Due to the exit restrictions your sales representatives were deprived of the possibility to visit customers personally. In the following you will find food for thought on what conditions you can meet for the time in your home office and how your sales representatives can intensify customer care from home and thus deepen long-term customer loyalty.
Inform your customers immediately if the current situation results in changes in the cooperation for you, e.g. through changed order and delivery modes, special or goodwill arrangements. Do not wait for the customer to approach you, but proactively seek the conversation. This can take the form of a newsletter, a video message or direct mailing – be creative in form and design.
In addition, develop conversation guidelines and language rules for all employees who are in dialogue with customers. Especially in the case of “frequently asked questions” (short: FAQs), your employees will be able to express themselves clearly and provide customers with consistent information. Speak with a “unified voice” of the company and thus avoid misunderstandings.
Think together about how the daily work routine of the sales representatives can now look like. Talk about new procedures or releases of special regulations. How can a smooth cooperation between field and office staff be achieved for the near future? Are there any tools or regulations that could improve cooperation in the long term?
Provide an official statement to all employees to show your appreciation. Update it as necessary to keep the workforce up to date. Make the message as personal and motivating as possible. Employees should be openly communicated about their importance for the company even in times of crisis. Also provide information that is important for professional work in the home office (e.g. support offers for technical equipment, childcare options).
Especially people who lead in “personal contact” are required to adapt their leadership style to the current home office situation. Try to find new forms of leadership for yourself and learn to trust your employees. Make clear agreements and define rules on how to organize the daily work routine and how to ensure interaction between managers and employees. Schedule regular meetings for mutual exchange.
Provide opportunities for networking between employees to promote the exchange of ideas. Use the company intranet or special cooperation platforms such as Slack or Microsoft Teams. Share ideas, best practices and success stories of individual employees with regard to customer contact and thus strengthen the (virtual) team spirit.
Don’t let the interpersonal and humour get shortchanged and also give the opportunity for informal meetings (e.g. the “virtual coffee party” or the “happy hour” on Friday afternoon), where private matters can be exchanged. In these times everyone needs a catalyst for their individual tension.
Organize short online training courses for your employees on how to handle telephone and video conferences to enable the implementation of virtual exchange and the holding of virtual customer appointments. Pay attention to the integration of methodical, but also technical aspects during the briefing. Provide a contact person for queries, who also regularly passes on tips and tricks to employees. Here, practice makes perfect.
Call your customer in the role of a sales representative – especially if you have already made an appointment with them. Instead of a personal meeting, suggest a telephone or video conference. Also point out the advantages of such communication, such as saving time or involving other people regardless of location.
Send the invitation for the planned conference early and explain in the invitation how to use it, especially for untrained customers. Don’t forget to test the technology and possibilities of the tools used, because you may want to share content during the presentation via screen transmission. When sending out invitations to video conferences, point out that your conversation partners may need to download apps in advance or that dial-in by telephone is advisable if bandwidths are low.
Give the meeting and participants as much structure as possible by setting a goal, agenda items, and timeline. If required, send samples or specimens to the customers in advance by post so that you can directly enter the sales conversation in the conference.
Set up your workplace in front of a neutral and tidy place. Some conference tools also allow you to set a virtual background with your company logo in advance. Also keep in mind that even if you are not seen from head to toe, a business outfit underlines your professionalism. Pay attention to the background noise during the conversation. If necessary, close your door or windows and let people living in your household know in which time window you do not want to be disturbed.
During the conversation, make sure that you have a short, precise, but customer-oriented discussion style. Communicate the advantages of the product, as you would for on-site appointments. Use your facial expressions just as in personal conversations to convince your counterpart and build trust; gestures are also beneficial to a limited extent.
Take over the role of the moderator in the conversation: Pay attention to conversation habits such as greeting or that all parties can finish speaking. At the beginning, make sure that everyone is easy to understand and that everything works smoothly (e.g. sound or microphone). You can check this, for example, with a short introduction. Explain the structure that you have worked out in advance and write down statements and results made during the conversation, if possible on the shared presentation or on a whiteboard, flip chart or pinboard (if available) that can be seen by everyone.
At the end of the interview, send an e-mail to the client, in which the results and agreements are recorded in writing. Inquire about queries or requests for changes. Meet the agreements (e.g. preparation of the offer, sending of first samples) as soon as possible – if necessary also in exchange with the office staff.
Even virtual appointments can sometimes be subject to errors or technical difficulties. Do not get discouraged or upset. Try to learn from your mistakes and do better next time. Exchange ideas with colleagues, they can give you advice from their everyday work.
There is also an opportunity in every crisis: As soon as personal customer visits are possible again, the field sales force will use its new experience to weigh up more thoroughly which customer service appointments can also be served by virtual communication in the future. When it becomes clear how the hours previously spent on costly travel can be invested more effectively in additional sales talks, the decision will be made in favor of well-prepared virtual meetings.