Originally written by Mike Esterday for Forbes Business Council
More than half of customers don’t believe companies have their best interests in mind, according to the Salesforce Trends in Customer Trust survey. 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 customer experience, the clearer it becomes: Technology doesn’t solve everything.
The Salesforce study hints at a path forward, though: 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 hinges 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 to (post-sale) customer service, the experience begins well before the deal is done. Trust comes from employees who are committed and inspired to create more value and provide differentiating service for their customers at every step. This isn’t the responsibility of one area of the company; it’s a mindset that must permeate the entire culture.
You can’t sustain that mindset when people are burned out or detached from the purpose of their work—a huge issue that’s contributing to today’s historically high quit rates. Yet, some companies are noticeably talent—and customer—magnets. They’ve created cultures where people know what they do is making a difference for customers and the company.
When employees understand how their work impacts customers, they become personally invested. This sense of purpose fuels them to create more value for customers. And the more engaged they become, the more discretionary effort they’ll put in to ensure customers remain loyal, even when problems or mistakes happen.
This kind of purpose-driven work is powerful. As Lisa Earle McLeod detailed in her bestselling book, Selling with Noble Purpose, (and on our Mental Selling podcast) the data is fundamentally clear that salespeople who are committed to improving their customers’ lives are consistently more successful than quota-focused salespeople. A Deloitte study on cultures of purpose reinforces the point: When employees feel they’re working for something greater than profit, their companies are more successful.
Three Pivotal Focus Areas
Sales teams know the double-edged sword of technology. It’s supposed to make things easier, but many feel overwhelmed, spending less time listening and understanding customer needs and more time logging data, reciting scripts and talking about products. If they’re not listening, though, they won’t learn what their customers value.
Salespeople need to refocus on the human-to-human value they bring to the relationship. Here are some critical focus areas:
• Develop a mindset that encourages two-way conversations. Successful salespeople are genuinely curious. They ask good questions to help customers discover their true challenges and needs—and they really listen.
• Develop their questioning confidence. If salespeople are reluctant to engage in open-ended questioning, it might be an issue not just of skill but of will, which is often rooted in negative beliefs about their abilities and about selling itself.
• Define what “selling” means in your organization. By defining selling as uncovering and meeting needs and creating value for people, you provide a positive roadmap for specific actions, behaviors and objectives at each stage.
• Redefine what “closing” means. Sales training often emphasizes closing techniques designed to get the customer to say “yes.” These dynamics create tension and undermine trust. They also imply that the salesperson can disappear when the sale is finalized.
2. Customer Service
“We value you as a customer. Your business is important to us.” These are nice words, but they often fail to translate into the actual experience. This doesn’t mean your people don’t care about their customers, but they might need a clearer process and framework to turn those words into action.
Improving customer service and the customer experience in your organization requires a combination of both process and people strategies, including:
• An effective customer service process, which allows people to bring out their best because it gives them consistency and an anchor to ground them. This is especially important when everyone’s juggling heavy workloads and dealing with a variety of customer issues.
• Learning and development centered around people, not scripts. Handling issues effectively starts with having productive conversations, and that looks different for each customer. Teams need the skills and tools to recognize and adapt in the moment so they can communicate in a way that connects with customers.
• Developing problem-solvers by moving away from a transaction-focused mindset. Mistakes happen. But skilled, motivated customer service reps are able to respond in ways that ultimately improve the customer’s brand perception and trust. Asking good questions, thinking critically and listening non-defensively will allow your employees to engage with customers on a deeper level and get to the root of problems.
• Defining what “customer-centric,” honesty and integrity mean in your organization and integrating those into your training. Teaching people to be human and appreciate the customer’s frustration goes a long way toward building trust and loyalty.
Giving meaning to the job is not just up to the employee. Managers play a critical role in helping employees find the “why” in what they’re doing. That’s where good coaching comes in. Successful managers:
• Coach people from a perspective of tapping into purpose and holding themselves accountable for their impact.
• Are vested in the employee’s success and personal fulfillment.
• Model, measure and reward behaviors that create an exceptional customer experience.
• Have confidence, credibility and skills to coach frequently and empower employees to produce desired results and reinforce a customer-centric culture.
• Celebrate stories of customer impact in team meetings and one-on-one coaching.
Customer Experience and The Trust Difference
In a world dominated by technology, your people remain your most powerful differentiator. PwC’s Trust in U.S. Business survey found almost half of consumers have started or increased purchases from a company because they trust it. A third have 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, high-impact relationships.