Automated Cross-Sell Boosts Service Offer

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Local telecom provider Z-Tel is getting conversion rates of up to 25 percent from an optional service offer by forwarding inbound customer service calls to an IVR system that cross-sells automatically.


Z-Tel, Tampa, FL, initially had used its customer service agents to cross-sell the offer but decided their time was better spent handling service calls. In June, Z-Tel began testing an automated voice system or "virtual agent" developed by Advanced Interactive Sciences, Palm Harbor, FL.


The offer is a wire protection plan for $4.95 monthly. The plan covers the costs of wire maintenance and repair for wires inside the customer's home, which are not normally the responsibility of the telecom provider.


Since June, Z-Tel has expanded its use of the virtual agent to pitch the offer from a select group of its agents to the entire floor of its call center. Service reps taking calls from Z-Tel customers end conversations by telling customers that the company has additional information for them, then transferring them to the virtual agent.


Customers hear a recorded voice that explains the offer. However, the system has a speech-recognition element, so it can respond to certain common voice questions asked by the customer and provide more information on request.


Z-Tel implemented the virtual agent because the company thought its wire service plan offer was not getting sufficient penetration into its existing customer base, said C.J. Kraft, vice president for customer acquisition at Z-Tel.


Live reps were capable of making sales but weren't successful at delivering a consistent message. Often they deviated from the script, Kraft said. The delivery of the pitch in terms of enthusiasm and tone varied from call to call and rep to rep.


"Obviously, they are trained reps," Kraft said. "But we find that consistency in the presentation of a peripheral or add-on service can vary widely from one rep to another."


There has been a movement in teleservices over the past few years to find ways for inbound service facilities to generate profits. However, reps who gravitate to service centers often do so because they are uncomfortable in a sales environment, Kraft said.


"Nowadays, companies try to develop service people into pseudo-salespeople," Kraft said. "But it's not their core competency."


To complete sales of the wire plan, customers dial in their 10-digit phone number. The system records the information into a log, which later is used for billing.


In initial tests, the system achieved conversion rates as high as 70 percent. But Z-Tel realized that the high rates resulted from its live agents -- who acted on their own -- pre-qualifying customers before sending them to the virtual system. Z-Tel put out a directive to stop the practice, Kraft said.


"If the rep is going to talk about it, I want the rep to just sell it and close it out," Kraft said. "Now, we're seeing a much higher volume of transfers, and the conversion rate is very strong."


Z-Tel also has a toll-free line it includes on quarterly inserts with customer bills that lets customers contact the virtual agent system directly. However, the company does little mail marketing and is focusing on generating cross-sells via its service center, Kraft said.


The virtual agent system can transfer customers back to a live rep when it does not recognize a voice inquiry given by a customer. But Z-Tel has had no issues with unrecognized questions and has not enabled this feature, Kraft said.


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