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Selling in the Call Center: Practices for Success

In the preliminary results of ICMI’s current survey on call center types, 47.3% of respondents say their call center does some type of selling, cross-selling and up-selling to customers.

If your contact center is blending sales with service (or planning to), these tips should increase your chances of success.

There are a good many practices that every call center with a cross-selling or up-selling element can put in place to succeed in generating profits without alienating customers. Hiring practices should be revised to include selling skills; coaching and training must take into account new selling mindsets and technologies; incentives need to carefully selected and executed to motivate agents; and everybody — everybody — needs to communicate.

Defining Sales in the Call Center

One reason why contact centers that sell do not realize their revenue potential is a misunderstanding of what selling means. Successful blended centers go beyond hawking a product or service just because they have the customer on the line. Agents are hired for their ability — and trained — to help the customer discover needs — both stated and unstated.

Agents should ask several questions to determine if there’s a need for a product that they might sell.

It’s important to understand – and communicate – that sales can enhance the service experience. That means a cultural shift for companies seeking to turn cost centers into profit centers. For agents (and their supervisors, coaches, trainers and quality assurance team), that means active listening, effective discovery and engagement, finding customers’ needs and targeting relevant offerings to those needs.

Obtaining Agent Buy-In

You and your management team may understand the value of blending sales with service, but it may be a harder pitch to agents. Many service agents shun the idea of adding sales to the mix.

The most successful blended centers overcome these anti-sales attitudes early on by carefully explaining to agents that sales can be an extension – even augment – customer service.

Helping Agents Succeed at Sales in a Service Environment

To provide the kind of personalized, unscripted attention that callers demand (and that enables selling), key customer data must be readily available to agents. CRM (customer relationship management) systems have enabled agents to view a customer’s account history and deliver appropriate up-sell and cross-sell suggestions in many successful blended call centers.

Profiling Agents Who Can Service and Sell

Bringing a sales mission into the service center can be disruptive, to say the least. How do you preserve service levels while achieving sales goals?
Obviously, hiring is critical, and recruiting also needs to be considered. Once you get your existing staff up to speed in the service and selling environment, focus on your future frontline. Consider screening agents for the following:

•    Active listening that allows the agent to discern and decipher underlying concerts or needs.
•    The ability to synthesize multifaceted situations.
•    Ability and willingness to explore a need rather than offer a pat, scripted solution.

Training for Service-Centric Sales

Great service reps don’t necessarily make great sales reps. But that doesn’t mean that service reps can’t be trained for sales.

A common mistake that managers make is to give perfectly good, bright service reps sales scripts, rather than training them to serve by selling. Solid training and coaching strategies are key to retaining and enriching agents who can serve through sales.

Agents who cross-sell and up-sell are often left dangling by companies that don’t invest in training. Many successful sales-and-service centers have learned that service coaching and training doesn’t precisely fit the sales environment and vice versa.

If your blended center is going to succeed, you’re management team and everyone else must understand the value of sales in the service center, what your goals are, and how to achieve those goals. You can’t rely on agents – even good sales agents – to make selling in the service center work at any consistent level.

No amount of planning and strategizing will make your service-to-sales transition successful if there is a lack of communication — among contact center executives, managers and agents, and between the contact center and other enterprise departments, such as marketing and sales.
Communication is critical to the successful running or implementation of a cross-selling initiative.

Managers can’t espouse the view that selling is only for the company’s bottom line. They must philosophically believe in its importance to the customer.