Author: Michele Bisceglie - Director, Business Development & Strategic Initiatives | SCG Legal & Member, LSSO Editorial Board
I was recently part of a pitch conversation where the person sitting (virtually) across from me proudly stated they “purposely didn’t do any research” prior to our meeting because they like to learn about their potential partners “organically.”
If that scenario sounded like nails on a chalkboard to you, I say: same.*
But it was a good reminder that we tend to put ‘sales’ before ‘service’ in our minds, in our sentences, in our strategies, even in our titles. (No shade, all love LSSO!)
And that’s not wrong. The two certainly can be – frequently are – sequential in nature. But I respectfully remind us of a theory that…perhaps…we should think of them as concurrent.
To rephrase the iconic Glengarry Glen Ross expression: ABC means Always Be Caring.
The foundation for exceptional client service starts long before a pipeline is developed or prospect considered. To seamlessly succeed on this deliverable – whether it’s during a scheduled interaction or at a moment’s notice when time, money, reputation, or equally significant thing is on the line – a culture of caring must not only be omnipresent but palpable.
Simple to say, but oh how elusive to put into practice (and blatantly obvious when forced or contrived). The variables are limitless, conditions ever changing, and expectations often unspoken. Every year millions of dollars, hundreds of software applications, and a mind-numbing number of hours are dedicated to capturing and then capitalizing on details that help solidify…a feeling.
How can something so subjective have such a major impact on our bottom lines?
Handwritten thank you notes, popcorn tubs at the holiday, a meaningful birthday message, remembering to ask about a child’s soccer game, vibing over a shared love of vino…all good ways to help build rapport. And niceties you can direct or control.
But the instances when a prospective or current client – not just the decision maker, but anyone in their camp – hears chatter about or experiences our product or service and we are not present to guide them cannot be controlled.
This is when that ‘feeling’ really comes into play.
Case in point: Years ago, I was a commissioned sales representative for a membership-based organization. Our attraction and conversion numbers were frequently positive. Our attrition numbers were terrible. (I mean, really bad.) When my sales colleagues and I suggested we find the root cause…and, you know, fix it…we were told that was not our concern. Our focus needed to be signing people up because that’s how we got paid. Did I mention part of our sales model was predicated on referrals? So, you see the problem, right? We were selling people on an experience but certainly were not always around to ensure it. We – just like the members – had to trust that promises made during the sales process would be kept. Alas, it was not to be. So, members didn’t suggest their personal and professional friends join. And, when their attempts to address issues failed to cause change, they resigned. But who really got hurt? Everyone! The members didn’t feel we valued them, their time or money, and certainly didn’t feel safe bringing people they cared about into a crummy situation. A solid revenue strategy was not available to the sales team, our colleagues didn’t make money from cross-selling products and services to happy members, staff turnover became a punchline, etc.
I could not be happier to have had that training ground in my early career.
Today we hear about building psychological safety within our internal teams, but how about with our clients? If an attitude of care – whether shown by us as the relationship point person or our colleagues…in any capacity at any time – is something that flows through the organization’s veins, stellar reputations are etched, referrals become a way of business, sales ‘tactics’ become passé.
Yes, our product or service still needs to live up to the hype, especially if what we’re selling is (totally or quasi) commoditized. But the magnetic pull of our caretaking can be so strong that clients don’t often leave us and competitors constantly try to emulate us.
So how, pray tell, do we effect such a differentiator?
We model the behavior we want to see in others (and not just when the spotlight of a pitch is on). We show respect from the front door to the boardroom. Every time. We do our homework. Meet opportunities prepared. Don’t assume. Ask questions. Seek out and address concerns. Honor budgets and timelines. Offer compliments and constructive feedback. Support. Suggest. Champion. Commiserate. Apologize. Say please. Say thank you.
We treat a client’s business as if it’s our own. We acknowledge and assuage any real, perceived, or pop-up fears, helping clients consistently feel confident they made the right choice to partner with us on their mission and matters. We prove in our actions and reactions at all organizational levels on both sides of a contract that our sales pitch promises are not hallow rhetoric.
We treat each client service opportunity as if it’s a new point of sale. Because…isn’t it? And around and around and around we go.
The beauty of adopting this course of action is that even if our ‘competition’ takes a similar approach, no two client service experiences will ever be the same so long as the people are different. And when this course of action is fully realized – with true authenticity – price tends to be less of a sticking point, introducing additional products and/or services tends to be a little easier, and forgiveness (when/if needed) tends to be more freely available.
There are, of course, exceptions to every theory. But on this one, I’m OK with being accused of confirmation bias.
Wishing you all good health, much happiness, and continued success in this new year and beyond!
* In fairness, I offer that the person who was in the conversation with me is part of – by all outward appearances – a very successful organization and so may indeed be one of those exceptions to the theory.
 What Is Psychological Safety? (hbr.org)