I remember my first customer service job — working tech support for a mid-sized software company a little ways north of Boston. I had a lot to learn, both in terms of the technology and about the skills required to become a capable tech support rep. And it was while I was learning those “people skills” that the manager in charge of the tech support department let me in on a secret. He pointed towards the room next to ours – where the sales staff worked – and said quietly:
“You see those folks over there? Well they’re the enemy . . . “
I wondered. Salesreps . . . the “enemy” . . . ???
That was the first time I’d heard that sentiment voiced – and unfortunately it was far from the last time. Since that time I have learned that far too many organizations have this rift between their sales personnel and their customer service staff. More importantly, that rift can – and often does — have a significant impact on employee productivity and on overall organizational profitability.
Over the years, as I heard more and more customer service organizations refer to their sales staff in adversarial terms, I began to research why that was. And the answers that I got all expressed a similar sentiment:
“. . . because the only time salesreps come into our department is when they’ve got a customer with a problem and they need our help.”
In examining the sales-to-support relationship, I found this to be absolutely true. In organization after organization, practically the only cause for a salesrep to come into the Support department was to request assistance for one of their clients or prospects. I’ve been in customer service departments where the dread felt by the service staff when a salesperson entered the room was downright palpable.
The perception here was:
“salesrep visit” = “more work for support”
I found that salesreps rarely (if ever) came into support just to be sociable; seldom did they offer a quick “hello” or even give brief thanks to a rep who had helped a customer of theirs. But the fault didn’t lie just with the salesreps; the managers in charge of support typically viewed each day’s success based on the number of support calls sent their department’s way. The more calls sent support’s way, the worse the manager’s day – and the majority of customer support managers whom I’ve encountered haven’t been shy about sharing their level of joy (or lack thereof) with their staff.
So how can an HR department go about healing that rift between sales and support?
For starters, you have to work with the support managers to help them understand that they and their staff directly affect the productivity and profitability of the overall organization. This is especially true in companies where support calls get logged for prospective clients as well as existing ones. You also need to utilize analytical reports that show the connection between resolved support calls and closed business. Finally, make sure that you implement measurements that gauge customer satisfaction – and set satisfaction goals that – once reached – come with commensurate service staff rewards.
On the sales side of the equation, make sure that every account rep fully appreciates the role that customer service has on revenue. Salesreps should be sure to thank support staffers for their assistance on requested calls, and sales should also keep support informed on the progress of new or incremental sales. This is important not only because support often plays a role in it closing these deals, but also because it’s sales’ job to convey the indisputable fact that “new business is good for all of us”.
Lastly – going back to my customer service experience – sometimes it’s the simplest things that make the biggest difference. When I saw the rift between sales and service in that company, I put a candy jar in support and placed it under a white board on which I posted daily trivia questions. From that day onward, almost every salesrep came into support for no other reason than to try to answer the trivia or to satisfy their sweet tooth. And although the immediate cause was the irresistible combination of sugar & fun, the long-term effect was the opening of communications between sales and support.
The rift was closing.