Selling has changed. Customers have more resources that equip them to address their challenges independently. As a result, they are leaving sales professionals out of the process. Salespeople need to find a way back in, and for many, this new path begins with the service professional.
The information learned on a service call reveals customer details that are critical to making a sale. Service professionals are privy to the customer’s concerns, needs and interests, and they have a read on the customer’s tone and emotions. This breadth of information, like multiple tiles in a mosaic, creates a detailed picture. Service professionals can use this picture to position a sale.
However, service professionals are not accustomed to selling. In fact, many see selling as opportunistic. A better mindset is based on the understanding that service and selling are connected. Service professionals can go further than meeting immediate needs. They can ask customers questions, reveal their unmet needs and address those needs with an expanded solution. With this mindset, selling is not aggressive or unseemly; it is part of a holistic approach to serving the full range of the customer’s needs.
Making the shift to enhanced service through consultative sales is important. In fact, McKinsey research has found that “improvements in customer-service scores accrued from behavioral-psychology initiatives rather than from improvements in operations.” Leaders can help service professionals make this mindset change with three practices:
1. Develop Self-awareness
We all have emotional tendencies. Developing self-awareness means recognizing these tendencies and acknowledging that they can lead us astray. When service professionals develop self-awareness, they see how their assumptions and immediate reactions can cause them to overlook opportunities. They see the value of exploring customers’ deeper needs and how well they are addressing them. They examine what more they can do to handle the full scope of their needs with an expanded solution. Developing self-awareness enables service professionals to see the customer in a more dimensional way. Put simply, to see others, people must first see how they see others.
2. Engage in Active Listening
As businesses engage in an escalating race for superior customer relationship management (CRM) systems, they often forget that one of the most powerful tools in customer service is not a program or a piece of technology — it is active listening. Active listening means focusing on someone’s words and understanding the meaning behind them.
Service professionals should engage in active listening for two reasons: First, it eases the customer’s mood, because they know they have been heard. Many customer service calls begin with frustration. The customer is trying to solve a problem, and he or she needs help. Active listening equips the service professional to capture the customer’s words and reflect them. As a result, the customer feels understood. Second, active listening often prevents the biases and assumptions that can obscure important information that would otherwise lead to an expanded solution.
Active listening requires effort. It requires the service professional to be intentional, open-minded and dedicated to improving over time. This effort pays off; research has shown that people “who received active listening responses felt more understood than participants who received either advice or simple acknowledgements.”
3. Avoid Anchoring
Building a better mindset requires moving past making and keeping first impressions, a tendency known as anchoring. Service professionals can avoid this bias by remembering to go further in their questioning strategy and ensure they are meeting every aspect of the customer’s challenge. They must avoid the template approach to problem-solving in which “problem X means this solution.”
Overcoming this common challenge requires effort at all levels of the selling organization. Service professionals and leaders must be united in their commitment to do things differently. They must be open to new ways to meet both the present need and future needs. Uprooting anchors means having an open mindset in which all solutions, even new ones, are on the table when attempting to solve a customer’s challenge.
A new mindset can be a powerful tool for advancing the sale. Service professionals who are willing to take on this transformation are positioned to expand their relationship with the customer and the sale.