Your customer service representatives are efficient, thorough and solve problems with a smile — but they could be doing even more to help develop business.
According to Tampa, Florida-based management consulting company Omnia Group, the ideal customer service representative personality is:
- Cautious, helpful and risk-averse.
- Analytical, factual and practical.
- Patient, persistent and methodical.
- Compliant, accurate and a perfectionist.
The ideal sales personality is practically the opposite: competitive, assertive, decisive and impatient. You’ve seen the type — he or she is nearly impervious to criticism and loves to win. We call it the “classic” (assertive) sales personality.
A cursory review of the data would lead you to believe that your best customer service reps and your best salespeople are as different as night and day, and one could never do the work of the other.
There's undeniable truth to the sentiment, of course, but there's more to it than that. In fact, your top customer service representatives can be coached to sell, but it all depends on how you sell them on the idea.
Your customer service representatives are most likely scared at the thought of having to sell anything. They enjoy their roles as behind-the-scene advisors and intensely dislike the idea of “pushing” product. One “no” is all it takes for them to consider the deal dead.
Traditional sales incentives, such as monetary bonuses, probably won't help to change their mindset, either, at least not for the long haul. Ultimately, assertive selling simply doesn't suit their personality.
However, that doesn't mean all is lost. There's potential here. If the opportunities afforded through your customer service representatives’ daily interactions with customers are just too good to shrug off, consider that while top customer service representatives probably don't have the temperament to sell in the traditional sense, they genuinely enjoy helping customers. When incentivizing your service team to add sales to the job description, first emphasize the helpful, consultative nature of the role.
Here are several ways to encourage your customer service representatives to sell:
1. Provide plenty of opportunity for continuing education
Your best customer service representatives are subject matter experts who feel good when they can impart their considerable product knowledge to customers with ears to hear. Therefore, give them all the support they need to learn as much as they can about your goods and services.
2. Recognize their need for safety and security
Because customer service representatives are naturally risk-averse, a steady paycheck that provides enough to meet their basic wants and needs is a must. Don't even think about restructuring their compensation so that more of their pay is dependent on the ability to close a sale. You’ll only increase their anxiety and deprive your company of gifted employees when they decide the job is no longer for them.
3. Prepare to provide emotional support
Unlike classic sales personalities, top customer service representatives are not made of Teflon. Criticism and rejection sticks. As veteran sales managers know, rejection is an inevitable part of the job. Be prepared to give them support and encouragement when repeated “No's” begin to wear them down.
4. Role-play whenever possible
Customer service representatives can perform phenomenally when they feel confident of their expertise, but will become anxious in the face of the unknown. Role-playing common sales scenarios can help. Once they have practiced overcoming objections in a safe setting, they’ll feel much better about doing it for real.
5. Not every job is suited for everyone
Even though customer service representatives are not assertive sellers, they can be coached to effectively close “no-pressure” sales. So, don't set them up to fail by expecting more. It's not their style. Leave the high-stakes sales to other, more competitive, members of the team.
6. Emphasize what's not changing about the job
First, don't make the mistake of thinking the change can be as simple as adding a few lines to their job description. Even good change can be stressful, and your customer service representatives won't view additional add-on sales responsibilities as a positive. Top customer service representatives like to serve behind the scenes, and they want security. A change that potentially poses a risk to income (“What if I can't sell? Will I be fired?”) is going to feel like the antithesis of security and will provoke major anxiety.
If add-on sales won't change the job materially, be sure to stress that fact. If possible, leave the compensation 100 percent intact while offering a small but attractive bonus for meeting the new goals.
7. Use behavioral assessments
When your customer service representatives can see their strengths in black and white while learning how those strengths can be applied to the new job expectations, they’ll feel much more secure about their abilities to successfully make the transition.
8. Implement a pilot program
Rather than insisting the change take place ASAP, implement a pilot program that allows your service team to ease themselves into their new roles. Work with them to set measurable and meaningful milestones to keep the program on track.
9. Highlight how the change will benefit customers
Talented customer service representatives want to help. Stress how their expertise can be used to support the customer purchase. For example, an insurance product that meets their needs and budget — instead of one that will prove inadequate in the event of the unexpected — will hold appeal.
10. Accentuate the overall benefits of the change
Great customer service representatives are team oriented. Tap into that natural trait toward collaboration by stressing how increased business will profit the company as a whole.
Your service team undoubtedly has untapped sales potential. Whether you’ll be able to successfully exploit that potential, however, depends on how well you understand what motivates your team and how willing you are to respect those natural tendencies while working toward your new goals.
Related: The insurance renaissance
Carletta Clyatt is senior vice president at Tampa, Florida-based Omnia Group, a management consulting company.