How to Avoid Souring Your Existing Customer Relationships

Oct 15, 2008 10:06 PM  By

Confucius once wrote, “The superior man understands what is right; the inferior man understands what will sell.” This observation is particularly relevant to contact centers.

In recent years, the C-level has shifted their view towards contact centers. Once labeled as cost centers, they are now celebrated as profit centers. Their employees are no longer dismissed as order takers or telemarketers. Instead, they are called the “front line.” The center is celebrated as the place to differentiate brands and forge long-term relationships.

In reality, they are seen as a cash cow. It is no secret that contact centers are the perfect touch point. Look at them from a customer’s perspective. When you have a problem, wouldn’t you turn to the marketer? When you pick up the phone, aren’t you more apt to listen to someone you know?

For marketers, it is far less difficult and costly to sell to existing customers. It makes sense to blur the line between service and sales. An existing customer naturally produces higher close rates and order values.

Of course, every idea is inevitably abused, producing a backlash. Chances are, your customers are reaching that saturation point. Most days, they are barraged with upsells and cross-sells. They feel manipulated and commoditized; their guard is up.

As a result, you must examine the broader context. These interactions are about more than deepening your customers’ loyalty and dependence on your brand. They are truly about forging a two-way dialogue, where both parties genuinely benefit. Here are three ideas for fostering such a relationship:

1) Identify value: We are inundated with marketing messages every day. Radio and billboard ads blend into our daily commute. Cashiers slyly offer to supersize our lunches. Of course, the ultimate salespeople – the boy and girl scouts – are all too compelling. Wherever we turn, we are pitched; the expenses quickly add up. It is easy to grow wary.

As a result, be cautious about who you target and how aggressive you pitch. Before you begin, identify your value proposition. Does your product or service fill a real need – or are you going for a quick buck? Why are your customers calling – and is your offer appropriate to the context?

Remember, your intent is to make their lives better, not engage in self-absorption marketing. Make sure your customer can easily visualize the product and quickly recognize the value.

2) Build profiles: Think about your customer base. Who is most likely to buy? What will they buy – and why? What purchases have they made in the past – and what are their anticipated needs in the future? Most important, which customers bring the most value to your organization?

Once you answer these questions, use your demographic and historical data to build models. You should segment potentially responsive customers for certain offers based off these models (and accompanying testing).

3) Develop your strategy: Before you start selling, focus on the reason for the call – and addressing it to your customers’ satisfaction. From there, pinpoint a follow up objective. For example, are you looking to build a particular line? Increase usage? Target your pitch to the end you choose.

Second, create a sense of immediacy. Offer something that complements what they have ordered in the past, such as a new or enhanced feature. Play on their impulsiveness. Frame it as an expression of your gratitude for their continued business. Here are some proven strategies to entice and motivate your customers:

–Free gift
–Special savings (for a limited time)
–Package deals (buy one, get a second at 50% off)
–Savings based on the amount or form of payment
–Reduced rate with increased volume or accompanying gift order

Ask an open-ended question or two to produce dialogue. Similarly, have prompts and selling language available to your agents. For example, they should know which products are applicable in various scenarios. Supply them with examples of choices other customers made — and why — as well.

Next week, I’ll share six more ways to increase revenue without souring your relationships.

Jeff Schmitt spent 11 years at Advanced Data-Comm (now WS Live), working in marketing, legal compliance, copywriting, project management, client relations, training and quality control. He is a regular contributor to CareerBuilder.com, Sales & Marketing Management and Chief Marketer.