This article was originally posted on Inside CXM.

At the Olympics, if you start before the gun sounds, you’re penalized and all the participants start again. Do it again and you get disqualified.

But in business your customer care team should always jump the gun. In fact, if you wait until the deal is closed you lose.

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There are two schools of thought regarding the “right time” to start customer care. The one to which you subscribe says a lot to customers about the kind of company you are and the type of experience they should expect.

In one school (let’s call it the “old school”), conventional wisdom dictates that nothing new should be introduced towards the end of a sale that could jeopardize the deal. Telling your customer about the care organization early implies that your products are untrustworthy, unreliable, and will break.

In the other school (let’s call it the “school of enlightenment”), the company acknowledges the elephant in the room (sometimes things go wrong) and provides a solution in advance to address just such a possibility.

To illustrate, here’s a common example. Think about the last time you were waiting for your car to be serviced at the dealership. I bet it wasn’t long before a salesperson walked through, prospective buyer in tow, giving a tour of the service department. This savvy salesperson had already established the need for the car and addressed most of the cost/budgetary issues so why would they tour the service department now?  Maybe they were killing time while the manager was “considering” the deal?

If you studied at the old school such a tour would never occur because the salesperson wouldn’t want to open up the specter of car troubles. Graduates of the old school would wring their hands and cry, “This sales person isn’t killing time but they are killing the deal!”  In the old school, companies would feel that the very act of acknowledging a service department was an admission of inferiority.

Meanwhile, students at the school of enlightenment would encourage the tour. They would want to show off their clean facilities, friendly staff and capable mechanics to give the buyer confidence and peace of mind. At the school of enlightenment, jumping the gun means introducing the care team early as a way to accelerate the deal.

Apply the approach of the school of enlightenment to a business-to-business (B2B) transaction. In this case it becomes clear that the salesperson is establishing trust and reducing the buyer’s risk. Often in B2B sales situations the buyer perceives a high level of risk just before the purchase. That perception may occur because the buyer fears they didn’t ask the right questions, or their reputation in the company is at stake, or the implementation may fail, or a myriad of other reasons. If the risk is high enough, the deal may not materialize. But by starting ahead of the gun, by addressing future potentialities before they arise, you mitigate risk as a reason to delay deal closure. (See diagram below and refer to Michael Bosworth’s concepts on customer-centric selling.)

Not only will deals close faster, but by introducing the care team early, you also help establish a relationship between buyer and company at the best possible time – before problems occur.

Trusted relationships don’t happen spontaneously; they evolve over time. Strong relationships are unlikely to develop if the parties interact for the first time during high stress events. By introducing people to one another early they can begin to forge the bonds required when times are tough. (I recommend Stephen Covey’s excellent book “The Speed of Trust.”)

Consider a previous old school customer experience. You requested help and were immediately asked “who” and “what.”  The care team knew nothing about you or your situation. Furthermore, these seemingly basic questions eroded your confidence in the assistance. This is the worst time to have a first introduction and impression. How could that experience have been different if customers knew the care team already and had already worked together on a project?  By jumping the starter’s gun your care team can lay the foundation for a valuable relationship.

So, what are you waiting for?  Take what you’ve learned at the school of enlightenment, line up in the blocks, jump the gun and sprint ahead of the competition to accelerate deal closures and improve your customer relationships.

 

On Your Mark, Go, Get Set!
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