Customer service requires balance. You must balance the needs of your company and your sales quotas against the needs of your customers. Customers don’t want to be constantly interrupted while processing a buying decision. 

It’s a balancing act, and many rookies make mistakes every day. But even experts make mistakes with this finely tuned dance. Here are the 10 customer follow-up mistakes we see the most often and how you and your customer-facing teams can avoid them.

The Top 10 Customer Follow-Up Mistakes

1. Sticking to 1 mode of communication

If you only contact a lead via email, and she rarely checks her email, you’re less likely to make the sale. If you prefer phone or Internet communications, you’re out of luck if the lead doesn’t like or lacks the time for that kind of personal connection.

Beyond that, communication across a broad spectrum of modes allows a prospect to choose how they interact with you and with your company information.

Communicating across multiple channels is more polite and more effective than sticking to just one. You may need to improve your tools or retrain your team, but it’s worth the short-term investment for the potential long-term gains.

2. Too much small talk

According to a HubSpot Research survey, just under 6 in 10 potential buyers want to talk about price on the first call. It’s a busy world, and although people like to be valued, they also want you to respect their time. Avoiding meaningless small talk shows you value the customer’s time and attention. 

Too little small talk can also be a problem, however, and striking the right balance is a skill all service reps and salespeople learn with time. Meanwhile, one trick that works well is to open the call with a brief description of its purpose, then to ask a single, open-ended, more personal question. This lets the customer know what’s going on, then lets them set the pace and tone of any small talk or personal chatting they want to do. 

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3. No guidance for experienced team members

There’s a tendency in management to leave senior team members to their own devices, trusting their professional knowledge to help them do their jobs well. However, the benefits of continuing education are many and well-established:

  • Retaining top talent by investing in their success
  • Making work more challenging and rewarding
  • Building a strong leadership pipeline
  • Helping team members adapt to changes in the workplace or industry

Further, this can keep everybody on your team consistent in terms of company culture, communication guidelines, and details of new or changed policies and products. Bottom line: It pays to coach and continuously train everybody in the office.

4. Touching base to no purpose

Remember earlier when we mentioned too much small talk can kill a relationship? Calling for the sole purpose of small talk — aka “touching base” — is even worse. Some salespeople and customer support reps believe this makes a lead think they care about them as more than just a sale, but today’s buyers are savvier than that. Touching base wastes your time and theirs.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make regular contact. Just make sure that contact has a clear purpose, special offer, or other legitimate reason for taking up a customer’s time. If you can’t do that, then just send the usual holiday e-cards via email so the customer can read them in a few seconds when it’s most convenient for them. 

5. Sticking around for too long

Unproductive relationships that go on for too long are bad for romance and bad for business. If you take 2 minutes right now, you can likely write down a list of customers who are more trouble than the income they represent or will probably never make a purchase.

Spending time and energy on those relationships takes up time you could be spending on clients who will benefit from the attention. 

It’s better to demote these contacts to getting automated emails and only receive contact after they initiate it. As the 80/20 rule explains, the time you save will help you bring on more than one replacement client to fill that space.

6. Not taking no for an answer

There’s an old adage that sales begin with the first no. Although there is value in perseverance, for both sales and service for existing customers, ignoring the word no is more likely to alienate your leads and clients than to be successful.

But that doesn’t mean you should give up easily. 

Instead of ignoring the word no, offer alternatives. Work together to find a win-win solution that gives the customer what they need and meets the goals of your company. Of course, doing this starts with training your team so they have the knowledge necessary to find creative solutions.

7. Presenting to no action items

It’s not enough to make customer contact with a general goal like increasing their monthly order or gauging their interest in a new product. That kind of call might turn out useful from time to time, but it also wastes resources because it’s too general.

Instead, take time before making contact to outline the goal of that contact as specifically as possible. For example:

  • “Increase the monthly order” becomes “Change from a midline product to a premium product.”
  • “Gauge their interest” becomes “Get them to download the newest training video.”
  • “Answer a customer service call” becomes “Diagnose the problem and present them with a plan for solving it.”
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This is more powerful if the action item in question is one the contact must take. Sometimes that action item is achieved during the conversation, such as in the example of increasing the amount of their order. Other times, it’s to get a commitment to do something and to be available to connect again at a time to discuss the results. 

8. Missing appointments

This one is simple to understand and easy to fix. Sometimes more experienced customer contact people get overconfident and become lax about keeping appointments. They believe their experience and skill can overcome any irritation their laxness has caused. 

Don’t do that, and don’t tolerate it on your team. There is no level of excellence in customer service that overrides how disrespectful this feels to your clients and leads.

9. Meeting expectations

Consider any contact where you simply met the customer’s expectations to be a failure. Instead, you should strive to exceed expectations at every opportunity.

One way to make this more likely is to spend a moment before each communication to think deeply about what the client or lead might be expecting from you. Brainstorm a way to make it one or two steps better. If they’re expecting a professional call, make it an enjoyable conversation. If they’re expecting quality samples, bring superior work.

Leave them pleasantly surprised by how much effort and value you put into this free contact — and eager to discover how much effort and value you put into products they’ll purchase. 

10. Taking things personally

There’s a scene in the old sitcom “Wings” where a sleazy sales guy is sitting at a bar trying to talk with an attractive woman. The woman says to him, “I’m in the Army. I can hurt you.” He responds, “I’m in sales. No, you can’t.”

Although sexist and outdated, this exchange underscores one of the most important factors to remember when making contact with customers and leads: Never take anything personally. Even if the contact is cranky, it’s almost never because of something you did. Perhaps they were having a bad day, and you happened to be available for them to vent. 

Although most team members learn this early, experienced team members accustomed to success can forget it after years of high sales rates. It pays to regularly remind yourself of this concept, especially after a few rough contacts or if you start to feel like you’ve fallen into a slump.

Customer follow-up takeaways

One final mistake to consider isn’t about following up; it’s about not following up. When it becomes clear a contact isn’t qualified to make a sale, or they’re qualified but not interested in buying, many sales and customer support people simply drop all contact. This saves resources and attention for “hotter” leads, but it’s a long-term error that costs real money. 

Keep in mind that somebody who loves what you do, but can’t afford you right now, almost certainly talks with people who can. These brand fans, if cultivated well, can become some of the best support staff for your sales. They might never make a purchase, but they can steer dozens or even hundreds of qualified, interested leads in your direction.

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