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Dramatic shifts in consumer behaviour over recent years have left some sales executives unsure about how to adapt their traditional sales skills to the new, technologically empowered customer.

Armed with product information, professional reviews, word-of-mouth opinions, cost comparisons and whatever intel appears on page one of a Google search, the thoroughly modern customer has rewritten your sales script before you even open your mouth. That’s just one challenge.

How am I doing?

Customer service is not as simple as it used to be. You need to offer up a customer experience thank you, and that means more than a firm handshake and a friendly smile.  Understanding customer interests, priorities and what sort of experience they expect you to deliver is not a brainstorm around the conference table with the sales and marketing teams. You need to ask for feedback directly from the source. And you need to understand what they want and need at every touchpoint on the journey from consideration to purchase.

Listening to customer conversations online and monitoring your social media feeds is one way to stay in touch with what customers are feeling and thinking, but a strategic survey is a straighter path to practical, actionable insights.

An example – The car buyer’s journey

Buying a car is one of the most anxiety-provoking financial decisions many people will ever make. In fact, research on behalf of UK insurance comparison site put numbers to the stress levels, reporting that “… more than a third (37%) of UK drivers claim buying a car to be more than or just as stressful as being stuck in a lift, interviewing for a job (44%), moving to a new house (42%) or planning a wedding (37%)”. It’s a safe bet that those sentiments are pretty nearly universal. Is that the kind of customer experience any business wants to create?

Opportunities for valuable customer feedback

It’s extreme customer journeying, to be sure, but let’s look at the various touchpoints in the car buying process where soliciting, understanding and acting on feedback could mean the difference between customer satisfaction and customer meltdown.

  • Consideration. Few people buy a new vehicle on a whim. It’s generally a decision driven by need (family is outgrowing the sedan) or circumstance (new job, big increase, upscaling the ride). Finding out why people are walking in the door can reveal trends over a time period, guide marketing and help refine your sales approach.
  • Research. This is where technology has shifted the power dynamic from seller to buyer. Anyone with a penchant for research can find out pretty much anything they want or need to know about vehicle makes and models, service requirements, performance reputation, and a hundred other details, before they step foot in the showroom.
    So what is a customer looking for from a dealer at the research stage? Probably transparency. Marketing needs to be generous with facts, specs, hard product details. Sales people need to be prepared to have much more sophisticated conversations with buyers who are better informed than ever before. And the only way to find out if you’re ticking the boxes is to ask your customers about their experience.
  • First serious contact with retailers. Here, it gets real. The test drive, the options, availability and delivery dates. It’s a delicate phase in the evolving customer relationship and it really would be a shame to blow it by delaying appointments or not returning phone calls promptly or generally playing hard to get – even if you don’t intend to. What processes do you need to improve? How can your sales team be more accommodating? Are you working with an outdated playbook? Ask the people on the receiving end of the experience.
  • Consideration. Here is the mental consolidation period of weighing up models, features, costs, funding options. You can imagine that there’s a fine line between being open and available for aiding the decision process and being a high-pressure irritation. Get some insight on exactly what kind of support customers would find most helpful at this stage. You might be surprised.
  • Doubts and objections. Customers will vacillate. Some more than others. It would help to know and understand your typical customer’s most pressing doubts and be prepared to intelligently counter objections. Get all the insights you can on the crux of concerns at this phase.
  • More contact and conversation. Here’s the finale, when choices are confirmed, negotiations are concluded, financing is locked in and on paper, the deal is put to bed. But the dance isn’t over yet. It’s important to keep in touch and follow up on final delivery details. What’s the most appropriate method of communication at this stage? How do you best convey professional efficiency and human warmth?
  • Handover. It’s a high moment for buyer and seller. Make it farewell, but not goodbye. There are ways of keeping the little flame of customer connection burning so you’re their first choice when it’s time for the next purchase. Plus, after sales service is both a necessity and an opportunity to keep the good vibes alive.

Keep listening

Technology has changed a lot about the way in which we buy and sell and conduct the whole transactional exercise, but the fundamental human dynamics of the experience are fairly –  well – fundamental.

The late, great retail iconoclast Harry Selfridge said it over 100 years ago, “People will sit up and take notice of you if you will sit up and take notice of what makes them sit up and take notice.” In other words, ask, listen, act.

Use feedback to understand what customers really want, improve your products and services, monitor and measure satisfaction and develop a two-way dialogue that builds trust and loyal relationships.

Smart business leaders never stop listening. eValue provides the tools, feedback provides the data and analysis provides the insights that lead to better business decisions.

Get in touch if you’d like to know more about how an eValue strategic survey can help you ask, listen and understand what your customers want.