You only have one chance to make a first impression; start before a prospect becomes a customer because it is very difficult for a company to hit the “first impression undo button.” While it should be very easy to make a great first impression it happens much too infrequently.
My Personnel Journey
I was the Vice President of Service for an analytical instruments company. Our products were very specialized and sold to people who more often than not had at least a PhD in Physics, Materials, or some other really technical field. These smart people did not want to be sold to, they wanted their sales rep to treat them with respect, provide relevant technical information about our products and services, and learn what they were trying to accomplish. Only when our reps reached that stage of customer insight did these people want to receive a quote for a combination of products and services which would help them accomplish their mission at the best cost (not lowest – best).
When our products were delivered to our “new” customers, we sent an engineer to the customer’s lab to install the equipment and train the new users. It was at this point, where we first started detecting customer problems. These issues frequently got escalated to me and my job was to find out how our customer had expectations that differed from our published information and then come up with a mutually agreeable solution that did not kill this budding partnership.
As I looked back over these all to frequent occurrence I soon discovered that two of our reps were causing a large majority of the problems. Working with our Sales and Marketing Vice Presidents, we came up with a training program for all our sales reps making quite clear the capabilities, options and outputs of our range of products. Within six months of the first training class, we started to notice a significant drop in pushback at installation. At that time, I knew I was on to something. These two VP’s and I starting meeting to expand the sales training program to an onboarding program that my department would use with each new customer. And we did our design based on an excerpt from a new baby website.
This table compares a number of steps of a new baby at home process with how we wanted to treat our new customers:
We eventually created a group of checklists that were unique to our company and market area. The Sales part was presented to the sales team at a National Sales Meeting. The Service part had different information for each of the common touchpoints; scheduling, installation, training, technical support, contracts sales, and ordering parts and consumable items. We worked very closely with the VP Marketing because she was responsible for messaging (trade shows, web site, advertising, special promotions, etc.). We took great pains to make sure our teams were very familiar with the company messages, what they meant to customers, and, most importantly, how to act when in contact with the customers to consistently represent our corporate brand message. We (I) then had to sell these checklists to my managers and help get all our employees trained. We initiated low frequency, high level telephone calls from a company executive to each new customer at pre-defined stages throughout the whole customer relationship. And we started a series of transaction surveys to identify problems as soon as they happened so we could not only fix the customer but also update training to prevent a re-occurrence.
The Results of the Journey
Here is a graphic showing the stages of the customer journey that we decided were critical:
You can follow the same process and most probably come up with a slightly different answer than we did but that is OK – it is highly unlikely that you will be able to satisfy all customers, markets and situations with one set of outputs.
Without going into great detail we quickly began enjoyed the benefits of our Sales and Services training and alignment:
- Our surveys show we had indeed created happy and loyal customers
- Our service contract revenue grew because the customers had confidence that we would do what we contracted to do
- Our Sales reps were happy because they had more reference accounts
- Our Service people were happy because they didn’t have to put out “home-made” fires.
- I was ecstatic because I didn’t have to deal with all these disappointed customers
- Our CFO was happy because our warranty costs dropped and our selling costs also dropped because we were enjoying more repeat business
- And finally, our customers were super happy because they could use the equipment for what they wanted without the hassles of calling support and either rushing to solve a problem or having to deliver some bad news to her boss – either about what was purchased or potential project delays due to who knows what.
We eventually developed a series of training courses, checklists, and customer surveys to ensure that things were going well during the time our customers were using our products. And we were able to increase our referrals and retention while improving our organization’s overall morale.