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Don’t Pit Sales and Service Against Each Other: Integrate
Recently, I attended the Talkdesk 2021 Customer Contact Week (CCW) event in Las Vegas. I participated in a panel titled “The Contact Center as a Revenue Engine.” Kathie Johnson, chief marketing officer (CMO), Talkdesk, moderated the panel that also included Kurt Mosher, chief operating officer (COO) Gant Travel, and Paulo Silva, senior vice president (SVP) of Alorica. I was interested in participating in this session because it addresses a trend I've followed for the better part of the past two years—the integration of sales and service.
Shifting contact centers to the cloud decoupled the functionality from the physical location, which enabled agents to work from home. It also enabled non-contact center agents to access the information in the systems. Businesses quickly began to give contact center as a service (CCaaS) seats to different customer-facing roles such as customer success, field services, marketing, and sales. Because customer relationship management (CRM) systems and CCaaS are so closely related, anyone who uses them should have a CCaaS seat.
CCaaS Expansion: Critical Components
The panel theme was the expansion of CCaaS enables sales to take on a service role and service to take on a sales role. Combining these functions aids in understanding the customer journey and is a critical component in creating a differentiated customer experience (CX). For example, I recently had a customer service issue with my mobile operator that was (extremely) frustrating and didn’t solve my problem. Part of the issue was the long lead time required to talk to a live agent. At the end of the interaction, the company prompted me to complete a survey through chat. I rated it a one on a scale of one to five. After I submitted my response, a message stating I should “enjoy holiday shopping” and that they could “connect me with a salesperson immediately.”
This thread annoyed me further. I had just had a bad experience, and now the company was trying to sell me more. Also, I felt like the company was too busy to help me fix an issue but not too busy to sell me something. In this case, minimal coordination between sales and service could have resulted in a much different type of outcome. After realizing I had had a bad experience, the company could have recognized this and offered me a promotional rate on an item or even had the agent handle it by authorizing them to offer discounts on service calls. Service calls can go bad (that’s a fact of life), but how the company handles the situation will determine whether the customer hangs up satisfied or upset.
I certainly don’t think my situation is unique, and customers have come to expect better, faster outcomes since the pandemic began. We discussed this topic at length on the panel. Mosher admitted that there isn’t much room to upsell in areas of corporate travel, but that doesn’t mean the stakes aren’t high. He mentioned that if business travelers face even moderate frustration in the travel process, they will bypass Gant and book directly with an airline or hotel. This challenge has changed how the company views agents who are now responsible for “doing it right the first time.” Agents are better empowered to make decisions about handling issues, but that required Gant to provide real-time data and better training for the agents.
Silva echoed a similar statement when he talked about the concept of the contact center as a revenue engine. He said with the right information, the customer might respond positively to a solicitation from the service agent. Under the right circumstance, there’s no reason a service call can’t shift to a sales call. But Silva did admit Alorica is being conservative with this approach and collecting data to determine under which scenarios the customer would respond positively and negatively.
The aspect of the discussion I found most encouraging was that Silva and Mosher both understood that not all customer interactions are the same. A company can’t just toss out a generic message like my mobile operator did and have it result in a positive response. They both echoed the fact that, if done poorly, it will likely result in losing customers versus creating an upsell opportunity.
The other commonality from Gant and Alorica was the use of data. Both talked about the importance of collecting information. Then we had a lengthy discussion about how artificial intelligence (AI) can help the contact center take on a bigger role in the sales process. AI can provide agents with the best information or action at the right time and, as I described it, turn agents into super agents.
How to Get Started
We concluded the panel by offering some practical advice on how to get started with the contact center's new role. Mosher recommended that companies begin by mapping the customer journey and finding common interaction points that have led to successful opportunities in the past. This information can help create processes to capitalize on successfully.
Silva cautioned the audience to be pragmatic about opportunities. He explained the diverse nature of customer interactions is starting to blur some of our traditional expectations for sales and service. Sales will come from these interactions, but sometimes the customer only wants information or advice, and you must know when to sell and when to service.
Looking ahead, I fully expect this trend of bringing sales and service together to accelerate. Businesses should take the advice above, understand it’s possible, but know it requires a modernized contact center that can aggregate data across the customer lifecycle and provide the AI engines to find the key insights.