Increasing AOV on the phone

Apr 01, 2008 9:30 PM  By

“What’s the AOV this week?” “How’s the AOV trending?” When marketers start talking about average order value, I can’t help thinking of Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon from the radio series A Prairie Home Companion, where “all the children are above average.” Seems like that’s what we sometimes expect of our inbound order calls, too — they should all be above average.

In fact, you can do a few things to increase your average order value. But you’ll have to work for it. Most customers calling to order have chosen their merchandise before they dial; some have even calculated their order total. So triggering the impulsive act of adding on to an order will take a little bit of advance planning.

Product considerations are important. Make sure the items you’re offering as add-ons are simple to describe and easy for both reps and customers to picture in case they don’t have immediate access to either physical merchandise or photos. If the benefits or features are not obvious, certainly draft out a brief, cogent explanation that is easy to say and will be readily understood.

Reps must also recognize the value of the merchandise or services they’re offering, because if they happen to take a personal dislike to the add-on product or offer, the truism that “you can’t sell what you don’t buy” will prevail. So if they have discomfort for any reason, either work through it with them or try to come up with alternatives.

Similarly, help the reps craft offer language that feels comfortable. Even if you enforce compliance, compliance without interest or engagement often sounds so unappealing that customers won’t buy even when you ask.

Assembling offer variations

There are several different ways of structuring or drafting offers that can work for a variety of products and marketplace conditions. Here are a few methods.

BUNDLING

Try offering a bundled or “kitted” item (i.e., a combination of component items sold and billed as a single unit), such as a small electronic gadget plus case and batteries, at a price that is slightly less than what the customer would pay for the items if ordered separately. This way, whenever a customer asks for the gadget, you offer the bundle.

You can always drop to a step-down offer (gadget plus case; gadget plus batteries; gadget alone) to accommodate the customers who choose to forgo the convenience of the package for some reason.

Another example: “That binder comes with a matching pencil case, and I can give you both for only $15.99; if you purchased the two items separately, you’d be spending $17.49.” Avoid bundling as an attempted upsell if the majority of customers typically buy all the separate components anyway.

ELIGIBILITY

Encourage customers to buy more of the same product or any mix of items to get a discount or special packaging of some kind. This is a great offer when you’re selling consumables: “I can give you a discount of $3.25 for a volume price of $42.50 per unit if you buy at least 100 units.”

You can also create an eligibility target that, when met, provides customers with reduced or waived shipping and handling.

Speaking of shipping and handling, if it’s possible, you should hold the line on S&H charges anyway. In other words, don’t penalize customers or turn them off by charging more for S&H when they agree to take the other product you offered. And make it clear that you’re absorbing the cost of the incremental shipping and handling so customers recognize the additional benefit and can appreciate the good deal.

GENERIC VS. PERSONALIZED

The standard generic offer at the end of the call takes less skill to compose on the fly and puts less pressure on the reps, but it’s typically also less appealing to customers.

So if there’s a simple way to tailor each presentation to the customer history or specific items ordered this time, it’s worth the mental energy and some practice time. The language can be as simple as, “Because you ordered widget A, let me suggest B,” and give a very brief benefit statement to back up the recommendation.

PERMISSION VS. DESCRIPTION

This option is similar to the generic/personalized choice. Asking permission to make an offer is less challenging for reps; it’s also less likely to trigger an impulse reaction in customers and makes it much easier for them to take themselves off the hook with a quick “no.”

At one end of the continuum, the softest touch is, “I have some specials this week, would you like to hear them?” Slightly stronger is, “The croco-pattern belt goes wonderfully with that suit; may I tell you about it?”

The next level of offer is fully personalized based on whatever information customers have given about their situation and choices: “Those flower pots really are the lightest in the line, so you shouldn’t have any trouble moving them. If you’d like, I can also send you three of the rolling stands to match — they’re only $7.99 apiece, and this way they’ll still be easy to move even after your plantings grow to full size.”

DISCOUNTING

It’s just not necessary if your product line will lend itself to a somewhat impulsive buy and if the specific offer you make has clear value, as with the example of the rolling stands for flower pots. Instead of discounting in general, offer an eligibility-based price reduction for a volume purchase, or for purchasing multiple additional lines.

Discounting is worth it if you can position yourself as a sole supplier or if you can at least garner a greater share of wallet. And if you can position the item as an overstock, you create an even more compelling reason for a customer to buy — everyone likes a bargain, and customers typically love to benefit from a supplier’s mistake in overbuying!

Arranging optimal versions

Many call center reps see themselves as order-takers or processors or helpers, not as salespeople, and they can be fearful — and in some cases, downright negative — about selling. So, teaching reps to “make the ask,” as fundraisers call it, instead of asking them to “sell,” often creates less resistance.

Instead of making big explanations, keep the training presentation as simple as possible, focused on product value and practicing the language you want them to use in the call. This is easiest to do if the trainer is truly comfortable with the concepts and the details.

And specific body language, as demonstrated by the trainer and adopted by the reps in their practices, can actually make a difference by demonstrating openness and an absence of stereotypical pushy, aggressive behavior that many people unfairly associate with sales.

Asking the question or asking for the order can be accompanied by an open-arm posture and open-palm gesture. Emphasize that we’re not pushing or dragging or grabbing, but offering: We don’t want to force anyone off balance or make them feel under attack, we just want to invite them to come with us.

A single session is rarely enough. Periodic product updates and sharing of successful techniques among the reps will help keep the people engaged and the offer delivery fresher. Some common rep concerns — dealing with customer resistance and when it’s not appropriate to make an offer — can often be overcome by hearing how other reps made offers successfully under similar circumstances.

Accommodating operational variety

Initiatives to increase AOV will also increase the number of things the management will be checking and that supervisors will have to deal with on the call center floor.

Because a successful add-on initiative results in impulse purchases, you may experience a somewhat higher rate of return. So factor that into your financial planning. And calls will take a little longer, so plan for this operational impact as well, in terms of both cost of call and the scheduling and staffing planning necessary to account for the extra call length.

You shouldn’t try to counteract the increased call length by encouraging the reps to speed up, though — at least not in the beginning. Make sure they’re offering at every opportunity and that they sound engaging before you coach them to streamline their calls.

And don’t try to deal with the potential staffing issue by pulling back on the upsell process when too many calls are holding in the queue. Turning the reps off once can lead them to feel turned off permanently, so don’t discourage consistency and momentum.

You may be surprised to find that new reps are often more successful at raising AOV than are experienced reps. This may seem counter intuitive if you’re thinking about product knowledge, comfort on the phone, facility with using the system, etc.

But new reps are also typically more compliant and have fewer negative experiences to draw on, as well as often being more eager to please. So don’t look just at performance across the entire department; check your numbers to see if length of tenure has an impact so you can work with the various subgroups in a more targeted way.


Liz Kislik is president of Liz Kislik Associates (www.lizkislik.com), a Rockville Centre, NY-based consultancy.