As a sales professional, I try to be mindful of how I interact with my customers, prospects, and even friends and acquaintances. I am often contacted by salespeople who are pitching sales enablement tools, outsourced inside salesteams, tradeshows, speaking opportunities, and the like. Because I know how hard it is to work in sales, I try to be mindful of that when I am approached by others, but I also hold them to a very high standard.
For example, if someone reaches out to me with a generic note, or does not address me by my name, I don’t even bother reading their message. Further to that, if it gets to a point where I have engaged with someone and it is clear that they are not listening to me, I will start to give them a piece of my mind. In one case, a sales rep from a company I do business with sent a message saying, “If you are speaking with any of my peers, please let them know you are already speaking with me.” What a terrible way to start a message. It basically says, “I am not interested in the partnership between our brands as much as I am interested in ensuring that I am paid the commission on said partnership.” This came from a very seasoned sales executive, and in that instance, I actually reached out to this individual’s boss – strictly because I felt it behooved them to know how this member of their salesteam was treating his prospects.
All this to say, I pride myself in being what people call “tactfully persistent.” I try to go into every conversation with a real intention of listening and not assuming that I know I have the best answer or solution. When you feel passionate about the product you sell, it’s not easy to do that: you often assume that you have what the customer needs and do not get prepared to be more of a listener than a talker in every conversation. And yet in spite of this, like any other salesperson, I am often told “no.” And to my point about being “tactful” with persistence, I try my best, of course, to help a customer see that the best solution is ours if I feel that way, but I take “no” for an answer otherwise and move on. In fact, I will often try to get a customer to say “no” if they will otherwise say nothing at all, because in the world of selling, a “no” is much better than a “maybe.”
Anyway, you might be wondering why I’ve spent this much time talking about sales philosophy and what makes me tick. In the world of customer service and contact centers, I think there is a real opportunity for brands to be selling. Sometimes this is in a literal sense where a rep can help to sell a good or product, but it’s often the active listening and the collection of data that can help a brand master its customers’ journeys and be proactively prepared as a result. Many businesses do this today and view their contact center as a profit center; others do not and simply view their contact center as a cost center. Indeed, most contact center decision-makers are trying to spend less time on the phone listening to customers and are measuring their call handle time as a means towards achieving that.
I want to talk about two completely different experiences I had lately that motivated me to write this post. The first experience was very negative, and for that reason, I will not mention the name of the brand – in large part because it is a brand I would like to sell my product to, but also because one experience is not representative of the overall body of work for this brand, and, I do not want to tarnish their name like an elite Yelp user is wont to do.
I recently decided to purchase a home in Cape Cod as an investment. With that, I introduced myself to the world of bank financing. Most of the legwork I was able to perform myself. I have some friends who work at LendingTree, and know that it is a fantastic vehicle for finding home financing, so I elected to use them as part of my search process. Overall the experience was quite good. And then one of the lenders called me.
I answered the phone and explained my situation. The rep immediately started asking me for the information that she could use to pull my credit report. At this point, I simply wanted to understand the rates they were advertising. No other lender had insisted on pulling my credit in order to give me a high-level understanding of where they stood; in fact, quite the opposite – they had all spent time listening to me and gathering information that they could use to come up with the most reliable estimate. But this rep insisted on starting my application. I made clear to her several times that I was just gathering information. I informed her that she was the only person pushing me to ding my credit, and that I just wanted a basic guess. She then made a snide remark to me that she did not work on “rough guesses, only real numbers.” I hung up the phone immediately.
After the phone call, I was contacted by one of her peers, both by phone and email. The peer had listened to the call and gathered that I did not get the information I needed. Her peer said as much in his outreach to me, but issued no apology for what was clearly an over-the-top move to try to bully me into an application when I had clearly expressed I was otherwise not interested. Not to mention, many consumers are not even educated on how a hard credit pull can hurt their credit score and make it even harder to obtain a loan. I explained to this individual that I was perturbed by my past interaction, and he said he would run it up the food chain, but wanted to speak with me so he could get me the information I needed. Again – very little empathy, and a whole lot of pushiness to help them meet what I assume was an aggressive quota.
That interaction probably single-handedly made me never want to do business with that brand ever again. I think even in my lifetime if this lender has the best rates to offer me, I will feel like I cannot trust that they really have my back. Perhaps it’s irrational for me to feel this way over a couple of poorly-trained representatives, but this brand has not done much to reach out to me to make my experience better, which makes me feel like they are not really listening or trying to understand how they can improve. Again, whether I am right or wrong to feel this way, that is the reality of how many consumers feel about their interactions with customer service and sales representatives. People act based upon their feelings. If you are not making the customer feel valued, then it should not be a surprise when they do not feel good about you.
With that negative interaction behind us, let’s move on to a better one.
I have had the American Airlines Mastercard via Barclaycard for a little while now, as I am a frequent flyer with American Airlines. They recently made some changes to the perks/benefits of the card I hold, and this came with a moderate price increase. I had forgotten how much I was paying to have this card, and thought that the price increase was a lot greater than it actually was. Moreover, the bulk of the new perks were unappealing to me or items that I already had access to as a frequent flyer. I decided to call in and cancel my card.
When I reached an agent, I explained why I was frustrated and wanted to end our relationship. The representative was happy to help me, but asked me a couple questions, and in listening to my responses, he informed me that I had misunderstood something critical about the change in pricing as well as the benefits. He was not pushy in doing this, but asked me whether or not this would change anything. It did. I decided to stick around. And it helped that the representative was there to listen and understand why I was frustrated, rather than running through a script about why I was making a mistake. The latter would have been a grave selling mistake. Telling someone that they are wrong never works in sales, for the simple reason that people do not like to be told that they are wrong. They like to be shown that they are wrong. The latter is a gentler, less offensive way of clarifying a position. In this instance, it saved a relationship.
I am sure we all have experiences we have loved and hated when it comes to calling customer service. The key takeaway is that service leaders must look at each interaction as an opportunity. The opportunity is gained through active listening and not from reading off a script to try to bully someone into doing something they do not want to do. People want to feel that their feelings and successes are their own, not that somebody else gave it to them. You can only understand what someone wants by listening to what they say and being thoughtful and deliberate about how you reply. I hope to see more brands doing what Barclaycard does well, and less of the pushy sales gimmicks.