THE BLOG
07/24/2014 10:23 am ET Updated Sep 22, 2014

How Customer Service and Sales Are Forever Connected

Last week, the Internet was a buzz with the recording between Ryan Block, former CEO of Engadget, and the representative from Comcast. Mr. Block and his wife called to terminate their Comcast service. The Comcast representative kept trying to switch the conversation and get them to stay. This interaction demonstrates how customer service and sales are forever connected.


Where Did It Go Wrong?

It's OK for a customer service representative to see if there is a way to salvage the account. However, as Comcast noted in their reply, you must always treat the customer with respect. There are a few things the representative did that crossed the line of seemingly having been taught to never take "no" for an answer. Every situation is a learning experience. Here are 4 key takeaways you can apply to interactions with your customers:
  1. Never trash the competition: The Comcast rep several times commented that XYZ provider could not provide the speed or services Comcast could offer. If you say negative things about your competition, you just appear to be a mudslinger. Instead, the rep could have said, "Our clients tell us that when they switched from other providers, they didn't realize how much faster our service was, or how many more services we offered for the same price. Have you evaluated the differences?" In other words, you can share what your customers say about your company, but you cannot speak about other companies.
  2. When it becomes adversarial, stop: Anyone paying attention can tell during the Comcast call that the tone quickly became adversarial. Rest assured that once the customer starts hating you, good things are not going to happen. In any interaction, whether it is sales or customer service, once the conversation gets confrontational, you've lost. Your goal it to figure out how to get on the same side of the table. The rep might have said "Sometimes, customers disconnect, only to call us in a panic a week later saying that the other provider didn't deliver what was promised. If you know there is no chance of that happening, I'm happy to cancel. If you want to delay by a week or two to be sure you are in good hands, I can accommodate that, too. Which would you prefer?"
  3. Customer interactions drive sales: Mr. Block was just cancelling Comcast. If his service was adequate, he might have considered using them in the future. However, after his interaction, he is not likely to ever use Comcast, recommend it, or authorize its use in any situation. Some have commented that the representative needed to know when to stop pushing. The answer, in fact, is that you should never be pushing at all. When you push, you get resistance. Everyone needs to be taught how to always work from the same side of the table as the customer.
  4. Similarly, lousy salespeople can make life difficult for customer service: If the salesperson sells something that the company cannot deliver, then the rep moves on to other pursuits while others in the company have to expend time to attempt to repair the relationship with the customer. This hampers the potential for repeat and referral business.

An Opportunity for Social Media


The telecommunications industry gets bashed all of the time. This weekend, my Internet service was down (first time in many years). I contacted Verizon FiOS and sat on hold for more than 40 minutes. During the long hold time, I started to think it might be a broader problem than just my home. Then it occurred to me that with a long hold time (they warned me via recording at the start of the call), that perhaps Verizon uses Social Media. I Tweeted a note to them. Within two minutes, we had followed each other and were communicating via Twitter direct message. It seemed that there was a broader network issue and they were already aware of the outage. When I woke in the morning, the outage problem was resolved.



A Valuable Lesson for Big Companies


Verizon is able to communicate with probably fifty customers via Twitter in the same time it could have communicated the same information to one person (me) via telephone. Some areas of customer interaction can really leverage social media. Twitter and other social platforms allow for each rep to address issues for many customers at once. The shame is that many companies still think of social media as a toy or an experiment instead of a valuable tool.

Regardless of the tool, the interaction between Mr. Block and Comcast illustrates that you FIRST must act in the best interest of the customer. If you fail to do that, the medium you use to communicate might not matter.

When you deliver a poor customer experience, you not only impact that interaction but the potential for future business. Similarly, if you deliver a remarkable experience, you might build up goodwill that will insulate you from disaster if you happen to be guilty of a slight misstep in the future. Customer service and sales should have a common goal: Ensure that the customer gets the results you told them to expect. Delight your customer, and you'll see repeat and referral business. Disappoint or annoy your customer, and don't worry... they'll be someone else's customer soon enough.



It's Your Turn


When have you seen horrible customer service that led to a loss of future business? What did you learn?