Simple Ways to Save the Sale

By: Kim Fernandez

Sales experts from Lands End and Zappos.com on what works to close a sale.

So you decide to buy a bunch of business gifts from a big nonprofit—the product is cool, and the cause is great. Only no one answers the phone. For days. Eventually, you're forced to order something else from another source.

The above is a true story, and, sadly, not that uncommon. Does your association have great ideas when it comes to products, but less-than-ideal ability to handle the sales end of the equation? Following a few simple rules can help.

Know your products. "We invest a lot in our training," says Joan Conlin, vice president of customer service at Lands' End. Customer-service representatives receive an initial 80 hours of training to ensure they know what they're talking about. Afterward, they are given a boost of additional training every month with product updates and company information.

Communicate. That thing where a local storm closes your phones so callers just hear them ring and ring? That shouldn't happen.

"We change our voice recording right away if we have to close," says Jane Judd, senior manager of the Zappos.com customer-loyalty team. "We think it's very important to let our customers know what's going on and to thank them for their patience. … We tell them exactly when we're shutting down and when we'll open back up."

Build relationships. "Our customers feel like we're family," says Conlin. "Our [customer-service reps] talk to our customers about other things besides the product—if they've had a baby or had a tragic event."

Judd says Zappos has a similar policy. "We try to make a personal, emotional connection," she says. "If the [customer-service representative] hears a dog barking, they ask what kind of dog the customer has. We work to build that relationship—it's not all about the next product you want to order."

Empower the front line. Rather than ask customers to navigate layers of management for answers, Zappos' customer-service reps can make immediate decisions about returns, credits, refunds, and other issues.

"Everybody has the same level of empowerment to make decisions that I do," says Judd. "That helps them establish connections with our customers."

Keep management connected. Once a year, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh heads to the phone banks and takes customer calls himself; in fact, everyone in the company does it at least that often. Lands' End managers and executives do the same thing, helping them stay informed and connected on all levels.

Kim Fernandez is a freelance writer based in Bethesda, Maryland. Email: [email protected]

Kim Fernandez