The days of the boorish salesman portrayed in the 1992 film Glengarry Glen Ross – where the mantra “Coffee’s for closers” was used to both recognize success and admonish poor performance – are gone. Certainly, there are still unscrupulous salespeople and gullible buyers. But it’s safe to say that today’s consumers are more sophisticated and better informed than their twentieth century counterparts who lacked the ability to access customer reviews, make price comparisons, and validate or dismiss inflated claims with ease from their smartphones.
It’s well documented that providing exceptional service to existing customers (as opposed to subordinating responsiveness to breathlessly chasing the next sale) results in more profitable customers who have higher repurchase rates and, ultimately, cost less to serve. Depending on the study and industry cited, “closing” a new customer is actually five to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one.
Of course, you still have to attract customers in the first place, but even customer acquisition is often tied to service quality. A relationship with one of my clients began as a panicked phone call in search of copies of my book to accommodate 200 managers at a regional conference the following week. The client had assumed that she could place the order through Amazon and have the books delivered within two days using her Prime account. Unfortunately, Amazon could only fulfill 30 copies leaving her 170 copies short for her conference.
I was able to involve my publisher, secure the books, and expedite shipping in order to accommodate her deadline. She was delighted and has since placed multiple volume book orders and hired me to speak at a regional conference. By moving the encounter from transactional (“Here’s a website or 800-number for you to order the books”) to relational (“Let me take care of everything and follow up with you”), I was able to make a lasting positive impression – and position future sales.
Aside from going above and beyond, another way that service quality produces sales is through referrals. Earlier this month, I was referred to a health care prospect from a client with whom I first began working in 2008. Aside from the periodic coffee and lunch meetings that personalized our working relationship, several years ago I mailed her a copy of Karen Kingsbury’s Let Me Hold You Longer after a conversation we had over coffee about “being in the moment” as parents because children grow up so fast.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you send clients pleasant surprises out of the blue with the intent to obtain future referrals. That’s not why you do it. There are no ulterior motives or strings attached to authentic customer service. You offer it because you genuinely take pride in your craft and sincerely relish the thought of making a client’s day.
Instead of chasing the next sale, why not schedule time to meet with a current client? Ask her about her experience with your product or service. What’s working? What’s not? How could you improve? Ask her about her industry, her competition, her own products and services, the challenges she’s facing, and her latest success.
Maybe the conversation will shift and you’ll find yourselves talking about pets or children. That’s okay. You’re not wasting time; you’re building a relationship – and just may be closing your next sale.
Illustration by Aaron McKissen.