Article of the week 26 – 2023

Active sales also in customer service? How to make it work!

Customers on contact hotlines who have a problem with a purchased product, or would like to receive more information on a purchase offer, are often willing to share relevant market information as well as tend to be more open towards listening to sales arguments. This fact could be used for intensifying customer relations, i.e., binding existing, or acquiring new customers. If, however, this potential is not seized, significant business opportunities might be lost. Hence, under the heading of „Sales and Support“, many successful companies have adopted the strategy of involving customer service employees in sales. 

Yet, many companies still continue to strictly separate between customer service and sales. It is argued that customer service and sales are too different and not compatible. But this is not correct! For successfully managing „Sales and Support“ in contact centers, the following three aspects need to be observed:

1) Sales Training

Only if customer service employees have sufficient specialized knowledge are they able to competently consult customers on a purchase and conclude a sale. “Sales and Support” training should thus comprise information on the company, its products, and trends, but also the competition and their products. In many cases where “Sales and Support” is newly introduced to a contact center, employees have been originally hired for their aptitude of providing services rather than sales. Therefore it is crucial that they are also explicitly trained in sales strategies and sales conversation techniques (e.g., customer classification, needs analysis, objection handling, and sales closing). In case that the service employees are skeptical of sales, it might be useful to provide them with fun catch phrases to impart the benefits of sales (e.g., “Not making a sale is failure to give assistance!“). Furthermore, customer service employees should be given ample time and opportunity to practice and solidify their sales skills for example in role-plays.

2) Incentives

In practice, it has proven successful to give customer service employees a financial share in a sales success. It is not easy to set the right balance between base salary and commissions. If the base salary is too low, employees may find themselves under too much sales pressure. There is a risk that they conclude undesired business transactions which will later be canceled by the customers. Conversely, if commissions are too low, they might be ineffective to raise sales motivations.

Cancellations of purchases do not only lead to unnecessary processing costs for return transactions. They are also to be avoided because customers who are unsatisfied with a product tend to blame the entire company and post about it in social media. Moreover, also for customer service employees, cancellations may be a particular source of disappointment if the terms of incentives have not been clearly communicated in advance. Many companies only grant commissions if no cancellation occurs within a specific time frame.

Another possibility for a company to handle incentives would be to only pay out a commission for “sales” if certain sales and quality thresholds have been exceeded. By specifying key performance indicators for „support“ (e.g., call handling time and referral rate), both areas of responsibility – „Sales“ and „Support“ – can be weighted and steered according to changing priorities.  

3) Change Management

„Sales and Support“ can be particularly challenging for older and veteran customer service employees. Here, the Management should try to have empathy and be patient. To reduce any fears of sales which its employees may have, the Management should offer any reasonable and necessary assistance. 

The approach of change management aims to gradually guide people into accepting a new situation. To promote „Sales and Support“, positive visualizations at the workplace and playful tools to raise motivation (“gamification”) might be of assistance. To visualize sales goals and focus sales attention, for example key figures on computer screens (dashboards) could be displayed, or colorful cardboard decorations set up in the office. Furthermore, a poster could be hung in a prominent place to help customer service employees to remember what they would like to purchase in the medium term with their sales commissions.

In the context of change management, an important aspect of gamification is that employees receive a prize when they successfully close a sale. Depending on the sales volume and turnover, this prize might be a basket of food specialties, a bottle of champagne, a T-shirt, a theater voucher, or something similar. To also motivate employees who are not yet as successful in sales, instead of a special prize for a certain number of sales, another game loop could apply: For every sale they make, customer service employee may participate in a lucky draw to win the jackpot. Customer service teams can also compete as a group in games based on their sales numbers. A popular game usually played in contact centers for several weeks is a virtual soccer match, where for example different sales locations receive scores in line with their sales performance. In gamification, there are no limits to the imagination!

Introducing “Sales and Support” in contact center has many advantages and is easily possible even under difficult circumstances. 

I wish you lots of success!

Julia Zimpel – Consultant


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