The hidden dangers of call centre upselling
In the ‘olden’ days a contact centre agents role was a lot more clearly defined and call centre upselling wasn’t even on the agenda.
Each call centre role had a defined task that typically related to customer service, complaints and of course, sales and telemarketing roles.
But they were typically discrete functions. You either did one or the other.
With the advent of multi-channel/omnichannel technology however a contact centre agent these days can perform a variety of tasks including inbound sales calls, inbound service calls, outbound sales calls, outbound welcome/welfare check calls, live chat and emails just to name a few.
All at the same time.
As well as changing the skills required of a modern contact centre agent, its also changed the complexity in how you measure performance.
Gone are the days of metrics such as the number of calls handled, number of calls made etc and thankfully for a lot of call centres, gone to are the days of Average Handling Time (about time!) that invariably seem to force an agent to shut down a conversation whether or not the customers enquiry has been resolved or not (if your centre still has targets on AHT read this).
The pressure on contact centre agents to sell
An article that appeared on abc.net.au, however, has also raised another dimension.
As contact centres are moving from a ‘cost centre’ to a ‘revenue centre’, so to are the expectations on contact centre agents to not just resolve a customer enquiry, but to make a sale/generate money for the business at the same time.
In the ABC article, an agent working for the Commonwealth Bank spoke about the pressure she was under upselling customers to a range of financial products (like a home loan or new credit card) even though they were just ringing for a basic bank balance enquiry.
The agent, who earned up to an additional $10,000 per year in bonuses, did acknowledge that she received training and coaching on call centre upselling so there is no suggestion it was just expected without any support.
The article, however, appears to suggest that some of Australia’s biggest banks have an “aggressive sales culture which rewards bad behaviour and can have devastating consequences for consumers” given they may be pushed into products that they don’t really need just so the contact centre agent can get their bonus.
There is no doubt that contact centre agents roles, responsibilities and skills are going to continue to evolve as more and more simple calls are becoming automated, resulting in higher complexity calls being left for the agents to handle.
And as contact centres continually evolve to become the critical component of the broader Customer Experience Management (CEM), rewarding and incentivising those agents to provide a quality customer experience is going to become equally important.
But what about the customer?
Particularly in a customer service context where a customer has called to resolve an issue, is it appropriate to then try upselling them something?
I’m sure many would argue that if what you are trying to sell them is in the customer’s best interest then sure, why not.
But if it’s completely unrelated to the call and doesn’t provide any real value to the customer then attempting to sell them something does little more than reinforce to the customer that you don’t see them as anything more than dollar signs.
And I guess that is at the core of the discussion.
As most sales training programs will testify, listening to the customer and offering a solution for their problems is the best way to close a sale and make the customer feel valued in the process.
But if you are just forcing your staff to perform call centre upselling on every call regardless of the context, then not only are you risking your relationship with your customers, you are putting your staff in an uncomfortable situation that will only lead to disengagement.
And no one wins long term out of that.