by Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey, authors of “The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways To Engage and Empower Your People“ and “The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built a Bestseller“
Your marketing people have done a fine job of planning, strategizing, and packaging. They’ve considered the market, the competition, and the delivery systems. They’ve honed the message; dialed in the positioning; and developed the compelling logo, catch phrase, and merchandising materials. What they didn’t do (and it’s a biggie) is ask your salespeople for feedback. And if the sales department’s direct connection to customers is being neglected, that great marketing plan could fall on deaf ears.
Oh, and the same goes for your customer service team.
In some companies, marketing and production have a higher status than sales and customer care. Sales is viewed simply as ‘sales execution,’ and customer care is viewed as ‘complaint resolution.’ Not only is this attitude unfair, it can restrict the flow of valuable information from the consumer to production and marketing.
Far too often companies pigeonhole their sales teams into these specific roles. In doing so, the companies miss out on a great opportunity to improve their customers’ experiences.
Think about it for a minute and you’ll see why. Who are the people who intimately know what’s right and wrong with products and services? Who knows first about the changes in the marketplace, attacks by the competition, and the nuances needed to keep that experience excellent? Who are the pilots of the customer experience? Your sales and customer care people, that’s who!
Specifically, here are the big mistakes too many companies make:
MISTAKE #1: Not soliciting the street smarts of your sales team.
Your products must remain relevant and leading edge in a market filled with alternatives, creative initiatives by your competitors, and constantly changing circumstances on the ground, and no one knows about these shifting conditions and challenges before your sales team.
Salespeople shouldn’t just execute sales. They are your best source of timely tactical and practical feedback. They may not volunteer this feedback, so it’s up to you to draw it out of them and share what they have to say with the marketing team.
MISTAKE #2: Letting complaints stop at the customer service desk.
Your customer care people are in touch with your end users daily. They know more than anyone in your organization about what’s going on with your customer experience. (That being the case, you might want to think of their function as “customer intel” as well as “customer service”!) Only one in a thousand complainers actually takes the time to call and talk with your company about their concerns. The others just walk. But the complainers really want to improve their experience with your products and services — and if no one else ever hears about them, they’re wasting their breath.
Sure, they want resolution, but they also want your production people to hear their concerns. You should want that too — it’s what will keep your reputation positive and your brand relevant. Do your customer care people have a clear channel to your production people? Better yet, do your production people respect their input as extremely valuable? Or do they see it as a threat to their job security coming from a lower level in the company?
MISTAKE #3: Thinking in terms of tiers, not teams.
Problems arise when company cultures dictate that there are separate divisions that are higher or lower than each other. When the salespeople are considered “outside,” the customer care people are in a call center, and everyone else is “inside,” there can be a disconnect.
The other departments have direct access to top management on a daily basis and can easily outnumber sales and customer care. Making sales and customer service people feel isolated and even ‘less than’ not only hurts them, it hurts you. So, be honest, at a C-suite level, do you allow a misguided view of structural status to block sincere and valuable feedback coming from your end user?
Ironically, from a status standpoint, if you really do put the customer on top, you must realize that sales and customer care come next on the totem pole. That’s how you stay relevant, practical, and excellent. Everybody says they want to give exceptional customer experience, but they must be willing to hardwire their companies to get sales and customer feedback to marketing and production. Stay informed and stay relevant!
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey are coauthors of “The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways to Engage and Empower Your People” the companion to the New York Times best-selling business book “The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built a Bestseller“. Houlihan and Harvey started the Barefoot Wine brand in their laundry room in 1985, made it a nationwide bestseller, and successfully sold the brand to E&J Gallo in 2005.