How to get sales and customer service teams working together
Overcoming traditional silos between sales and customer service is difficult. But failing to do so can result in lost sales and a poor customer experience.
Published December 4, 2018
Last updated September 17, 2020
The customer experience today is more relational and less transactional than ever before. This is a great thing for customers, and it's a great thing for businesses that want to build long-term relationships with those customers. But this shift towards relationships and away from mere transactions has also revealed one of the fundamental problems in how we think about sales and customer service.
The problem is priorities: a sales team's priority, the thing they're judged by, is having as many conversations as possible. The customer service team's priority, on the other hand, is usually to reduce the number of conversations they have every day.
Sales teams are measured by:
- The number of calls made
- The length of calls
- The number of meetings set
In contrast, customer service teams are measured by:
- Reducing the number of tickets
- Reducing the number of conversations
- Time to resolution
Notice the problem here? Sales teams are incentivized to have conversations while support teams are incentivized to end conversations.
Both departments are pushed in opposite directions by different goals, causing them not to share information or act as one team. They operate as silos or separate entities. This disconnect primarily affects the customer experience.
How silos affect your customers' success
Most companies would probably agree that customer retention is an important goal. But operations don't often mirror this. Sales teams try to quickly push customers through the funnel and customer service tries to quickly manage the expectations set by sales. They are too busy focusing on efficiency, not customer satisfaction.
This is not necessarily a reflection on sales or customer service. It reflects a problematic structure — departments acting as silos.
Silos aren't something that companies aim for. They develop as a result of other structural decisions. For example, let's say teams are divided by functionality. Departments then feel separate and possibly in competition with each other.
There are internal consequences for silo'd sales and customer service, but the customer is the main one who suffers from this structure.
Missed opportunities and unclear communication
In the traditional model of customer service and sales, customers can end up frustrated and overlooked. Requests fall through the cracks, expectations are not met, and opportunities to “wow” the customer are missed.
For example, a customer sends an email to a customer service representative about a friend who is interested in the product. The customer service rep may not know who to forward the email to or maybe it gets lost in the inbox. Particularly in a larger company, there is a good chance that the email will never get forwarded to the correct person. The current customer then feels neglected by the lack of response and a sales lead is lost.
Similarly, a sales representative promises a special discount to a pending customer while trying to close a deal on a new product. After the sale is made, the sales member fails to communicate the discount to customer service. The customer then has the irritating task of explaining the arrangement on a call with a customer service rep.
When conversations are not followed up on or the customer keeps having to explain an issue from one rep to the next, customer retention is unlikely. NewVoiceMedia’s 2018 “Serial Switchers” report found that 67% of customers will switch brands based on poor customer experience. Top reasons for leaving include:
- Customers do not feel appreciated.
- Customers are not able to speak to a person who can provide them with the answers they are looking for.
- Customers experience rude and unhelpful employees.
- Customers are being passed around to multiple people.
- Customers are put on hold for unreasonable lengths of time.
An upside to this survey is that 86% of customers said they would be willing to remain with the business if there was an emotional connection with a customer service agent. Meaningful customer conversations are key to success.
Sales and customer service working together
It's important to note that individual silos are not the problem. Sales and customer service can be strong departments by themselves, but a connection will make them effective on a company and customer level.
One way to think about this connection is as a revolving door. It should be a continuous, looping relationship between marketing, sales, customer service, and other departments as they continue to delight the customer. For sales and customer service, this relationship provides significant benefits such as:
- New leads and opportunities from support conversations
- Prioritized support for big customers and hot prospects
- Easier to support customers with context from sales
Unfortunately, a connection is usually missing between silo'd departments.
How to bridge the gap between silos
As discussed, traditional incentives between departments are polarizing. This makes it difficult to connect the sales and customer service silos. A mindset alignment on the management level is first needed to address the disconnect.
Rather than focusing on the speed of employee activities, the focus should be on the customer relationship — quality over quantity. Pushing for more sales and less customer service takes away from the overall customer experience.
A specific relationship strategy will depend on your company, but there are foundational steps you can take to align your sales and customer service teams.
Create an organization plan
First, determine a specific plan to guide how your teams will interact with each other in the present and future.
- Start by having open discussions with team leaders in sales and customer service. Ask strategic questions:
- What are the challenges each department has concerning customers?
- What are the goals of each department and how do they align?
- The ultimate goal should be to understand the customer and their needs at each stage of their relationship with the company.
- After determining the best process for aligning your current teams, ensure that you have an onboarding process in place as new members join your team. Create a training plan that current team members can also participate in.
- Don't treat the customer relationship as a handoff between departments. The relationship between sales and the customer should continue and vice versa with customer service.
Once you have a plan in place, you can add sections that outline tactical ways your teams can build sustainable relationships with each other and your customers.
Establish a change in metrics
Answer the following questions: What type of incentives and performance metrics are currently being used to measure employee success? How do these need to change in order to focus on bringing value to the customer?
- Sales Metrics: Instead of pushing your sales team to primarily acquire new customers, emphasize adding value to current ones. Lifetime value (LTV) and average revenue per customer are two helpful metrics that encourage a better customer experience.
- Customer Service Metrics: Discuss with customer service leaders about focusing on the quality of interactions rather than pressuring customer service to eliminate tickets as quickly as possible. Customer satisfaction, average response time, and customer contact rate are possible metrics to assist with this.
Long-term sustainable growth needs to be the emphasis for both departments, not short-term wins.
Understand and trade skills
By understanding each other and the underlying processes, sales and customer service are able to offer a consistent customer experience.
- Both customer service and sales should gain skills in each others' departments. Shadowing is a possible way to do this.
- Assign certain team members to each other and have them spend a couple of hours in each department observing processes and interactions.
Customers can sense if departments are on the same page. In addition to understanding skills, sales and customer service need to be communicating all customer interactions with each other.
Implement clear lines of communication
If you remember from our post about taking charge of your sales pipeline, nurtured leads experience a 20% increase in sales over non-nurtured leads. Communication is a key element and starts at an internal level.
- Encourage face-to-face conversations between sales and customer service. Email is helpful, but an in-person conversation can build initial rapport and trust.
- Too many sales teams and support teams are using siloed tools. Implement a CRM system that tracks the entire customer experience. A customer relationship management system is beneficial for productivity, processes, and analytics. With Zendesk Sell, every customer interaction is documented, from emails to phone calls, and connects the process between sales and support. One conversation = a better customer experience.
- Establish a documentation procedure. According to Accenture, 89% of customers get frustrated because they need to repeat their issues to multiple representatives. Interactions should be documented at each stage to ensure all customer issues (and expectations) are addressed. Again, a CRM system is an excellent automated way to do this.
The above practices provide a 360-degree view of the customer for both sales and customer service. They also encourage a transparent company environment.
Align sales and customer service teams
To avoid a hot/cold, push/pull experience, an alignment is needed between sales and customer service on a strategic and tactical level. More importantly, metrics should focus on measuring meaningful customer conversations to drive amazing customer experiences.
Customers do not care about company activities and efficiency measures. Customers care whether or not their needs and wants are being heard and valued by the company.
By connecting silos on an internal level, the customer experience will be seamless and customer retention encouraged. The process requires some changes and strategic thinking, but the results are worth it.