Service Is More Than a Selling Opportunity

My last piece took modern selling to task because experience tells me there’s too much emphasis on lead generation and not nearly enough on doing things that result in closing deals.

The issue isn’t CRM but rather how many of us work. For many, our short attention spans keep us from following through focusing more on lead development than on closing.

Experience tells me we we’re dropping the ball in service too, despite a plethora of very good service technologies on the market. Leading companies are making money hand over fist, and their valuations are climbing, so you might say it’s no big deal. But as the possibility of recession looms, buyers will slow their acquisition rates and then we’ll see better how well these companies do.

Sales and service are tightly related for the simple reason that they center on the newness of a category, or product type, and thus neophyte customers. When a product or its category are new it takes great effort to explain how something works and demonstrate the benefits. New category products often don’t sell themselves, that’s where sales tools come in.

At the same time, the people and companies who buy the new, bright, and shiny need a lot of help making those acquisitions work as well in-house as they did in the demo. That is why service apps are so important.

The Early Majority

Add to this the transition of a market from early adopter phase to the early majority.

Early adopters buy technologies to play with and maybe make money with because they need to be the first in their sectors with the newest technologies to make the early gains. But there are lots of products that get shelved once the early adopters finish with them because they don’t work well enough for a variety of reasons.

Early majority customers — those who buy after the early adopters take the initial risk and provide feedback — are different. The early majority behaves much more like consumers. They aren’t interested in taking something apart to see how it works, they only want to plug it in, hit the switch, turn the key, and zoom away. So service has to be rote, fast, and convenient.

Case in Point, Tesla

This distinction is important and I see it playing out in real time, not so much in the software space but in electric cars. I’ve had some experiences with Tesla recently and I can see the early adopter to early majority transition playing out and I know the scenario is something I’ve seen before.

Tesla is a very interesting company that’s worth more according to market cap than more-traditional car makers from Detroit. This analysis only focuses on the customer service aspect of the company’s business and steers wide (nice pun, hum?) of any inference to its CEO.

The EV industry, with Tesla as an example, seems to be replaying a scene from 10-plus years ago. In those days vendors slapped browser front ends on client server apps designed to support in-house servicepeople and they called it some version of self-service. It didn’t work. The apps and phone systems weren’t programmed to support the weird and unique issues that customers of new category products seem to conjure out of thin air.

Back then my research showed that customers got frustrated and angry enough that many started websites and blogs with names of the format, [company] You still can find them in a simple search though many have not been tended in years. That’s a big win for modern CRM because it shows that when we started building serious customer-oriented service systems, complete with AI, the situation calmed down.

I see Tesla recapitulating that scenario. If I am right, (who knows, I’m just an analyst) the company might be approaching some rough sledding. While its products target the high end of the market, its approach to service is anything but premium.

Human Assistance, Please

The buyers Tesla initially sold to — affluent and tech savvy — are giving way to consumers who don’t have time or interest in trying to figure anything out. For what they spend, they’re looking for something that works and that is trouble free. Those people need more than an impartial website, they need the ability to talk to a real person from time to time.

The key issue I see in this scenario, regardless of the company, is the multi-use website used as the primary portal into the company.

Multi-use vendor websites are not enough to provide the premium service consumers of high-end products have a right to — and they often feel like deflection devices. Those sites are primarily oriented to taking orders and they perpetuate the mistakes of the past, including letting a process blow up rather than making it easy to parachute a customer service expert into the interaction.

Seen This Before, Know How It Ends

For many people who are not familiar with how this plays out, this can look like a tough challenge without a well-defined solution. But solutions abound and you only need to look at all the earlier vendors who have bought into CRM to see there is a qualitative difference between those and the upstarts in greener markets.

We’ve been down this road before, and we know what works. Yet, it’s still challenging to bring that news to newer companies experiencing their first or second round of exponential growth. For them everything is fine, and they won’t see a need to upgrade from in-house developed customer service/sales systems until they hit snags.

This path is so well worn, and the outcome so predictable, that we only need to watch and wait.

Denis Pombriant

Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry analyst, strategist, writer and speaker. His new book, You Can't Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It, is now available on Amazon. His 2015 book, Solve for the Customer, is also available there. Email Denis.

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