Internal Customer Service: Guidelines for Suppliers and Contractors

Change management and organization development experts talk about ‘creating alignment’ – aligning organizational strategy with daily business needs. And a big part of this is creating alignment between customer needs and employee actions as customer service providers. But we also have to take note of internal customers – those people within the organization that service us – as internal customers and who we service as internal customers. “There is a remarkably close and consistent link between how internal customers are treated and how external customers perceive the quality of your organization’s services. It is almost impossible to provide good external service if your organization is not providing good internal service.” R. Zemke and K. Anderson, Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service, 1981.

And it’s not just about internal customers within the walls of your organization, it’s also about those arms-length internal customers and customer service providers – suppliers and contractors – those people who either supply your organization directly or come into contact with your external customers, directly, as your representative. These suppliers and contractors should be considered an integral part of your organization and the service they provide should be measured as accurately and frequently as you measure the service level you provide.

To my mind, servicing others, whether internal or external (customer, supplier, colleague, peer, supervisor, contractor), should reflect the values of your organization and the process to retain the best customers – again, whether internal or external – can be applied across any of these groups. Suppliers and contractors should be selected and retained based on their commitment to servicing your customers – and your employees – as you require them to be serviced. Although you do not ‘own’ these suppliers and contractors, you have the right to demand the equivalent level of service you provide to your customers. When selecting your suppliers and contractors, or measuring the ones you currently are associated with, the following guidelines may help ensure that internal service meets the standard.

Recruit suppliers and contractors as you would your employees.

You should be seeking out the best person for the job, the high performer who will be able to deliver on your business expectations and drive up results for your company. Why not utilize some of the recruiting tools you use when conducting a search for an employee? Think about it. You will be paying this supplier or contractor to perform services for you or your customers so you should expect them to be of the calibre you expect from a new employee. Consider requesting a resume of their qualifications and experience, customers they have serviced, certifications that may be required, and if available, customer testimonials. Interview them in a similar fashion to the way in which you interview for employees. Check their references and make sure you put in place a contractual arrangement that clearly documents what you expect from them and what they can expect from you (this is just another version of position profiles and expectations for the role).

In these cases, you are seeking high performers capable of servicing both your customers and your employees. And you have a responsibility to provide them with the information, resources and possibly, tools, they will need to service both these groups accurately and professionally.

Provide clear expectations of performance.

Even if your suppliers and contractors have worked with your organization for a long period of time, it is critical to periodically review your expectations of their role and how you expect them to service your customers. Customers are retained because they have developed a good relationship with their supplier and any contractor or supplier who is dealing with your customer directly, is seen by the customer to be an employee of your company, and hence; representing your company.

When I was a general manager for an energy distribution company, one of our contractor service technicians accidentally cut the customer’s phone line. The first issue for the customer was, of course, the cut phone line and the inconvenience associated. The second issue was that the contractor apologized but told the customer he would have to call our company to secure satisfaction regarding the cost and inconvenience of having the line repaired. The third issue was the response the customer received from the Branch Manager when he called our company office to complain. He was told we were not responsible since it was a contractor that had cut the line! Yes, I too, was shocked when the customer got through to me to complain and told me what the Branch Manager had said. Even more distressing was the fact that the Branch Manager defended his position when I called him about the complaint!

No doubt we did not clearly identify to our contractor our customer service expectations. To me, they were simple. Apologize to the customer, call our office immediately to request a solution and then work with the customer to get the solution implemented. Simple to me but certainly not to our contractor or, I quickly discovered, to my Branch Manager.

So my next step was to build a contractor customer service agreement and develop a customer service training program to implement with both our employees and our contractors. We then implemented it across my region. We still had customer service issues with both our contractors and our employees, periodically,but this was a great first step.

Conduct frequent performance reviews.

Providing your suppliers and contractors with regular, specific feedback will not only give you confidence that they are meeting your needs but will also provide opportunities for them to discuss any customer service challenges, issues, or problems with you before they result in lost customers. These regular reviews should be part of the contract between you and the contractor and they should be implemented on schedule. During these reviews you should include their primary employee contacts to ensure all partners are clear about the issues and able to participate in developing the solutions. This secures commitment to the solutions.

Reward and recognize customer service excellence.

At a minimum, providing them with a reference signifies that you are pleased with their customer service performance. But, without a doubt, the best reward for suppliers and contractors is securing more work from you.

Following these guidelines will go a long way to ensuring alignment between your company, your employees and your suppliers and contractors – to the business goals and strategy. All sectors can then be focused on delivering the expected level of customer service to the customer base you want to retain.

Ways To Improve Customer Service In Your Business

How many times have you been into a department store, supermarket or clothes shop and been completely ignored by the sales assistant whose job it was to serve you and make you feel as if your custom was not only welcomed, but appreciated? Have you called a service provider such as a gas company, an electricity supplier or a Digital TV provider, only to be offered multiple “Press 1 for X” and “Press 2 for Y” choices and not known which option to choose? Equally, on how many occasions did you eventually get through to a customer service agent who told you he or she could not answer your query and they would have to pass you to another colleague, leaving you on hold for an even longer period of time?

We have all been there and on such occasions we can often have thoughts such as “Why don’t they just improve their customer service?” or “Why don’t they treat me the way I am supposed to be treated?”

We can also very easily remember the companies, stores, restaurants and services which have delivered amazing customer service every single time and these are the businesses that we are always happy to recommend to friends, family and colleagues. It is this recommendation which grows a business and entices new customers to use a particular company or service, so why haven’t companies and businesses realised that if they simply improved customer service, it could mean the difference between growing their customer base or losing it to another company which provides a superior level of customer service?

The reality is, that improving customer service within your business is not rocket science and if you hold the view that the customer is king and keep that belief at the very heart of your business, you will ultimately keep the customers you have and attract more customers to your business – whether you are running a small business, a large company or whether you are working for yourself and providing a niche service to clients and customers.

Here are 5 very simple ways in which you can improve customer service within your own organisation…

Develop and nurture the belief within your company that the “Customer Is King”

If you want your current customers to return to you and you wish to attract even more customers to your business, you must nurture a belief system within your company and among your employees which encourages those employees to keep your valuable customers at the heart of everything they do. Something I am helping some of my own clients to do, is to develop their Mission Statement or Company Ethos, which is not only circulated to employees but is also posted to workstations, kitchen areas and on bathroom walls above the wash basins. Whatever your company’s mission statement is, it should have terrific customer service at its centre and it is vital to encourage all employees to develop this belief system together as a team.

Engage with your employees and encourage them to offer opinions and solutions

The best way to encourage your employees to improve their own customer service skills, is to treat your employees like valuable colleagues whose opinions matter and whose views and opinions are listened to, appreciated and taken into consideration by the decision makers within the company.

Something I see quite frequently when clients are having issues such as a decline in employee morale, low customer retention and the resulting fall in profits, is that very often there can exist a “them and us” mentality among employees and a genuine belief that the company consists of two separate factions – Management and Employees. If customer service is to be improved in companies, it is vital to break down these barriers, negative thought patterns and beliefs by treating employees like valued colleagues who have a vital part to play and a major contribution to make to the success of the company or business. As a business owner, if you can encourage your employees to come to you with their thoughts, opinions and ideas, you will immediately find that they not only have a greater respect for you and for the company but that they feel they each have their own part to play in improving customer service, growing the company or business and maximising opportunities to make a real difference both to customers and to their own job satisfaction.

Listen To Your Customers!

If the customer is king, then as a business you must learn to listen more to what your customers are telling you and, often, what they are not telling you. By this, I mean that if you are losing customers and takings are down, this is not always due to economic issues or changes in customer behaviour, but can often be an indication that there is something not working within your business and you need to take action to put it right. As business owners, it can be very challenging to come up with new strategies, new products and new ways to keep our customers and clients happy however we must be completely adaptable and able to adjust to what our customers need and want if we are going to be successful.

Case Study

There is a restaurant quite near to my home which operated for a long time as a really great place to go to get a beef-burger and fries, toasted sandwich, omelette or a great Irish breakfast. The place was always packed out and on Saturday and Sundays at lunchtime there would often be people queuing out the door. The service was good, the waiting staff were polite and the food was good quality. Then, a few months ago they decided to turn it into a noodle bar. They changed their signage and devised a whole new menu aimed at customers who liked noodle dishes and Asian-Fusion cuisine. It didn’t work. Every time I walked past, the place was empty. Overnight it went from being one of the village’s top eateries to an empty restaurant with no customers. Thankfully the restaurant owners, having tried something new and different, very quickly realised they’d made a mistake and changed the restaurant back to the old one… within about 2 weeks the place was back to exactly how it had been before and of course now it is packed out again and all is good.

The moral of this tale is that the restaurant owners, realising their mistake, listened to the noise that a “lack of customers” makes and switched their restaurant back to the way it was. To them, the customer is king and always will be. They didn’t valiantly battle on, hoping things would improve or think, “Well, we’ve spent all this money creating something new and exciting, it’s not working yet so we’ll just keep at it and try to make it work… ” Instead they listened to their customers and gave the customers exactly what they wanted.

Develop Process Maps Within Your Business

Process Mapping is a vital part of any organisation. Without putting processes in place, it is very difficult for businesses to offer a consistent level of service to customers which can seriously affect profits. It also makes it difficult for everyone in the business to understand (a) what is expected of them, (b) what their role in each process is and (c) the commitment made by the company to the customer and how this commitment is fulfilled. If processes are not part of your organisation, then it becomes difficult to manage when serious issues and problems arise.

Processes are vital, regardless of what business you are in. Imagine for a moment that you are a florist. You have 3 trainee florists working in your shop and each day you are dealing with customers who want flowers for lots of different occasions – birthdays, funerals, to say “I’m Sorry” or simply to cheer someone up. For this example, let’s imagine you have been asked to design all the flower arrangements for a wedding, one of the most important occasions in anyone’s life. You are going to be looking after the flowers for the church, the bridal bouquet, the buttonholes and the flower displays on the tables at the reception. The happy couple have requested pale pink roses which have a special meaning for them. You brief your team on what needs to be done and what the couple are looking for and you assume that because you have briefed your staff, that everyone knows which part they have to play, who is responsible for ordering stock, who is doing the buttonholes, who is making the bridal bouquet etc. Normally, all the flowers are ordered in advance and the order is double-checked by one of the staff members to ensure that the supplier can deliver exactly what you need. However, a week before the wedding you accidentally cut your finger with a pair of secateurs which means you have to rush to the hospital to get stitches. You assume that because the other staff members have lots of experience and have done weddings before that they will know what you normally do and so you leave it all in their capable hands and trust that all will be fine.

The day before the wedding, you are waiting patiently for the flower delivery to arrive and by 2pm you are starting to get worried. You phone your supplier who informs you that the pale pink rose you said you wanted a month ago could not be sourced and that he had called the flower shop the previous week and spoken to “one of the girls” to let them know. You call an urgent meeting in your shop and get everyone together, but because of several other urgent orders that week (birthdays, funerals and “I’m Sorry” bouquets) none of the girls can remember speaking to the supplier or taking the message.

If a Process Map had been put in place – let’s call it “Process For Wedding Orders” – and had been distributed to all staff members so they could learn the process and know exactly what to do in every type of eventuality, this would have avoided a situation like this from ever having arisen. The fact that there was no process in place meant that no one really knew who was responsible for what and unfortunately, as owner/managers, it is very difficult for us to be everywhere at once, particular when there is a crisis or emergency. This is why having processes in place is vital to an organisation and can mean the difference between keeping a customer or losing one and, ultimately, losing money.

Hold informal review meetings with your employees on a regular basis and provide customer service training at least twice a year

One would think this should be an obvious one, but it is incredible how many businesses operate day in, day out, without ever holding review meetings or training sessions with their employees. This point is very much tied in with the point I made earlier about how important it is to include your employees in the decision making process and to encourage them to speak to you about what they feel is working, or where improvements can be made. Very often, we find as business owners that we get caught up in the day to day running of our business and it is difficult to find time to focus on some of the things that our employees may not be happy about within our organisation. If we can get to the root of why an employee may be unhappy and offer solutions, we will find that the level of customer service increases dramatically and our employees and colleagues will want to provide a better level of customer service, because they feel listened to and understood.

Remember, a review meeting with an employee to discuss customer service improvements is a two-way conversation, so it is really important to engage with your employees as much as possible. You also should prepare yourself to hear not only positive comments, but also negative ones and if you view this process as an opportunity to improve customer service, you will find the review meeting much easier to handle! Also, review meetings do not have to be held on a one to one basis, but could be held as a town hall meeting, for example which gives everyone an opportunity to voice their opinion. Make sure you have someone there to take notes, as this is more difficult to do if you are trying to engage and have a conversation with your colleagues.

Some questions you could ask during an informal review meeting are:

1. What do you feel is working well within the company?

2. What do you feel is not working?

3. Where do you believe improvements could be made?

4. Do you feel there is anything the company can do to help you improve your customer service skills and if so, what kind of training would you like to see offered in the future?

5. Do you feel there are areas the company could offer you more support that would help us to improve our level of customer service?

It is so important in the current climate to ensure that we are delivering the best possible customer service to our valued clients and customers as without them our business would not succeed, so it is worth investing some time and energy into seeing where improvements can be made and implementing changes that can make a real difference, not just to our business but to our clients’ and customers’ lives.

Even if you are a business owner who works alone and does not have employees, looking at ways to improve our own customer service and after-sales service is vital to retaining existing customers and also encouraging some new ones!

About The Author…
Tania Mallett is the Owner of Here To Help Business Support Services based in Dublin, Ireland. She worked at senior executive level in large multinationals and across many industries for over twenty years, supporting busy and often very stressed executives and now provides specialised and bespoke support to start-ups, SMEs and entrepreneurs. Her belief is that everyone should love their life and her goal is to make life easier for people – both in their business and in their life.

Why Do Businesses Need to Take Customer Service Seriously?

Most of us believe that our businesses exist for profit. Indeed, we do. But keeping this as a sole mindset may be detrimental to our enterprises in the long run.

We must understand that for our businesses to be able to sustainably exist for the long haul, we must endeavor to add value to the lives of our customers. We have to remember that consumers purchase our goods and services to solve their pressing needs. They don’t do it because they justwant us to earn profit.

Gearing for the long haul means building dynamic and productive relationships with the markets we serve. This means listening to customer insights, understanding their needs, and even thinking ahead of them to be able to provide unique and relevant solutions.

We see, the operative words in building a long lasting business enterprise are relationship andsolutions.

These two words exhibit the core ingredients in providing exemplary customer service: the kind of service that is relevant, useful, and important to the market that we do business with.

What is customer service?

For businesses, customer service really is putting on the customers’ shoes. It is a practice that ensures customers experience unique and personalized connection with the brand from beginning till the end of every transaction. Customer service is about how we help develop the consumers’ personal relationship with the goods and services that we provide.

It is how we design our products or conduct our services in a manner that may ease their problems and concerns. It is providing value and offering solutions.

Simply put, customer service is how we design the consumers’ journey from information gathering, purchase, and post purchase, to be as easy as possible, as pleasant and productive as possible.

In a nutshell, customer service is about the consumers’ total experience with our brands and services.

Why invest in customer service?

Having the biggest and the latest product is no longer an edge in today’s hyper competitive market. The trap of having the better mouse trap can be lethal to businesses. This is why, we need to uniquely define our brands and services to stand out – or at least survive in the arena.

Some businesses believe that adopting the latest technology may be the answer. Some think that having a deep pocket to splurge on marketing would save the day. These myopic senses, however, may lead them down the lion’s pit.

A cost efficient and relevant business differentiator may lie on plain and simple good ol’ customer service.

We have listed below five of the many reasons why businesses should invest in good customer service:

The age of human to human business

We’ve also been customers at some point in our lives. We know that it is not cool to talk to a robot on the other line, telling us that our calls are important… but we have to wait… and wait… and wait… until the robot talks to us again. Or after a long automated spiel and garble-y canned ads, we’re told, to speak to an operator, press zero.

We’ve also experienced how to be excited to use a new product only to be welcomed by a thick book of users’ manual (or log-on to this complicated site to start enjoying our services!).

Those scenarios are often frustrating, we wished we never purchased these goods or services at all!

Albeit the advancement of digital and telecommunications technology, as humans, we still prefer to talk to another warm blooded human. Similarly, a human voice, any human interaction for that matter, is priceless to our customers.

Humanizing our services creates a strong brand affinity among our customers. They can put a face to a brand or service, they know that they are being listened to. And they know that someone will understand them – beyond algorithms and codes.

After the digital explosion in the past years, customers have become exhausted by cold automation. They need to interact with humans. And this need, once wisely addressed, will provide businesses with opportunities to make a difference.

Approach clutter with personalized service

While most brands aimlessly busy themselves trumpeting how good they are, it is about the right time to step back and look at how our business should really make sense to the customers. Let us take time to understand them and their needs and find ways to make sense to them.

As we know in marketing, anything that is not relevant to the consumers does not add value to the product or service. Touting them will just add to the noise and clutter.

Capturing the right market means linking with them and building a mutually beneficial relationship. We are called to approach the market with personalized service.

Mass producing may have been the pill to progress in the past century but this may no longer be the case today. Customers need to feel special and unique, thus we also have to design our goods, services, and processes to be such.

By personalizing our approach to business, customers will return our efforts by being loyal to our brands. Customer loyalty means better business for us.

Attract more customers with focus and attention

Given the unique requirements of our customers, we need to ensure that we provide them with specialized goods and services.

To attract more patrons, we need to focus and put extra attention to their distinctive needs and wants.

As mentioned above, we need to be relevant to the customers’ lives to be able to do business with them. This is where good customer service comes in.

What are our ways to hear them out? Are we providing them total solutions? Are our products and services easy to use and the answer to their needs? Are we making their lives easier? Are we providing them value?

Are the services we provide fast and convenient? Are the queues fast moving? Are our websites user friendly? Are our call center agents knowledgeable, do they listen actively?

Most customers, when hunting for new products and services look for these factors. For all we know, they may have been disgruntled clients of our competitors who look to be paid attention to.

Paying attention to the market and providing them exemplary service may be beneficial in gaining more customers.

Love thy own

Good customer service may also be about retaining profitable customers. We know that this client base may provide us with repeat purchases and may even influence their circles to do business with us.

Some studies have shown that by keeping our customers happy, we can keep doing business with them sustainably. In fact, a study suggests that by increasing our loyal customer base, we may be able to increase steady revenue as well.

Happy customers tend to purchase more, and may, in fact, provide us important insights on how we may improve our business relationship with them. Talk about free insights on product usage, logistics, etc.

Loving our own by providing good customer service will keep us from chasing flighty birds in the bush.

Of course, it can also be about cost

Investing in good customer service may also be about cost. Doing this may save us from spending too much in marketing and new customer acquisition – which may ring up to four times the price.

By integrating good customer experience in our products and services at the onset, we may avoid costly returns and repairs. We may also lessen frustration which can usually cause longer term damage to our brands.

We’ve heard of several horror stories where brands needed to spend millions and millions just to appease angry customers. This may have been avoided if a customer-centric mindset prevailed.

If we wish to establish a good customer service system, the investment need not to be complicated and expensive. We can turn to our frontline employees, gather their experience, and farm ideas from them on how to better serve our clients.

For businesses to thrive and be competitive in today’s environment, customer service must be taken seriously. We must ensure that our customers experience unique and personalized connection with us. We must provide our customers the right environment to develop close affinity to brands.

Customer Service Improves Sales

Henry Ford said ‘The only foundation of real business is service’. In many companies, the customer service function sits outside of the sales channel as it is seen in some way inferior to sales. Yet customer service is integral to sales success. Without good customer service there will be no repeat sales, and repeat sales are the most profitable revenue any company can generate.

The selling process is not complete merely because the customer has stated that he or she will buy your products or services. Throughout the entire selling process, the maintenance of goodwill is important, but even more so after the purchase. Regardless of your customer’s previous feeling towards your company, the experience they have after they have bought will have a significant impact on future sales. Customer service doesn’t complete the sale; it reignites the sales cycle. A worthwhile maxim to adopt is: ‘a customer cannot be regarded as satisfied until we get their next order.’

Whilst customer service represents the last element in many standard sales processes it could also be argued that it is the first element in a recurring sales process. Ask yourself:

Did I ensure that the agreements reached with the customer actually happened?
Did I attempt to up-sell?
Did I ask for a referral?
What records are kept and maintained?
What feedback did I get about how the customer benefited from my product/ service?
How could customer service be improved?
Why Is Customer Service Important?

There are a number of empirical studies on the value of customer service and the effect of repeat business on the bottom line. Frederick Reicheld and Earl Sasser said that ‘if companies knew how much it really costs to lose a customer, they would be able to make accurate evaluations of investments designed to retain customers’. They found that customers become more profitable over time as increased sales; reduced costs of distribution; referrals; and the opportunity to up-sell all add to the bottom line.

Heskett, Sasser, and Scheslinger collaborated on a training programme to assist managers in understanding the lifetime value of customers and in addition advised on the importance of developing a culture whereby employees are engaged to contribute to the value chain. They postulated that employee satisfaction leads to service value which produces customer satisfaction and which in turn results in profits and growth. It is hardly surprising that happen employees produce happy customers.

What is Customer Service?

Is it just about smiling and being nice to customers? It’s a good place to start but it can’t just be about that.

It is generally accepted that it is very difficult to deliver high standards of customer service. Some say we have not been educated for it – it is not our tradition. This observation is often justified by stating that since late Victorian and early Edwardian times fewer and fewer people have worked in ‘service’. What was a major employment sector in those days has now dwindled to almost nothing.

While this has happened, employment has increased in manufacturing, sales, administration, information technology, and social sciences. Through the years ‘working in service’ came to be regarded as a dead end job that nobody wanted and would only take as a last resort. As a result, the label ‘service’ has almost fallen into disrepute, and many people see giving service as something beneath them that lesser mortals do.

However, the truth is that everybody likes and appreciates good service.

Difference between Good & Poor Service
An often quoted but unattributed statistic is that where people have been asked the question – ‘what would you say was the main difference between somewhere where you received good service and somewhere you received poor service’ – in 70 percent of cases the response has been – ‘the attitude and behaviour of the person delivering the service’. Whether true or not, it seems probable that if we receive poor service from somewhere we are unlikely to buy from that source again.

It is therefore reasonable to assume that good customer service does not involve the quality of the product (unless you have advertised a product as being something it is not) but the quality of the people delivering the product or service, and the experience the customer has of buying your product or service.

It is also reasonable to assume that you yourself know the difference between good and poor service and can put yourself in the customer’s shoes when buying your product or service.

It should be relatively easy to establish a list of thing you have purchased in the last couple of months and determine whether the experience you had of buying was good, bad or indifferent. Obviously a lot of buying and selling these days happens without the interaction of people (e.g. buying on the web) and for the purposes of this exercise perhaps you should record those activities separately. Although it might appear simple, an appraisal of your own experience, coupled with putting yourself in the customer’s shoes should provide you with a wealth of information regarding the difference between good and poor service.

Analysing Good Customer Service

Ask the customer

A simple yet highly effective way of establishing the quality of your customer service is to ask the customer. Attached is an example of a customer service questionnaire used in a car distributor showroom (customer service questionnaire).


You might check out the set of customer service standards as determined by the Institute of Customer Service. In 2007 they conducted some research into what they believe customers wanted. The top ten responses were as follows:

Overall quality of the products/ service
Friendliness of staff
Handling of problems and complaints
Speed of service
Helpfulness of staff
Handling enquiries
Being treated as a valued customer
Competence of staff
Ease of doing business
Being kept informed

In 2004 the Institute of Leadership published the results of a survey with staff regarding the reasons for poor customer service. The top four reasons given were:

60% of staff believe that the main contributing factor contributing to poor customer service was bad line management
45% claim that their relationship with their line manager impacted significantly on the service they provide to the customer
60% felt they were not praised enough for good customer service, and
10% said they never receive any praise for a job well done

I have defined customer service as being:

A set of business behaviours which seek to provide superior service to existing and prospective customers; build customer loyalty and repeat business; and influence the acquisition of new customers.

The Follow-up of a Sale

A major life insurance company revealed that in nearly 60% of all life insurance lapses, the policy terminated after the second premium payment. The same company pointed out that after a policyholder makes four premium payments, lapses are negligible. The significance of these statistics is that customers must remain convinced that their buying decisions were correct or repeat purchases are likely to stop. You, through the final step in the selling process – the follow up – can influence the satisfaction your customers derive from their purchases.

Consider one of your customers whose purchases have been poor during the past year and are not likely to increase significantly in the future. Also assume that you have one highly profitable account whose purchases amount to nearly 25% of the total volume of your business. What sort of follow-up and service should you provide to each? Naturally the larger, more profitable account would probably receive greater attention on your part.

For all customers, you should analyse how extensive your follow-up should be. For most accounts, an occasional email, letter or telephone call should suffice. For more active customers you might need to make in-person calls every week or so. Customers who have made or are likely to make large purchases at some time in the future certainly deserve the best personal service you can provide.

Many salespeople are fond of quoting the Pareto Principle in regard to sales, saying that around 80% of their customers provide them with only about 20% of the total sales volume in their territories. Conversely, about 80% of total sales volume comes from only 20% of their customers.

Your principal responsibility as a salesperson is to sell products or services profitably. This should be your rule of thumb when servicing accounts. Your time is limited, but time spent with customers is often an investment in greater sales and future profits. Even accounts that are semi-active or lacking in potential might become high volume purchasers if service and follow-up activities can improve their attitudes toward you and your company.

Follow-up activities vary substantially by industry and product. At one extreme, it is unlikely that a Scout selling raffle tickets house to house during his annual fundraising will make any follow-up calls during the year. On the other hand, a retail merchant buying household products for re-sale may require regular assistance from their supplier such as inventory maintenance, merchandise displays, and co-operative advertising programmes that can be part of the follow-up. Even the Scout group will need to deliver the prizes and should publish a list of winners.

Ideas for Follow-up

Thank you communication

You are far more likely to get repeat orders if you develop an amicable relationship with your customers. Any activity that helps to cement this relationship, from a simple ‘thank you’ to hand delivering a substantial order, can benefit both you and your customer. A simple goodwill builder, but one far too frequently overlooked, is sending a thank you letter, card, or email soon after a sales call has been made.

You can develop a few formats and then modify to suit each specific customer and specific occasions such as moving to new premises, or even more personal such as birthdays or recovering from accident/illness. The cost and the time expended are minimal compared to the goodwill that a ‘thank you’ can create.

After-Sales Service & Assistance

Even if the product is not delivered in person, a telephone call or an in-person visit may enable you to help your customer with the proper use of your products. Customers who do not know how to use a purchase may blame you or the product for their frustrations and problems. Besides instructing your customers on the proper use of your products, you may also be able to point out additional uses for the items. Sometimes there may be minor repairs or adjustments resulting from faulty installation that you can correct or arrange service for. In some cases, you may create goodwill just by checking with customers to make certain that their orders were fulfilled and delivered as directed on purchase orders. You might find some of these suggestions regarding follow-up activities useful:

Make a follow-up ‘goodwill building’ visit to your customers within a week after delivery of the product to make certain that the order was fulfilled properly.
Make certain that the product is satisfactory and is being used properly.
Offer suggestions to the customer on ways to make more effective or additional use of the product.
Use the follow-up visit as an opportunity to obtain new prospects i.e. ask for referrals.
Handle any complaints or misunderstandings as soon as possible and with a positive and courteous attitude.
When you make in-person follow up visits, be sure they are not ‘waste-of-time calls’. Before making the call, ask yourself ‘How is my customer likely to benefit from this call? What do I want to achieve?’

Personal delivery

In some instances, you might be able to develop more satisfied customers by delivering your product in person. For example, life insurance agents frequently deliver policies in-person as soon as the contract is prepared and returned from head office. Five major reasons for this type of in-person delivery are:

To review the features of the policy
To reassure the client that a wise purchase was made
To remind the client when the next premium is due in order to make the sale stay solid
To promote the sale of additional life insurance in the future
To solicit referred leads.
There is a double reason for after-sale selling. Firstly, the existing buyer is, and always has been, a great referral source. Secondly, some sort of professional friendship is developed which can be a future useful testimonial to a new prospective customer.


Goodwill is a factor related to customer attitudes and sentiments toward you and your company. The loss of goodwill is, in effect, the loss of sales. Goodwill building is not automatic. It requires a deliberate, conscientious, and sincere concern about customer interests and needs over extended periods of time. Virtually every step in the selling process has an influence on goodwill.

Goodwill is not concrete – you cannot put your finger on it or measure it accurately in currency. Nevertheless, goodwill is of significant value since it helps the salesperson in making initial and repeat sales. Furthermore, customers with favourable attitudes towards your company and its products are also excellent sources of referral business.

Keeping Customers Satisfied and Staying Competitive

Getting a prospect to place an order and become a customer is long and arduous. Although the search for prospects to turn into new customers never stops, you should also never stop building good relationships with your present customers. They deserve your follow-up so that they will receive the products or services ordered. A commitment to service is required to keep your present customers buying from you. It is service that builds goodwill. In competitive markets it is not products that are different; it is the after sales service provided that makes the difference.

The Importance of Developing Enthusiastic Customers

Enthusiastic customers are one of your best sources of prospects because they are excited about what they buy and want to share that excitement with others. Because of our natural reserve, that is not something we do lightly, so we always take notice if a colleague or friend speaks highly of a company.

If you deliver what customers want at a fair price, without any problems, they are should be satisfied. Although that is better than being dissatisfied, you need more than this to ensure keeping the customer and increasing sales. You have to develop customer enthusiasm about your products and services. You must deliver more than the customer expects. This breeds enthusiasm, which produces a climate that ensures loyalty and increased sales and recommendations to others. Here are some suggestions for producing and maintaining enthusiastic customers:

Keep in touch: check after delivery to see that things are going well. Check again later and ask for leads on new prospects.
Handle any complaints promptly: problems are inevitable. Do not ignore them. They grow with neglect. Do more than the customer expects in satisfying the complaint.
Be a friend: think of the customer as a friend and do things for them accordingly. Send birthday cards or postcards while you are on holidays. Congratulate him or her on awards or advancement.
Give praise when it is due: look for things for which you can give legitimate praise: something the firm has done awards, increased earnings, and a big order. Congratulate the customer personally for awards, election to an office, and honours. Customers appreciate attention too.
Send prospects to your customers: if your customers are in business, send leads or refer prospects to them. It is human nature to respond in kind to anyone who does us a favour.
The Competition

Learn as much as you can about the competition’s products and services. Study how they bring their products to market, their policies, their pricing levels or strategies, the markets they serve, and their customers. Use this information to carry out a SWOT Analysis described elsewhere in this book.

List the strong selling points of your competitors and next to each list a similar or better customer benefit from your own product or service. Don’t assume that every prospect or customer of yours knows your competitors’ strong points. Emphasise your own customer benefits during the sales call. Don’t mention, or sell, your competitors.

Analyse why prospects or customers are buying from competitors and prepare a detailed plan to convince them that they should be buying from you.

Continually review and reinforce the reasons why your customers are doing business with you.

Continually strive to build a close relationship with your customers so they can be more dependent on you.

Earn the right to ask for more orders based on your commitment to service. Remember: your best customers are probably your competitors’ best prospects. Keep working to keep them satisfied and buying from you.

A competitor’s customers are loyal and satisfied because the products or services they receive fit their organisation and requirements now. These conditions can and do change so customer satisfaction is relative.

Becoming a Preferred Supplier

When competing against established suppliers, you may first have to get on the list of acceptable suppliers. To do so this you must create awareness and then an interest and desire for your products or services.

Consider sending copies of advertisements, newspaper articles, or trade journal reports in which you and/ or your company appears, to your customer. Use testimonial letters and recommendations. This will alert your customer to your acceptance by other companies in the same or similar activities.

Invite members of the customer’s firm to visit your plant, your headquarters, your offices, customer installations, or trade shows.

Suggest that their present suppliers are quoting a fair price; however, with new products and services continually being introduced, inflation, improved efficiency, higher productivity, maybe you can do better.

Ask for a copy of their bid specifications and requirements so you can prepare a proposal and quotation for their review and evaluation.

Suggest that they can determine whether or not what you have proposed will give them more value for money. Offer them:

trial orders
sample equipment
thirty day service evaluation period
money back guarantees
These are all part of what it may take for you to become an acceptable supplier. Your creativity as a sales professional will be really challenged by thinking of ways and means to become an acceptable supplier to prospects that are apparently satisfied by their present suppliers.


‘We don’t have problems, we have opportunities.’ A cliché, but very true in the case of complaints. It has been estimated that only one in twenty customers complain when they get bad service. The vast majority just go elsewhere! Worse still, the average person tells nine people about the bad service they received. They tell everyone but you. A complaint is an opportunity in identifying ways of improving your services and hence the goodwill of your customers.

Most of us do not like criticism. Therefore, when people complain to us, whether it is face to face or not we try to defend ourselves. Even if the complaint is directed personally towards us, which it rarely is. In doing so we sometimes resort to attack, only making the situation worse.

The best way to deal with complaints is to: –

Acknowledge the complaint
Listen carefully for information
Do not defend or excuse
Empathise with the caller
Promise to put investigate it
Promise to call back is necessary and do so
All the customer wants to know is: –

That you fully understand their problem
What you are going to do about it
If you deal with people in this way, there is no reason why every communication of this kind should not result in both parties being satisfied.

This positive result is not necessarily dependent upon the issue being fully resolved it is dependent upon responsive and responsible communication.

Remember, when a customer complains, they are giving you a second chance to put it right

When the complaint is received over the telephone:

Note down the facts.
Summarise your understanding of the facts back to the customer to ensure clarity.
Phone the customer back when you said you would.
If you have not solved the problem by this time, give a progress report.
Agree a common method for handling complaints in your organisation. Include procedures for complaints that are face to face, by ‘phone and by letter/email. Draw up a complaints form. It should include:

Date and time received.
Who received it?
The details of the customer: name address, telephone number. Make sure that it meets data protection standards on keeping the information (every organisation should have this as a written procedure and ensure that everyone is aware of this).
Complaint details.
The nature of the complaint.
Action to be taken and deadline.
Sign off when dealt with, and where appropriate signature of line manager.
Build into the process a method for building customer relationships by getting in touch with the customer two weeks after the complaint has been dealt with to confirm that the complaint was dealt with satisfactorily.
Staff need to ensure that they:

Don’t take complaints personally or be defensive; this isn’t an attack on their competence.
Take responsibility and ownership on behalf of the organisation and explain to the customer that they will do their best to sort it out.
understand that bad news spreads
don’t get drawn into an argument
remain calm and professional
The rule for complaints
A complaint is a customer communicating their dissatisfaction at the service or product that we have provided, it is an important message that tells us where we are going wrong and gives us vital information about our customer’s wants, needs and expectations. You can’t buy this information!

Regaining Lost Customers

All organisations lose customers, some for very genuine reasons such as relocation or closure. Sometimes though, they go either because we do something wrong or a competitor makes a better offer. After losing a customer to a competitor ask yourself:

‘What can I do to get this customer back’?
‘What has to be done to assure myself I do not lose more customers for similar reasons’?
Prepare a list of all the things that could have gone wrong with the account. Next, set up a convenient meeting with your former customer for a frank discussion so you can clarify the position. Consider key areas such as price, delivery, proper handling of warranties or guarantees, and service calls

Say that although you’ve lost this particular piece of business, it is your intention to win it back in the future. You want to gain their support in helping you to identify what went wrong by discussing the problems. Consider the following:

Have you kept them abreast of all your new products or services?
Have you kept them abreast of important price, personnel or policy changes?
Have you visited them on a frequency appropriate for their business activity?
Have you considered all the ways of helping them improve their businesses by emphasising products and services that would help them in the marketplace?