Train Customer Service Representatives to Cross Sell

June 7, 2012 | By | Reply More

Most companies train their customer service representatives to ask questions to solve problems. Cross-selling is extending those existing skills since selling is really nothing more than good problem-solving. At the same time, cross-selling skills can be unique and can be as foreign to customer service reps as another language.

In order to effectively cross sell through the service channel, start with an assessment of current abilities and comparing them to cross-selling competencies. When working with clients to increase sales through their service channel, Entelechy starts with the following list of cross-selling competencies and customizes where needed.

cross sell

An employee skilled at cross-selling:

  • Views cross-selling as an extension of customer service and a way to solve customer problems.
  • While addressing the reason for the customer call, listens and identifies clues to additional customer needs.
  • Successfully addresses the customer s original reason for the call before discussing additional products or services.
  • Uses checkbacks to ensure that issues have been addressed, messages understood, and actions agreed to appropriately throughout the call.
  • Throughout the call, listens for clues that may identify the caller s predisposition for cross-selling (both in terms of product/service need AND in terms of receptivity).
  • Successfully transitions to cross-selling by asking questions to investigate and/or clarify additional customer needs identified during the call.
  • Matches appropriate products/services to meet specific customer needs.
  • Positions the customer benefits of these products/services in terms and tone that demonstrate helpfulness to the customer.
  • Ends discussion of additional products/services if the customer objects.
  • Recognizes buying signals.
  • Closes the sale by asking for confirmation by the customer.

Training must provide demonstrations of these skills in action. Charlie Gargaly, customer service master trainer at Entelechy is adamant that the training show the skills being applied by THESE reps in THEIR environment: Generic training doesn t work here. Customer service reps need to see one of their own successfully demonstrating the skills. Gargaly recommends using video to capture vignettes of real reps demonstrating the specific skills; use the videos in training to demonstrate and discuss the skills.

However, for training to be successful, two obstacles MUST first be addressed. We must address the predisposition some employees may have against sales. And we must ensure that the product information includes clear and specific benefits. Let s look at these two obstacles.

Predisposition Against Sales

I d rather quit than sell. I was hired to help people, not manipulate them.

The feelings of many customer service reps towards sales are often more violent than those expressed by customers! Clearly, introducing cross-selling training to such an audience would fail quickly and unequivocally. Therefore, a critical initial step is to help customer service reps see cross-selling for what it is (or what it SHOULD be): an extension of providing the best and most complete service to the customer.

Although presenting some of the research findings mentioned earlier might lower the defenses of many customer service reps, metamorphosis happens at two levels. The first is recognition that they themselves have happily purchased items that others suggested; in other words, the customer service reps themselves have benefited from a relevant and timely recommendation made by someone else. The second is the realization that THEY as customer service reps are sometimes the ONLY people who are in a position to provide this helpful information to customers.

It is important for customer service reps to see that positioning products and services that will benefit the customer IS customer service! Of course, if the customer is satisfied and does not need anything else, the rep should close the call without even mentioning any other products or services. However, if the customer service rep could provide the customer better service by matching a product or service to an expressed need, then missing that opportunity is incomplete customer service.

A significant amount of Entelechy s initial customer service training focuses on helping customer service reps see themselves as the customer s advocate, someone who has insights and information that will help that particular customer. Through small and large-group discussion, we extend that customer advocacy to include an obligation to position relevant and beneficial products and services thereby gradually reducing and eliminating the biases that customer service reps have against sales.

Product Knowledge

Product knowledge is perhaps the most misunderstood element in the cross-selling equation. Companies spend time on product features and functions, yet we all know that customers don t really care much about those things. They care about benefits. And actually, they really only care about benefits to THEM personally.

For cross-selling efforts to work, customer service reps need training and support (in the form of job aids) that provide easy-to-access product information. Most importantly, the customer benefits of these products need to be specified at the granular level. If a product is going to save time, it needs to be clear WHO is going to save HOW much time. For example, a personal video recorder (PVR) such as TiVo® allows someone who hates commercials (the WHO) to skip 12 minutes of commercials every hour (the BENEFIT).

Customer service reps need to be receptive to potential buyers of a product so when they are listening to the customer on the call, they can pick up specific clues that would lead to specific products. If, during a call, the caller complains that there seems to be getting more and more commercials on TV the customer service rep can position TiVo as a product that the customer may find useful.

Another caller may talk about how they re missing an important part of the game because the video signal is out. After addressing the problem, the customer service rep may position TiVo as a tool to ensure that the customer can replay parts of the game that he missed.

The product training must focus on targeted potential buyers and the specific benefits they would get from the product or service. General marketing messages (i.e., save time, lower costs) and product functions and features do NOT make for effective product training.

Product training without teaching skills or teaching skills independent of product knowledge is ineffective. Training that combines product and skills training is the solution. (For a list of customizable customer service training modules where you can embed YOUR product information, visit


Cross-selling is rapidly becoming the primary way of increasing revenue for many customers. Done effectively, cross-selling can also increase customer satisfaction and retention. Done ineffectively and you risk losing your only source of revenue. Cross-selling training needs to combine both product information AND skills practice. If your customer service reps ask questions and position products in the mode of solving customer problems, they ll make the customer feel taken care of and appreciated. When done right, cross-selling will do more than sell products; it can increase customer satisfaction and retention.

Recommended Books on Cross Selling:

Terence R. Traut is the president of Entelechy, Inc., a company that helps organizations unlock the potential of their people through customized training programs in the areas of sales, management, customer service, and training.

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