Know What Your Field Representatives Want – Part I

By Terrel Transtrum, Co-founder, LaunchSmart™

“A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.”
– Eeyore the Donkey

The best companies know they must measure retention and stay in touch with their reps. The best companies will know why you left, what you wanted instead of what they were giving you. Those companies know that the reasons you left could be early warning signals that lots of other distributors are getting ready to leave.

What I find interesting is most companies know how to quickly find you when your check doesn’t clear, when you are late in paying them, or when they encounter a problem with your credit card. Have you noticed? They’ll track you down. They’ll call and they’ll send you notices, usually in a nice pink envelope. They’ll find you. But when you stop doing business with them, you never hear from them again. They obviously have great databases and great tracking systems to find you when you have a payment issue. However, those tracking systems are not very good when you stop doing business with them? When you stay in touch with distributors, you learn why they leave you, and why they love you.

The power of the strategies we’ll talk about really help us beg for complaints. Yes, I said the word, “beg.” I know you might be thinking, “We don’t have to beg.” Well, yes you do have to beg.

Here’s what we know. Research from Technical Assistance Research Program (TARP, a firm out of Washington DC) tells us that one out of 26 unhappy customers complain. Only 1 out of 26. That’s scary. Think of how many distributors and customers just choose to take their business elsewhere. The key to increasing your distributor and customer satisfaction and getting them to remain active is getting them to complain. Because when we find out what their complaints are, we can work on improving in those areas. We can get to the root causes of the problem.

What’s exciting, the distributors and customers who leave you will give you specific, concrete, relevant information that you can then analyze and work on overcoming. We’ll talk more about that later.

Let’s focus on the strategies you can use to stay in touch with distributors and customers.


You know the first strategy is one most of us think of and it is surveys. Now, surveys can work. However, here’s what you must do to get them to work for you.

Make them service-friendly. What does service-friendly mean? Service-friendly is, short, to the point, with customized questions. You know the bottom line? Don’t waste people’s time. Here are some examples we have used to create service-friendly surveys.

One client sends out 7,500 detailed questionnaires and surveys a month. But they send out different surveys for different people. For example, to the administrators who pay the bills, they ask questions about the administrative process. To the distributors, they’ll send another survey with questions about loyalty, service levels, and satisfaction. To the customers, they’ll send another about service, products and preferences. And to departing distributors, they’ll call and ask questions about how to do better next time.

Here’s why this works: people will be more likely to take time to fill out your survey if the questions are specific and customized to them. When I read it, I know this reflects my experience with your organization, then I’m more likely to take my time to respond.

Service-friendly surveys also give people room to write. Don’t just ask yes or no questions or just ask people to rate you on a scale of 1 to 5. Open-ended questions are more expensive to process; however, they’ll give you more information and may tell you something that’s not on your closed-ended survey list. So, service-friendly means: give them room to write, don’t ask just yes or no questions, and one more thing-make sure your surveys are postage paid and available via the Internet. You know that. I received one the other day from the veterinarian and when I saw that survey without postage, I just put it straight in the garbage. I also thought, “what a waste of his time sending that to me.”

There’s a great survey I saw recently. It came from The Four Seasons Hotels that says, “there’s two sides to every story.” On one side, it says, “We try to do things right and on time.” Then there’s an entire blank side with prepaid postage, and it says, “Give us your side of the story.” There is plenty of room for people to write. They also offer an attractive incentive for people who wish to go online and complete a short survey. And the company gets lots of feedback.

Another key to making surveys work, is do them often. We cannot do surveys once a year and think we’ve collected enough information. Because guess who fills out surveys? Distributors and customers who are typically very happy or who are typically very unhappy. So you have a lot of people who are in the middle of the road who think, “you are fine.” But, they’re not going to take time to fill out a survey and we end up collecting data that is really at the extremes of people who are very happy and very unhappy. Then we make changes according to those extremes only?

So, to find out what your distributors and customers think of you, do the surveys more often, smaller sample sizes so you can get more data continuously into your organization.

Here’s one of my favorite examples from a direct selling company operating out of the Northwest. They saw a dip in their profit margins as customer orders began lagging. So the owner went to their distributors and customers with a “lagging order” survey. Now, think about it. They know who their customers are, and when they order, and how much they order. It’s simple and elegant: find out why customers aren’t ordering as often or as much.

Over three years, roughly 44,000 surveys out of 66,000 mailed were returned. It’s a pretty impressive result. The feedback from those lagging customers and distributors gave them lots of ideas for action steps.

For example, one reply said, “ask us what we want versus telling us what the company always offers.” They also made changes in developing relationships. That’s what one inactive leader requested, versus what the company had been doing which was coming up with promotions and incentives and rolling them out without input from the field. They also got replies that said, “Employees need to be more educated and better trained so that they will be consistent when they answer questions,” and “You need a more thorough follow-through system to follow up with us.”

Here’s what’s exciting. This company was a relatively small company, and those changes helped them to move into a significant growth period where they more than tripled their enrollments and sales and they saw a striking decline in attrition.

Think about surveys. Be creative. Could you create a canceled autoship survey? Most of your customers will be happy to tell you why they’re canceling their autoship. Oh, do me a favor though, please avoid the temptation to sell the customer in those types of surveys; when they cancel their autoship, don’t ask, “What can we do to get you back?” Instead, you may want to say, “Would it be okay if someone contacted you concerning your comments?” That way you or the distributor could contact the customer again.

With an exit survey, also focus on your best distributors. As you know, 80 percent of your revenue comes from the work of 20 percent of your distributors. Concentrate on those distributors when you’re using these strategies.

One last word on surveys. Organizations such as ServiceQuest® and DSWA are equipped to gather views and data that are representative of an entire profession. Be sure to compare your results with those gathered by these professional organizations in order to identify trends and opportunities within your organization.

So this is one way to stay in touch with distributors and customers: Surveys. Next time, we’ll cover additional ways to stay in touch.

(The content of this article is extracted from ServiceQuest® RetentionSmarts™ Modules. For more information on RetentionSmarts™ training and mentoring systems, contact a member of the LaunchSmart Team.)

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