Bob Sullivan wrote a post on his Red Tape Chronicles blog recently about how disappointed most of us are with customer service – and how out of touch more CEO’s are about how their own customers perceive their company’s service level. Yup, you got it. A recent Accenture study showed that 75% of CEO’s think their company’s service is above average while almost 60% of consumers say they’re at least a little miffed about recent customer service experiences.

There are several interesting aspects of this study – like how a group of smart, successful people have lost touch with one of their most important constituencies – but I want to focus in on one that doesn’t get much attention. That is, the role of the sales function in driving customer satisfaction.

Right now, some of you may be saying, “Huh? What does the sales organization have to do with customer satisfation? Aren’t they about one thing and one thing only – selling?”

In most companies, yes. That’s the sad truth. But there are some rare companies who instill a different thought process in the sales organization.

Take a start-up software company I know about. They are growing by leaps and bounds and have taken justifiable pride in the support they give customers post-sale, including competent staff who actually answer the phone.

Then they conducted a small study about their customers’ experience and level of satisfaction. What they found surprised them. While customers gave them high marks for their competence and responsiveness, they also talked about the many surprises they had when trying to install and use the software. Unfortunately, these surprises were extending and complicating implementation, leading some customers to wonder when (if ever) they would get the software fully installed and start reaping full business value.

Enter the role of the salesforice. Our fearless start-up owners started doing a smart thing – they started to look backwards in the customer’s experience (past the usual pre/post sale divide) and realized their sales force could play an important role in setting appropriate expectations for the implementation process.

It’s not enough to follow up on the lead, do a good needs analysis and close the sale. No, the additional, critical role of a sales organization is to help manage the customer’s expectations of what happens after the sale.

Of course, this only matters if you want to grow by references/reputation and you want to actually deliver great service and value to customers. This start-up – and other smart companies – have made that choice. And they’re willing to get their salesforce to do non-traditional activities to put the choice into action.