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Service to sales gets a needed upgrade in the AI era

Many of us have been there: you contact a company’s customer service department to resolve a problem with a product or service that’s not working. Instead of offering a quick resolution, the associate on the other end tries to sell you on an upgrade, replacement, or new purchase.

These efforts often make customers, who already are frustrated by their original problem, even more aggravated. Ill-timed and unwelcome sales attempts feel pushy, awkward, and make customers feel like they’re not being listened to in their moment of need. It’s enough to turn them off a brand for good.

This is why traditional service to sales approaches have produced lackluster results: no one wants to be pushed products that don’t seem to fix their problem or meet their needs.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The AI era brings exciting new opportunities for service to sales. If brands embrace data and insights to determine when, how, and why customers will welcome sales efforts during customer service interactions, they can improve customer experience (CX) along the way.

At its core, service to sales is an expansion of the customer care relationship. It’s about helping customers meet their needs, quickly and thoughtfully – not just closing sales and boosting revenue.

Here are a few ways brands can get started uncovering sales opportunities in the contact center.

Target current customers for fast growth

Brands often make the mistake of focusing sales growth efforts on new customers, assuming the quickest way to increase revenue is to expand their customer base. But acquiring new customers is expensive and won’t always generate the ROI companies want or need.

Just as the Pareto Principle says 80% of consequences come from 20% of the causes, 80% of a brand’s revenue tends to come from 20% of its customers. Instead of casting a wider net, companies should be looking for sales opportunities among their current customer base. Moving the sales needle with existing customers will result in faster and more stable growth.

This especially makes sense when it comes to service to sales opportunities, since existing customers comprise the bulk (if not all) of the inquiries coming into a brand’s contact center. And of all the customer service type calls that come in, 65% have the potential for a sales opportunity. That represents a lot of money brands may be leaving on the table.

By offering existing customers relevant sales offers at the right time, brands can increase lifetime customer value, drive revenue, and improve CX.

Customize service to sales strategies

AI-enhanced tools like conversation and business intelligence should be the foundation of any modern service to sales approach. These tools can help identify why, when, and how to start a sales conversation for the greatest chance of success.

While most people reaching out to a contact center for service needs represent sales opportunities, not all those opportunities are equal. TTEC research across millions of interactions identified a sales spectrum, highlighting different customers’ propensities for buying.

In most of the interactions that have sales opportunities attached (63%) associates must resolve the customers’ original inquiry before customers are receptive to a sales conversation, the research found. In 17% the sales opportunity is the resolution, and in another 20% customers are likely to buy either as part of a resolution or an unexpected add-on.

This means associates can’t expect the same sales techniques to work in every interaction; they need the right message at the right time to meet customers’ specific needs. By using conversation and business analytics to listen to all customer interactions (not just some of them), brands can gather insight to confidently identify which customers are likely to buy, when they’ll be receptive to offers, and which offers will resonate with them.

With these insights in hand, associates can present customers with sales offers that feel natural and help solve their problems. These kinds of sales attempts feel welcome, not forced, and demonstrate that a brand truly understands what customers need or want in that moment. The results? Customers feel seen and associates close more sales and drive more revenue.

Move customers along the sales continuum

Once they have a clear, data-driven picture of what motivates customers to buy, brands can focus on moving them through the sales continuum, from ad hoc purchases that occur every once in a while to periodic ones (like a yearly subscription) that you can rely on and predict.

One way to move a customer from a-periodic, or ad-hoc, purchases, to periodic ones is through loyalty programs. Customers are more likely to buy from a company again if they can earn loyalty points – or prevent points from expiring – by doing so.

The data that brands collect through loyalty programs and other incentives can benefit associates and customers alike. Brands will gain more insights into customer behavior and patterns, allowing them to make more accurate sales forecasts, and customers will get better CX because associates’ sales efforts will be more targeted and relevant.

Moving customers from a-periodic to periodic purchases is an important step, because once they’re making periodic purchases, they can be moved further along on the continuum – to higher-margin and multiproduct purchases.

Find and serve the most “growable” customers

For a sales offer to land well with customers, they need to trust that a brand has their best interest (and not just its bottom line) at heart.
Before brands can even think about selling in the contact center, they need to make sure their service house is in order. A great customer experience is the foundation of any contact center interaction, and converting a service opportunity into a sale requires just that.

Without a good service experience at their core, brands can’t expect sales efforts to succeed.  Service to sales opportunities need to focus on CX first, since they’re part of the customer care relationship.

Brands that deliver reliably great CX deepen their relationships with customers and become more trusted. And customers are much more likely to take product or service recommendations from a company they feel really knows them.

A key way to better understand customers is through customer intent, the real reasons customers reach out to the contact center in the first place. Pinpointing why customers make inquiries and what they want to accomplish in those interactions empowers brands to better meet those needs – whether it’s through customer service, sales, or both.

With the right AI-enabled tools, insights, and strategy, brands can evolve their contact center into a powerful growth engine. In future articles, we’ll delve more deeply into how to keep moving customers along the sales continuum and grow share of wallet.