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Ethical Upselling

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Ethical Upselling

/ People, Development
Ethical Upselling

Building trust and fulfilling needs creates a win-win for customers and businesses.

Contact center upselling—selling add-on products or services to existing customers—has gotten a bad reputation lately. However, upselling can be a positive thing, if done correctly.


Imagine a customer calling his telecom provider to order a new smartphone. He dropped his old phone down the stairs and the screen was destroyed. The agent who took this call processed the customer’s order for a new phone. The agent also suggested a phone case with rubber bumper edges and a screen protector for the front of the unit. The customer agreed since it would protect his new phone from damage. After that, the agent finished the call by recapping the cost of the phone and accessories, confirming the delivery date and asking for a method of payment. The customer happily provided those details. He also thanked the agent for his help. On the post-call customer satisfaction survey, this customer gave the agent very high marks.


This is an example of ethical upselling. The agent listened to his customer’s needs and suggested two additional products that actually helped the customer. The agent also recapped the costs and confirmed that the payment went through. This shows good business ethics. It created a win-win situation. The telecom company wins because they made two additional accessory sales and created a happy client. The customer wins because he now has accessories to protect his new phone.


On the other hand, here is an example of what NOT to do: Imagine the same customer calling back a month later with a question about changing the ringtone on his phone. But this time, he gets a different agent. Without asking any problem-solving questions, this agent suggests an upgrade to a long-distance package. The customer objects, saying that he doesn’t make long-distance calls.


However, the agent is very aggressive. He keeps telling the customer he needs long-distance. The customer eventually caves in and gets the package. He is angry about being manipulated, but thinks he can call back and cancel it. Then, he gets busy with other things in his life. He waits a month to call back. At that time, he is told that there is a cancellation fee. The customer is furious. He pays the cancellation fee, but he also cancels his overall service!


That is an example of unethical upselling. The second agent suggested things that the customer clearly did not need. The agent was pushy. He withheld crucial details, such as the cancellation fee. He also destroyed the customer’s trust in the company, which led to the customer canceling his service.


What is the difference between these two examples? Fulfilling identified customer needs, clearly outlining fees and mentioning any restrictions builds customer trust. It also increases the likelihood of repeat business and referrals. On the other hand, giving misleading information, failing to mention fees and being pushy can cause customers to become upset.


Another example of unethical behavior is using bait-and-switch tactics such as getting the customer interested in a low-cost item, then saying that it is out of stock and substituting a much higher priced product. In addition, in one of the most publicized examples of unethical behavior, a bank’s agents allegedly added chargeable services and even opened up new accounts in people’s names without their permission.


How to Encourage the Right Behavior


What can you do as a leader to encourage the right behaviors? How can you detect and coach the wrong ones? Here are seven ideas:


1. Train your agents on proper upselling techniques


Telling customer service agents to “just sell” is useless. Without training, most of them will not try to sell because they do not know how to do it. The rest will use techniques they associate with “sales”: being pushy and aggressive. So, proper training is the first step.


You should also look for sales training that focuses on solution selling. That means focusing on what your CUSTOMER needs. Train your agents to ask good sales inquiry questions, listen for customer needs and always focus on solving a problem for their client.


2. Have your Agents give customers the facts they need to make a buying decision


That means being honest about costs, limitations and exclusions. Encourage your customers to make up their own minds. You can support that with realistic case studies, examples and anecdotes to help them say, “Yes” to the sale. But the, “Yes” has to come from them!


3. Have your quality assurance coaches and team leaders coach to the right type of win-win sales behavior


When they analyze an agent’s calls, they should hear about a product or service that relates to an identified customer need. Coaches should also watch out for more than two closing attempts per call. Any more than that and the customer may view the agent as being too “pushy.”


4. Verify which products and services customers have when your Agents do follow-up satisfaction calls or loyalty calls


This ensures that customers are aware of what is on their account. It is an obvious red flag if customers say that they never ordered a product or agreed to a new service. As an additional tip, make sure that the agent who is conducting the follow-up or loyalty call is different than the one who did the upsell.


5. Watch out for “Zombie accounts”


These are accounts that have no activity on them because the customer never wanted it and does not know it exists. This may mean that an agent falsely opened the account. Or in some cases, the customer misunderstood what they were getting or forgot that they opened the account.


6. Track whether customers are quickly returning products or canceling add-on services after dealing with certain Agents


This may be due to agents who are over-promising what a product can do. Or, it can also indicate agent over-aggressiveness or even falsified sales.


7. Claw back Agent sales commissions, bonuses and spiffs if customers return products or cancel services too quickly


You want “good sales”! These are situations in which clients are happy and keep using the product or service. This means that the agent did a good job discovering customer needs and offering a product or service that can help. To reinforce this, one company I worked for canceled the sales commission if the product was returned in the first 10 days following the sale.


Help Customers Get the Most from Products and Services


When done correctly, upselling helps customers get the most benefit from your company’s products and services. However, watch out for overly aggressive or unethical sales practices. The ideas discussed in this article can help you to guide your agents. As with any new practices, check with your human resources and legal departments to see if these ideas comply with your company’s policies and legal requirements.

Mike Aoki

Mike Aoki

Mike Aoki is the President of Reflective Keynotes Inc., a Canadian training company that helps contact centers improve their sales and customer retention results. A call center expert, Mike is a frequent contributor to Contact Center Pipeline. He was also chosen as one of the “Top 50 Customer Service Thought Leaders on Twitter” for the past four years. He is also co-author of the Amazon #1 best-selling leadership book, “Called to Action.” 

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