Selling Services On the Phone – The Salesperson as Teacher

The telephone salesperson has a special set of challenges selling services. They are selling something which is intangible and has heterogeneity. Where strict uniformity is celebrated with products, the ability to customize, adapt and differentiate is praised with services. These salesperson challenges include teaching customers their roles.

Because customers often participate in the consumption of a service, they must be taught what to do. Several years ago, I was flying out of nearby city, and as I pulled into the long-term parking lot there was a big line in front of the areas where you’d normally get a ticket and enter. I was puzzled, because normally this is a quick procedure. When it was my turn, I saw the terminal no longer gave out tickets, the driver was expected to swipe a credit card and then park. When the driver left the parking lot after their trip, they would use the same credit card to leave the ramp which would be charged the appropriate amount. This all took place without the traditional ticket. A large sign was posted near the gate explaining the charges, but it was hard to read at 6:00 a.m. in the morning, and customers were frustrated because they were expecting a ticket.

As I left the garage, I rode in an elevator full of angry customers. One said his wife was coming to pick up their car, and she had different credit cards than he did, how was she going to get out of the lot he asked? Another said because of the long line waiting to get in, she was afraid of missing her flight. A third said this was his second time in under the new system, and it seemed to work well, but he was tired of waiting in line while everyone else figured it out.

Even with a simple service like a parking ramp, customers need to be taught their roles. What do they need to do to consume the service successfully and with maximum customer satisfaction? If your company does tax preparation services, what information does the customer need to gather for you to prepare the returns? If you offer HVAC maintenance services for commercial buildings, how do you gain access to the systems? How are you electronically notified of any problems, and how does this software tie into your systems? Often salespeople need to educate customers just to provide them with a quotation. This requires a great deal of patience, understanding and training.

The selling organization should study this problem of customer education, and use good adult learning principles to help the telephone salespeople. First, the customer must be motivated to participate. How can learning about the service be fun and engaging? Next, there should be entry points at various steps along the way for the inexperienced or experienced customer to tailor education appropriately. Finally, don’t neglect the importance of telephone salesperson and customer dialogue. Perhaps a one-on-one webinar can be offered as a logical education step. Regardless of how its designed, your customers must be comfortable with your service, and know their roles, before and after the sale.