The value in building personal connections with your customers
The media is full of reports of former retail giants and small independent shops alike closing their doors or filing for bankruptcy as victims of the “Retail Ice Age.” Meanwhile, Amazon had sales of $136 billion in the first five months of this year. I can relate to the huge shift in consumer behavior. I used to enjoy shopping, but now rarely drive to a store to buy something, and my last visit to a mall can be measured in years. Like so many consumers, most of my purchases are made online.
I recently participated in a webinar hosted by Kelly Koelliker of Verint Systems titled “The Future of Customer Service.” Number one on her list of Top Trends was self-service. Research shows that in four years, consumers will manage 85 percent of their interactions with a business or organization without interacting with a live person. Not a trend that inside sales representatives are happy to hear. What does this rise in self-service mean for call centers? Inside reps need to be better trained, more knowledgeable and take advantage of every opportunity to connect with their customers.
‘One call at a time’
Nearly half of consumers believe companies are trying to prevent them from reaching a human. Fortunately, that hasn’t been the case in the animal health industry, where relationships have always been a key factor. A highly-successful company that has focused on personalized service and providing a great customer experience is Zappos – the online shoe and apparel company. It seems contradictory that an Internet-based company is so focused on the telephone when only about 5 percent of their sales happen over the phone, but making sure each call results in a positive customer experience is a big reason Zappos went from zero to a billion dollar company in just ten years.
If you haven’t read Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s book “Delivering Happiness,” it’s a quick read that’s worth your time, and more entertaining than most business books. Zappos has made customer service a priority for their entire company, not just a department, with a focus on delivering a “WOW!” experience for their customers. This includes everything from surprise free shipping upgrades to walking a first-time customer through the return process, or making product recommendations – in their case, fashion advice. As Hsieh puts it “…we’re trying to build a lifelong relationship with each customer, one phone call at a time.”
As an inside rep with a telephone, you are what Hsieh considers “one of the best branding devices out there.” Everything you do that demonstrates you care about your customer creates a positive emotional association with both you and your company that can increase the lifetime value of that customer.
It can be challenging to compete with the Internet, and differentiate yourself from the rest of the animal health market. Make it a personal goal to go above and beyond for every customer and you’ll create a competitive advantage.
Know their business
Get to know their business through their purchase history, by teaming up with your outside and manufacturer reps, and by not being afraid to ask questions. What are their plans for the upcoming year: to hire a new associate; invest in equipment; expand services like grooming or boarding? What are their pain points when it comes to inventory and ordering: a lack of time; over-stocked or short-dated products; missing out on promotions; always running out of product? How do they plan to increase profits in 2018? By simply raising prices or looking for other revenue-producing opportunities?
Knowing the answers to these questions gives you the opportunity to work with your practices as a true partner and set yourself apart from your competitors. Prepare a list of items for that new associate or groomer and an estimate of the additional inventory they should plan for with the increased business a new employee will generate.
Take a look at your customers’ buying habits and see where you can make a positive impact. Clinics that consistently order just before cut-off time or ask for shipping upgrades because they’re out of product can obviously use your help. Make a list of re-order points for the top 20 percent of the products they purchase. If there are items such as consumables they aren’t currently purchasing from you, offer to add them to the list and gain that business. Ask if they’d prefer a phone call, email or text from you when it’s time to place those orders. Ask your outside rep to check for short or outdated product on their next visit and work with your buyers to prevent overstocks in the future.
Take another look at that purchase history and see where your clinics can take advantage of promotions in the coming year to save money. Suggest products they don’t currently carry that are working well for other customers or are generating buzz with pet owners. Discuss your company’s direct shipping options to help your clinics regain revenue lost to online pharmacies and pet suppliers. Work with your outside reps and
vendors to set up training to help clinic staff cross-sell and upsell items. Some veterinarians are reluctant to encourage a “sales culture” in their practice, but like any business, clinics need to sell in order to maximize revenue and deliver the best products and services to their customers – particularly those products that pet owners are likely to buy elsewhere.
Technology has drastically altered consumer behavior, but personal connections that provide value and exceptional customer service – that “WOW!” factor that Amazon strives for – are more important than ever to build the emotional connections that create customer loyalty. Make the most of every opportunity your customers give you to build and maintain relationships. If making a habit of exceeding customer expectations is a part of your daily routine, you’ll provide much more value than a website can.