ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - June 2002


Issue Highlight — When the Business of Business is School
In April 2002, the Pennsylvania Governor’s Commission on Education decided to privatize a group of public schools in the city of Philadelphia. This is simply a recent example of the movement to transfer the work of the public sector into the world of profit. This memo from a 12-year-old student might be a sign of things to come.

The Secret to Profitable Customer Relations
Finding Commonalities and Building Relationships Are the Keys to Driving Sales

Successful business owners train their salespeople to develop a foundation of strong customer relationships. Why? As with every other purchase decision, individuals prefer to do business with people they like, with people who seem genuinely interested in them, and with people who really care about their concerns. So unless salespeople are willing to appropriately start and then nurture the customer relationship, customers won’t return and they certainly will not refer their friends.

Some company leaders attempt to educate their sales force about customer relations by using buzzwords such as total quality management, customer satisfaction index, zero defects, client service, etc. But what does all this really mean to salespeople? After all, many of the veteran salespeople made it through the ‘80s and ‘90s without all the commotion about quality and service. So why all the fuss now? Is this just another fad, some passing fancy that will come and go like hula-hoops, disco dancing, or designer jeans? Hardly. A fundamental change is taking place in customer service. The salespeople who realize this and change with it will be the people who will be successful in 2002 and beyond.

Relationships = Sales
Profitable customer/salesperson relationships are built on a solid foundation of mutual respect and understanding. And the greater the intended outcome, the deeper, and stronger that foundation must be. In fact, the limits of accomplishment, productivity, and satisfaction within an organization are all a function of the nature and quality of the relationships the salespeople have developed with the organization’s customers.

Successful salespeople know the importance of strong foundations for customer relationships. However, during the ‘90s, when the economy was rocking and rolling, many companies and salespeople were able to build successful businesses without this fundamental. The tide has turned though and purchasers of both goods and services can now afford to be much more selective in their choice of suppliers. That’s why today’s salespeople must recognize and appreciate the fact that they must build rich, quality relationships with their customers and must orient their companies and their approaches around assuring outstanding
customer service.

The Relationship Building Process
Developing and nurturing a customer/salesperson relationship starts with the initial meeting. The worst mistake any salesperson can make is to get right down to business when first meeting a prospective customer. At this point, the salesperson’s objective should be to build a strong relationship of trust, not to sell any particular product or service.

During the initial meeting, thank the customer for being willing to meet with you. Go out of your way to be warm and friendly. Never sit behind a desk; instead, meet in a comfortable neutral area and spend 10 to 15 minutes just getting to know your customer. Do not start the actual business discussion until you are satisfied that you feel comfortable with the prospective customer and, even more important, that the customer is comfortable with you.

As the conversation proceeds, be sensitive to the developing relationship. If during the initial conversation you believe you will not enjoy working with the customer or if a sense of mutual admiration, respect, and trust is absent, refer the prospect to a colleague. This may sound crazy, but should the prospect choose to do business with you, the customer, your supervisor, and you will regret it later.

Think back over your own experiences. Every really disgruntled customer, every customer you later regretted having worked with, you most likely suspected that dissatisfaction from the very beginning. Don’t make the same mistake again. Only work with the customer when you are certain you will both enjoy doing business together.

Throughout your dealings with your customer, remember to always work on what built the relationship in the first place. Maintain frequent communication with the customer and continue to check on how he or she is doing. This is the essence of service. Rather than assuming you’re doing a good job taking care of the customer, ask the customer if you are. Find out if he or she is getting what was expected.

Most salespeople specifically don’t ask the customer if everything is satisfactory because they don’t want to find out that it isn’t. This is a mistake. If the customer is indeed dissatisfied, it’s far better that you know so you can at least have a chance to do something about it. If you don’t ask, on the other hand, the customer will eventually let you know anyway—either by leaving, not paying the bill, or complaining about you to others. None of these alternatives is very desirable.

Periodically, ask the customer if you can do anything additional for him or her. Your long-term success depends upon your ability to stay in communication with all your customers and to keep them informed about products and/or services that may benefit them. No customer satisfaction survey can take the place of this kind of personal contact, old-fashioned courtesy, and genuine concern.

You Are Your Company
No matter what you’ve heard in the past, your customers are doing business with you, not your company. You are, in essence, the human persona of what your customer envisions your company to be. So while quality products are important, they are always second to the relationship you and your customer develop. It’s those relationships that guarantee continued customer loyalty, repeat business, and the referral of friends and family. What makes customers come back and refer others to you is the simple fact that they like you, and only you can see to that.

SCOTT HUNTER is a professional speaker, workshop leader, consultant, and coach. He speaks on creating meaningful, quality relationships in the workplace to increase productivity, creativity, teamwork, and profitability. He can be reached via e-mail at .

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June 2002 News for a Change Homepage

 In This Issue...
High Impact Consulting— Getting Real Results

The Courage to Face Your Fears

The Secret to Profitable Customer Relations

The Art of Communication

Got an Attitude?

Peter Block Column


What’s Up?


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