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Traditionally, the skills that help customer service professionals resolve client issues are built separately from skills that empower customer service professionals to win new business. It is a siloed approach to skill-building, and the result is lost opportunities for enhanced customer satisfaction and revenue.
Traditional Customer Service Skills Silos
|Skills to Resolve Customer Issues||Skills to Gain New Business|
|Communication Skills||Exercising Judgement|
|Product Knowledge||Asking Open-ended Questions|
Customer service teams must start to build a better mindset by first acknowledging that service and sales can coexist in the same call. And the customer service skills that fuel this coexistence should be developed simultaneously.
Up-selling and cross-selling should not be thought of as tacking a sale onto the call. Rather, recommendations for additional products and services should be considered part of the solution.
Joining these practices is necessary for two reasons:
- Creating a sale is often a part of creating a solution. The customer’s call represents an unfulfilled need. In many cases, meeting that need means accessing an additional product or service.
- Pairing selling with service is fast becoming an economic necessity.
A service call is a prime opportunity to explore the needs that lead to a sale. Customer service professionals who can recognise this opportunity provide a better customer experience. The primary challenge is one of perspective. Service professionals must look differently at their role, the call and selling.
Changing the mindset of a customer service rep is easier than it may seem. Many of the capabilities required to do this are already a part of the customer service professional’s skill set.
Customer Service Framework
Before we jump into discussing the specific skills customer service teams need to resolve issues and sell additional solutions, let’s take a step back and explore the service and sales framework that each customer service skill supports.
Engage and solve should be familiar steps for customer service professionals; however, the enhance and inspire steps are where the customer service professional has the opportunity to naturally and authentically position new solutions to open doors that result in immediate or future sales.
Enhancing the Customer Service Experience
Enhance is the step where the customer service professional activates their selling skills. They can do this by asking insightful questions that help them more deeply explore customer needs, position relevant solutions and learn about and resolve customer objections.
Good judgment is critical at the enhance step. At times, customers are not going to want to extend the conversation beyond the specific issue that they contacted the customer service team about, so the customer service professional must carefully assess the customer’s willingness to continue the conversation.
Inspiring Continued Partnership
Even if the customer does not have the time or desire to engage in a deep exploration of their needs, the inspire step is another opportunity to apply selling skills. At the inspire step, the customer service professional should focus on leaving the conversation open-ended for future prospecting opportunities.
The customer should leave the call with the feeling that the call is over, but the conversation has just begun.
This video explains the guiding principles behind how your customer service team can enhance the client experience through consultative selling.
For more information, download the complimentary white paper: Enhancing Customer Service through Consultative Sales.
How Customer Service Sales Professionals Build Sales Skills
The skills that customer service professionals need to be successful and drive value for customers and the business can be bucketed into three high-level goals:
- Developing a Sales Mindset
- Changing the Customer Conversation
- Building Sales Skills That Add Real Value
Developing a Sales Mindset
Customer service professionals must start to think of themselves as sales professionals. Customer service representatives who are able to transition to the role of a salesperson have these key skills:
Self-awareness is about recognising one’s own emotional tendencies and how they impact the customer. By recognising these tendencies, the service professional can manage them.
They can develop awareness around the kinds of emotions that will help or hurt the call and choosing the right ones to express. Moreover, self-awareness changes the service professional’s mindset by keeping them focused on how well they are meeting the customer’s needs. As a result, professionals become more vigilant about their assumptions. They ask more and better questions, which illuminate otherwise overlooked aspects of the customer’s needs.
Self-awareness gives the service professional an accurate, honest read on how well they are addressing the customer’s challenges and what more they can do to handle the full scope of their needs with an expanded solution.
As businesses engage in an escalating arms race for superior CRM systems, they often forget that one of the most powerful tools in customer service is not a programme or piece of technology — it is active listening.
When someone engages in active listening, they are focused on the other person’s words. They are making a concerted effort to understand the other person and respond in a meaningful way. Active listening is different than passive listening, which seeks only to hear without truly understanding.
Several studies have shown that “participants who received active listening responses felt more understood than participants who received either advice or simple acknowledgements.” Customers who speak to a service professional engaged in active listening feel satisfied. They know they have been heard. Biases, expectations, emotions and assumptions all get in the way of active listening. Active listening requires one to be: intentional, open-minded and practised.
Avoiding Making Assumptions
Building a better mindset requires moving past our automatic tendencies. Anchoring is one of these tendencies. When we rely on too little information, we are succumbing to the anchoring bias.
Assumptions drive anchoring. As a result, the professional may jump to a solution without a complete understanding of the problem. A service professional may make assumptions based on the customer’s communication style or age. In doing so, the professional may falsely assume that the customer is not interested in a broader solution.
Uprooting anchors means having an open mindset in which all solutions, even new ones, are on the table when attempting to solve the customer’s challenge. The solution is to ask more questions and listen to the responses. In doing so, the service professional creates a dimensional picture of the customer’s needs.
Changing the Customer Conversation
To properly engage the customer, professionals must think of customer service as a competitive advantage. To do so, they must make the effort to relate with the customer. They must tune in and use the customer’s words. They should offer no scripted responses. Service professionals must:
Own the Issue
Customers are often forced to play hopscotch in their search for a solution. They are shuttled from one service professional to another. “The result is that, in many organisations, the first-call resolution rate hovers around 40 percent,” according to research published by McKinsey.
Effective service professionals take responsibility and own the issue. Doing so minimises the effort required by the customer. Moreover, bouncing the call between professionals makes it difficult to explore the customer’s needs.
Make it Personal
A personalised customer service experience is a rare event. Customers are often pushed through a matrix of yes/no questions to arrive at a prepared response that falls short of a solution.
A personalised experience recognises the customer’s need, challenge or question. Therefore, customer service reps need to adapt to the customer’s pace.
The key is to take the time to listen and read the customer’s tone and empathise with them. Put simply, professionals must relate to customers. They must use acknowledgement, rapport, and empathy to connect. Relating starts with having the right presence. Professionals must project confidence, credibility, and conviction to show interests, gain respect, and inspire trust.
Authenticity means speaking to the customer as a person.
While this may sound easy, it quickly becomes difficult over the course of numerous calls. Service professionals work with a variety of customers, often in quick succession, throughout the day. This frequency is exhausting. Therefore, remaining authentic across every call requires mindfulness and authenticity.
Authenticity is about being natural even if doing so does not come naturally. It’s about having a genuine interest in the customer and curiosity for learning about them and solving their problems.
The customer wants to be heard. Their words do more than clarify the issue. They also reveal ways in which the service professional can go further in the resolution.
Understanding the customer helps reveal underlying issues. Once the customer has been understood, the service professional must solve the problem. They must use clear language that outlines the next steps. Language must be concise and linear. Additionally, they must use specific language, which encourages the customer’s confidence. Rather than saying, “I will help you solve this problem,” a more effective service professional might say, “I will help you correct the account setting so the defaults reflect your original preferences.”
Be Curious to Exceed Expectations
In the rush for a solution, customers rarely volunteer more information than is necessary to reach a resolution. Therefore, the service professional reveals broader needs. They can reveal underlying needs by focusing on cues and clues. A cue is a detail found in the customer’s words. A clue is a detail found within the customer’s account information. These details help the service professional find a more expansive solution.
Building Skills That Add Real Value
Expanding the relationship means finding unseen value for the customer in the form of additional products or services. Solving the breadth of needs means connecting the value to the specifics learned earlier in the call through cues and clues offered by the customer. To do so, professionals must:
The service professional must be able to spark the customer’s interest. They must make them willing to stay engaged in the conversation. This engagement is necessary for the professional to be able to address the wider scope of needs. The best way to do this is to reference a cue or clue from earlier in the conversation. Remember, a cue is a verbal statement from the customer that reveals an additional opportunity for the business to add value. A clue is additional customer information seen within their account profile. There is no need to spend a lot of time differentiating these two things. What is important is that the service professional tunes in so that they pick up on this additional information. With this extra information, the professional can set the context. They can articulate a solution that might be unknown to the customer. Then, the service professional can link the value of that capability to previous cues or clues.
Position with Organisation
When linking the capability to the customer’s needs, it is important to position with organisation. If a customer doesn’t understand the offer, they will end the conversation. Restarting is near impossible. Therefore, knowing how to position is critical. The professional should position the headlines first. Once the next steps are clear, they should check with the customer before proceeding to the next stage. This kind of structure limits the burden placed on the customer by clarifying the path forward. Additionally, an organised delivery is expedient. This efficiency is critical because positioning an expanded solution will demand more time.
Positioning unexpected value can incite defensiveness from the customer. The service professional must engage in a dialogue to understand and resolve the customer’s resistance. First, the professional must acknowledge the customer’s concern. Next, the professional must ask broad, open-ended questions. Doing so uncovers the underlying concern and reason for the concern. The response to these questions must be tailored to the customer’s specific concern using clear, concise phrasing. Finally, the professional should ask additional follow-up questions to get feedback on how to proceed. The key here is to take the time to truly understand the customer’s position, then ask questions that seek to reveal the detail behind that position. Resistance from the customer is common. It is important that the professional doesn’t push back. The key is to stay calm and use the resolve objections model.
To learn more, download a complimentary brochure with information about Richardson Sales Performance’s Enhanced Service through Consultative Selling training programme.