The Transition from Customer Service to Strategic Sales

When it comes to connecting with customers online, a number of multichannel and ecommerce retailers are still stuck in the “customer support” mindset; one that views contact with a customer as a necessary evil rather than an opportunity.

E-retailers typically set-up up the digital equivalent of a physical customer service counter. The problem is that even in the brick-and-mortar world, customer service desks are often staffed with problem solvers who are not empowered to help guide the customer’s journey rather than sales associates. Conversely, digital commerce engagements require guided assistance toward the successful completion of a goal or transaction.

Making the transition from service and support to strategic sales and solving the age-old problem of low online conversion rates — 1-3 percent on desktop and mobile versus 10-30 percent in-store — requires a shift in thinking.  Transforming an empty online store into a center for anticipating and addressing customer needs proactively and intelligently requires careful thought, planning and, in many cases, investment.

Position Customer Engagement as an Opportunity, Not a Cost Center

Perhaps one of the most profound differences between service and sales is that your organization has to embrace the idea that customer engagement is not something to be provided reluctantly or miserly, but rather something that is given enthusiastically.

Most businesses view customer service as a cost center. As a result, customer service budgets are under continuous reduction pressure and contact center managers are evaluated on cost-cutting basis, like deflection rates, average agent handle time, and total number of closed issues per agent.

Most contact centers today are designed to address visitors quickly and get them off the line as fast as possible. In sales, this doesn’t work. To be successful, organizations must view customer engagement as an opportunity, not as a cost. Online conversion rates are significantly higher when visitors are engaged rather than when they are not. Would you tell your on-the-floor sales associates in a retail location to hide from shoppers and try to ditch them as quickly as possible? Absolutely not. Customers value service. They value positive experiences.

During the past few years, the means of company differentiation in many industries has shifted from being based on just products and price to being based on the ability to deliver superior customer experiences. According to the Economic Intelligence Unit, consumers typically respond to an “outstanding” experience by making a mental note to buy from the company again (69%), telling friends and family (51%) and posting a comment on a social media site (23%). Recognize that the returns of engaging visitors outweigh the savings of hiding from them. And your company will emerge as the victors in the competition for customer retention and wallet share.

Train Your Agents to Kick-it Up a Notch

Considering that most online agents are trained for support or troubleshooting functions, chances are that your agents will require training to engage visitors in a sales capacity. Rather than merely consulting a knowledge portal for prescribed “how to” steps to solve a problem, they need sufficient understanding of your products and services to provide high caliber guidance that includes product selection, cross-sell, up-sell, and transaction completion.

If you’re merely focused on customer satisfaction scores (CSAT), your scope is too limited. Effective customer engagement is not about mere satisfaction; it’s about providing the best over-all customer experience you can because in today’s online marketplace, which is dominated by Gen-X and Millennial consumers, satisfaction is table stakes commodity and does not yield high conversion rates.

To build loyalty, you have to do more than just satisfy your customers. You have to delight them! You would be surprised how certain specific engagement opportunities – and how you handle them – can make or break the sale.  According to Forrester Research, 53% of US consumers will abandon an online transaction if their questions or concerns are not addressed quickly.

You have to be there when they have questions, provide timely and accurate information, and meet them on their device of choice in that moment or they’ll be gone faster than you can say “bounce rate.”

Make Sure Your Organization is Aligned and Committed

Now that you’re ready to engage your visitors and prepare your agents to sell your products and services instead of just troubleshooting problems, you’ve got to get your internal teams aligned and committed. It is crucial to recognize that leveraging digital engagement channels at the top side of the sales funnel means that you now have a larger pool of stakeholders than before.

Depending on the size and structure of the organization, this stakeholder committee could include representatives from support, IT/WebDev, digital commerce, digital marketing, UX/Designers, and higher-level executive management.

The first question to answer is: Who is going to own the initiative? Someone has to steer the ship or it’s not going to go anywhere, and all the stakeholders need to know that one person or team ultimately calls the shots. Otherwise, infighting could derail the entire effort. Chances are, your support team already knows how to manage agents, but are they capable of crafting engagement strategies? Does Marketing have the bandwidth to take this on top of the segmentation and customer acquisition efforts?

Whoever owns the project also must reconcile concerns or objections from other stakeholders. Marketing teams may already have targeting solutions used for promotions or ad placement that they want to leverage to drive digital engagements, although these solutions are typically not sufficient for this purpose because serving static content is very different than making offers based on agent availability. UX teams may want to completely redesign the customer engagement experience to align with their vision of the website, although this may prove to be impractical given that their initial design didn’t account for live chat or contextual knowledge, and thus, compromises must be reached. Your web team may insist that you include all scripts via tag management solutions and, depending on the technical requirements of the solution, this may or may not be feasible.

View Engagements as Growth Opportunities

Making the transition from support to sales requires a strategic mind shift within your organization in which customer engagements are viewed as growth opportunities. This may require agent training or new hires if your current contact center model is based on troubleshooting and rapid resolution rather than customer experience. It may also require broader organizational alignment to facilitate this transition and prevent lack of ownership or internal politics from undermining potential gains. These are not insurmountable challenges, and the rewards of becoming a customer-first organization are well worth the investment and effort.

Randy Nasson is director of product management at Moxie, a leader in customer engagement solutions across the decision journey. Follow Randy at @Go_Moxie and @RandyNasson.