Know What Your Field Representatives Want – Part II

By Terrel Transtrum, Co-founder, LaunchSmart™

In Part I of this series, we introduced the key concepts and rationale for knowing what your field really wants and how to find out. We presented the first strategy for finding out what your reps and customers really want. That strategy was surveys. In Parts II and III, we present additional strategies for keeping a finger on the pulse of the field.

Feedback Forums

Your second approach, number 2: Feedback forums. A feedback forum is where you bring your distributors in as individuals or as a larger group, perhaps 8 to 12 people. In this forum, you ask specific questions, such as “what do you like” and “what don’t you like?” “What do you value the most?” “What could you care less about when it comes to how you do business with us?” “What will you tell others about us?”

You can also ask your distributors, “If we’re not providing you everything you need to grow and meet your goals, what do we need to do to make sure we do our part?” “What kind of improvements do we need to make?” “What kind of new products or services would you like us to offer?”

Here’s an unusual way to do a feedback forum. One of our clients conducts feedback forums with their customer service reps. The customer service reps act as the customer. The management team members leading the feedback forum go to the customer service reps and say, “we’re going to ask you a few questions. Respond as the customer would. You talk to them daily on the phone. You know what they’re saying. So, tell us what you hear.”

There are different ways to do feedback forums. Now even if your distributors and customers are spread out around the country, as most of them are, you can do this process via telephone conference calls.

Corporate Visits

The third way to stay in touch with your distributors is to bring them inside the organization. Several of our clients invite distributors to come in and speak at their staff meetings, to say in their own words what we like about the company; here’s what you’ve been good at this year; here’s what we haven’t been very happy with this year; here’s where you need to improve. It quickly puts the employees in touch with who pays their paychecks.

Employees are going to pay attention to those words when they come from a distributor standing in front of them.

Go on the Road

The fourth strategy to stay in touch with distributors is send staff out to the distributors. Get more employees out to your distributors. Whether you use your annual convention, a regional opportunity meeting, or a local presentation, actively place your staff into these settings where they meet those whom they serve. Watching a distributor present the compensation plan, followed by enrollments and paperwork, provide a strong perspective for the distributor service rep. Recently, a DSR from one of our client companies returned from a two-day field meeting and she said, “I’m going to pay a lot more attention to my service promises.” Very simple. Send staff out to distributors. It’s a way to stay in touch with our distributors and customers and find out what they like, what they love, and why we could lose them. Involve employees in that process.

Your 800 Number

The fifth way to stay in touch is to use your 800 number. All of our clients have an 800 number, and a few are working hard to move all ordering, enrollment, and service functions to the Internet. As an aside, we caution you against completely automating your enrolling and ordering and service functions. For one thing, things go wrong and the field needs to know where to turn for help. For another thing, you are in the relationship business, and you should carefully consider whether you truly believe you can build long-term business relationships completely via electronic media.

For those companies that hang on to the personal contact available through their toll-free lines, they believe those lines create bonds that last a lifetime with their distributors and customers. It gives them a chance to detect problems in product quality and fulfillment. Some have masterfully distinguished the toll-free order entry lines, and toll (not toll-free) lines for distributor service. Some balance the equation by installing toll-free fax lines into distributor service. Certainly, they make additional sales through the 800 lines, and they keep a finger on the pulse of their company.

Put your website address and order line on everything. Every time a customer or distributor contacts you, record each comment. Create a record for tracking trends. Your goal should be to create individualized service that is very personal in a long-distance industry.

Here’s what other organizations are doing with 800 lines. They’re posting an 800 number and they have a voicemail box that the call routes into. They say, “call us at this 800 line, let us know how we’re doing.” They let the distributor know this is a voicemail system, but it gives the distributor another option to give that company some additional comments, complaints, and leave their concerns.

Call Them

The sixth way to stay in touch with customers is, call them. Call them if you see a decrease in order size or frequency. You can do that because you should already have that information in your database.

George Walther, an author and well-known trainer, explains that he received a phone call from Federal Express one morning. He was in his office and the federal express employee said, “We noticed that you are not using our services anymore. You were one of our customers, we don’t see any transactions, what’s happened?”

He explained he had taken his business elsewhere, to another shipper. And this employee said, “Well, will you tell us why? Will you talk to us?” He did. At the end of the conversation, George took his business back to Federal Express. Why? He was impressed that they had called. They had noticed his drop-off in business. And what Federal Express was offering was very comparable service to the carrier he had switched to, and with that phone call they regained his business.

In Germany, Avon has 100,000 women in sales. 20% of those women stop ordering product in any given month. Here’s what Avon is doing to save those customers. The company will call if an order is not placed within 5 days of the end of the ordering period. And what that phone call has done for them? The monthly drop-off is down to 8% versus 20%. That’s worth $3.4 million in revenues. And it costs about $10 per follow-up phone call. Is this a good investment? You know it is.

You can also use calls to check on the level of satisfaction. I recently received a call from Qwest who now markets cellular phones and paging services along with their basic telephone services. They call their high volume customers just to see if they’re happy. When I picked up the telephone, the Qwest representative politely said that he was not calling to sell anything and would I take a moment to tell him how Qwest is doing. It went quiet for a moment as I tried to figure out the catch, but by the time we had ended, I had a deeper sense of appreciation for Qwest; I felt as though I was more than a phone line and a monthly payment. Surveys show that customers who are called rate the company’s service 20% higher than those who are not called. Those who are called also use more of the company’s services and stay longer as customers. Think about it. Simply calling will strengthen that relationship.

There are a number of different types of calls you can make. Make welcome calls. Say, “hey, we’re glad you’re one of our new distributors.” You can answer any questions they might have about being a new distributor. Teach your distributors to do the same for their new customers. You can do satisfaction calls. You can do the monitoring calls if you see a decrease in any business. If customers cancel their autoship order, call and find out the reason why. Any time you’re in contact with the customer, it’s an opportunity to get feedback.

In 1992, we implemented a pilot program where a statistically significant number of new distributors were identified and tracked for three years. Within 72 hours of enrolling as distributors, they were contacted and welcomed to the company. We checked their account information, explained some of the most common challenges-including how the autoship order worked, since “surprise” autoships were among the top three reasons new distributors canceled-and generally created a positive first experience. This control group was monitored against the general distributor population enrolling at the same time, and within 6 months the numbers started rolling in that the distributor attrition rate among those in the control group was nearly half that of the general distributor population; by the end of the first year, the general distributor population had experienced 78% attrition as compared with only 41% for the control group, a difference of 37%.

This study contributes to the groundwork that supports the value of retention.

One direct selling company has what they call their “swat team.” The swat team will call when the customer does not renew their account, or when a distributor fails to pay the annual distributor renewal fee. When the fee isn’t paid, the client will call and say, “what happened?” And guess what happens? The simple act of calling helps the company regain 50% of their customers. I believe those calls will shock their customers. So, shock ‘em. Be proactive in what you’re doing to stay in touch with your distributors and customers.

So, there are six strategies to stay in touch with your distributors and customers, to find out why they love you and why they leave you. These strategies will get you relevant, concrete feedback on things you need to continue doing, as well as what caused them to take their business elsewhere. Evaluate where you are, set a goal for where you want to be, and work hard on improving in those areas where you need the improvement.

(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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