Let’s face it, at some level, we’re all resistant to—if not terrified by—change. It’s part of human nature to fear change, perhaps because we fear the unknown, we fear failure or simply because we find comfort in the status quo. Yet, we live in a society that experiences constant change. Whether we fear change, accept it or embrace it, how we deal with it can have a profound effect on how successful we are.
I give you that simple psychology lesson, so you can appreciate how businesses with service centers are responding to today’s challenges. The better their ability to accept change and seek new solutions, the better shape they are in.
As increased competition and other market factors created pressure on companies to re-evaluate their call center operations, the response was to drive as much efficiency as possible through the call center—even if it meant outsourcing the function to other countries to find cost savings. Until recently, few businesses have spent much effort on seeking a rather unconventional solution: driving revenue (via sales) through the call center.
These are the typical protests:
- The call center is a cost center, so solutions must be based on efficiency and cost reduction.
- The call center employees are not equipped to generate sales.
- Good service doesn’t mean good sales.
As a principal of a company currently engaged in providing such a solution, I’m here to challenge the conventional wisdom. For each case, I can give you an example of a business that has bucked the conventional wisdom. Consider the following examples.
Conventional wisdom: The call center is a cost center, so solutions must be based on efficiency and cost reduction.
Too many companies adopt this attitude. It’s no wonder that the main metrics for measuring call center efficiency revolve around how quickly a call is picked up and how quickly a call is completed. While these are especially important tools for measuring in-bound calls, they should not be the only indicators of call center success. What happens during the call (in-bound and out-bound) should be just as important.
The potential exists for the call center to be a revenue center, where call center agents can leverage their position as the “face” (or voice) of their respective companies to the customer by maintaining a service culture while also adopting a sales culture. The focus here is not on efficiency in terms of cost management but on effectiveness in terms of revenue and benefit management.
A leader in the telecom industry was facing stiff competition in the marketplace both because of a convergence in products and services and because customers were becoming more increasingly savvy and price conscious. So the company took a fresh look at the call center’s potential as a revenue center. It set out to generate a 3 percent increase in DSL sales through efforts in the call center, which already boasted a highly sales-savvy call-center team. The company individually tailored its sales-building program to each call center employee and delivered it directly to each employee’s desk-top. The team members learned how to implement advanced sales strategies and how to leverage their natural abilities when dealing with customers. DSL sales increased 32 percent. And the sales proved “stickier,” with fewer call-backs to cancel. The team members also used their new skills to achieve sales in other areas, including long distance, during the same period. That’s an effective call center staff!
Conventional wisdom: Call center employees are not equipped to generate sales.
Call center employees have a crucial, customer-facing role they play out every day, yet the many companies perceive the position as low-level or even expendable. Companies rely on their call centers and call center employees to carry out the service-oriented role of handling a host of challenging issues and problems that customers bring up. So why is it unrealistic to believe that the call center employee could take on a sales function? It’s not.
Consider Coca-Cola Enterprises’ Tampa-based call center, run by Nita Pennardt.
Coming from a sales background and knowing little about call centers when she started, Pennardt turned this potential liability into an asset. Unaware that “call centers couldn’t generate sales,” she began to improve the quality of overall customer interaction by cross-training her call center employees in both service and sales. Under Pennardt’s guidance, outbound call reps (traditionally in sales) were trained to take service calls, and inbound call reps (traditionally service) were trained to sell. The result was a call center with an enviable service record by traditional metrics that happens to generate $1.6 million per day in revenue, which significantly benefits Coca-Cola Enterprise’s bottom line.
Conventional wisdom: Good service doesn’t mean good sales.
Good service has everything to do with good sales, and vice versa.
The key to good service is anticipating customers’ needs and providing solutions that meet those needs. In many cases, those solutions come in the form of an up-sell to a new product or service or the combination of existing goods and services and new ones. In such cases, a “sale” has been made, generating revenue for the company; yet, the customer is satisfied because his or her needs have been met. However, unless the call center employees are properly trained, they are not capable of providing this valuable “service”—or sale, depending on your point of view.
Wells Fargo recently proved this last point when set out to generate sales and improve customer generation through the call center. It focused on two products: credit card balance transfers and rewards program enrollments. Call center employees began to up-sell and cross-sell the products as part of regular in-bound service calls. It turned out that many of the customers didn’t even know Wells Fargo provided such services. After just six weeks, Wells Fargo increased balance transfers by 13 percent and increased its rewards program enrollments by 30 percent, translating to significant growth to the corporate business. Moreover, customers went away happy because their needs were anticipated and met through that single call.