A friend who is an IT director told me that his company recently purchased over $2.5 million of new computer servers. This was a fairly large investment for his company. In fact, the vendor was selected after six long months of intensive evaluations. The company started with a list of 12 vendors, narrowed it down to 3, and finally selected the winning vendor. A key factor for selection was the vendor’s stated intention to develop a close, long-term relationship with my friend’s company. They told him that his company was to be a “strategic partner”. They wanted to use them as a showcase client.
During the sales process, the vendor’s desire to maintain a close relationship seemed very real. The sales rep paraded several members of the local management team by the company. Each request for information was responded to promptly. Almost every day someone from the vendor contacted my friend.
After the contract was signed, however, the relationship changed quickly. My friend did not get a call for weeks — not even a confirmation of the order. Three weeks after the order was placed the computer equipment arrived at their office, but still no call. Then a field service engineer arrived to do the installation. None of the local managers ever called back. Even the sales rep became unresponsive.
Despite going through the typical buyer’s remorse after signing the order, my friend was ignored. His first experience as a customer, obviously, was not positive. As my friend complained, “If they ignore me this soon after the sale, what will it take to get their attention a year from now?” It probably will take that computer vendor a long time to recover from this initial impression. Unfortunately, my friend’s experience is not rare.
Few companies have in place a “new customer process”.
Even when a new customer process has been defined, it
usually is not automated. It depends upon the organizational
skills of individual employees. As staffs change and
procedures are forgotten, written processes are not followed
consistently. Things simply fall through the cracks.
This is not the way to grow your business. Superior sales
skills and superior products may help you win new
customers. Superior customer service and superior
relationship building can help you retain and grow these
Most customers do not go to competitors because the competitor has a better product or price. In The Customer Driven Company—Moving from Talk to Action Richard C. Whiteley studied over 3,000 business units. He discovered that the leading cause of customers moving to competitors is rude service. The second leading cause was lack of attention. Getting lower prices or better products from a competitor is further down the list. Customers simply want more respect, service, and attention from their vendors.
Giving better service and attention should start from the day the customer places his first order with you. To do this effectively, you should define a “new customer process”. Let’s take the situation that my friend described above. If you were the vendor, what would you do after you just signed up my friend’s company as a new customer? Here are a few suggestions.
Announce each new customer: When a new customer is
acquired, communicate the news to everyone in your office
via email. Let them know who the customer is. Include a
description of their business and the products they bought.
You want to avoid calls that start with “…and who did you say
you are?” This email message also is not a bad time to
congratulate the sales team for making the sale.
Send an executive thank-you: Send each key contact at the new customer a personalized “thank-you for the order” letter. While this might seem superficial, you would be amazed at the effect this simple courtesy has on a new customer.
Give some management attention: Create a task in your CRM for a senior manager to call a senior manager at the customer. Thank them for their business and open up a line of communication. Establishing rapport now pays dividends later should a problem arises or new opportunities come up.
Confirm your commitments: Have the customer service manager call the customer and confirm commitments, such as the delivery date. This initial call is not a bad time to cross-sell other services that the customer may be interested in.
Grease the administrative wheels: Create a task in your CRM for your accounts receivable supervisor to call the customer’s accounts payable contact to discuss payment terms, billing procedures, and such. It is best to do this now before questions with bills arise later.
Welcome them to the family: Subscribe each contact to your customer newsletter. Send information about your users’ group and how to join. Send a list of local customers with whom the customer can “network”.
Start the implementation smoothly: Send the customer training schedules, user guides, and other materials that may be helpful to get them started. They just signed the contract and are anxious to check out their new purchase. Keep their enthusiasm high.
Develop a customer profile: Develop a complete profile on the customer. Include in this profile their industry codes, products purchased, number of employees, all management contacts (even executives you may not have met), key project objectives, the company’s Web site, and other information. This profile not only helps to market to the customer in the future, but also gets information out of the salesperson’s head onto media that can be shared with the rest of your customer service team. Perhaps hold off on paying the commission to the rep until this profile is completed. Most customers are impressed when everyone in your company is familiar with them. Don’t let your customers be strangers.
Get customer feedback: Within two weeks of closing the sale, someone in your customer service department should survey the customer. Find out the real reasons they bought. These answers are much more reliable than what the customer tells the sales rep and can prove to be valuable for future marketing and product development projects. Use responses to customer satisfaction questions as a baseline for future surveys. Share survey statistics with everyone in your company. Most importantly, solicit both positive and negative feedback. If the customer is annoyed or dissatisfied with something, make sure that management follows up immediately and some action is taken to resolve any problems. A rotten apple does not get better over time, and it can affect other apples in the basket.
You probably can think of other actions that should be done for new customers. The most important point, however, is to follow the defined new customer process consistently. Performing well for one special customer and not for another is no way to grow your customer base. Every customer needs to feel special. The only way to use any business process consistently is to automate it. Use process automation tools within a CRM system such as salesforce.com workflow to automatically schedule phone calls and meetings, send alert email messages, and trigger other events. Let nothing fall through the cracks.
With just a little more attention spent at the beginning of the relationship, you can help to ensure that your customers come back to you for more sales in the years to come.