Should Customer Service be a Sales Channel?

By Donna Fluss

Wells Fargo is no longer making daily news headlines, but the impact of their overly aggressive cross-selling culture will be felt by contact centers throughout the United States for a long time. This is a case where one poorly managed organization has hurt an entire industry, as cross-selling is a positive activity when managed properly.

Setting the Record Straight: It’s highly unlikely Wells Fargo’s management was unaware of what was happening in their contact centers. There are many checks and balances in contact centers to ensure that renegade agents do not negatively impact customers or a company’s brand. It’s standard procedure (and a requirement) to record sales calls, and in many cases both the call and screens are captured.

Some recordings are reviewed by a quality management team who evaluate, score, and coach agents on their performance. While DMG does not have any insight into the specifics of Wells Fargo’s contact centers, it’s likely that agents were given sales and up-sell goals that were closely monitored by management. And agents surely participated in training courses where they were instructed in how to improve their sales skills.

Customer Service Is an Art: Delivering an outstanding and personalized service experience is an art that is supported by systems, knowledge, and training. The best customer service reps are innately friendly, love helping people, and enjoy solving problems. They are fully trained and knowledgeable about a company’s products and services and are comfortable using technology to perform their job.

Good service reps are insightful and adept at figuring out what products or services will benefit their customers. As a result, they are excellent at up-selling and cross-selling, particularly when this task is facilitated by a good customer relationship management (CRM) sales system.

Most service reps say they don’t like to sell, but that doesn’t mean they won’t sell when they think it is the right course of action for their customers. Agents do not want to be held accountable for sales goals because it detracts from their primary goal of delivering great service.

Forcing unrealistic sales targets on reps, as was done at Wells Fargo and in many other organizations, changes the dynamic of interactions with customers, which makes agents uncomfortable and unhappy with their jobs. The outcome is often poor service experiences, resulting in unhappy customers and disenfranchised reps who are likely to look for a new job where they can dedicate themselves to doing what they signed up for.

Reward Reps for Enhancing Customer Relationships: This is not to say customer service reps should not be invited and motivated to enhance relationships by offering their customers products and services that are right for them. There is a big difference between requiring agents to attempt an up-sell on every call and encouraging them to enhance relationships by using incentives and perks. The most important difference is that when agents are rewarded for doing more, the company gives them the respect they deserve by leaving it up to them to decide when it’s appropriate to attempt a cross-sell.

Case in Point: A few years ago DMG was asked to help a telecom contact center where agents were threatening to go on strike. There were many issues in this operating environment, but the most offensive to the agents was the requirement that they attempt an up-sell on every customer service call, even if the customer was angry and yelling at them. Fortunately, management backed away from this onerous and inappropriate requirement, at which point the staff was willing to work things out with the company.

Final Thoughts: Agents should be empowered to do what is right for their customers and deliver an outstanding customer experience. In some cases, this may mean talking an angry customer “off a ledge.” In others, it will be offering customers additional products or services.

Give your agents the credit they deserve, and let them choose the right course of action.

Donna Fluss is president of DMG Consulting LLC. For more than two decades she has helped emerging and established companies develop and deliver outstanding customer experiences. A recognized visionary, author, and speaker, Donna drives strategic transformation and innovation throughout the services industry. She provides strategic and practical counsel for enterprises, solution providers, and the investment community.

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