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Upgrading Customer Service and Sales With Negotiation Role Play

written by: Ian Johnson•edited by: Wendy Finn•updated: 5/20/2011

When it comes to upgrading customer service and sales, a number of companies rely upon negotiation role play to improve cohesiveness and better manage customer expectations.

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    Improving Sales & Customer Service with Role Playing

    Why is it that some companies continually raise the bar in sales and customer service, while others falter? More importantly, what are these companies doing differently, and what if anything can it teach companies who want to upgrade their sales & customer service abilities? Well, when it comes to improving your company’s sales and customer service operations, using negotiation role play exercises not only strengthens cohesiveness, it also drastically improves your company’s ability to identify and close new business.

    While sales professionals are called upon for business development, and customer service is called upon to ensure customer satisfaction, both play an integral role in managing a customer’s expectations. If not properly managed, these customer expectations can become so unrealistic, that there’s virtually no way to find any common ground. How can negotiation role play help sales and customer service departments better manage customers? We'll answer this question in-depth. First, it's important to understand the importance of a strong singular market message.

    Not every company operates in the same industry or market. What is considered appropriate sales and customer service conduct in one industry, may either be too little, or too much in another. However, it’s fair to assume that most companies are well aware of what good sales and customer service is, in their particular market, and with respect to how their customers should be managed. Therefore, when using role playing to improve sales and customer service, make sure the situation represents your company’s market, industry and unique position with your customers. Role play exercises will help improve your company’s message to market by guaranteeing that your company’s sales and customer service team has strong cohesion. The ultimate goal is for both parties to be so comfortable with their respective roles and responsibilities, that they know exactly how customer issues should be handled. So, what are the steps to using role playing to improve sales and customer service cohesiveness?

    Morgue File: badrobot 

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    1. Assign Someone to Play the Role of Customer

    This first step, simply involves assigning someone within your company to play the role of customer. It could be the sales or customer service manager. However, it must be someone who understands the typical concerns customers have in your given market. What is the ideal sales and customer service approach to dealing with these concerns? Keep this in mind and make sure the individual playing the customer understands these concerns as well. The purpose is to set the stage for the negotiation between sales, customer service and the customer.

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    2. Separate Sales & Customer Service

    For this customer service and sales negotiation training exercise to be relevant (and to make a point about the importance of cohesion), have the individual playing the role of customer, meet separately with those playing the role of sales and customer service. It’s important to structure the training exercise around a customer complaint or issue. It's common for customers to try and play sales against customer service, and vice-versa. They do this in order to garner negotiation concessions. The best companies guard against this by having a strong cohesion between sales and customer service departments, and by establishing the company's service criteria.

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    3. Make Sure Scenario Exposes Roles & Responsibilities

    The most important aspect of the exercise, is to construct the negotiation role play in such a way as to challenge the individual roles and responsibilities of both sales and customer service. Ideally, you want a scenario where the customer is making requests that push the boundaries of those responsibilities. Do customers in your given industry typically try and get freight included when your company is late on delivery? If so, what is your company’s stance towards such requests? Sales negotiation success is often predicated on how well customer service and sales work together. That includes well-established roles & responsibilities on how to handle customers.

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    4. Perform Negotiation Role Play in Front of Peers

    It’s essential that the role play be performed in front of coworkers, and that a period of debrief be used throughout the exercise. For instance, the first portion could be the customer, meeting with customer service. A debrief is held after that first meeting, and then the customer meets with sales, before a final debrief is held with all participants.

    It’s essential that neither sales nor customer service discuss the role play as it unfolds. The purpose is to test sales and customer service, and their ability to handle the customer. Ultimately, if there is strong unity, then both sales and customer service departments will be aware of the other’s limitations, and won’t fall prey to false claims made by the customer.

    For this negotiation role play exercise to be a success, the individual playing the role of the customer must try and get either the sales or customer service professional to agree to something they normally would not agree to. In essence, the customer must try and play sales off against customer service. To this extent, they must try and convince either to capitulate on a major negotiation concession. Take the time to come up with the most pressing issues your sales and customer service teams face on a daily basis. Use them in the role play and it will improve your company’s sales and customer service capabilities.

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    References

    Chess courtesy of "badrobot" at Morgue File.

    Source: author’s own experience.