The contact center represents a critical touchpoint in the customer-company relationship. Customers often reach out to a company's contact center because of a problem they're experiencing with a product or service. When this happens, customers are typically in an unfavorable mood.
The interaction between a customer and an agent in these circumstances can represent a moment of truth in the customer's relationship with the company. If the interaction goes poorly, the customer may leave forever. However, if the customer's problem is resolved to their satisfaction - or even above and beyond their expectations - customer loyalty and lifetime value expand.
Most companies understand this opportunity and deliver typical customer service in this way. But, a growing number of companies are looking to leverage the positive karma that can occur during these interactions and provide cross-sell/up-sell to those customers where the situation warrants it. This represents a transformation within many companies where the contact center is evolving from its historic view as a reactionary cost center to taking on a more dynamic role in the development and fortification of the customer relationship.
For instance, let's say a customer is unable to find the brand of golf balls he's looking for on a sporting goods web site, so he/she engages an agent in a chat discussion for assistance. While chatting with the customer, the agent advises that the retailer is offering a 25 percent discount on all golf equipment. Although the customer initially reached out to the retailer looking for a specific product, cross-selling may result in incremental sales.
Still, there's a greater role that the contact center can play beyond functioning as an extension of the sales organization. Because of the viral nature of social media and the rising inter-connectivity between consumers, companies can also see a positive lift in brand advocacy that can be generated as the result of exceptional customer service experiences. In essence, the contact center can also act as a supplemental platform for marketing communications and brand advocacy. For example, the agent could ask the happy customer to tell their friends about the offer, encouraging engagement across channels including highly influential social channels.
Visionary companies are shifting their contact centers away from being reactionary environments toward more of a proactive, relationship-building role with customers. And while the contact center can help support a company's sales strategies through up-sell and cross-sell, I've always been a proponent of having marketing take responsibility for the contact center. Doing so can help align the contact center to a company's business strategy.
Acting as an arm of the marketing organization, the contact center can help support a company's marketing and brand messaging when interacting with customers. In addition, the contact center can also assist with customer acquisition and customer retention.
Transitioning agents into sales and marketing roles can be challenging for a number of reasons. For example, agents haven't been asked to sell before -- it's not part of their goals and objectives, and the act of selling represents an entirely different mindset. There's been such a strong focus on providing customers with reactive service that sales aren't part of the organizational culture. In fact, few companies actively recruit agents with sales skills or develop these competencies internally.
When companies begin assigning a select group of agents to up-sell and cross-sell, it's important to ensure that the approach that's used is consistent with the goals of the contact center - first and foremost, to solve a customer's problem. It's also critical for companies to ensure that they hire the right people with the right skills, train agents to abide by the organization's sales policies, educate them on the practices that reflect the brand promise, and manage and reward agent performance appropriately.
Of course, getting more value from the contact center isn't always about selling a tangible product. In some cases, the value exchange involves engaging a customer to be a brand advocate, obtaining vital data about customer preferences, or promoting the use of self-service channels.
As companies look to further engage customers and develop stronger, more trusting relationships with them, the contact center can act as a central communications hub across multiple channels for both marketing and sales. Forward-thinking companies are positioning the contact center as a primary source of relationship building with customers. Is your company positioned to join the fray?
About the author: Cheryl Nolan is a director at Peppers & Rogers Group. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.