a difference to the customer. They simply don’t care.
Don’t get me wrong, having great products is important. But they aren’t what causes you to win. They are simply table stakes. They enable us to be considered, to be on a short list, with several alternatives.
But by the time you have been shortlisted with a few other alternatives, the customer has determined each alternative will meet their objectives. Any of the solutions under consideration will solve their problem. So if we’ve competed on a product feature, function, feeds, and speeds–the only way we can differentiate ourselves to an indifferent customer is through pricing.
So if it’s not our products, what causes us to win?
It’s us–sales professionals. It’s how we engage the customer in thinking about their business. It’s the understanding we have of their business, their goals–business and personal. It’s the insight on new opportunities. It’s showing them better ways achieve their goals.
It goes beyond painting a bright picture of the future and getting them hot and lathered to change. It’s helping them organize themselves to solve the problem and make a change. It’s helping them organize themselves to buy. Aligning diverse agendas, priorities and interests within their organization. It’s helping them build the case to gain management approval and support t0 invest in the change the buying team wants to make. It’s making sure they are successful and achieve what they had hoped to achieve in the purchase.
Eventually the product comes into play–but later in the process. The product is a part of what the customer needs to do to achieve their goals, but it isn’t what causes them to buy.
It’s amazing how many of us–not just in sales–have all this wrong. We focus on what we do, the products and solutions we build. We know little about the customer and their problems. We know little about the dynamics of how things get done within organizations. We go through endless product training programs, we ask for tools to help us tell the customer about the products. We spend very little time learning about what customers care about and how we can help them.
We need great products to be invited to play. But we win with all the other stuff that’s more important to the customer and what they want to achieve.
Do you know how to help the customer do this? Can you talk to the customer about their customers, markets, business, strategies and goals? Can you show them ways they can improve their performance and the results they can produce. Can you help them figure out how to buy? Can you continue through the buying process to help them be successful?
It’s these things that drive our ability to win, grow our relationships and reputations, and continue to win.
We’ve all experienced it, our mobile phone rings, upon answering all we hear is static. We move to another location — in pursuit of the ever elusive bars, usually shouting something like, “Can you hear me now?”
We struggle to hear, we redial several times because the call was dropped. Those around us go through the same thing. For many of us, the day of the crystal clear call, the call that always got through on the first dial, the call that was never dropped are distant memories. We complain, yet we accept it–this must be the price we pay to have this technology.
It’s not limited to mobile phone calls. Finicky cable connections, temperamental Wi-Fi, slow responding apps. We’re constantly subjected to cloud based tools that don’t quite work. Whether it’s A/B testing, prototyping, lean development, we seem to be the victims of declining qualities of service in so many tools. Some suppliers have adopted a policy of having their products constantly in “Beta” as if that were a reasonable rationale for poor quality.
Those of you in the telecommunications segment–at least the old timers will immediately recognize the term, QoS–Quality of Service. In the old days of land lines, telecommunications providers were very concerned about QoS. Broadly, that meant, crystal clear calls, connected 100% of the time and never dropped. When that happened, alarms rang in the control centers of the carriers. People were measured on QoS, contracts were based on QoS. It was important to both the Telcos and customers. Anything short of a perfect experience was considered unacceptable by all.
Over time, that’s eroded. Our expectations have dropped dramatically, we are happy, even ecstatic with service that would have been unacceptable 10 years ago—and I’m not just talking about telephone/mobile service, I’m talking about virtually everything we encounter.
It’s not limited to a particular vendor, we see it all the time. Look at all the major social apps: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google +, and others A feature we were using, suddenly disappears, the user interface suddenly changes, a program we had become dependent on suddenly disappears. Performance degrades.
We’re deluged with new offers of products–all Minimum Viable Products. Product testing is done on users, with users debugging faulty code. Many in the App world see apps as basically temporary–we use an App until we find another, then we use that, then we use another. So why invest in quality, let’s just invest in flashy functions so we can launch a hot product and let our users find the problems.
While we talk a lot about Customer Experience, I seldom hear the concept of Quality of Service.
It’s not just a problem with the developers of these tools or Apps, it’s a problem we create–we think this new environment of everything working–kind of sort of–is what we should expect. We settle for QoS that 10 years ago would have been unacceptable.
But, this article is not about Apps or Technology.
Really, what we settle for in QoS in Apps and Technology, is a reflection of what we settle for in virtually everything else. We have lowered our standards or expectations in virtually everything.
Deep enduring relationships are often displaced by transitory virtual relationships.
Taking the time to understand, diagnose, and solve, is replaced by force fit solutions, half hearted efforts.
Investing in people, training, coaching and developing them–looking for long term employees is displaced by an attitude of the “disposable employee.” We ramp people up and down like we do parts inventories.
Likewise, for individuals, the commitment to the job/company is only as long as the next better offer comes along. We leap from position to position, never mastering one, never proving ourselves in anything, but bolstering our resumes and padding our salaries. We are committed to ourselves, not our teams, organizations, or communities.
And our governments……… Well, I won’t get into that.
Quality in everything is displaced by quantity/volume/velocity.
We have lowered our expectations of everything and everyone–including our own performances.
QoS is important–not for telecommunications, not for Apps and Technology, but for how we engage each other, how we live our lives, how we build our organizations, and communities.