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What’s the first impression your customer gets?

A prospective customer is considering a domestic family holiday. First, she calls a local airline.

Customer: ‘I am interested in your flight-and-accommodation packages for my family.’
Employee: ‘They are all on our website.’
Customer: ‘OK, I had tried that, but I couldn’t find them. All I have on me now is my phone. Let me try to open your website again…right, I’ve got it, but it’s still not very clear. I can’t see the packages you mean.’
Employee (bored): ‘Maybe you can try a different browser.’

The customer hangs up and decides to use a different airline, one that is actually interested in her business.

Next, she calls a high-end holiday resort.

Customer: ‘I am interested in a family vacation at your hotel over the coming holiday period.’
Employee: ‘The price is XXX for a standard room, and YYY for a better one. You will also have to pay a supplement and taxes of ZZZ.’

Seriously, guys? Are you truly interested in growing your domestic tourism market? You whine about the collapse of tourism and the many failures of government to help you, but are you actually interested in helping yourselves?

To put it another way: are you interested in taking the money that customers want to hand over to you? Do you really need me to spell out what was wrong with the two examples of handling customers above? Let me do it anyway, just in case.

Let’s start with example one. Do not refer customers to your website if they are already talking to you. If a customer has actually bothered to call you and seems interested in your product, rejoice and make the most of the opportunity. You have got her talking to you. You can now promote your offerings enthusiastically and convincingly and seal the deal. To send her back to a passive medium, the website, is just plain dumb.

Let’s move on to example two. Why on earth would you start the conversation by spelling out your prices and the additional charges and surcharges in detail? Why do you assume that’s all the customer wants to know? She’s there talking to you. Explain why your hotel offers a world-class experience, why it would be the holiday of a lifetime, why she would do her family proud. Like, you know, sell. The price comes at the end of the conversation, once the value is already clear.

The two examples have a lesson in selling right there in plain sight. The first person in your organization that a prospective customer encounters is extremely important. You want enthusiasm, you want energy, you want product knowledge. You want a person with zip in the personality and grey matter in the skull. A lot of selling can happen right there on the phone call.

Sadly, too many employers do this the wrong way round. Because this is just a ‘phone operator’ job in their view, they give it to an entry-level, low-paid, bored individual. The result is the kind of conversations I recounted above. Uninterested, untrained persons doing a terrible job of flying the flag and building the brand.

Whether it’s the first person on the phone; the first person met when the customer walks into your premises; the first impact that your website makes on those landing on it; the first email sent out in response to a query: first impressions really count. And in too many cases, the first impression is woeful.

Is it the employees’ fault? Not at all. I’ve written it here many times before; I’ll say it again. Persistent failures in customer care start at the top. That means you, CEOs. Don’t blame it on your staff – tell that to the birds sitting on the delusion tree. If you can’t see the importance of frontline employees; if you won’t invest in their training and their reward structures; if you can’t teach the art of selling; if you preside over insipid and clunky websites; if you are blissfully unaware of the number of sales you lose every day because of systematic indifference; then who else is to be held to account?

If you’re serious about fixing this, let’s get practical. Make a map of the ‘first-touch’ points in your typical customer’s journey. Next, make sure you have really good people manning those points or delivering those first impressions. Then, make sure those good people are motivated better than any who work for your competitors, using a judicious mix of material and intrinsic reward. Finally, get down there yourself every so often to beat the drum and protect the standard.

Or you could just go back to sleep.

(Sunday Nation, 25 March 2018)

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