CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIPS IN THE INTERNET AGE

Sometimes, when I tell people that I buy things off the Internet, they are insulted.  In fact, sometimes I’m treated like a traitor to the sales profession.  “But Troy,” they say, “Aren’t you the one telling us that the Internet is competing with the sales profession?  And shouldn’t you be supporting the sales profession?”  Yes, I explain, I do tell salespeople that.  However, I’m also a customer and a purchaser of items – and my buying needs and instincts are no different than anyone else’s.

Salespeople constantly complain that the Internet has made price-shopping easier, that it causes people to buy on price and price alone, etc.  Nonsense.  What the Internet has done is to make relationships more critical, and at the same time more fragile, than they ever were.  In fact, I was reminded of a perfect example last week when I sent flowers to my wife.

Last February 14, I started my day the way I always start my Valentine’s Days.  I picked up my phone and called my florist.  I’ve purchased flowers for my wife from this florist for years.  Birthdays, Valentine’s Days, anniversaries, just because…you name it.  It was a great system.  I’d call them, tell them how much I wanted to spend, they had the address and my credit card on file, done and done.   I was a Loyal Customer.  However, last Valentine’s Day, that changed.

When I called, the woman who answered the phone said in an exasperated tone, “Look, there’s no way we can deliver flowers today!  Our deliveries are full.  You do realize that it’s Valentine’s Day, right?”  I replied that, yes, I was aware of what day it was, hence my call.  I also said that for the previous seven Valentine’s Days, I’d done exactly the same thing.  She said, “Well, I’m sorry but we’re just too busy to add another delivery this year.  Maybe a little planning would be in order for next year.”  I hung up.

Now, I’m sure that the woman felt satisfied after the call that she had admonished a silly man who didn’t handle his Valentine’s Day until the last minute (and as you read this, I’m betting that the men are nodding at what I did, and the women are rolling their eyes).  I wonder if she’d be as satisfied if she knew that I have purchased flowers three times since then – from the Internet?

You see, after that phone call, I logged onto a florists’ website.  It said, “Order by noon for delivery today!”  So, I did.  It wasn’t cheaper than my florist – but the order was accepted.  The computer didn’t give me any attitude.  The flowers were received, and generated the smile that I had hoped for.  As a customer, my needs and desired result were achieved.  And in so doing, I discovered that it’s fairly easy to order on that site – which I’ve done three times since, including last week.

Understand this – your customers will discover the same thing, IF you give them a reason to do so.  However, you can avoid this.  Here are five good ways to preserve your customer relationships:

Understand that every contact with your customer can be your last.  Think of the current sales environment as turning up the heat on every customer contact.  You should have always thought about your competitors hovering over your customer, ready to take them away at a moment’s notice.  Today’s environment simply turns up the intensity.  If you offend or anger your customer on a sales call, your customer can have a new supplier ready to go via their computer before you can leave their parking lot.

Know that everyone who has customer contact needs to be on the same page.  I don’t believe for a moment that the owner of the flower shop would have wanted his customer service person to treat customers in the fashion that the woman treated me; however, he clearly did not communicate to his people how he did want his customers to be treated.  Hence, I had a bad experience – and I’m betting that others have, too.  Companies will spend big bucks training and developing salespeople and service people, and yet they fail to recognize that anyone who has contact with the customer can affect the relationship.  I once saw the top salesperson in a company lose his best account because the customer’s people couldn’t stand dealing with the delivery person – and so they found someone with a more pleasant delivery person.

Make every contact positive.  I’ve spoken a lot about how salespeople must bring value on every call; we can do that by providing ideas, thoughts, knowledge, and expertise to our customers.  Over and above this, however, we should work to make our contacts positive.  Don’t get me wrong; things will happen and customers will get upset.  The professional salesperson can find ways to make these contacts end on a positive note.  We can give customers reasons to keep doing business with us, even if things go wrong.

Move the ball forward.  You should be working to advance the relationship and your cause on every sales call.  Before each call, establish an objective and ask yourself how you can improve your situation with the buyer on every interaction.  Think “high, wide, and deep”–can you increase your contact base on every sales call?  Can you get testimonials or referrals?  Can you increase your access?  Can you up-sell or cross-sell?

Make it easy.  One great way to compete with the Internet is to find ways to make it easy for your customers to buy from you.  Remember – up until Valentine’s Day, that was one of the reasons that I did business with the florist; it was incredibly easy for me to do business.  I gave them one piece of data (how much I wanted to spend), and then I knew I could trust their judgment on what to send.  That sustained a relationship for a long time.

It is possible, even practical, to build strong customer relationships today, even with the ever-present competition from the Internet.  However, to do so, you have to be at least as convenient as the Net to do business with. u

Troy Harrison is the author of “Sell Like You Mean It!” and the President of SalesForce Solutions, a sales training, consulting, and recruiting firm.   For information on booking speaking/training engagements, consulting, or to sign up for his weekly E-zine, call  913-645-3603, e-mail TroyHarrison@SalesForceSolutions.net, or visit www.SalesForceSolutions.net

 

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