How to create value and sales through service

20th Jul 2009
How to equip your service people with the skills to create real customer and sales value at every customer touch point; every time.
A recent survey of senior managers found that a time of economic strain, more than 80% of companies are still firmly focused on holding onto existing clients than actively going after new business. No surprise there, perhaps. for many organisations, their ‘retention through service’ strategy is fundamentally flawed as it is not feeding through to clients. 
By far the most common source of frustration with suppliers – and thus the most likely reason for customers to switch – was poor customer service, cited by 39% of respondents, followed by lack of understanding of my business (24%) and lack of responsiveness (21%). Get this right, however, and the benefits are substantial as more than 90% of respondents confirmed that, as clients, they would buy more from a supplier as a direct result of receiving high quality service beyond their expectations.
Easy to say, much harder to achieve. This requires the organisation to put sales at the heart of the business – to be a commercial philosophy rather than a department. If vendors of any product or service are to go beyond simply adding value to creating value – truly understanding clients and anticipating their needs – everyone within the organisation needs to appreciate their role within the sales process and how their behaviour can impact positively on the bottom line.
Yet, as the survey showed, firms are far from recognising the importance or a company-wide approach as only 27% of respondents confirmed that staff outside the sales department see themselves as contributing to the sales process.
Value creation
Historically, responsibility for sales creation has sat with the sales force. Yet, what happens when times get tough? What happens when, because of economic uncertainty, or lack of liquidity, customers simply stop seeing sales people at all? If sales personnel don’t have the opportunity to create value, the answer must be your service personnel. 
Whatever your industry or sector, the chances are that there are people from your organisation who have regular and frequent customer contact, even in hard times. These people have many roles and job titles, from the obvious – sales engineers or customer service agents, for example – to the less so, such as audit clerks, nurse practitioners or consultants. Almost every selling organisation has some group of customer-facing people who are not in a sales role and, in most cases, you will have more of these service people than sellers. And, when times are tough, these are the people with the most regular and frequent access to your customers.  
In addition, it is important to remember that it is not only senior managers or procurement professionals that influence buying decisions. Indeed, when every pound spent is being scrutinised, it is your day-to-day contacts – the customers your service people meet – who are the real judges of your quality, the value you create and the real key influencers when it comes to buying.
However, opportunity is only one of the things needed to create value. Whilst service may have opportunities in abundance, they may lack the other necessary attributes. So what are these other things your service people need? 
Recognition and willingness
Many service people, quite reasonably, see their role as simply that: service. They deliver the services wanted by the customer, be it repairing equipment, giving legal advice or giving patient care, to a pre-agreed level. They deliver value in this way but see creating additional value as the responsibility of the sales force. So step one is getting service personnel to accept they have a role in creating value and to create an understanding of the role that service plays.
Unfortunately, recognising the need for a role and committing to fulfilling that role are not the same thing. Many service people may recognise the need to create value at an intellectual level but when it comes to putting it into practice, simply cannot bring themselves to do it. Step two therefore is to create a willingness within the service population to become more sales-orientated. 
Knowing what to do is a start and being willing to do it helps but unless you know how to do it, you’ll still not succeed. It is unreasonable to expect service people to have any, let alone well-developed, value creation skills, so equipping service with the skills they need to be actually more sales-focused is essential. Step three is, therefore, equipping the service population with the skills and tactics it needs to have a positive sales impact. 
So are we advocating that you turn your service people into sellers? Not at all. The reason many service people work in service is precisely because they enjoy customer contact but they don’t want to sell. They have often made a conscious decision not to move into sales and are completely happy with that choice, so the chances of turning your service people into sellers is virtually nil. 
Fortunately however, sales/service is not a binary state. You don’t have to be one or the other, as there are shades of grey – what we refer to as the sales/service continuum. As service operations progress along this continuum, they create more value for both customer and seller. The key is that each organisation - and, if necessary, each individual – can progress as far as their capabilities and willingness allow. Service does move closer to sales but only as far as each person is both comfortable and willing to go.
So what are the stages along this continuum?
  • Service: At its simplest, the customer gets what they have asked for; They get the value they expect and the seller gets the agreed return. Any additional sales value – for example, the goodwill generated by a job well done – is intangible.
  • Outstanding service: Giving the customer something above and beyond their expectations, often called ‘going the extra mile’. The customer gets more value and the sales value (whilst still intangible) may be higher, such as the customer telling a friend or associate of their good experience. For some, giving good service in the hope that you get more sales as a result may be enough. However, this is still rather passive and the vendor organisation can go further. 
  • Sales awareness: At this stage, the service person begins to look beyond the immediate service issue and actively seeks to create or at least capture, potential tangible sales value. This may be fed back to the sales department to add further to their sales intelligence and perhaps to generate a sales lead. The customer gets at least the same value as before and, by spotting potential problems or new benefits before they have been recognised by the client, there is the potential to create new, real customer value too.
  • Sales through service: Here the service person begins to move to a more explicit sales role, not only looking for and identifying additional customer needs but also offering solutions to them. The key is that the additional solution is sold, not simply given free to the customer. The sales value is tangible and real - an extra sale - and, by fulfilling a previously unrecognised customer need, real customer value is also created. 
  • Sales: Finally, there is the full-blown role of selling - identifying customer needs, developing and creating real customer value and, in return, creating sales value for your own organisation. This is the realm of the sales force but, by moving your service people along the sales/service continuum, it is no longer a dark art in the eyes of service. It also stops your service being used as an ‘us and them’ situation, with sales and service, at best, remote from each other and, at worst, openly hostile towards each other. For you it becomes a collaborative and joined-up effort to create real customer and sales value. For your customers, it becomes a genuinely seamless experience across each customer touch point.

Annalize Cuthill is sales director at Huthwaite International

Replies (3)

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By aodaniel
20th Jul 2009 16:25

While this is a interesting breakdown of the different stages of service "selling", there's one critical "selling" factor that can make or break the customer experience and trust. If all service contacts in the continuum demonstrate the same goal of solving the customer's problem and making their life easier, customer trust is built. If solving a customer's problem is then followed by an obvious and not clearly useful "targeted upsell" the customer feels the company is only being helpful to sell more products or services.

Ann O'Daniel
[email protected]

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By Chris Hancock
22nd Jul 2009 11:45

The more people in an organisation embracing the philosophy of sales through service, the more successful it will be. But it needs to cover all aspects of revenue generation, from retention of an existing customer and the maximisation of their value through to introducing new products and services to the relationship. Crucially the employee must see this as an integral part of the service proposition; making sure customer needs are always in focus, so those needs are constantly and consistently met with solutions provided by the brand. The difficulty with this is that when sales and service are viewed as separate entities, it becomes one of the major barriers to people taking this on.

However there is a way of articulating and applying an organisational approach which isn’t based on the traditional sales focus, but is instead one in which the potential of a strong service provision and an appreciation of the customer’s positive experience with the brand are the most direct catalysts to increasing revenue. The most effective way to position this is by giving examples of how new products/services would benefit the customer and just as importantly, where not doing so would put them at a disadvantage. This could be price based, service driven or even assessed by increased peace of mind (e.g. insurance and other protection). This does put an onus on the company to be clear and honest with their product and service propositions; if you can’t get your employees to buy in, what chance have you got with your customers?

In short, putting the customer at the heart of the business is the way to go about creating a culture of sales through service, as it necessitates each area being joined up with the objective. For example, the product team needs to be held to account by the customer facing areas of the organisation, who will have the role of being the honest broker in conversations that introduce new products/services. Ultimately, tangible commitment to this needs to come from the top of the organisation, so it permeates throughout.

[email protected]

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By bearddd
04th Aug 2009 21:25

An excellent piece - one that transcends the "value creation" story and moves into the world of work psychology.

Layering in CRM systems (to share data) and processes really make the difference in a customer's experience. It also empowers people inside an organisation to work together - collaborating internally - despite different departments goals, data sets and KPIs.

With organisations increasingly competing on knowledge-based differentiators, the wide range of disciplines that form the human capital inside these organisations are more likely to work together if they appreciate the fundamentals of work delivered.

With more & more studies suggesting that “… employee satisfaction and engagement are related to meaningful business outcomes at a magnitude that is important to many organizations” (Journal of Applied Psychology), it's time to harness the human capital & improve the employee engagement.

Having the systems & processes delivered via a good CRM implementation makes it easier for those employees to deliver the experience (aka value) expected by today's customers.

-= David

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