Call Centers: Beyond Order-Taking

Posted: 07/1999

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Call Centers: Beyond Order-Taking
By David Schock

As competition continues to increase in the telecommunications industry, carriers are
reorienting various business units accordingly. This includes call centers, where sales
agents are being trained to apply consultative sales techniques and use competitive sales
tools to retain, win back and acquire customers.

Agents are moving beyond the traditional order-taking role and are
becoming revenue generators.

To fulfill the need for timely and accurate competitive data, call centers are
deploying a new generation of automated sales tools. These software systems are designed
to streamline the sales process by providing the critical information needed to close a

Although limiting talk time is an important consideration, agents are being trained to
take a consultative sales approach to better serve the customer. This may include
discussion of competitive offers.

To help answer the customer’s questions, agents are relying on data-rich, competitive
information systems. These tools prevent the agent from saying, "I don’t know,"
thus enabling the agent to close additional sales and maintain a positive relationship
with the customer.

The consultative sales approach focuses on the customer’s specific needs. Agents are
moving beyond the traditional order-takering role and are becoming revenue generators.
Agents are trained to listen more closely to the customer’s questions and are expected to
probe for more information. Through the consultative process, the agent quickly can
understand the customer’s telecommunications requirements and offer a solution.

To provide a solution, the agent must be fully knowledgeable about multiple product
lines and evolving telecom technologies. To manage this overwhelming amount of
information, competitive databases provide detailed and factual descriptions on customer
premises equipment (CPE) and carrier-specific products and services. With these
competitive information systems, agents can better determine what products and services
their customers need.

For instance, by accessing equipment databases, agents can review the features of the
customer’s particular hardware: key systems, private branch exchanges (PBXs), routers,
etc. The agent then can determine which products (such as integrated services digital
network [ISDN]) can be sold with the customer’s equipment.

With this knowledge, the agent can answer such questions as, "What specific
hardware is required to support ISDN?" and "What ISDN capability packages does
the equipment support?" The agent can even determine which ISDN switch translations
are needed to implement the capability package. By answering these questions in advance,
the agent reduces the possibility of selling a product or service the customer does not
need or cannot support with its equipment.

The consultative sales approach and use of competitive intelligence not only will make
the agent more effective, but also will impress the customer, who often is unaware of the
limitations of his or her own equipment.

Competitive Questions

In today’s competitive environment, however, agents cannot always sell their products
on their value alone. Often, agents are confronted with the challenge of having to address
the competition. What should the agent say if the customer inquires about how various
carriers’ products compare?

Agents not only need to be more sophisticated in how they sell, but they also need to
provide more sophisticated responses to achieve their sales objectives. Some of the new
software tools allow agents to access online competitive encyclopedias for factual and
accurate market intelligence. Agents can search through these databases to find the
information they need to generate side-by-side product comparisons.

This is particularly effective when discussing the terms and conditions of a
competitor’s promotional rates. Agents can analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the
promotion by reviewing the information contained within their competitive databases.
Agents can uncover hidden charges, such as installation fees or monthly recurring charges,
and then intelligently position their plan against the competitor’s promotion.

These systems need to be quick and user-intuitive to be effective in the call center
environment, but the data is the core element of these competitive intelligence systems.
The data must be gathered from public information sources, such as Federal Communications
Commission (FCC) tariffs, and updated regularly. This guarantees that the information is
accurate and unbiased. Only then can the agent communicate the information to the customer
with confidence.

Often these systems are more efficient than browsing the Internet for the competitor’s
home pages, which may not contain the information the agent needs. In many cases, the data
in the competitive databases already has been researched and consolidated into
telemarketing-friendly scripts. Marketing managers can create scripted responses to
competitor’s promotions to assist the agent in positioning a plan. The scripted responses
ensure that a consistent marketing message is delivered to the customer. Because the
databases are electronic, the information can be updated regularly and delivered
effectively to an entire call center. Costly paper handouts, which quickly become outdated
or lost among other documents, no longer need to be distributed to each agent.

Rate Information

Some of these competitive systems allow agents to perform actual rate comparisons
between various calling plans. These tools either access the customer’s historical billing
data or require user inputs to perform the rate calculations. In the latter case, the
agent again uses the consultative sales approach to capture the necessary data to create a
sample of the customer’s calling habits. By asking questions about when, where and for how
long the customer makes calls, the agent can generate an accurate estimate of the
customer’s calling patterns. With this information, the agent then can offer the best
calling plan for the customer’s needs.

If the customer should press the agent about how the plan compares to a competitor’s
plan, the agent can perform a side-by-side rate comparison between the two plans. Rate
calculations can be generated on a call-by-call, average-rate-per-minute or total-cost
basis. With this information, the agent can educate the customer fully on the costs
associated with various calling plans. If the rate analysis reveals that the agent’s plan
is less cost-effective, he then can return to the scripted responses to sell the other
benefits of his calling plan.

The consultative sales process may take a little longer, but customer satisfaction is
greatly increased. The customer perceives the agent as a consultative expert and not just
a telemarketer.

Agents need to respond to the ever-increasing demands of customer support with
intelligent answers about the rapidly changing telecommunications industry. Carriers are
meeting this challenge by providing the training and the competitive information systems
call center agents need to be successful.

David Schock is the director of training services for Salestar, San Francisco. He
can be reached at +1 415 896 5800 or

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