Why selling in service contact centers fails and how to fix it.


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pie chart about sales percentagesWhen you think of a typical salesperson what comes to mind? Do you immediately conjure up visions of multi-colored flags, ‘zero-money down’ signs, and some sleaze-bag car salesman telling you to buy the over-priced lemon of your dreams? The term, salesperson, quickly makes us imagine this derogatory image, something that we do not want to be associated with as our career label.

Let me challenge your normal reaction to the word ‘salesperson’ with one of my favorite quotes from Robert Louis Stevenson, “Everyone lives by selling something.” Think about that for a moment. When you’re at the hair salon and he or she is discussing the option for highlights or the hair care products, this hairdresser is selling, right? If you are a marketer you’re hoping to ‘sell’ your audience with your subject line and convince them to open your email and look at your message. And even as a parent, you are ‘selling’ your six-year old on those healthy green beans (or at least trying to). But I bet if you asked that hairdresser, marketer or parent if they worked in sales their answers would be a resounding “No”. In fact, only one in nine people in the US are designated as being in sales, but most everyone is.

Can you see how this pattern transfers to your service contact center? Do you or your agents view themselves as salespeople when interacting with customers? You might not be a salesperson in the traditional sense but you are selling through service. You are selling knowledge and you are selling an experience with a brand through service. Selling is a surprising truth about how we as humans move and engage others, and sometimes it is so subtle we don’t realize we’re doing it. Service is a sales tool. Many top performing companies realize they are winning and selling more today because they excel at providing excellent service.

If you overcome your own mental barriers you would have to agree (like top performing companies have) that we are all somehow involved in sales. So now that you have overcome your barriers, is it easier to see that we are all salespeople so you can stop imagining the stereotype of a back-handed car salesperson? Okay, I see you some of you will have to work through this.

For those able to move forward, one could say that contact center agents have within them natural service-selling abilities and with a little additional training and incentivizing, your contact center can truly benefit your organization by admitting and embracing their inherent power to sell; but don’t be a fool and give them training titled Service to Sales. This does not always mean that your contact center agents will now be selling and receiving payments from your customers. Rather your agents will be selling their knowledge as a product/service enhancer and will be selling the competitive advantage of your company through excellent service. They would not be considered order takers in a restaurant. They would be considered servers who sell the dining experience and get tips!

Who wouldn’t like their contact center agents to be that server who recommends the appetizers, mentions the delicious mixed drinks or extensive wine selection versus boring reading of the daily specials? Do you want your contact center agents to focus on the customer experience and giving great service? Look, in order to survive this tough economy you need to change people’s mindset to increase revenue. While it’s easy to think, hey, the agents are already on the phone so why not add selling to their job description? If you remember the mental barriers, you’ll easily see that this is one of those things that sounds simple but will fail in execution. The outcome will be high dysfunction and agent churn because a simple idea was poorly executed.

So how should it be done? The foundation for success is changing how agents view themselves. Now let’s take a prominent financial center for our “good” example. We can all agree that a good selling contact center starts with talented, knowledgeable agents that know the products and services they are supporting. The agents are updated regularly on the new advantage and interest-earning accounts, credit card specials, etc., and are encouraged to share that information with clients that call in to get services if that information is appropriate. Mary takes a customer service call where a client has lost his credit card while on vacation. While getting the client set with a new card Mary notices that the amount the client has in his savings account qualifies him for bank’s Gold Rewards program and suggests he enroll to receive twice the interest on his money. The savings account also will act as an overdraft account for the replacement credit card which the client needs anyhow, so the client isn’t put off by answering a few extra questions. On the backend, Mary gets a $15 bonus for implementing the Gold Rewards program with customer service clients, so she’s happy to pay attention in those pesky group update meetings. You may even allow Mary to contribute the money to her favorite charity and provide a charitable donation match. Get creative. It would have been just as easy for Mary to just replace the credit card and move on to the next call because of her talk time goals. Mary may have gotten into the service game because she didn’t like to sell, but she’s selling every day or contributing to her favorite charity every day.

Help your contact center agents see themselves differently and reap the benefit of the service-sales culture on the customer experience. If you do, you will be selling your contact center to the C-level as a profit center in no time. That’s a great way of maximizing your resources and doing more with less, while changing the world.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jodie Monger
Jodie Monger, Ph.D. is the president of Customer Relationship Metrics (CRM) and a pioneer in business intelligence for the contact center industry. Dr. Jodie's work at CRM focuses on converting unstructured data into structured data for business action. Her research areas include customer experience, speech and operational analytics. Before founding CRM, she was the founding associate director of Purdue University's Center for Customer-Driven Quality.


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