Sales and customer service are often thought of as being separate functions with distinct goals. Many organizations give their sales and customer service teams different levels of training, compensation, and stature. To use a Navy analogy, sales people are often thought of as being the "flyboys" blasting off from the aircraft carrier, while customer service people are treated like the dutiful crew that stays behind minding the ship. But here's the thing: we're seeing more data all the time from sources like Dun & Bradstreet that show how customer service - done right or done poorly - is making a big impact on sales.

The traditional boundaries between “Sales” and “Customer Service” are becoming more blurred and less important. Sales and customer service really shouldn’t be thought of as separate disciplines anymore; in fact, the best performing organizations are finding creative ways to combine the expectations of sales and customer service in a way that blends these roles and capitalizes on the best strengths of both. Sales people and customer service teams need to start working together more closely and learning from each other's daily interactions and insights with customers – in order to drive results and create bigger opportunities for the whole organization.

Here are a few key reasons why "customer service is the new sales."  

Bad Customer Service Hurts Your Sales

It’s no secret that companies with bad customer service are likely to see a reduction in sales – but it’s only been fairly recently that we’ve started to see quantifiable measures of just how extensive the “bad customer service effect” can truly be. According to stats cited by Dun & Bradstreet at the link above, “a dissatisfied customer will tell between nine to 15 people about their experience. Moreover, around 13% of dissatisfied customers tell more than 20 people.” This is especially powerful in the age of social media, when bad customer service stories can go viral and spread like wildfire. When your customer has a bad experience, lots and lots of other prospective customers are going to hear about it – and that one bad customer experience is going to taint people’s impressions of your brand and business before you ever get a chance to get in front of the prospect. That limits your pool of prospective sales leads and hurts your sales.

Good Customer Service is the Best Marketing

On the flip side, good customer service is not just a defensive move – it can be used as a proactive marketing tool. Instead of advertising your product or service, many of the most successful companies today are investing in excellent customer service that will make customers so happy that they will feel compelled to spread the word about your business. As described by Dun & Bradstreet, “the first thing you need to understand is the importance that word of mouth plays in reeling in qualified leads. Every interaction your potential buyers have with your brand—be it through your call center, a conversation with your sales rep, or an in-person meeting at your trade show booth—is being tracked and remembered by your prospect.” Instead of treating customer service like a “cost,” your organization should treat it like an “investment” in your business growth. Look at the success of Zappos, which became a viral sensation for its exceptionally generous, personal, involved customer service. Can you replicate aspects of this model in your business? Why not?

Good Customer Service Makes Your Sales Efforts Better

Customer service is not just about improving your customers’ experience – it’s about improving your organization’s internal communication, efficiency, and problem-solving. Instead of trying to get your customers off the phone as soon as possible, look for ways to keep them on the phone longer to learn more about what’s bothering them and find ways to offer solutions. Use customer service to gather business intelligence that can be shared with the sales team. Your customer service function should be thought of as a first-line “advance scouting” in-house market research team that is listening to the latest rumors and rumblings from your customers and target markets. What are they hearing? What should your sales team know? How can you use customer service to gain better insights about what your customers want and how to reach your customers more effectively?

Too many organizations continue to treat customer service like a neglected backwater of the company: underappreciated, underpaid, and undertrained. But what if your organization could start to treat customer service with more respect? Integrate your customer service team’s operations and goals with your sales team. Treat customer service like an opportunity instead of just a “cost.” Respect the power of good customer service, not just to minimize complaints, but to proactively move the needle on your company’s overall sales goals.

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Gregg Schwartz is the Director of Sales for Strategic Sales & Marketing, one of the industry-founding lead generation companies servicing the B2B marketplace. Gregg has developed and implemented hundreds of lead generation programs resulting in millions of dollars in revenue for his clients.