Despite being on the federal no-call list, telemarketers still seem to find my number. Recently, one caller professed to be from a lending company I had never heard of. I tried to be courteous, but dinner was getting cold.
“You know, telemarketers are not supposed to be calling me. I am on the no-call list,” I explained.
The caller was offended. “I am not a telemarketer . . . I’m a customer service representative.”
Clearly, this person felt that offering me a new home loan was providing me with a valuable service. Had I been in the market for a new mortgage, he would have been right.
So when is a salesperson a customer service rep? If the wording in countless help-wanted ads is any indication, the line between sales and service is often blurred – because the key to successful sales can be providing stellar service. So an ad for a customer service rep can actually involve sales, and most sales jobs, particularly those involving repeat business, include a fair amount of customer service.
So how do you differentiate between the two these days? Here are a few questions you may want to consider while pondering your choices:
Will you be working on a sales quota? Sure, as a retail salesperson, you may be expected to provide excellent service by helping the customer find a particular piece of merchandise, but that is just a means to an end. Your main function is to generate business. Another clue – if you fail to meet your quotas, will you be let go. A customer service rep typically does not have those kinds of goals.
Will you work on commission? Most customer service representatives are paid a salary or hourly wage, with the possibility of some performance perks. Sales work can be more rewarding since salespeople often work solely on commission or a combination of salary and commission.
Will you make sales calls? Sales reps typically work to acquire new customers or new business from existing customers. In sales, you are expected to do a certain amount of prospecting for new business, whether by knocking on doors or picking up the phone. In customer service, you might be expected to handle incoming calls from an existing client base or talk with customers in person. In other words, you are responding to people already using the company’s service or products. For example, customer service representatives may be asked to provide a customer with their credit card balance, or to check on the status of an order that has been placed. Or you might work on a computer software help desk, where you troubleshoot a customer’s technical difficulties. Another way to look at it – while sales reps work to get new business, customer service reps work to retain the existing client base. Usually. At times, customer service reps are also expected to tout products.
Will you be primarily responsible for sales? Again, the line can get blurred. For example, although the primary function of customer service representatives is not sales, some may spend a part of their time with customers encouraging them to purchase additional items or services. A sales rep, on the other hand, may be asked to provide a certain amount of information for customers. So whether you are in sales or service is a matter of emphasis.
Once you have determined what exactly is expected in a particular position, you must decide which you are best able to handle. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
Will you be comfortable in your sales or service role? The best salesperson I ever worked with couldn’t wait to pick up the phone and talk to another client. He needed the thrill of the sale. For that reason, he would have been unhappy as a customer service rep. It is important to be honest with yourself, because not everyone is cut out to go into both fields.
Do you like small talk?
The best salespeople know how to use small talk as a way to put customers at ease. It is a way to connect with the customer on a personal level. If, however, you have to force yourself to make such small talk, your chances of success as a sales rep may be limited. Your chances of success as a service rep would be higher, since your customer already wants to talk to you.
Are you a good listener?
Surprisingly, the truly good salesperson is a good listener, adept at identifying the customer’s wants and needs, which are not always the same. A customer service representative also needs to listen attentively – although not as actively as a sales rep.
Are you proactive or reactive? Sales and service representatives both need to be personable and good at follow-through. Salespeople, however, need to be more self-motivated. A service rep is more reactive, responding to calls or customers as they come in. Sales reps must also cope with rejection and disappointment, making that next call even though the last ten were a waste of time.
Finally, whichever field you choose, it is vital to choose your employer carefully. Trying to sell a worthless product can not only be frustrating, it can be demoralizing. By the same token, trying to field customer complaints when the company itself doesn’t listen to their feedback is also a losing proposition. It never hurts to talk to someone who already works for the company. It could save you much frustration in the long run.