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“Customer-Centric Sales” Is Not an Oxymoron: 6 Traits of Customer-Centric Sales Contact Centers

“Sales” and “selling” are dirty words in the eyes of many contact center professionals. Customer service agents, supervisors and managers hear such terms and instantly think of the archetypal aggressive used car salesman, or some similar negative cliche.

What these folks fail to realize is that, when done right, selling is actually an important component of service. Effective selling isn’t about swindling customers – it’s about identifying needs and offering solutions. It’s about enhancing customer relationships, not exploiting them.

In my years covering the contact center industry, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing leaders from companies renowned for their strong customer-centric culture and focus – companies like Zappos, Capital One, Hilton, USAA, Verizon, The Hartford and Eddie Bauer. Everybody knows about how the contact centers in these organizations provide exemplary customer service. Know what else they’re good at? Sales. And they are good at sales because they are good at service.

So what specific traits and practices do these centers have in common? I’m glad I asked, and hopefully after reading this you will be too.

Six Traits of Customer-Centric Sales Contact Centers

1. A hiring program that keeps the center stocked with agents who have sales talent and a service soul. Rather than rushing through the hiring process to get butts in seats, top performing contact centers carefully recruit and assess agent candidates to help determine who has what it takes to succeed in a customer-centric sales environment. These centers look for things like active listening skills, empathy and ability to overcome objections – using comprehensive testing tools and simulation software as well as behavioral-based questions during interviews to identify prime applicants.

2. Agent training that’s focused more on meeting needs than on making sales. Setting agents up to succeed in sales doesn’t center around pumping them full of product info and benefits, nor does it entail teaching them tricks to manipulate customers to maximize purchases across all product lines. In leading sales contact centers, agents are trained to ask questions and listen carefully to customers to help identify their problems and needs, and then to engage customers in conversations about specific products and services that could simplify their lives and solve their issues.

The end result is that products/services are sold, but they are never “pushed” or “pedaled”. Agents are simply helping the customer make the best decision – focusing primarily on satisfying customer needs vs. meeting rigid sales quotas.

3. Desktop tools that optimize sales opportunities. Customer-centric sales centers invest in tools and technologies that place invaluable product information and customer data right at agents’ fingertips.

With today’s desktop solutions, agents gain full visibility into customer accounts and histories, with important notes from previous contacts – across all channels – highlighted. This enables agents to make product offers that match each customer’s profile – or to at least ask relevant questions to pave the way to a sales opportunity. Some applications feature screen pops that alert agents of prime up-selling and cross-selling opportunities based on the customer profile, and often even provide scripts that agents can personalize to help close deals.

A powerful knowledge base is also essential for customer-centric sales. It enables agents to quickly find answers to customers’ questions and provide detailed information on specific products and services, which, naturally, strengthens customer trust and opens the door to effective selling.

4. The RIGHT metrics. Since “selling is service” (when done right), it’s no real surprise that the key metrics in successful sales contact centers focus more on captivating customers than on moving product. Sure, many of these centers track metrics like Sales Conversion Rate and Average Revenue per Call, but such measure don’t supplant more customer-centric ones like Service Level, First-Call Resolution (FCR), Customer Satisfaction (C-Sat) and Contact Quality.

After all, you won’t be able to sell much if callers aren’t able to easily access a courteous agent and get their needs met efficiently.

5. Rewards and recognition that drive desired behaviors. Having well equipped agents and strategic performance objectives in place to drive sales success won’t mean much if those agents don’t feel motivated to meet those objectives. Recognizing this, top contact centers regularly reward and recognize staff for meeting/exceeding key performance goals – and do so in meaningful ways.

The best centers create contests, games and campaigns that are intended not only to drive high performance but also to entertain, enhance teamwork and show agents how valuable they are to the organization and customers.

Whenever agents achieve key objectives, they may receive such things as:

  • tangible rewards (e.g., cash, gift certificates, redeemable points);
  • public praise (e.g., their name listed on the center’s “Wall of Fame” and/or in a newsletter);
  • opportunities to work on special projects (e.g., mentoring peers on the keys to customer-centric sales success)

6. Collaborative relationships with other key departments in the organization. No contact center is an island, though far too many companies treat theirs as one – and far too many contact centers accept that role. As a result, the abundant and invaluable customer data and feedback that is captured by the contact center every day – information that could enable continuous product, service and marketing enhancements – is seldom shared across the enterprise to the extent that it should be.

In the most successful organizations, contact center leaders help to create cross-functional teams and regularly meet with key department heads, thus ensuring that the company as a whole understands and is better able to act on key customer insights and expectations. In addition, meeting and collaborating with other areas provides the contact center with critical information and updates to continuously optimize service and sales.


About the author


John is a copywriter at Intradiem. He has a background in print and broadcast journalism and digital marketing with emphasis on technology.

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