Mike Esterday is the CEO of the global sales performance company, Integrity Solutions.
More than half of customers don’t believe companies are in their best interests, according to Salesforce Trends in Customer Trust questionnaire. That doesn’t bode well for satisfaction, net promoter rates or future business.
The more companies invest in automating and digitizing the buying process to improve the customer experience, the clearer it becomes: technology doesn’t solve everything.
However, the Salesforce research points to a way forward: 95% of customers are more likely to be loyal to a company they trust and 93% are more likely to recommend a company they trust. Trust depends on your people, not your systems. The question is: are your employees engaged, equipped and inspired to fulfill this role?
People define your customer experience
While companies often equate customer experience with customer service (after the sale), the experience starts well before the deal closes. Trust comes from employees who are committed and inspired to create more value and deliver differentiating service to their customers every step of the way. This is not the responsibility of one part of the company; it is a mindset that must permeate the entire culture.
You can’t maintain that mindset when people are burned out or detached from the purpose of their work —a huge problem that contributes to today’s historically high quit rates. Still, some companies are striking talent and customer magnets. They have created cultures where people know that what they do makes a difference to customers and the company.
When employees understand how their work affects customers, they become personally invested. This sense of purpose fuels them to create more value for customers. And the more involved they are, the more discretionary effort they will make to ensure that customers remain loyal even when problems or errors arise.
This kind of goal-oriented work is powerful. As Lisa Earle McLeod described in her bestselling book Selling with a noble purpose, salespeople committed to improving the lives of their customers are consistently more successful than quota-oriented salespeople. A Deloitte study about a purposeful culture reinforces the point: when employees feel that they are working for something other than making a profit, their companies are more successful.
Three critical areas to focus on
Sales teams know the double-edged sword of technology. It should make things easier, but many feel overwhelmed, spending less time listening to and understanding customer needs and more time logging data, reciting scripts, and talking about products. However, if they don’t listen, they don’t learn what their customers value.
Salespeople need to refocus on the people-to-people value they add to the relationship. Here are some critical areas to focus on:
• Develop a mindset that encourages two-way conversations. Successful sellers are genuinely curious. They ask good questions to help customers discover their true challenges and needs – and they really listen.
• Develop their questioning self-confidence. If salespeople are hesitant to ask open-ended questions, it can be a matter of not just skill but will, which is often rooted in negative beliefs about their abilities and about selling themselves.
• Define what ‘selling’ means in your organization. By defining selling as discovering and fulfilling needs and creating value for people, you provide a positive roadmap for specific actions, behaviors and objectives at each stage.
• Redefine what “shut down” means. Sales training often emphasizes closing techniques designed to get the customer to say “yes.” This dynamic creates tension and undermines trust. They also imply that the seller can disappear when the sale is completed.
2. Customer Service
“We value you as a customer. Your business is important to us.” These are nice words, but they often don’t translate into the actual experience. This doesn’t mean your people don’t care about their customers, but they may need a clearer process and framework to put those words into action.
Improving customer service in your organization requires a combination of both process and people strategies, including:
• An effective customer service process, allowing people to bring out the best in themselves because it gives them consistency and an anchor to ground them. This is especially important when everyone has to deal with heavy workloads and solve various customer problems.
• Learning and development is about people, not scripts. Dealing effectively with problems starts with having productive conversations, and that looks different for every customer. Teams need the skills and tools to recognize the moment and adapt so they can communicate in a way that connects with customers.
• Develop problem solvers by moving away from a transaction-oriented mentality. Mistakes happen. But skilled, motivated customer service reps can respond in ways that ultimately improve brand perception and customer trust. By asking good questions, thinking critically and listening non-defensively, your employees can engage with customers at a deeper level and get to the root of problems.
• Define what ‘customer-centric’, honesty and integrity mean in your organization and integrate them into your training. Teaching people to be human and to appreciate customer frustration builds a lot of trust and loyalty.
Giving meaning to work is not just a matter for the employee. Managers play a vital role in helping employees find the “why” in what they do. That’s where good coaching comes in. Successful managers:
• Coach people from the perspective of targeting and addressing their impact.
• Being grounded in the employee’s success and personal satisfaction.
• Model, measure and reward behaviors that create an exceptional customer experience.
• Have the confidence, credibility and skills to coach regularly and enable employees to produce the desired results and strengthen a customer-centric culture.
• Four stories of customer impact in team meetings and one-on-one coaching.
The trust difference
In a world dominated by technology, your people remain your key differentiator. PwC’s confidence in US companies questionnaire found that nearly half of consumers have started or made more frequent purchases from a company because they trust it. A third paid a premium for trust.
By understanding customer needs and delivering value based on those needs, your entire organization can work in sync to create a standout experience rooted in trusted, impactful relationships.