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Telecom Contact Centers: From Service to Sales

As competition for customers intensifies, it becomes increasingly important for telecoms service providers to retain the customers they already have. This task becomes more challenging as product and service offerings expand beyond the baseline service of providing access to their networks. Unfortunately, access is table stakes, whereas upselling lines of service will add to the average revenue per account (ARPA). And one of the best ways to sell added service and product bundles is through your inbound contact center.

The power in the relationship has shifted with customers demanding immediate answers to their questions and wanting to interact with telco providers using a broader range of channels. Telcos have responded by recognizing the subscriber experience needs improvement, but lack the clarity and insight about their customers to do so effectively. Customer experience optimization is a key differentiator, and should be central to a telecom’s strategy to improve retention and efficiency, as well as to drive new revenue streams.

This is where contact centers can provide strategic value that help telcos achieve competitive advantages. Research by Ernst & Young found that quality support is in the top criteria used to evaluate telecom providers, after reliability and price.

One Decision at a Time

Telcos have traditionally treated their customers with a one-size-fits-all approach, blasting out communications without regard for relevance. The quickest way to diminish a customer relationship is to “speak” to them as if you don’t know them—or care to. This is where contact centers can help to optimize the customer experience.

The choice to stay with or buy more from a telecom provider is made one decision at a time. Contact center agents trained to assess the needs of the customer on an inbound call are effective at diagnosing the issue, identifying the steps to fix it and holding a conversation with the customer that puts them at ease. A customer service call is actually a series of decisions—some made consciously and some not—that the customer makes during each stage of the call.

The first decision a customer will make is often subconscious and related to how the contact center agent makes them feel. The agent’s communication and interpersonal skills play a major role in setting the tone for the call. If the agent is oriented toward the customer, rather than seen as a spokesperson for the company, the customer’s comfort and confidence will grow during the exchange.

The next decision will be related to the agent’s competence in dealing with the customer’s issue or reason for the call. Factors that depend on this decision being made in the telecom’s favor include the customer’s assessment of the agent’s competency and knowledge.

Can the agent effectively diagnose the issue and offer resolution?
Does the agent need to put the customer on hold to get answers, or do they have the capability to resolve the issue on their own?
Do they communicate the outcome to the customer in a way that’s easily understood?
Finally, the customer will make a decision as to whether or not the resolution provided met or exceeded their expectations. Anything less and the customer is left dissatisfied. A good agent will ascertain the customer’s expectations at the beginning of the call and work toward meeting them, providing conversation that supports those expectations while working to achieve resolution.

Based on the agent’s ability to resolve the issue, the opportunity to make a cross or up-sell offer to the customer will be swiftly evaluated. While many inbound contact centers work only toward achieving customer satisfaction through call resolution, the potential to add incremental revenue streams can provide tangible value for the telecom as well as to aid in retention and growth in customer lifetime value.

Build Sales through Support Activities

Incorporating sales into the contact center requires that agents are trained and equipped to intuitively match the need of the customer to the suitable product offer, maximizing every customer interaction while still focused on providing a positive customer service experience. Knowing what to say and when to say it are key elements for all personnel at a call center, but being able to intuit when solving and selling won’t mix are critical to maintaining customer satisfaction levels.

A training curriculum to help service agents become sales agents should include:

  • Making sure agents understand how service and sales intersect
  • Training agents on the needs of the customer, as well as the needs of the company
  • Helping them identify buying cues
  • Providing a foundation of service-to-sales call flow techniques
  • Focusing product knowledge on the value to the customer
  • Educating them about competitor offerings and differentiation points
  • Demonstrating techniques used to overcome customer resistance—without being pushy
  • Showing them how to ask for the close

Staffing a call center with agents who have the skills, mindset and confidence to solve problems and up and cross sell makes hiring a bit complex. The trick is to hire for service skills, keep an eye out for sales competencies and train in the rest of what’s needed. Agents must be chosen strategically to address certain calls in their area of expertise. This not only provides the best experience possible for the customer, but also better implements marketing strategies and secures more profitable opportunities.

Developing Easier-to-Satisfy Customers

Contact center providers with the expertise to incorporate a service-to-sales process that produces both improved customer satisfaction levels and increased customer lifetime value can help to transform telecom’s efforts at customer retention. A satisfied customer is much easier to sell to. A contact center with a continuous process for elevating customer relationships not only creates easier-to-satisfy customers, but helps telecoms win the customer retention battle while it’s working to innovate products and service offerings that provide competitive value.