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It’s easier and less expensive to keep existing customers than to go out and get new ones. Yet many companies still ignore comprehensive investments in customer service training in favor of sales training.

What’s easier? Getting a customer or keeping one?

What’s less expensive? Getting a customer or keeping one?

Whenever we ask sales leaders these questions, the answer is always the same: No doubt about it, it’s easier and cheaper to keep existing customers than to go out and get new ones.

Yet many companies still spend a disproportionate amount of money and time on sales training compared to their investments in the development of customer service skills. As the environment gets more competitive and the war for sales talent heats up, this is a trend that could have very serious business consequences.

The Cascading Impact of Poor Customer Service

Here’s a scenario that will be acutely familiar to many salespeople, particularly those who are dealing with complex, long-term sales cycles.

The salesperson spends several months—or even years—developing a relationship with the potential client, who we’ll call Jim. Over time the salesperson builds up a reputation as a partner and trusted advisor, one who is committed to uncovering Jim’s needs and supporting his individual and broader goals. Eventually, the deal comes together and Jim makes the purchase.

But then one day, a problem, question or need comes up that requires the help of customer service. As a prospective client, Jim had the time and attention of the salesperson who was focused on understanding his issues and finding the best solutions for them. Now, as a customer, Jim feels like he’s being rushed through the call by a customer service rep whose primary goal seems to be to run through a script to get a quick resolution—whether it meets Jim’s true underlying need or not.

It’s not that the rep isn’t nice or friendly necessarily, but the problem hasn’t been solved, at least not beyond the surface level. As a result, Jim has to keep calling back or stumble his way through the issue on his own. He grows increasingly frustrated and annoyed, thinking maybe this solution wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Or maybe that salesperson was pulling one over on him.

In an instant, the trusted advisor and partnership status is gone. And it’s only a matter of time before Jim is, too.

“It took me 18 months to get that sale,” the salesperson thinks. “And customer service lost it in less than six weeks.”

It gets worse: It’s not just that customer.

Twenty years ago, it took a relatively long time to build a bad reputation. Today, with the megaphone of social media, it can happen in seconds. And when it does, all that good will your salespeople have worked so hard to build up will be wasted, creating a deeper hole for everyone to dig out of.

Many salespeople we’ve spoken to who’ve been burned before aren’t risking it any more. They’re protecting their accounts by stepping in and handling the customer service issues themselves. That way they can be confident the person will be listened to and understood and that the problem will be fully addressed.

But if they’re focused on customer service, then that inevitably means they’re taking time away from their primary role—selling and growing the business. Not only is that borrowing against future revenues and commissions, it’s not the kind of work most top-notch salespeople want to be doing.

So consider: How much sales did that one instance of poor customer service really cost you?

4 Reasons Why Customer Service Training Doesn’t Always Help

Because of these tangible financial, talent and long-term business consequences, when we work with companies on sales training initiatives, we’ll typically ask them what their budget is for customer service training. A lot of the times the answer we hear is simple: “We don’t have one.”

But even those that do have a program in place can be missing the mark.

Here are some of the reasons customer service training fails to solve this problem:

  1. It focuses on scripts rather than a problem-solving process: Without a concrete process and formula for problem solving, consistency is tough to maintain—from rep to rep as well as from call to call. While most reps love to help people, everyone has an “off” day or moment. A process keeps you focused on task and helps consistently draw out what you do best so your bad day doesn’t win out.
  2. It’s primarily product focused. Product-focused training focuses on the issues that might go wrong or common questions about the product. It doesn’t help people develop the skills and insights to engage with customers based on their needs and behaviors. And because problems are often unique, it doesn’t necessarily help the rep get to the true realization of the issue.
  3. Success is measured by call volume/length of calls: If reps are being measured by how quickly they can get to resolution or how many calls they take in a day, it’s not likely they’re going to be able to get to the root cause of problems and get the issue fully addressed.
  4. It’s disconnected from sales training: Having a common language and approach is the expectation in sales. But it doesn’t always carry through to customer service. Considering customers may interact with various different reps when they call, a common sales language (not a script!) that extends from before the sale to after is essential to ensuring the company’s values are consistently demonstrated.

When was the last time you conducted customer service training? Was it just a “one-and-done” initiative? Are you focusing on what really matters? Make sure you’re not inadvertently sabotaging all the good work you’re doing on the sales side.

About the Author
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Bruce Wedderburn

Chief Sales Officer

Since 2016 Bruce has led the Sales organization with a passion for creating impactful results for clients through the successful...
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