OWINGS MILLS, Md. (Aug. 8, 2012) — Often, customer service reps have greater access to customers and prospects than anyone else in the company, including sales teams. In many cases, it's wise to have customer service teams handle some sales responsibilities to increase bottom-line results. But "cross pollinating" between the sales and customer service functions can be tricky. The key to success is to have a systematic approach with plenty of training, open communication and clearly defined best practices.
David Mattson, CEO of Sandler Training, one of the world’s largest sales training firms, offers these five tips for helping customer service teams successfully complement some of your company's sales functions:
Think of how many people your customer service team talks to every day. Your customer service reps probably have more access to your customers and prospects than anyone else in your company. For many organizations, this sheer volume is beneficial for up selling, cross-selling and other sales functions, and can be a tremendous opportunity to increase sales and revenue.
In many cases, sales people are perceived a certain way (persistent, tenacious, aggressive), while customer service reps are perceived differently (problem solvers, compassionate, helpful). Additionally, sales people and customer service reps often have different perspectives and motivators. Sales teams typically develop longer-term relationships with customers and prospects, spending considerable time developing a bond, with the end goal of making the sale. Customer service reps usually have a shorter-term relationship with the customer, focusing on problem-solving and, thus, become less emotionally involved.
Customer service reps may not want to handle sales functions so if you immediately start treating them like salespeople, they may shut down rather than risk failure. If you don't have an existing sales culture in your customer service group, you can't create it overnight. If your plan is to have customer service teams play a more active role in selling, take baby steps. Don't immediately issue sales quotas — it's too intimidating. Provide a transition plan before implementing revenue numbers and sales goals. Have them ease into making outbound calls, perhaps starting with a few per day.
When considering how to motivate, train and reward your customer service team, recognize that you'll need to take a different approach than you use with your sales force because they're driven and inspired by different things.
When changing your customer service reps' role, provide proper training to help them excel. Customer service reps are excellent listeners, letting customers vent, making them feel heard, validating their feelings and quickly forming solid relationships with them. Those skills are also valuable for sales functions. Facilitator training can help people transition from customer service sales roles, anticipate scenarios and prepare action plans accordingly. Augment this with other training options, such as quick coaching moments: "I heard you say this. How could you handle that differently? What worked and what didn't?" It's also highly effective to galvanize peers from within your customer service department to spotlight best practices. Hearing lessons from a trainer can be helpful, but hearing from respected peers has huge value. As another benefit, this approach empowers the customer service team to help each other, and emulate what works. Online learning, such as podcasts and webinars, can also be valuable.
This advice sounds so simple, but many people lose sight of this important principle. Research has shown that it's five times more efficient (and less expensive) to sell to an existing customer versus recruiting a new one. In the "olden days" before social media, if a customer was unhappy, they might tell a friend or two. Now, an irate customer may blog about their experience, post it on Facebook, or Tweet about it. The ripple effect of a customer's positive and negative experiences is far greater today than it was just a few years ago. It's odd that so many companies treat their customer service departments as the least-recognized group in the company, when customer service reps are often among the most important employees on your team. Make them happy, too.
Provide exceptional training to your customer service teams, regardless of where they're based. But recognize that there are some intrinsic differences between your US-based team and your overseas workers. When hiring people from other countries be sure to recognize language and/or cultural differences. A sense of humor can be incredibly helpful in getting past some of these speed bumps. Often, other cultures prefer systematic approaches and detailed processes. Domestic teams may want tactics and strategies, but don't want to get bogged down with multi-step processes. Consider these geographical differences and adjust your approach accordingly.
Sandler Training offers customized recruiting and training solutions that help companies identify, train and equip their salespeople for success. Sandler Training is the leading provider of sales and management training, with over 250 licensed trainers in 29 countries. The company provides a full range of sales and management training programs, with powerful coordination and customization benefits throughout its extensive franchise network. The company also recently released its latest book, Sandler Success Principles — the companion book to the best-seller The Sandler Rules. Among its many achievements, Sandler has been awarded the #1 ranking for training programs in Entrepreneur Magazine’s “Franchise 500” nine times since 1994, most recently in 2010. The company website is located at www.sandler.com. Follow Sandler Training on Facebook.com (Sandler Training), Twitter.com at Sandler Training, and at Sandler Worldwide on YouTube.com.
Melissa Watkins, Public Relations
Bergman Group for Sandler Training