No Means No

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It's a thin line between customer care and customer turnoff. Using customer service agents at call centers to cross-sell and upsell products is becoming increasingly prevalent. However, companies need to balance the potential of bringing in more revenue with overly aggressive tactics that might send a customer running to a rival. Experts suggest the following seven strategies: 1. Always resolve customers' original reason for calling first. Contact center managers and agents must remember that agents are customer care people first and salespeople only when it is appropriate, according to Dianne Durkin, president of the Loyalty Factor, a training firm and consultancy. "You will lose the respect and trust of the customer if you push products before resolving their problems first," she says. 2. Take cues from caller's attitude to determine responsiveness to additional services or products.
"While service agents are often in the best position to make offers to customers, that doesn't mean they should," says Denis Pombriant, vice president and managing director of CRM practice for market research firm Aberdeen Group. "They need to listen carefully to customers and decide if they should try to upsell." 3. Use well-trained agents. A little sales training can go a long way. "Training will help everyone feel more comfortable performing sales-related tasks," says Maggie Klenke, partner at The Call Center School, a training firm and consultancy. 4. Know the customer and suggest only appropriate products. Don't make the same offer to everyone who calls in. Target specific customers based on their needs or on offers that are appropriate for them. "Offering women's lingerie to a man who just called to complain about his toaster creates the impression that you don't know him or care about him and all you care about is revenue," Durkin says. 5. Ask softer questions. Avoid the hard sell, which may turn off customers. "Teach agents to ask questions from a customer's perspective," Durkin says. "Using a hard sell doesn't work. It's better to ask soft questions that do not leave the customer offended. Things like, 'Have you ever considered...?' Or, 'Are you aware of our new service?' 'Did you know that we are running a special?' Those types of questions are not offensive to customers." 6. Don't push if a customer seems uninterested. Have flexibility in the scripting or sales approach to change agents' tack when appropriate. "Agents must make sure that even if they have a scripted offer or quota, they don't push if the customer seems rushed or uninterested," Pombriant says. 7. Stop immediately if a customer says no. Unlike most sales situations, when no prompts an attempt by the salesperson to overcome an objection, in the call center setting experts suggest letting no mean no. Pushing for a yes "is the fastest way to send customers to competitors," Durkin says. "If I have to say 'No, I'm not interested' twice, it's likely I'll think twice about doing business with that company.
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