Agents can give you customer’s view

Sales agents, with their daily interactions with customers, affect sales and can provide accurate, immediate and valuable customer perspectives. Whether you recognize it or not, your call center is an important marketing enterprise. Here are three organizational actions aimed at increasing your call center’s value as a marketing asset.

Establish add-on merchandising as a distinct marketing function. Merchandising that prompts customers to initiate orders differs from merchandising aimed at getting customers to add on to previously planned orders. When initiating an order, the customer shops at her own pace, compares prices and selects exact items for purchase. When adding on at the time of order, the customer makes quick, even impulsive, decisions. An excellent add-on merchandiser can turn add-on business into your largest growth category.

Assign a sales manager to improve the selling process. Call center managers are necessarily preoccupied with two areas of extreme and urgent challenge: technology and staffing. Staying on top of rapidly changing technologies is critical for any call center. And staffing in an industry with high turnover – during a period of full employment – is a never-ending trial. So expecting a call center manager to lead an effective selling effort, in addition to managing technology and staffing, is unrealistic in even a moderate-sized call center.

A sales manager can focus on the fundamentals of turning your call center into a profit generator. This manager can:

• Develop and conduct tests of alternative selling approaches. In the same way that marketing systematically tests alternative mail, search engine and e-mail strategies, your call center should systematically test alternative selling approaches. A sales manager can set up “test teams” of sales agents, with each test team offering a different but carefully designed selling approach. After determining the most effective approach, the manager can train all agents to roll it out. Like marketing approaches, selling approaches should improve continually.

• Improve the order-taking process. A sales manager can work with information systems and inventory control as well as elicit suggestions on order taking from sales agents based on their daily conversations with customers. Order taking should be simple, accurate, easy on the customer and easy to transition to add-on sales. A sales manager can test alternative order-taking processes to achieve the desired result.

• Improve cross-selling. A sales manager can work with IS and marketing to ensure that agents have effective prompts for cross-selling. A sales manager also can work on scripts or guidelines for transitioning to cross-selling within each type of customer call. This manager can conduct tests of alternative cross-selling approaches.

• Improve upselling. A sales manager can work with the add-on merchandiser to devise upselling offers and can work with agents to develop the best upselling approaches. This manager can train agents to upsell within the company’s guidelines. A sales manager also should test alternative upselling approaches.

Rely on sales agents for customer research. Over time, sales agents get to know customers in a way that marketers can only envy. So as they prepare to reach out to customers, effective marketers take time to listen to experienced agents. Here are suggestions for using agents to provide input on marketing decisions:

• Train experienced agents to represent the customer’s perspective. Experienced agents have had a wide range of interactions with customers. They also are versed on your company’s recent marketing initiatives. These agents, probably more than any other employees, can see your firm through the eyes of your customers. With training, they can learn to represent the customer in various marketing discussions.

• Conduct focus groups with experienced agents. Nothing replaces face-to-face conversations with customers, but such research can be slow and expensive. For a variety of customer issues, marketing should turn to experienced agents to discern the customer’s perspective. Focus groups with sales agents can provide fast, reliable and low-cost marketing intelligence.

• Assign trained agents to conduct “quick” research. Trained, experienced agents can conduct ad hoc customer surveys quickly and professionally. Through guided conversations with customers, agents can gauge customers’ acceptance of new products, evaluate their satisfaction with returns, determine which companies customers see as your competitors, etc. And if performed as an overflow activity, the cost of such “quick” research can be minimal.

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