Service Vs Sales

Yesterday was a fabulously sunny day and one which I enjoyed by spending some time in the garden of a Mediterranean-style tapas bar with a couple of call-centre colleagues past and present.

Strangely, and maybe because of the good weather, we didn’t talk all that much about work as can sometimes happen at these kind of meetings where anyone in the party not connected with the call-centre finds themselves in a rather unenviable position among a bunch of people talking shop. Even more strangely as my acquaintance with two of my colleagues pre-dated my time at the call-centre it was occasionally myself in this position.

What we did briefly talk about was how we were less than content with our manager and don’t see things improving under the current regime, but only getting steadily worse; worse being  a much more target-driven culture with even more emphasis on things like upselling, or in the case of subscription type services ‘retentions’ – that is keeping customers who call to cancel. Fortunately however, we didn’t dwell long enough on this pessimism to sour the good mood of the day.

What also came up during this brief conversation was  the ways in which we resist these pressures. One way is to simply fake a retention for the stats to chalk it up when it never happened in the hope that no-one will actually bother to take the time to check, or similarly logging an unrelated call – one where the customer has not expressed any wish to cancel as a retention. This logic also works for upsells; someone calls to order a product in a larger quantity or size; then log it as an upsell.

There is an issue of ethics here; can such a deception ethical? The answer is in terms of loyalty to our employer and our client firms possibly not, but it must be remembered that our contracting-out status makes these relationships more abstract. I don’t think anyone sees it as deceiving our employer, instead it is deceiving the firms we take calls on behalf of; firms with which we often have a difficult relationship with. As front-line staff for instance we take the flack when one of these companies messes up and also take flack over issues with a firms products or services which come up again and again, yet are powerless to affect any sort of change. It is also very rare for these firms to say or do anything by way of thanks after a particularly busy, or turbulent time though it must be said there is one exception to this who after their busy period sent down a few large boxes chocolates, a small gesture maybe, but one which shows there is at least some thought of us whilst they’re busy counting the cash from the orders we’ve handled.

This one example of good-practice aside it is factors such as these above which serve to re-enforce our distance from the companies we take calls for. In general we are treated as mercenaries and in turn adopt a mercenary attitude, if we don’t receive an incentive for upselling, or retaining, then there’s little chance of us bothering as loyalty simply doesn’t exist in our relationship. Our management recognise this feeling and try to counter this by insisting that by pleasing our clients we are securing our firms position and therefore our jobs, this they argue should be our incentive. Some people may subscribe to this, but in the main I believe there has a degree of scepticism around this just so long as people get the feeling from the volume of calls we handle that the firms are doing quite well as it is (possibly something which may be about to change as it gets quieter and quieter)

Whilst so far I have provided an excuse for our acts of resistance, I have not, at least I feel, provided an adequate justification. I will now turn to this. The justification, the prime justification, for our manipulating of the statistics is that there is at present a clash of cultures. On the one hand we have our manager, from a sales background, who is keen to use her experience in this area for the benefit of our clients and our company. On the other we have a team of people whose job title is ‘customer service’ where a colleague once memorably put it, with a hint of pride, “I do customer service I don’t do sales.” Our reading of customer service, and the way it has hitherto been practiced among us, is in the main, giving the customer what they want; if this is a smaller size, or if this is to cancel a subscription, then our job is to carry out this request. Quite plainly our role is to serve the customer.

There is another way of viewing this which is the sales-person’s way; that is in terms of a cancellation we do customers a service by offering alternatives and incentives to continue which they may wish to take up, and when upselling we provide them with an opportunity. Quite possibly this is the view espoused within ‘the BIG book of sales’ a voluminous tome which resides on, or around my managers desk. Maybe there is some point to it, but personally it doesn’t sit comfortably with me. I know that when I call a firm to cancel I have given the matter some thought and made up my mind before picking up the phone, and I know I certainly didn’t appreciate a call from my new car insurance company offering me (or attempting to scare me into – again depending on your viewpoint) extra cover over and above my fully-comp policy.

Maybe though this is me. Are customer-services and sales two reconcilable philosophies, or are they fundamentally contradictory?


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