What … Me Sell? – CSRs Transformed!

Kathleen Peterson Rants & Raves by Kathleen Peterson

“What me sell?” … “If I wanted to sell I would get a sales job.” … “Nobody told me this was a sales position!” … If you could read your CSRs’ minds or monitor the talk at the water cooler, you might hear these words after you’ve announced the new up-sell, cross-sell, add-on, or sales incentive program. CSRs generally don’t share the enthusiasm of those that dreamed up the program – at least not initially.

Why do you suppose that is? As usual, I have a few thoughts on the matter. Often there is something of a “disconnect” between the planners and those responsible to execute – a familiar theme. The planners know the business reasons; they have experienced some amount of discussion to determine that transforming the Customer Service Contact Center to include “sales” would be beneficial to the business. All of these assumptions are of course correct. The Customer Service department often enjoys the most contact with customers. The workforce is knowledgeable about products and services, management is already in place, and that extra sales push seems to have no added cost. What a great opportunity to meet the number one marketing mantra – sell more stuff to existing customers!

So why is the failure and frustration rate so incredibly high for these initiatives? Here are some thoughts to consider. Many programs are poorly thought out. Among the most common practices that yield poor results are when there is a LEAP from planning the program to immediate launch – skipping the more difficult task of actually planning the execution. Change management is entirely neglected as part of the process, true training needs are completely minimized or ignored, and leaders are not aligned or in agreement with the program. Training – even for major initiatives – may consist only of some off-the-shelf “How to Sell” courseware or a quickie eLearning module. These may have little or no relationship to your particular products, services, or customers.

Another reason for potential failure is that a Readiness Assessment of the environment has not been conducted to establish some baseline for the assumption of success. Even if your Contact Center already handles inbound sales, an assessment must determine if your hiring, training, and leadership have yielded true sales people or simply order takers! This is where (and why) your change management approach must be defined.

What does a Readiness Assessment involve? Planners ought to get themselves some call recordings to determine the current level of the frontline talent pool. Taking a look at the type of inbound calls is also part of the Readiness Assessment. If customers are calling because they are constantly having problems, it is going to be tough to ask them to consider buying additional products/services when the immediate issue has not been resolved. (Why would I want to buy phone service from my cable provider when my cable is constantly in and out of service?) If your plan includes CSRs making outbound calls, it is even more important to determine the current state of affairs.

Whatever your plans, they must have several due diligence components – clearly defined business objectives, Readiness Assessment results, communication and change management plans, training development and delivery, and perhaps MOST IMPORTANT – management that is trained and positioned to lead the initiative. If Contact Center leadership is not on board, the program will NEVER work. This is leadership at every level. If your CSRs are pessimistic at the prospect of integrating sales into their daily activities, and your leaders suffer from “over identification with the troops,” their ability to lead the initiative as an agent of change is often too great a conflict to overcome.

Of course, there are many organizations that are incredibly successful with sales initiatives and programs in the Contact Center. For some, it appears almost effortless and not a separate program at all. Add-on sales occur as a result of creating excellent experiences and building a sense of loyalty that pre-sells new products and services.

What do these operations have in common?

  • Leadership – First and foremost is leadership – those folks that will be responsible to oversee new initiatives in the Contact Center. Effective leaders see to it that the environment is nimble and responsive, both to the needs of the customer and to those of the enterprise. They are valued and consulted on the development and deployment of new initiatives. If there is confusion about the business objectives, these leaders gain the clarity necessary to execute. When there is a “disconnect” at the leadership level related to any new initiative, it will likely be DOA, because the CSR radar will pick up on leadership’s true feelings.
  • Strength of Brand (Brand Energy Power™) – In companies with Brand Energy Power, CSRs demonstrate a passion for the organization, understand the business drivers, know their role as valued contributors, and are generally able to express genuine enthusiasm for products and services. Retention is strong; CSRs often remain in the job long enough to become truly effective. These organizations focus their training initiatives on the “interaction” as well as the “transaction.” Training is customized to the desired approach – supporting the unique needs/preferences of customers, perpetuating the company brand, and incorporating the right balance of eLearning and classroom instruction. When strength of brand, customer relationships, communication, rapport, and empathy COMBINE with products, services and systems – selling becomes a natural process and not just a line item on a Quality form.
  • Empowerment – Empowered CSRs are generally present in environments where sales activity is successful. If your policies are constantly sending the CSR to a supervisor to approve trivial accommodations for customers, don’t expect them to get too excited about selling. You have already sent the message that they are not valued enough to be trusted.
  • Non-conflicting Measurements – It is important to confirm that measurements of performance do not create conflicts. In a non-conflicting environment, CSRs do not struggle to meet calls per hour or maintain absolute targets for talk time or handle time. They understand the importance of availability (gained via training and leadership) and willingly make their “Contribution to Capacity” (PowerHouse preferred term for adherence). Managers devote their time to assisting CSRs in developing skills rather than chasing them around the building or constantly updating “exceptions.” Everyone is singing from the same song sheet. And, hiring is done according to a clear set of specifications that represent the desired competencies necessary to join the team as a contributor.

A sales initiative – whether you are targeting add-ons to inbound calls or launching outbound campaigns in your Contact Center – must be a carefully crafted event. It can yield tremendous success for your organization. But you can’t script intimacy and people don’t like to buy from robots reading scripted offers. So give yourself the time to do it right. Take your time, learn, adjust, and enjoy the additional penetration of your market.

Four steps to achievement: Plan purposefully. Prepare prayerfully. Proceed positively. Pursue persistently. William A. Ward

My Best,

Kathleen