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Help Desk and Sales
In an effort to generate additional sales, some companies have done the unthinkable by asking service agents to generate sales during service calls. For these companies, this change is definitely working. One company reported that it increased sales dramatically by implementing this change over a short period of time and even exceeded its internal targets for improvement.

The traditional way of thinking about service centers is that if agents have to do too much multi-tasking, their attention is too widely dispersed to be effective. Neither companies, nor service agents themselves, have been quick to accept the notion that sales and service can work well together, if promoted correctly. Service-oriented workers generally consider sales calls a negative customer interaction. However, some companies, faced with declining revenues and increased costs, have chosen to combine targeted sales techniques with service oriented call functions. The sales promotions are customer-directed. In other words, the agent only interjects a sales pitch into the conversation when customers are seeking particular solutions to particular problems and a product is available that might assist them.

Such a controversial move requires careful planning and implementation. In fact, it may require a complete restructuring of a businesss customer service center, or of the third-party vendors operations, if a vendor is used.

First, a comprehensive program to boost sales must be created. Three major components of such a program are typically effective. First, the call center agents must receive specific training that is fine-tuned for solution-centered selling. They need to learn to ask questions that are specifically open-ended. For example, agents must learn to ask about how customers use a particular product and what features they like best. These kinds of questions can lead to excellent opportunities to upsell to a higher end product, or to sell accessories that perform particular functions that customers have identified as ones they need or would like.

It is helpful to establish an extra incentive program to lead agents in the right direction with rewards rather than pressure. Both individual and team goals can be established, with incentives for achieving two different levels of sales proficiency. Points based programs, with double points awarded for certain items, have been shown to be particular motivating for agents.

In addition to agent training, management must undergo some retraining as well. They should participate in the customer service representatives training so they know what they agents face and how they are expected to work. In addition, they can be provided with specific checklists based on the skills learned throughout the training. They should then listen to representatives calls and score agents with the goal in mind of talking about what aspects of the call went well and which needed improvement. Managers need to be training to focus on the positives and on taking the next steps to help improve performance by the agents.

Companies that have tried this particular approach report that service calls suffered no change in quality, with the introduction of sales efforts. While service remained essentially the same, talk time went up and so did the sales revenue numbers. While asking service agents to perform sales work carries some risks, it can also provide some substantive benefits in terms of increased sales. With effective training, the right incentives, and appropriate supervision, many service agents can overcome their adverse preconceptions of sales interactions and learn to interject the right type of sales talk into their service-oriented conversations. When that happens, everybody including the company wins.

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