It's Time to Reconnect with Customers

Things are starting to pick up. At least that's what many of the people I have been speaking with have indicated. Maybe it is the approaching summer season, or people are simply more optimistic, but the overall feeling is that business is improving. This is great news, but how can you make it better? How can you ensure when customers have a need, they call you first?

It is time to be proactive - don't wait for your customers to call you. Too many rental coordinators are waiting for that phone to ring. Instead, take matters into your own hands by picking up the phone and calling a former customer.

For many inside sales (counter) staff, making these proactive outbound calls may be a little intimidating. Fielding inbound calls is easier because they can usually assume it is a business-related call that hopefully will result in a rental or sale. They know that answering the phone is part of their job.

Picking up the phone and calling someone who is not expecting a call is another story. It is the fear of the unknown. There might be many reasons for this fear. The rep could be interrupting the customer while on a job or calling at an inopportune time. Perhaps this particular customer had bad service issues or a negative customer experience in the past. I've also found that recently many companies are avoiding proactive outbound calls because they know the customer's business has been bad. Often the inside sales rep is relieved when the customer does not answer!

Before we focus on skills designed to make these calls easier and more effective, let's look at why it is beneficial to conduct outbound calls.

Customers generally appreciate hearing from vendors. It is an important part of building a relationship. You don't have to be selling them something directly - you can just be "staying in touch." They need to know you are still in business and are ready to service their needs.

Most likely your competitors are not taking the time to make outbound calls so it becomes a competitive advantage. These customers will remember that you made an extra effort and will truly feel like a valued customer.

So how do you make these calls most effective and easier for your team? Here are some suggestions:

Get organized. Know who you are going to call. Access your database and start with customers who have not rented from you in the past six months. Get all relevant contact information such as name, company name, and rental history. Some data may be out of date, so these calls are a good opportunity to update your records.

Set goals. Determine how many calls and connections you want to make on a given day. A connection is someone you actually speak with. To be most effective, set aside a specific time to conduct the calls because if you try to "fit them in" to your often chaotic day, they will never be made. And, try to find an office or quiet place to make those calls.

Know what you are going to say. I don't recommend a script, but put together a process. This will help those who are uncomfortable making these calls feel more at ease. For example, know what your greeting will be and be prepared to explain the purpose of the call. You should also think of yourself as a resource for the customer. What can you share with them or do for them that will save the customer time, effort or money?

Be prepared for everything! You should be ready to take an order, field a complaint, get an update on business, or learn that your contact is no longer with the company.

Practice with your co-workers. Since conducting these outbound calls may be new to you and your team, role-play with each other. This may be an uncomfortable exercise, but it will pay off as you make your initial calls. Don't practice on your customers!

Make it fun. Have an incentive or contest based on the number of connections and rentals. These programs will help bring focus to the program and provide additional motivation. The payback will be substantial through incremental revenues.

There may be a few instances where the customer had a bad experience with your company. Consider that call an opportunity to fix the situation and turn it into a positive.

If customers are not calling you, you should be calling them. The nature of these calls is to stay connected and build the relationship. Plus, if your business has changed or if there is a special deal that would be of interest to customers, this is a perfect opportunity to share that information.

Don't start the calls with the sole expectation of generating revenue, but if you happen to rent something in the process, then it becomes a bonus. You know that at some point that customer will have a rental need and it's important to stay top-of-mind, so he or she will contact you for that need.

Outbound calling requires additional skills and discipline. Many of your inside sales coordinators do not have experience conducting these types of calls. With an organized approach, this can be a very effective initiative that will benefit everyone.