Sell them more*

Jan 01, 2005 10:30 PM  By

Every executive knows that you make more money selling to your existing customers than you do chasing new ones. That’s why so many companies place so much emphasis on cross-selling and upselling.

Yet not enough marketers enlist the resources of their customer contact center when implementing their cross-selling and upselling strategies — even though when properly implemented, such a strategy can transform a cost center into a revenue generator. And in addition to generating increased sales, training your customer service representatives to suggestive-sell can boost both customer satisfaction and profit margins.

Every person who calls into your contact center represents a unique opportunity to sell. These opportunities have become all the more valuable now that do-not-call legislation has restricted the ability of companies to conduct outbound telemarketing.

Many marketers and service reps are loathe to suggestive-sell, for fear of being perceived as pushy. But an attractive cross-sell/upsell offer is actually a form of service. If a customer’s need is not being met with the product he is currently using, then the offer of a better or more appropriate product represents a means of meeting his need. And a customer whose need is being met is a happier, more loyal customer.

What’s more, newer, better products are generally less expensive to support. So when you move a customer from an older or lower-end product, you reduce your future service and support costs — thereby improving your operating margins.

Of course, you’re not going to be able to sell effectively in your call center if your customers are already upset by the time they speak to a rep. So make sure you’re already doing a good job of answering the phones on time and solving customers’ problems when they call. To measure your customers’ level of satisfaction with your call center, you may want to implement a “closed incident survey” system, in which you automatically send an e-mail survey regarding the customer’s satisfaction with your company after a transaction has been completed or a problem resolved. You should also keep an eye on classic call center metrics such as first-call resolution rates (how many customer requests are adequately resolved with the first call, eliminating the need for the customer to continue contacting your call center) and call abandonment rates.

Once you’re sure you’re delivering quality service, you can start to implement sales techniques appropriate to your market. Generally, contact center sales strategies can be considered either profile based or issue based. With profile-based strategies, contact center agents look at one or more characteristics of the customer before making an appropriate offer.

For example, a customer living in a northern state may be offered a discount on a snow blower or a down coat. Or a customer using a product that is more than three years old may be offered a newer version.

With issue-based strategies, sales offers are driven by particular types of problems or challenges that customers face. A computer user struggling with poor performance may be offered a RAM upgrade, for instance, or a power tool user asking how to perform a particular kind of task may be offered a special attachment for the job.

To suggest the most appropriate products, the call center reps need at-their-fingertips access to complete customer data. This is where computer telephony integration (CTI) comes in. The proper combination of hardware and software integrate the contact center phone system with the customer database and the contact center terminals so that upon receiving a call from a customer, a rep can immediate access his history with the company. You may also want to provide “sales adviser” tools that keep reps informed about the offers you want them to offer to specific types of customers.

Just as important as the right tools is the right training. Most service agents don’t have much sales experience. So in addition to learning how to use your company’s transaction processing system for order entry, credit-card authorization, and whatnot, they need to be taught basic sales skills. The transition to revenue generation should affect hiring practices as well, since sales experience will now be a plus.

Closely related to the right training are the right incentives. Direct marketers have historically rewarded contact service agents for keeping calls short. While this may still be a useful metric for service/ support calls, your agents obviously have to be encouraged to take the time needed to sell. This entails balancing efficiency goals with revenue goals.


Greg Gianforte is CEO/president/chairman/ founder of RightNow Technologies, a CRM solutions provider based in Bozeman, MT.

Rate your service

As resource constraints require contact centers to support more customers with fewer staffers, and as customer expectations continue to rise, the pressure is on service organizations. Which of the four levels below describes your organization? More important, are you ready to evolve to the next level?

  • RUDIMENTARY SERVICE

    Your organization uses a limited number of communication channels — primarily the phone — to answer customer questions. Knowledge management is limited to an inhouse manual or the employee brain trust. Contribution to the business is limited to keeping the number of unhappy customers to a minimum.

  • RESPONSIVE SERVICE

    Your organization uses multiple communication channels, including e-mail and the Internet as well as the phone. By referring to a common knowledge base and by tracking and analyzing customer interactions, agents can reduce inefficiencies in service processes and improve customer satisfaction.

  • PROACTIVE SERVICE

    Your organiza-tion anticipates customer needs by mining customer histories, using automated e-mail notification systems, and monitoring customer satisfaction levels, among other techniques. By exceeding customer expectations, your agents provide a significant competitive advantage and help to further reduce service costs.

  • TOP-LINE SERVICE

    Your organization understands customers well enough to pinpoint and act upon sales opportunities, using call scripting, virtual sales advisers, and intelligent call routing systems. In addition to ensuring high levels of customer satisfaction and low service costs, your agents boost revenue and maximize the value of the customer relationship.
    — GG