Let me rant for a few minutes. I know it's not my style, but I've been driven to the brink by two recent call center encounters that left me wondering whether or not I was being punked.
The following stories are true. The names have been changed to protect the less-than-innocent and, selfishly, both of these companies are excellent prospects for my company.
Transaction vs. Consultation
My wife and I sold a car and moved a household recently. In both cases, we had to make calls to either change or discontinue services. The change requests were simple, the discontinuing of services simpler. Or so you would think.
Both of these calls were made to engage in transactions, not consultations. There was no doubt we knew what we wanted and, as in most cases in our busy lives, we were in a hurry to get these tasks off our to-do lists.
The Music Service
The first call was to a company that provides a service that allows multiple music channels to play in your car (it's hard to be vague here about who this company may be. Oh well...).
The request was simple: We sold the car; we wanted to discontinue the service. We understood there was an early termination charge, but that would cost less than continuing to pay for a service we would no longer use.
The call center employee's response? "If you no longer have the radio, we can send you a new one to replace it." My wife's response? "No thank you. I just want to cancel the service." Easy enough, right? Oh, I wish...
I'm not blaming the call center rep. She was only doing her job, but my wife was transferred to the "save" department where she was on hold for over 25 minutes (obviously, this company was engaged in more "save" attempts than they had resources for).
As soon as the company's "closer" answered, my wife was very clear in her position. "I want to cancel my service. I don't want a new radio or an upgrade to the current service. I sold the car that had your service. I want to cancel and I want a refund of any charges that aren't taken by a cancellation charge."
Clear enough? Nope. "I can help you with that, ma'am. But first let me tell you about a promotion we are currently offering to our valued customers which includes, free of charge, a new radio..."
My wife's face and neck turned as red as her hair. Her Irish blood was, well, turning more Irish. She said, "I don't care about your promotion. I no longer have the car. I have now been on the phone for over a half an hour. I want to cancel my service NOW and I want a refund. Period."
Ok, get the call center rep's attention. "But, ma'am, I HAVE to tell you about our packages and promotions. It's what I'm supposed to do." Wow. I could go on to describe the three transfers from the "save" center, a supervisor, and finally a manager, but the blog would take you the hour and forty minutes (I'm not joking) my wife was on the phone to finally get a cancellation and a refund.
The Cable Company
I won't go into the same detail for the cable company, but let's just say we were subjected to multiple attempts to be given three free months of HBO and Cinemax if we didn't downgrade and change our service. Luckily, this call only took two transfers and 45 minutes.
Once again, I can't blame the reps. They were only trying to keep their jobs. "I HAVE to tell you about our packages and promotions. It's what I'm supposed to do..." Yep, someone in management made the demand.
Look, I understand a company trying to keep us as customers. It's a whole lot less expensive keeping a current customer than finding and capturing a new one. But someone at these companies needs to understand the differences between transactional and consultative sales and under what circumstances each are applicable.
First thing's first: A transaction occurs when there is a known problem with a known solution and known costs. An extreme example would be a vending machine. The known problem? You're thirsty. The known solution? Bottled water in the vending machine. Known pricing? $2 for a 16-ounce serving.
When you approach the machine, you don't want to be questioned as to whether or not you are thirsty, how long it's been since you've consumed liquids, or what you're going to do with the water once you get it. You want to insert your $2, press a button and get your water, and the quicker all this happens, the happier you are. You are in "transaction" mode.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have "consultative" sales. This occurs when there are unknown problems, unknown solutions, and unknown costs. In this situation, a vending machine would be inappropriate. You need someone with skill to ask questions and interpret responses to guide you to the best decision possible.
Somewhere along the line, someone decided that a "consultative" in a customer service environment means throwing things at the customer to see what sticks, whether or not the customer needs or wants it. It would be the equivalent of a beverage vending machine that began to throw Twinkies at customers before they bought something to drink, even if they were diabetic and on a strict diet.
Advice to Call Centers
A note to all customer service call centers....When customers call in to cancel or change service, most, like my wife, are in "transaction" mode. What do we all expect in that environment? To have our transaction processed as quickly, painlessly and professionally as possible.
If you decide you want to make it a sales call, too, ask if I'm ok with that before you throw your Twinkie at me. As an example, "Would you be interested in hearing about some fantastic alternatives we are offering our departing customers?" If the answer is 'NO', then drop it.
And if the call center wants to be consultative, not 'INSULT-ative', then ask some qualifying questions before you offer me a radio, such as "Ok, I know you sold your car, but do you ever find yourself in a situation where you wish you had a radio of this type when you're away from your car?" If the answer is 'NO', they should move on to close the call. If the answer is 'YES', they have qualified for the right to talk about replacing the car radio with a portable one.
The bottom line is, if you want your call center to 'sell', train them on how to do it properly!
Bob Nicols has 34 years of experience in sales, sales management, executive management and sales force development. He founded Burton Training Group, now AXIOM Sales Force Development, in 1990 after being a top and highly recognized performer in sales, sales management and executive positions within the technology sector. He has managed and mentored thousands of sales people, sales managers and senior managers and been responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in sales. For more than 21 years he has developed and delivered sales programs that have become the standard for many Fortune 100 companies including AT&T, BellSouth, Disney Enterprises, Alltel, Verizon and ESPN. AXIOM programs have been implemented in over 30 countries including Japan, the UK, Germany, Dubai, Brazil, Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, China, Mexico, Canada, South Korea, Slovakia, Sweden, and The Netherlands. Bob's highly energetic and insightful lectures and workshops have resulted in invitations to be a featured presenter at dozens of national and international sales meetings and conferences. He is a trusted advisor to the presidents and senior managers of multiple organizations, both large and small and has been a board member of a national technology company. Bob is the developer of AXIOM's “Selling Sciences ProgramTM” and co-author of the “Selling Sciences” CD series.