Getting The Edge In Professional Selling

TIME is a commodity we can’t afford to waste. It seems we’re all busy trying to get more out of the available hours in a day. Pressure by management to freeze hiring or even reduce staffing levels means that we must maximize our efforts. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why it is so galling when others waste our time and we lose the ability to do anything to rectify the situation. Perhaps corollary to this is the practice of failing to extend the courtesies due to someone who has patiently waited.

I recall my daughter pushed her way in front of other parents and children in order to climb aboard a children’s ride in a local shopping mall. I took the time to take her to one side and explain that other people were there first and she would have to wait. We then stood patiently while the other children rode. However, just before it was her turn, another child ran up and boarded the ride. Had I not passed a comment to the parents, they would have been happy to let the child ride ahead of mine (and other waiting children)! I am not defending my daughter, but at least her “queue-jumping” was born out of natural enthusiasm and an unformed concept of waiting her turn! I can’t say the same for the other child and parents. Clearly, had I not said anything, the child’s impolite manner would have been reinforced by being allowed to ride ahead of other children.

Companies are increasingly resorting to number systems. It seems to work well enough in banks and service offices, although it often doubles as a way of minimizing the deleterious effects of understaffing of inefficient customer service. The latest trend seems to be “open-plan” service departments. I really don’t mind waiting for five or 10 minutes; when the wait spins out to 30-40 minutes, I start to get irritated. And all the more so when the open-plan work environment allows me to see employees sitting around laughing and joking with colleagues or supposedly working on large piles of documents and ignoring real-live customers in their premises!

We have a system in our company of pre-screening applicants for jobs. Before I get to interview them, HR ask them to fill up a detailed two-page form of personal data. Then they have a pre-interview and finally get to see me! Last week, I noticed an applicant sitting alone in our interview room. HR were aware he was in our office but claimed to be finishing their merienda break. I interviewed the individual immediately and established he had been waiting in the room for over an hour. Really! This is completely unacceptable. He might be applying for a job with us but this doesn’t give us the right to waste his time! And consider this for a moment. Suppose he had been the perfect candidate for the position and we had wanted to offer him a job? Given the shortage of qualified and suitable applicants, there is every chance that another company would want to hire him too. Disrespecting him by wasting his time would hardly give him a good impression of our company and there is every chance this would influence his decision to take a job offer with us!

What worries me about the above situations (and numerous examples like it) is that it shows a basic disregard for the value of peoples’ time. The average Filipino is becoming less tolerant of others wasting his time. When a service center is woefully understaffed, the company is either badly run or is putting profitability ahead of customer satisfaction. Vendors who appreciate the value of others’ time and seek to render quick and efficient service will begin to lure customers away from those who stick to established business practices.

I have little sympathy for corporations who lose contracts because of late delivery. This all falls into the same bag. The customer has a right to expect that deliverables will be met. The company who is able to meet customer demands will always do better than that which fails to perform. When you have a monopoly on the items you sell, or your prices are so low you are assured of customers, perhaps you can afford to disregard customer service and, more specifically, the value of your customers’ time. When the customer has a choice, or recognizes the value of his time, he will certainly look around for vendors who can serve his needs more quickly.

Terence A. Hockenhull is a long term resident of the Philippines. He is an accomplished sales consultant and currently holds an executive sales position with an Italian geotechnical company.