A Servant’s Heart

Q: “I am a member of a sales- and revenue-driven team. Through the years we’ve been consistently successful at hitting our numbers. However, as time goes by, I worry about how much emphasis we are placing on revenue and, as such, if we’re not placing enough on customer service. I worry about how a continued over-focus like this might affect our ability to retain and upsell customers in the future. I want to speak up about the necessity of upgrading our level of customer service, but I am afraid I’ll be perceived as soft, or as someone who wants to take their eye off the prize—continued growth and revenue. I want to sell just as much or more than anyone else, but I do see a red flag. Should I speak up?”

Your question reminds me that for the past several years we’ve discussed various strategies and tactics to increase sales and gain more customers in this column. We’ve not really addressed the issue you raise here. Good for you for bringing it up.

For just about 25 years now I’ve been selling different things. I’ve learned a lot. Whether I was selling copiers, internet services or exhibit space, one thing was always for certain: At the end of the day, most customers would always end up considering my products through the lenses of their own self-interest—and why not?

It’s their money. It’s their decision. Their goal is to minimize risk and maximize ROI.  Therein lies the threat to us. This posture, wrong or right, causes many decision makers to lump us all—both us and our competitors—into one large bucket, relegating all of us to almost indistinguishable choices.

Technology has blessed our customers with what seems to be an endless number of tools right at their fingertips, with which they can evaluate our products and make decisions with or without our involvement or counsel. If you don’t think that your current customers are just one e-mail, one fax or one phone call away from cancelling on you, you need to wake up. This is what makes your question and concerns so important.

In the final analysis, in that moment of truth, when your customer is faced with the choice of “should I stay or go,” the way you and your company have treated them, the way you’ve addressed them, the way you served them, could (and should) make all the difference.

I’ve gotten my vehicle serviced at a local car wash for several years. I go nowhere else. They do a fantastic job. You know what their mission statement is? “We serve people with excellence, humbly, with a servant’s heart.” And they do. And that’s exactly why I keep going there.

I suppose I could get the same results somewhere else, but I choose to continue to give my business to them, not only because of their results, but also because of their attitude toward me and other customers. If I moved farther away, I’d still take my business there. Did I mention that they are more expensive than their competition too?

We’ve adopted a similar attitude in our sales department at CES. We’ve developed and deployed a customer service attitude that’s called S.U.R.E! The acronym stands for Sense of Urgency, Responsiveness and Empathy. It’s how I expect my staff and me to comport ourselves when dealing with customers. Not only should our attitude be one of, “Sure, I can do that for you,” but also our actions must be swift (sense of urgency), creative, sincere (responsiveness) and indicative of a sense of understanding as if “I feel your pain” (empathy).

Sometimes we fall short, but our attitude is always the same. Our team’s mission statement closes with these words: “Ever reminded that we serve at the pleasure of our customers.” In some cases, certainly not all, this attitude might be one of the defining factors in retaining our customers’ loyalty in that moment of truth I alluded to above.

So…should you speak up? Absolutely, you should. And your company’s leadership ought to listen. As a sales leader, I understand the importance of revenue, of hitting goals, of pleasing the upper echelons of corporate leadership, owners or shareholders. I get it. But if we do so zealously, at the expense of customer service, at the expense of delighting our customers, one day we’ll be scratching our heads and wondering why that precious revenue has vanished.

So, speak up…and good for you.


Dan Cole is vice president of sales and business development for the Consumer Electronics Association, which draws more than 3,000 exhibitors to its largest annual show, the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES). In 2005, the International Business Awards named him Best Sales Executive. He can be reached at: dcole@ce.org.