Bridging Customer Services And Sales Through Quality, Engaging Conversation

By Bob Davis

We were three weeks into a service-to-sales project in a large customer contact center when I overheard the following comment from an agent passing the training room on her way to the break room.

“I wasn’t hire to sell. I don’t care what they say,” the agent said. “I am not going to do it!”

This is not an uncommon reaction to change. My company, Robert C. Davis and Associates (RCDA), has been helping organizations turn service into sales for many years. We have found that this is a journey to win the hearts and minds of the agents—a journey that is well worth taking.

For example, we helped the billing department of one company move from zero sales to 90,000 sales in just six months. We helped the tech support organization of another company move from .02 sales per 100 calls to 1.8 sales per 100 calls—a 900-percent improvement!

How exactly do you obtain gains like these?

The main way to get there is to engage in what we call The Quality Conversation. If you don’t build a strong emotional connection with customers while solving their technical problem or billing issue quickly and efficiently, your chances of turning the service call into a sale are very small. On the other hand, if you use the following elements of The Quality Conversation on the call, your chances of converting the call to a sale increase greatly:

  • Show genuine interest in the customer.
  • Handle the call with sincere enthusiasm.
  • Engage in full discovery of not only the issue at hand but also the customer’s wants, interests and needs.

The Quality Conversation seems quite simple. The big question is, what prevents agents from carrying it out?

First, you have to address the natural reaction to change. Any time you ask people to change how they do something, they react in stages:

  1. Denial (“I can’t believe they’re making us do this.”)
  2. Anger (“This really makes me mad. I’m not doing it.”)
  3. Bargaining (“Can’t we just keep doing things the way we’ve always done for while?”)
  4. Depression (“Why even try? I’ll never be able to do this.”)
  5. Acceptance (“Well, it’s mandatory. I might as well learn how to do it.”)

If you understand and expect these stages of reaction to change, you’re better able to help team members move quickly to acceptance of a Quality Conversation initiative.

The other key to changing a team from a service orientation to a sales orientation is to understand comfort zones. People tend to keep doing what they are comfortable doing, regardless of whether or not it produces results. The role of the supervisor or coach is critical. The job is to help agents stay outside their comfort zone using The Quality Conversation approach until they are comfortable with it.

Here are some effective techniques for moving from service to sales:

  1. Make a strong transition statement. Once agents have taken care of the issue at hand, they need to make a smooth transition statement. This means saying something like, “Now that we have fixed your billing issue, let me ask you a couple of questions to determine if we can add even more value on this call.” If agents make this statement confidently, the customer will usually react positively. This will help agents move to acceptance of the change, because they’ll see that it works.
  2. Move to full discovery. Instead of just making a product pitch, agents must ask questions that will allow them to truly understand how they can add value for the customer. RCDA has been working on service-to-sales transitions with cable providers using this approach. Agents become amazed when they see how full discovery focuses on customer wants, interests and needs and consequently creates a positive experience for the customer. The agents see for themselves how willing customers are to answer discovery questions from the agent who drives that positive experience. The customers talk about their wants, interests and needs as related to their phone and Internet service—and how additional products and services can add value. In the end, the process helps customers sell themselves.
  3. Coach for sustainability. Coaching from supervisors is critical during the roll-out of a Quality Conversation service-to-sales transition. They need to reinforce all of the new behaviors on a daily basis or the agents will revert back to their comfort zone—doing their job the old, familiar (albeit less effective) way. Side-by-side coaching, skill transfer, small group practice sessions, commitment sessions, and following up on those commitments are all key to succeeding with a service-to-sales transition and sustaining it.

More information on The Quality Conversation and how to make your service-to-sales transition work, visit RCDA’s website

Bob Davis is the president of Robert C. Davis and Associates (, a consulting firm in Alpharetta, Georgia, specializing in improving sales, customer service and retention results in customer contact centers across North America. Bob is also co-founder of Surpass (, a highly specialized outsource customer contact center serving the needs of business clients across the country.