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Guy Kawasaki recently created a lot of buzz with his Art of Customer Service post. I found a couple of people responding with the same thoughts I did, including Starbucker, who shared my concerns with Guy’s admonition to nev er upsell on customer service calls.

I mentioned in a previous post my concerns with companies who are pushing the upsell too hard. Nevertheless, upselling can be done well and done successfully in a customer service call. You should follow a few basic rules:

  • Find out how willing your customers are to hearing upsells. A focused customer survey can give you quantifiable data regarding your customer’s willingness to hear upsells. This data can help you make tactical decisions about how hard you can push the sale without creating a drop in customer satisfaction. In research we’ve conducted through the years, we’ve found customer’s in certain markets to be surprisingly willing to hear upsells. The important thing is to know your customers and how upsells are going to impact their satisfaction with your company.
  • Never offer an upsell before you’ve resolved the customer’s issue. Too many call centers try to push the upsell before the customer’s question has been answered or the issue resolved. This only aggravates customers who feel that you’re holding them hostage, forcing them to hear your pitch before you’ll help them. Some companies train their CSRs to use typical call downtime (e.g. while pulling up the customer’s account information) to make a pitch. While it may make sense to ask a few probing questions during these common periods of dead air, the actual offer should be reserved until after the customer’s problem has been solved.
  • Make relevant upsell offers. Upsells work best when the upsell you’re offering is a natural fit with the product or service the customer is already purchasing from your company. I remember years ago when an electronics liquidator specializing in computers started upselling memberships to a buying club for gourmet cooks [scratching head].
  • Train your CSRs on the product or service you’re upselling. Your upselling efforts will be much more successful if your CSRs feel comfortable with their knowledge of the product and are trained how to make natural segues from resolving the issue to entering the upsell. In addition, they should be able to mention the benefits of the product or service in their opening statement and answer customer’s FAQs.
  • Make allowances for NOT offering the upsell. Unfortunately, there are companies who push their CSRs to make a pitch on every call with no exceptions. This is a lose-lose-lose business practice. The customer loses because they are getting an upsell forced down their throat, even when it’s inappropriate. The CSR loses because they are put in the position of further aggravating customers who may already be ticked off. The company loses because they customers will walk away dissatisfied and the turnover rate in their call centers will rise. Do the math: you’ll have to upsell ALOT to cover the cost of replacing angry customers and finding/training a revolving CSR staff.

With a knowledgable, balanced approach to upselling you can generate revenue with your Customer Service contact center. Just make sure you do your homework, count the cost and prepare before diving in.