Last week a customer called and was really upset because she had been told by one of our sales reps that her order had shipped on a particular day, but when she tracked the package on, it showed that it had actually shipped a day later. The customer felt she had been lied to by my sales rep, and yet the sales rep was adamant that she had given the customer the correct information.  Both were right. How? The answer lay in the vocabulary used by both parties and their understanding of the same words. Selling is a delicate dance where the salesperson must transmit information to the customer, and in order to do so, the salesperson must be able to communicate in a way that the customer understands. Leading this dance to a successful close means remembering these 4 essential ideas:

  1. Every sale is a story. And like every story, a sale has 2 sides to it. When a customer comes into contact with a salesperson, she brings with her her own idea of what she thinks the product or service will do or what she anticipates to be the company's narrative. When the customer above called in about the whereabouts of her package, she already had her story in hand--my sales rep had told her a ship date that was incorrect and she had been able to catch him in a lie thanks to the online tracking.  The customer's idea and understanding must be the starting point for the salesperson's story--not the end. Had my sales rep understood this, and tried to hear the customer rather than insisting that our system showed the box shipped on the day he had said, the customer could have easily followed the story my sales rep would then need to tell carefully, from beginning to end.

  2. Make sure your vocabulary matches the customer's. Every story has to be told clearly, with words that everyone understands to be the same.  In the above example, my sales rep's story made no sense to the customer, because for the customer, saying that the order shipped on a specific day meant that it was sent out the door and on a truck to its destination. However, my sales rep really meant that the box had been packed and labeled and was waiting for pick up by the courrier on the day in question--essentially that we had done all we needed to do to render the order ready to depart. The reality was that, despite us having processed the order on time, the postal service did not show up and so the box did not actually leave until the next day.  The entire sale--in this case, selling the customer on the story of why her shipment was coming late, rested on the choice of words each party was using. Shipped meant processed to my rep, and departed to the customer--two very different ideas in this unhappy situation.

  3. Clarify any sticking points. That is why, when trying to make a sale, a sales rep must listen carefully for the friction points.  They are not always easy to hear, and often can be missed, especially if the sales rep concentrates only on his side of the story instead of the customer's understanding of it. When I listened to the recording of this call, the first thing I did was verify the tracking information and confirm the date we processed the order. I immediately knew that the customer's story was correct in that the box had been picked up late by the post office, and I also knew that my rep was telling the truth when she said the box had been "shipped" on the date in question. The next step was to make both parties understand the rub. That could only happen by explaining to the customer that we had received and processed her order to completion on the date in question--the box was packed and waiting at the door, which for us, meant shipped. However, the postman had not come to collect it, so the box had not shipped in the sense of departed. My rep had not realized that because he had not looked at the tracking information.  

  4. Check for comprehension. Once I explained this to the customer, she understood that the rep had not intentionally lied as she originally thought, which then allowed her to regain her confidence in my company--and her calm. I was then able to work on a solution to the real issue which was the merchandise arriving late, rather than the customer feeling cheated by my company.

We found a way to make things right with a shipping credit, and the customer was sold on the idea that she could continue to trust us, and that we acted in her favor rather than against, paving the way for both her loyalty and her future business.