By Andrew Ardron on Thu 01 November 2012 in CRM
There’s no doubt about it, customers are demanding… and every year they expect more – better prices, a better level of service, faster delivery … you name it they want it. But why? And how do you get ahead of their expectations? How do you increase the service while also improving your profit margins?
The answer to the two fundamental questions of why are customers more demanding, and how do I get ahead of the competition are essentially the same. The customers are ever more demanding because the competition (or another supplier in another market) is simply raising their expectations faster than you are meeting them… and the way you get ahead of the competition is by raising the standard faster than your competitors can keep up.
Easier said than done? Perhaps. But those who manage it can achieve huge success. If you can get over the bar, raise the standard and meet your customer’s needs much faster than the competition, then you will be significantly more profitable, gain a stronger brand and have significantly more free resource than others. Like other companies that understand the value of exceeding customer expectations (Virgin, BMW, Mercedes, Costa, Amazon for instance) you will find that staying ahead is actually a lot easier than you thought.
So, we’ve talked to customers and prospects from different industries to help share the best practice from one industry to another, and help our customers to concentrate on differentiating their telesales customer experience:
- Understanding and Categorising different audiences: Most companies don’t sell to just one type of customer, and if customers are becoming more demanding, then it’s more important now than ever to know each customer and service them according to their needs – e.g. you can call the buyer at a restaurant chain at any time of the day, but there are only a few hours in the day that you can call an owner-manager of a restaurant. And if you are promoting any special offers (via email or phone) for crockery say, you need to know whether they are into fine-dining, fast-food, etc… You probably need to know what they’ve bought in the past, and how many tables they have. Basically, without clear categorisation and profiling, everything below will just be a one-size-fits-all effort – instead of meeting the needs of each type of audience specifically. That’s why it’s our number 1.
- Fast and immediate order entry. Top of our customers’ customers requirements is getting the order placed quickly and efficiently – and because time is money it’s pretty far up there on our customer’s priority too. It’s amazing how many companies resort to writing orders down because their systems are too slow to take the order directly while on the phone… but there are plenty of companies that are using the right tools and can process orders there and then – not only avoiding the cost of rekeying afterwards but benefitting from accurate stock (see below), prompts for up-selling, and generally having the right information to talk to the customer about their order.
- Accurate stock and due dates. There’s nothing worse than a customer thinking they will get their order tomorrow, only to find it isn’t in stock. The worst offenders are those who can’t or won’t enter orders directly into a computer system. As soon as you take an order on paper (whether on the phone or in the field) there is a promise of stock that isn’t reflected in the stock system – you might even have checked that stock was available, but if the order doesn’t go straight in, then that stock can be sold several times over. With modern telesales interfaces, there isn’t any reason to use paper at all – it’s slow, cumbersome, inaccurate and costly.
- Immediate credit card processing. Credit card processing is becoming more and more popular in B2B ordering. Perhaps it’s the recession, perhaps the convenience or maybe just people collecting points! Either way, credit card payments are increasingly popular with supplier and customer alike; cash flow is good for both parties and there isn’t any cost of chasing the debt. However… some of the steps we all go through to process a card payment can make the exercise unbelievably unprofitable. With the right system, card processing can be integrated on-screen and instantaneous – but this is by no means the way most businesses do it – the way most businesses manage card payments can be truly shocking. The worst we’ve seen is:
a) Sales enter the telephone order but put the order on stop.
b) Credit card details are written down with the cardholder name and CCV (in contravention of Visa and Mastercard rules).
c) This is all passed to accounts to process.
d) Sales and/or accounts staff sometime queue up around the one PDQ machine (wasting more time)
e) The card details are entered – hopefully the payment goes through but if any of the details are wrong or the card doesn’t have enough credit, the customer needs to be called back … they may or may not be available at that time… eventually a new card or the correct details are provided and the process begins again… all the time making this order distinctly un-profitable.
f) Once the payment has gone through, the order is re-opened and taken off stop.
g) But that isn’t the end of it – the payment still has to be manually keyed as a receipt on the customer ledger.
h) And finally… with all this manual effort, human error abounds and more time is taken up with resolving customer queries, completing a bank reconciliation, matching the card payment to the invoice etc, etc.
Utter madness!! With the right system, all of this (including the posting of the receipt to the ledger) could have been automated and handled in the first call in a matter of a few seconds and a few key presses! Not only does this cost you money and effort (that you might put up with) the service is atrocious and the customer’s order can be unnecessarily delayed.
- Full account details. Even without the complexity of credit card processing, any telesales staff who don’t process orders on-screen probably don’t have the full accounts details – or at least have to spend time searching for an account to do so. The best time to ask the customer for money to settle their balance is while they are on the phone to place an order. Equally, calling a customer back just costs time and can mean the customer’s order is delayed.
- Ordering from sales history. How many times have customers called us to say “can I have another 5 of those things I ordered last week?” – and yes most accounts systems will allow you to eventually find this information – but not necessarily from within the current order entry screen and often not without having to then write down and rekey the product code. Delays, delays, delays and all the customer wanted was to quickly order another 5!
- Problem tracking and resolution. The dreaded call. If I work in telesales and I ring a customer to get a repeat order, the thing I will dread the most is an unhappy customer who has a complaint about the last delivery, or some item of equipment. When it happens, I and the customer really want a simple and quick action … we both want the problem logged, a reference number given and the confidence that something is going to be done. Neither of us wants a long discussion or stony silence, or a vague promise of “I’ll send someone an email”. We will both be happier if the telesales team have access to a quick and efficient problem logging and tracking system.
- NOT being reliant on individual staff. Staff are fickle and unreliable. It’s not a nice thing to say but it is a fact. Eventually, even the most reliable staff will be off sick, on holiday (how unreasonable), taking maternity leave or looking to move on to another job. When that time comes, the customer doesn’t want inferior service just because someone had all the details in their head. The customer wants to know that you’ve got the systems in place, got the data held centrally and can service their needs come what may. Clearly you don’t want to lose out on valuable customers and business either.
- Access to centralised CRM data. Any reactive or pro-active telesales call relies upon up-to-date information. Service is founded in knowing the customer, knowing what’s going on, predicting what they might need or be interested in, knowing what was on the last 5 orders, what has shipped and what hasn’t, what happened to the complaint about broken goods last week, when the rep is due to visit, what orders were placed online, whether the customer is buying more or less than last year, etc, etc. If your telesales staff don’t know your customer as well as the competition, your service won’t ultimately be as good as theirs – or if it is, it will be costing you a lot to make up the difference. Fact.
- Integrated Marketing and Pro-active follow-up. Customers like promotions, information and special offers. They really do! But only where it’s relevant, timely and personal. Customers want you to know plenty about them, send them useful offers and follow things up. Hard to do without a centralised database and without joined up activities between marketing and telesales.
- 24 hour service online. (This is number 11; the bonus in the top 10). Do your customers only work from 9 till 5? Do you think that none of you customers sit at home in the evening or weekend browsing the web (perhaps on competitors websites) thinking about what to order for a job next week, or to restock their shelves, or to find new products to sell? I bet it’s going on all the time. If you have a telesales operation then your products (or similar) should also be available online. Whether you need a B2B private portal or a public eCommerce site, you definitely need to be selling online. But don’t be fooled – a quick web-shop won’t cut it – your customers will need their special pricing, discounts, credit terms, account history etc to all work online. They will also probably need up-to-date stock information too.
All of that might sound like a big job, but with the right tools it can be a lot easier than you think. Why not get in contact with us today for a no-commitment and totally free consultation. We’ve helped hundreds of companies like you to raise their service levels while cutting costs and raising profits.