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Making a Good Second Impression

I ran a business in England owned by BellSouth Corporation for two years. We were a cellular service provider that sold wireless telephone handsets and airtime service. Once a week, I visited our customer care center and met with Colin, the director of the center. It was always fascinating to me that Colin could never remember my name. No matter how many times I corrected him, he called me "Ian."

I walked into his office every Wednesday at 9 a.m. and said, "Good morning, Colin!"

He always appeared startled as he looked up from his computer and simply muttered, "Ian."

"No, it's Dan," I replied routinely.

After this interaction, I sat down and we reviewed the incoming call statistics, the types of problems customers were experiencing and what had been done to resolve the issues.

Colin was very good at his job, striving to achieve 100 percent customer satisfaction. He was diligent at ensuring that his representatives were well trained, had the tools they needed to achieve their goals, and felt empowered to solve customer problems. Colin preached to his team and every employee in the company that the customer care center was responsible for the most important impression our customers would ever receive of our company—the second impression.

"When our customers buy a cellular telephone, they simply expect it to work everywhere and all the time," he explained. "The reasons for this are simple. First, it looks like the telephone in your house and the telephone in your house simply work. Second, no one ever sees an advertisement that reads, Our cellular phones work well except when your call drops.

"Although they try hard, few salespeople are proficient at explaining the inherent problems of cellular service when flogging the product to a new customer," he continued. "That's not to say it's always the salesperson's fault, because the customer may be overwhelmed and, therefore, not fully listening."

Colin told us the customer's first impression at the point of purchase was simply that they would be able to make phone calls. After all, a phone is a phone is a phone. After receiving their somewhat-confusing first bill or after experiencing dropped calls, however, customers often called in quite upset. It was this call from the customer to the customer care center that represented our opportunity to make a good second impression. And, according to Colin, this second impression formed the customer's true impression of the company. Their expectations weren't being met, and so they wanted satisfaction.

Colin's team took whatever steps were required to satisfy the customer. They were instructed to take careful notes so we could understand where we had fallen short in meeting the customer's initial expectations. Colin then took it upon himself to train the sales team to better understand the customer’s needs and expectations based on what they had learned in those calls.

It's all about what customers expect from a product to begin with, and helping customers understand how a product can help them, requires that salespeople help set those expectations. For example, what if you were buying new tires for your car and trying to figure out which were best and why there was such a difference in price? You would need some help to gain a clearer understanding of the performance and mileage expectations associated with the various tire models.

Over time, our sales organization improved at listening to the customer, explaining how the cellular network performed, and setting expectations. As a result, new customer complaint calls into the customer care center declined, and overall satisfaction improved.

The day I left England to return home to the United States, I went down to say goodbye to Colin. I walked into his office and said, "Good morning, Colin! I came down to say thank you for all you've done to help our company grow and to say goodbye."

Startled, Colin looked up from his computer and simply muttered, "Ian."

"No. My name is Dan," I responded with a smile on my face.

"I know your name is Dan, but my name isn't Colin. My name is Ian!" he said.

I stood there astonished, having called the man by the wrong name for a full 23 months. After what seemed like an eternity, Colin, I mean Ian, said, "I do hate to see you leave, but I am a bit relieved. I was beginning to fear I was going to have to have my name legally changed to Colin."

Dan Norman is a sales performance expert, a professional speaker, a columnist, and the author of "Top Ten Selling—The Lumberjack Chronicles." He has hired and developed thousands of sales representatives and hundreds of sales managers. Visit www.toptenselling.com or call 407.566.9741.