Consumers warm to customer service cross-selling

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on August 23, 2004

Companies that want to cross-sell additional products and services through their customer service agents must pay more attention to basic customer service quality if they want to succeed, according to a survey by The Forum Corporation.

The online survey of 1,624 respondents world-wide survey indicates that, despite a common belief to the contrary, consumers are open to sales pitches from customer service representatives, but only if the agent first solves the customer's problem and is sensitive to their needs.

Helpfulness helps
The survey found that 88% of consumers value customer service representatives who suggest alternative products or services that better meet their needs, and 73% are interested in learning about new products and services the company is promoting at the time.

However, many people resist cross-selling attempts from agents with annoying behaviours (especially selling from scripts, pushing products that aren't useful to the customer, or continuing an attempt to cross-sell after the consumer has indicated they are not interested).

How to cross-sell
"The message is: serve well, then sell," commented Tom Atkinson, director of research for The Forum Corp. "Consumer goods companies have a huge opportunity to boost sales by training their customer service reps to cross-sell effectively, but they have to pay attention to the basics first. Customers who are pleased with their purchase and feel they have been served well are much more open to buying additional products and services."

The classic cross-sell is: "Do you want fries with that?". As with the fast food outlet, cross-selling in any business happens when a customer service agent (such as a call centre operator or a cashier) tries to sell other products and services to a consumer during a transaction - whether that's purchase, a return, or even a complaint. As a result of cross-selling efforts, some 40% of consumers said they purchase additional products or services "sometimes" or "frequently".

Cross-sell drivers
The survey found that consumers are most likely to buy when the customer service representative follows the following guidelines:

  1. Focus on the customer's needs, rather than simply 'pushing' a product;
  2. Solve the customer's problem before trying to cross-sell;
  3. Describe how the other products or services could benefit the customer.

Cross-sell inhibitors
But, according to the survey, consumers said they are least likely to buy when the customer service representative engages in irritating behaviour - the top three of which are:

  1. Continuing to try to cross-sell after the customer has said no;
  2. Obviously following a script;
  3. Pushing products or services that are not useful to the customer.

How to improve
The survey also identified three simple behaviours that most customer service representatives are lacking but that customers wished they would adopt:

  1. Speak clearly and slowly;
  2. Respect the customer's time, and their right to say "no";
  3. Give the customer advice that helps them save money, or that helps their needs be met more effectively.

"Excellent service can mean excellent sales," added Atkinson. "Companies that deliver mediocre service fail to generate additional sales, and they can damage relationships with their existing customers. By contrast, companies with excellent service can satisfy customers and open the door to future purchases."

The survey's random sample was weighted toward older and more affluent consumers who have more spending power than others. The average age was 43 and the average annual family income was US$56,000 per year. Slightly more women (53%) than men (47%) responded.

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