Customer Review

August 1, 2008
Frankly, I doubt if there are any head-snapping revelations left concerning customer service but I continue to be impressed by recently published books in which their authors offer thought-provoking perspectives, insights, and suggestions worthy of careful consideration. Just as there is a buyer for every house, in publishing there is a buyer for every book. My task as a reviewer is to help those who read my comments to decide whether or not the given book seems to be directly appropriate to her or his own circumstances, needs, and interests. How You Do...What You Do offers a case in point.

Bob Livingston achieves his objective of presenting a comprehensive, cohesive, and cost-effective program that (with appropriate modifications, of course) could be put in place by almost any company, whatever its size and nature may be. I think that his book can also be of substantial value to individuals in sales, especially those who are relatively inexperienced although much of what he shares could serve as "reminders" to sales managers.

Obviously, the best an organization can do to support its sales initiatives (as opposed to its marketing initiatives) is to "free up" its salespersons - as much as possible - from responsibilities that are unrelated to the cultivation, solicitation, and post-sale process. Less time consumed by paperwork means more time available to nourish customer relationships. A company can maintain zero-defect quality control of each product it sells. It can also ensure that there are no foul-ups with order processing, delivery, invoicing, and technical service. An appropriate analogy would be to carrier jet pilots who also depend on an efficient system to provide the information they need, then get them and their planes safely on their way to each target destination. As Livingston explains very well, companies should be customer-centric, indeed customer-driven and develop a culture that recognizes what Peter Drucker observed decades ago: "If you don't have a customer, you don't have a business."

Of course, selling today must take into full account that customers have more choices than ever before, that many (if not most) products are commodities or at least widely viewed that way, and that in general, customers are much better informed than in years past, largely because of immediate access to more and better information, much of it provided by Web sites. (There are several Web sites that direct people to other Web sites. They function as an electronic concierge" and can be quite helpful.) Purchase decisions - including the decision to purchase nothing now or soon - usually involve several people (what Michael Boylan characterizes as a "circle of influence") rather than a single decision-maker, so cultivation strategies must be diversified and "customized" and yet (somehow) coordinated effectively. If you don't think that's tricky, try doing it.

As Livingston fully understands, no sales program or system such as his (or anyone else's) can ever replace a knowledgeable, likeable, principled, and energetic salesperson, nor was it intended to be. On the contrary, it should be viewed as an enabling device that saves a salesperson precious time and energy, improves identification and pre-qualification of prospective customers, and in other ways (to repeat) "frees up" her or him to focus on cultivation and solicitation initiatives.

His book will help those in sales to gain a better understand of what to do...and how to do it. (Those who read between lines will also get some tips on what not to do...and how not to do it.) Livingston's book can also help CEOs and other C-level executives to gain a better understanding of why a customer-centric, indeed customer-driven culture must be established and then sustained.

Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out Joseph Michelli's The New Gold Standard: 5 Leadership Principles for Creating a Legendary Customer Experience Courtesy of The Ritz Carlton Hotel Company and two of Leonard Berry's books, On Great Service: A Framework for Action and Discovering the Soul of Service: The Nine Drivers of Sustainable Business Success as well as Creating Customer Evangelists: How Loyal Customers Become a Volunteer Sales Force co-authored by Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba.
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