The customer engagement process often starts long before a sales rep may even be aware that a prospect has an interest in their offering. In fact, new studies have found that the prospects become engaged and may be well through the sales process due to web site access, Internet postings (including social media), and, of course, referrals and comments made by colleagues. Each of these observations or interactions becomes a test. Unfortunately, the tests may not be equally weighted between pass and fail. As discussed in the article in this collection, “Getting to NO Before Getting to KNOW”, due to the overwhelming number of choices that we face today, many prospects focus on eliminating choices that, at first pass, may seem inappropriate, before taking the time and effort to investigate alternatives. Most of us experience this process when we conduct an Internet search looking for product reviews. It is not uncommon to discard a product with the posting of only a handful of negative reviews, perhaps as few as one. Therefore, all individuals that have any potential contact with a prospect or existing customer either directly or indirectly need to be aware that they are being “tested.” One, simple, negative comment can quickly cause the prospect to give the company a failing grade.
As an example, consider the interactions that can occur at a restaurant. At first glance, it would seem that a restaurant’s reputation would be based on the quality, and perhaps, the quantity, of the entrees they provide. However, consider the customer’s impression if the valet mishandles their car. The host or hostess takes an inordinate amount of time examining the restaurant’s seating chart or frowns instead of smiles when greeting the customer. What if the table is not clean, or the “busboy” nearly bumps into the customer while they are being seated? What if the server is not polite? All of these interactions can leave a negative impression long before the meal is served. Another equally common “opportunity” to fail the customer test is for a call center to talk long before they listen to a person’s basic inquiry. The call center operators may be “programmed” to mechanically ask a series of questions before giving the caller a chance to state a simple request. All of us have experienced the total frustration of automated call response systems with no option to talk to a human. Finally, many web sites do not include telephone numbers to talk to a company representative, forcing the inquirer to navigate through page after page of material to hopefully find answers to their questions.
In examining every potential prospect or customer interaction that could take place, a company should consider the interaction as a test. In the analysis, they should ask two simple questions: If all goes correctly, do we get a “non-failing” grade? And, is that what we want, or do we want to leave the inquirer with a lasting positive impression? In many instances, once a failing grade is given, there will not be another chance to re-take the test.