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There’s a new breed of customer in town, and they’re hyperconnected, mobile and more empowered than ever before. They’re challenging organisations to be smarter, work faster, and deliver a connected sales and service experience. Those that don’t will fall behind.

I recently sat down with sales leadership coach Tony Hughes and CSIA CEO Anouche Newman – keynote speakers at the upcoming Intelligent Sales & Service Forum – to discuss how sales and service teams can exceed customer’s growing expectations.

The business environment has changed dramatically over the past five years. Organisations are grappling with increased customer expectations and new competitor sets. What’s driving this change?  

 

Anouche Newman (AN): It’s a number of things, but at the heart it’s a surge in global connectedness. Thanks to technology, customers are more savvy about what they can expect from service providers, and this is influencing how they expect to interact with organisations.

Gartner anticipates that by 2020, 85% of the interactions between a customer and an organisation won’t involve a human. This is because customers have greater access to information, and the speed at which they expect to receive information is almost instantaneous. They aren’t willing to wait, and this is impacting the business environment enormously.

Tony Hughes (TH): It’s never been easier for customers to search, find and change suppliers. This shift is putting a greater importance on relationships. Yet, customers are looking to trusted peers for advice and guidance, not salespeople. Salespeople need to be aware of this and find context to initiate engagement, because the way we sell, rather than what we sell, is becoming the winning differentiator.

Tony, how is this new breed of hyperconnected, mobile, informed and empowered customer impacting the sales function?

 

TH: Customers have become very good at doing their own research, which means salespeople need to provide insight rather than mere information. We must educate our prospects and provide value at every step of the buying process – serving up high quality, educational content is critical in achieving this.

Vice versa, salespeople need to be doing their own research. If we waste a prospect’s time by seeking information that, in their minds, we should have been able to source before the call, we start the relationship on the wrong foot.

Social listening and research is also growing in importance. The fastest path to revenue, and the highest probability of making a sale, is through referrals and trigger events. So, the ability to use social media to monitor trigger events and find referrals is really accelerating the sales process.

Finally, it’s also no longer enough to just have a digital presence. We need to be where our market is, make it easy to find us, and be prepared to engage on any channel, at any time.

Anouche, what are the implications of changing customer expectations on service teams?

 

AN: This growing appetite for self-service means that if a customer is coming through to an agent it’s most likely that they have a problem they cannot solve themselves. Therefore, the skill level, problem solving ability, and knowledge required by service agents to solve these more complex issues is much greater. The tools and knowledge they have access to are also more important.

We’re also seeing a single view of the customer become quite critical. When a customer calls they expect the person they’re talking to to know everything about them. They don’t want to be moved between departments, so there’s much more of an emphasis on that first contact resolution. The only way service agents can achieve this is if they’re empowered with a single view of the customer.

Sales and service can no longer operate in silos. 73% of business buyers and 65% of consumers say they are extremely or very likely to switch brands if they receive inconsistent experiences. Cross-departmental collaboration has become crucial to success. How can a connected sales and service strategy transform the customer experience?

 

TH: Customer loyalty has become quite elusive, and it’s a mistake to think that making it difficult for the customer to leave is the key to retention. Truly knowing the customer and providing tailored experiences is the answer, as is making transactions easy, with seamless hand-offs between channels and departments.

But, this seamless customer experience can only be achieved if the sales and service teams are working hand-in-hand, from a common source of truth. Because, there's nothing that annoys a customer more than having to repeat themselves, telling different people in the organisation the same information.

AN: Traditionally, service teams have been regarded as a cost centre. But, this idea is being turned on its head, with the 'contact centre' increasingly being viewed as a revenue generating mechanism. One that’s also having an up-tick on the customer experience.

What is the impact of unifying sales and service on the business?

 

AN: Customer service is very much the frontline, so an increase in internal collaboration and the realisation that service agents are hugely valuable to an organisation is a really positive shift – for both the business and employees. Ultimately, collaboration between sales and service teams creates a healthier organisation, and this improved internal culture makes for a better customer experience. It’s a win-win.

TH: A great example of this cross-departmental collaboration in action and the benefits it brings is WiseTech, a global logistics software business based in Sydney. They’ve created great video content in customer support, which acts as a service tool, but they also make it available to potential customers. This way, prospects can transparently see the support they will receive as a customer and they’re well-educated on the product, so there’s no false expectations. Since listing on the ASX 15 months ago, WiseTech’s share price has more than doubled with its revenue growing at approximately 50% per annum, and last year it only invested 14% of its revenue in sales and marketing.  

Anouche, one of the biggest advantages of having service connected with sales is the rich sales opportunities that can be unlocked. What steps can service leaders take to make the most of cross-sell and upsell opportunities?

 

AN: Firstly, service leaders need to encourage a service mindset. Good service is not just about helping people with their products; it’s about making sure they’ve got the right product and the right information to get the most out of that product. Helping frontline staff think this way is the first step, which can require a real shift in mindset, particularly in more traditional organisations.

Secondly, service leaders need to ensure agents have the tools, knowledge and skills required to engage in this dialogue. It’s a different type of conversation and requires a more sophisticated approach.

Tony, speed is everything for sales, and customers are expecting businesses to move faster. How can sales provide quick responses and move deals along quickly without sacrificing personal connection?

 

TH: Customers live in this new world of immediacy. Mobile technology has completely shattered the definition of “timely” interactions, with 64% of consumers saying they expect companies to engage with them in real time. There can no longer be any lag between a customer initiating contact and the company’s response.

A single view of the customer is also a critical enabler for sales teams. Not having access to the right customer information at the right time is a common speed bump in the sales process – not to mention one that damages trust and relationships.

Organisations need to be mindful that delivering a great customer experience starts with creating a great employee experience. If you create a culture where employees are empowered to make decisions that are in the best interests of both the customer and the business, and they have the tools and technology to do so, speed and efficiency will follow.

What’s your advice for organisations implementing a connected sales and service strategy? Where do you start and how do you ensure ongoing success?

 

AN: There’s a multitude of approaches you can take, but I would look at it through a customer lens. Understand the customer journey, from end to end, and then consider how a service and sales team can collaborate better to support that process.

TH: A big, yet common, mistake is when a salesperson considers the end of the customer journey being when they win their business. Yet, the end of the journey is when the customer is happy, realising the benefits of what they've purchased and they're a passionate advocate for the brand. If a salesperson understands this then they’ll know that service needs to be connected with the selling process.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is helping sales reps and service agents become smarter, more productive and proactive in the way they work. How is AI going to prove a competitive advantage for sales and service teams?

 

TH: Sellers are overwhelmed with information. There’s more data nowadays than one person can efficiently manage, so AI will change everything – it already is. The fact that AI can be used to filter data, identify trigger events and determine when sales opportunities are in trouble is a game-changer. Where sales and service teams will have to become masterfully good is at blending technology with the human touch to deliver a truly differentiated customer experience. AI automation with human EQ is the killer combination in delivering game-changing sales and service.

AN: We know that speed of service is becoming more critical, and AI can really assist with this, enhancing frontline capabilities by finding information, processing information and making decisions much faster than a human can.

However, to develop a true competitive advantage, organisations need to be applying AI strategically and thoughtfully, not just having AI for AI’s sake. To reinforce this, we’re already seeing disparate levels in performance, with 77% of top service teams excelling at leveraging AI compared to 36% of underperformers.

The game has changed. A connected sales and service strategy is no longer just nice to have, it’s mandatory. What’s the danger of complacency?

 

TH: The customer must be at the heart of everything the enterprise does. Delivering a great customer experience, throughout the entire customer journey, is everyone’s responsibility – sales, service and marketing. There’s a real cultural issue inside organisations who aren’t breaking down departmental silos to ensure the customer is receiving the very best experience, and this will only become more pronounced.

AN: It’s going to be really interesting to see those organisations that don't take action. If sales and service teams are disjointed, or there's not the technology and systems in place to support that collaboration, the customer is going to be able to tell, and they’re not going to put up with it, plain and simple.

Discover just how easy it can be to connect your sales and service teams on one platform, and provide customers with the unified, personalised experience they’re demanding. Register for the Intelligent Sales & Service Forum, in Sydney on Thursday 14 September 2017.

Vincent Cotte is Director Go-To-Market Marketing at Salesforce. Read more from Vincent Cotte.