Rethinking Sales and Service – The Human Factors

Since the beginning of CRM, the concept of the 360-degree view of the customer has been lauded as the holy grail: When everyone across sales, service, and marketing knows everything about a prospect or customer, no one ever gets a wrong answer from customer service, and sales knows where customer service issues exist before they ever pick up a phone. Great, right?

In reality the 360-degree view has always been a challenge. Disparate systems and a lack of integration hamper organizations, and the simple goal of providing service agents with a real-time, digestible view of information so they can delight customers is far from reality.

However, the increasing investments vendors have made in integration, orchestration, and automation are bringing us closer to that goal. The question now is whether service is ready.

There's a great case to be made for getting them there. In examining our recent ROI case studies on customer service deployments, we found service agents empowered for intelligent customer service were at least 15 percent more likely to make a sale while interacting with a customer on a service call. In one individual case, a construction company found that integrating its field service operations with sales enabled it to capture an average of 27 additional leads per month, resulting in an annual profit increase of more than $250,000. Another company was able to increase average annual spend by 20 percent across its customer base when service was enabled to identify and nurture sales opportunities.

From a technology perspective, there are a few things we can do to enable our service agents to be better salespeople. Integration is the obvious one; a collaborative knowledge base and a streamlined handoff to sales are others. But the shift can't happen just with the technology; service people have to be enabled, empowered, and incented to sell.

Taking advantage of artificial intelligence and other innovations to automate the work of service agents is an important first step. As more and more vendors integrate AI into their service solutions, bots can be used to gather basic information and support self service, escalating only higher-level queries to an agent when needed. Self-learning knowledge bases and service coaches that guide agents through basic needs identification and lead nurturing bring them a step further.

The second step is changing the mindset of the service agent from a case resolver (calls completed in a satisfactory amount of time with a satisfactory resolution) to a solution provider (understanding and identifying the needs of the customer and proposing solutions that go beyond tactical problem resolution). As we integrate sales and service technologies, we should also be integrating inside sales and service training so agents learn the same playbooks inside sales uses and can use them on inbound calls from customers. Because service agents interact with customers, on average, five times more frequently than sales people do, they're in an ideal position to sell when the customer is engaged.

Finally, we should be rethinking the way we evaluate and compensate service representatives. A comp plan that looks at not just call resolution times and customer satisfaction but also leads generated and nurtured encourages agents to be solution providers. Such a comp plan rewards solution providers, but also makes them more engaged as employees and more engaged with customers.

Integration and AI alone won't get us to the 360-degree holy grail. Our data shows that breaking down the lines between service and sales staff and enabling and incentivizing agents to be not just case resolvers but solution providers has real top-line impact. In an era where AI is endangering the jobs of service agents, addressing the human factors is just as important and can drive higher revenue, increased agent engagement, and reduced turnover.

Rebecca Wettemann is vice president at Nucleus Research.