Customer Service Focus
Your CSRs are ideally suited for “soft selling”
Good customer service can brighten someone’s day and earn a smart agency a fan for life. The best customer service representatives are polite, resourceful, unflappable, and skilled at listening. They solve problems in an efficient and pleasant manner, and everybody wins. These CSRs have a calm temperament and a helpful disposition that puts to good use their deep knowledge of agency policies, procedures, products, and services. As such, CSRs are a vital part of every agency’s success.
In addition to managing customer concerns and complaints, CSRs can be recruited to earn revenue in a style that suits their friendly and helpful dispositions.
But did you know that CSRs can also be a valuable source of untapped revenue? They’re on the front line for customer interaction, and their extensive product knowledge puts them in an excellent position to upsell products and services that generate income for you and deliver value to the customer.
The following true story, which ironically showcases a missed opportunity, proves this point well.
Jane, John, Mary, and Tammy (not their real names) are U.S. citizens who recently vacationed together in Iceland. Jane and John are a married couple; Mary is friends with John and Jane, and Tammy is friends with Mary.
Iceland is known for its astonishing beauty, which includes glaciers and volcanoes, as well as high winds. Vacationers are cautioned to take special care when traveling about because weather conditions can change dramatically at a moment’s notice.
For the trip, John and Jane rented a car, which the group used to travel from hotel to hotel as they explored the island.
On one particularly windy day, Tammy opened the car door. It ripped off its hinges and—propelled by the wind—flew clear across the street! Luckily no one was hurt, but there was the matter of a door-less car to contend with.
This unplanned and unwelcomed circumstance was a nuisance for sure, but no one in the group was particularly worried because John and Jane had purchased rental car insurance. When John and Jane talked to the insurance agent, however, they learned to their dismay that the insurance they purchased didn’t cover acts of nature (like strong winds that rip doors off hinges), so they were on the hook to the rental agency for $3,000 to cover the car repair.
This unexpected news put a distinct damper on the rest of the trip. Fingers start pointing, and by the time the visit ended everyone was happy to say “so long.” John and Jane blamed Tammy, Tammy blamed Mary for not warning her about how disagreeable John and Jane can be, and Mary was simply disappointed that neither John nor Jane took more care to read the fine print on the policy’s declarations page!
Who doesn’t believe John and Jane would have been happy to purchase more comprehensive insurance, if only someone had helped them understand the importance of doing so? It’s a total no-brainer.
And that’s the key to selling your CSRs on the idea of upselling to clients. The best CSRs are already primed to help—they just have to make the connection between “helping” and informing clients of value-added products and services which could lead to a sale.
Setting your CSRs up for upselling success
A talented CSR likely does not possess the skills or temperament of the “traditional” aggressive salesperson, and that’s okay. There’s a time and a place for everything, and the time for “in your face” selling is generally not during a customer service call, regardless of whether the call has been initiated by the customer or the agency. “Soft selling,” however, is a goal your CSRs can meet. Soft selling entails asking questions, listening, and recommending solutions (i.e., your products and services) to problems or (in the case of our poor Iceland travelers) potential problems presented by your customers. It’s a service, pure and simple, and your best CSRs will be happy to provide that service if you provide the right motivation and support. For example:
- Don’t put more on your staff than they can handle. Again, your best CSRs aren’t the traditional selling kind. Unrealistic goals and harsh consequences for not meeting goals could cause you to lose great employees who can’t stomach (and perhaps will even resent) these requirements.
- Provide positive incentives for meeting goals. Design your compensation so that CSRs have adequate financial incentive for selling. The incentives don’t have to be huge, but they should be enough to voluntarily push employees out of their comfort zones.
- Give employees the space to do what you want. A good CSR can develop rapport with a customer quickly, but a time investment is still required. Don’t insist that your staff rush through the process by imposing strict, inflexible rules about how many minutes employees can spend on each call, for example. Be reasonable and trust your staff to use good judgment about what’s needed to serve the customer.
- Invest in training. To be successful, your employees will require regular training about your business solutions, the benefits of active listening, and the art of asking questions. Don’t skimp. Your staff will appreciate the support, and your customers will appreciate their interactions with well prepared, knowledgeable, and helpful staff.
- Celebrate successes. Say “thank you.” Publicly acknowledge wins. Yes, people are paid to do a job, and you have every right to expect they’ll do a good one. But don’t make the mistake of taking your staff for granted. Show appreciation. Your efforts will repay themselves in spades in the form of increased loyalty, creativity, productivity, and respect.
Keeping the team engaged
Although some agencies experience significant turnover, others experience virtually no turnover at all. What’s their secret? What can you do to replicate their success? Here are a few suggestions:
Manage Your Culture. Fun fact: Most employees don’t want to have to look for another job because their current one stinks. Job searches take time and energy, and there’s no guarantee that the next company will be any better. Employers who go out of their way not to give employees a reason to start looking will be rewarded with satisfied employees who are all too happy to stay put.
Value Good Management. Good managers know who on the team is happy and who isn’t. They also understand their employees’ motivations and long-term goals. These managers are rarely surprised when someone gives notice, and that’s helpful for staff planning. Instead of rushing to hire bodies into seats, these managers (and their employers) can afford to take time to make solid hires because they typically can anticipate the need before it becomes critical.
Good management, however, won’t flourish in a dysfunctional environment. Employers want to attract and retain talented people; managers must create and maintain policies and procedures that lure those folks in and then keep them around. Formally evaluating managers on their ability to get work done through other people is an excellent step in this direction.
Hire Carefully. One of the best ways to reduce turnover is to hire well in the first place. As mentioned earlier, taking the time to make a good choice is important, but technique is important, too. You could spend forever making a decision and still end up replacing the individual sooner than initially anticipated. Some best hiring practices are:
- Be inclusive. More than one company representative needs to interview the candidate. Implicit bias can cause the most fair-minded of us to evaluate others more negatively or more positively than the facts warrant.
- Be curious. The best predictor of future performance is past behavior. Behavioral interviewing questions, such as, “Can you tell me about a time you had to calm down an irate customer?” or, “When was the last time you couldn’t accommodate a customer request?” help you evaluate a candidate’s judgment, experience, and beliefs. Behavioral assessments are another tool to help you understand candidate traits and behavior trends.
- Verify candidate claims. Check candidates’ references, educational background, and criminal history.
Customer service representatives don’t always get the respect they deserve, and that’s a shame. In addition to managing customer concerns and complaints, CSRs can be recruited to earn revenue in a style that suits their friendly and helpful dispositions.
Carletta Clyatt is senior vice president of sales for The Omnia Group, Inc. (www.omniagroup.com) and a research associate of The National Alliance Research Academy (www.scic.com/academy). A co-author of the academy’s Customer Service (CSR) Benchmark Analysis, Carletta offers clients advice on how to manage more effectively and gain insight into employee strengths, weaknesses, and workplace behaviors. For more information, email Carletta at email@example.com.