High Performance Sales: The First 5, the Last 5, and Everything In Between

It’s a tough pill for new and inexperienced sales reps to swallow, but it’s absolutely true: it’s just as easy to lose a deal on the last five percent of the journey as it is on the first five.

High performance sales reps know you can get a deal 95% right—and still leave a customer highly dissatisfied.

A co-worker related an experience last week that proves this point in absolute clarity. Apparently he had gone in to get a new pair of eyeglasses from a local retailer, and 9/10 of the experience was unaccountably pleasant. Service was prompt and efficient, the optometrist demonstrated a high level of competence, and the business carried a quality selection of frames and lenses. He chose a style of frame that suited him, the order was placed, and it arrived a day ahead of schedule.

So far, so good.

Except when the lenses and frames arrived, the lens makers had sent the wrong size (for this business, the frames and lenses were generally ordered separately and assembled on location).

At this point, the company had two choices:

  1. Fix the problem by re-ordering the right lenses, even though it meant the customer wouldn’t get their glasses for another week.
  2. Try to grind/reshape the lenses on-premise, and/or jury-rig the frames to make them fit.

Not a great situation, but eminently fix-able. Depending on what the customer wanted, either could potentially be a long-term win for the customer and the business.

Unfortunately, the rep didn’t even bother to ask.

Maybe she was trying to avoid a “customer service disaster” by “making the customer happy.” Maybe it was because it was late, and the rep just wanted to go home and not have to deal with the problem. Or maybe it was just “too inconvenient” to re-order the lenses. But for whatever reason, and without any input from the customer, the rep chose Option #2.

Strike 1: Not asking the customer what they wanted.

Unfortunately, Strike 1 was immediately followed up with Strike 2: She didn’t even get it right.

The rep took the lenses into a back room and started grinding around the edges. Then without even giving my co-worker the “right of denial,” she took a pair of needle-nose pliers to his brand new, never-been-worn, $300 Titanium flex frames and started bending and twisting. When the lenses still wouldn’t fit, she went back and did some more grinding. Then a third time.

Finally, she ended up taking a set of screws that weren’t even the right size for the frames, shoved the lenses into the sockets, forced the screws through, and snipped off the screw ends.

By now small scuff marks had appeared along the joints of the frames, the screws were visibly misaligned, and the ear pieces of the frame were now running slightly but noticeably askew (he showed me the glasses himself).

The service rep handed the glasses back with a smile and a happy “Here you go,” absolutely certain that she had just made herself into a customer service superstar by “fixing the customer’s problem.”

Never mind that my co-worker friend would have been more than happy to wait the extra 5-7 days to get the right set of lenses. Never mind that the rep’s “exemplary service” had subtly changed the basic shape of the frames so that they no longer felt like the demo pair that had won him over in the first place.

Why he didn’t immediately protest, I don’t know. “I didn’t want to cause a scene,” he told me. “I thought, Well, everything up to this point has been great, so I guess I’m willing to cut them a little slack. And it’s not like the glasses are unwearable, or anything, it’s just that I should have been given the choice. If the entire process up to that point hadn’t been absolutely stellar, I probably would’ve demanded an exchange for a new set of frames and lenses, but as it stands, I’m definitely not going to go back, or recommending them.”

I should have been given the choice.

The morals of the story:

  1. Never, ever assume you know what the customer needs. Ask them. Then when they tell you, ask again until you really know.
  2. Remember: you can lose a customer’s trust—and consequently their future business— at the “11th hour” just as easily as on Day 1.

There’s an old saying, “Hoe to the end of the row,” which a lot of people assume means that you need to stay longer, keep working after everyone else has left.

But it also means never cutting corners, sacrificing quality for convenience, and it especially means never assuming “It’s what the customer wants.”

Author: Ken Krogue |
Summary of Ken Krogue’s Forbes articles

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