First Word: Service after the sale

Airplanes give me a convenient educational forum. How often are you forced into close quarters and occasional conversation with someone that you have never seen before and likely will never see again? Since travel with a laptop is becoming more difficult, and cell phone use is restricted, an air traveler’s options are limited to reading, writing or sleeping – unless you engage that stranger next to you in conversation. That was the road less traveled for me recently, and while I may have instigated the initial greeting and small talk, my aisle-mate took over and didn’t stop to catch his breath until the plane landed and came to a stop at the gate.

He was a salesman who sold reference books, and had traveled to a Midwestern city to interview for a new job in another type of sales. He was in his mid-thirties, seemingly sharp and full of energy. We covered many subjects during the hour and half flight, but something that he said really struck a nerve with me.

Since I have been in sales my entire career – going on thirty years – I was curious about what the young man made a priority in his career. He told me, “I really just want to sell, provide the product, then move on. This customer service stuff is taking up way too much of my time, and frankly, I don’t have the patience for it.”

Later in the conversation, he confirmed what was already obvious – he changes jobs every three years – to give himself a raise, as he put it. I think it’s more likely he’s trying to avoid having to go back and resell customers. His customers probably had an unpleasant experience with someone with such an obvious distaste for the most difficult and important aspect of the sales process – making sure the customer is happy.

My experience with this young man made me realize how many in the sales profession can quickly create a negative reputation. If all we care about is making the sale, getting paid and moving on, then we miss the most important part of the relationship: satisfying the customer’s needs in a way that makes doing repeat business with you and your company a delight. No company can survive without repeat customers who believe in your product or service and believe in you as an individual to do what you say you will do. It’s what customer service is all about.

Think about the successful business relationships you have developed, either as the customer or the provider. How many have lasted several years, through good times and bad? If several examples come to mind, then you have made customer service a priority.

Someone once told me a customer with a problem provides the supplier with an opportunity to prove their true worth in the relationship. If the problem is resolved to the absolute satisfaction of the customer, without jeopardizing anyone’s integrity, then that customer will never forget you. If you take the approach that all you want to do is make the sale, get paid, then move on, your customer will also never forget you – but they are likely to quickly forget your telephone number.