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Should your field service staff become salespeople, too?

The call center isn't the only place for up-selling and cross-selling. In some situations, field visits are also a great opportunity.

Up-selling and cross-selling aren't just for the contact center anymore.

At a time when government regulations and consumer preferences are severely constricting outbound marketing, some companies are beginning to look to their field service and repair agents to increase revenue. The concept is worth considering but should be handled carefully, according to John Ragsdale, principal analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research.

With legislation like the "do not call" list, the Can Spam Act and other privacy measures, companies are finding it harder to interact with customers. That makes leveraging every interaction more important, and field agents are an untapped opportunity, Ragsdale said.

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Already, organizations have begun to train contact center agents as salespeople so that they can up-sell and cross-sell inbound callers. Ragsdale said that the trend can work for field agents as well.

For example, a technician installing cable might offer to waive the installation fee if the customer upgrades to premium channels, or an insurance agent doing a damage appraisal could sell additional coverage or decreased deductibles.

Just like contact center agents, field agents often do not have sales skills and, in fact, are usually hired for their technical -- not sales -- capabilities. That means organizations need to focus on training. With the proper education, an agent doesn't have to be a "born salesperson" to be an effective one, Ragsdale said.

"It's not a jarring, abrupt change from service to sales," Ragsdale said. "If [an offer] is given in context, it's not perceived as a real imposition by the customer. When the agents hear 'yes' often enough, they feel they're providing a service more than selling."

Training should be ongoing, Ragsdale said. With field agents, specific offers are best when tied to specific types of appointments.

Additionally, companies should not attempt to sell additional products to angry customers, Ragsdale said. Service and maintenance calls are often the result of a product failure, in which case it might be smarter to offer a rebate or free upgrade.

Some obstacles

Technology can be a barrier. The slow adoption of wireless CRM applications makes it is difficult to deliver information to agents in the field.

One tool that some field agents are relying on is Interaction Advisor from San Mateo, Calif.-based E.piphany Inc., but Ragsdale said he doesn't know many other applications that give these service workers the necessary insight to make effective sales pitches.

Additionally, processing orders can take time since some field agents don't make it back to the home office for days. As mobile service workers increase their sales, however, CRM vendors will likely improve their wireless technology systems, Ragsdale said.

Finally, having service personnel sell is usually just a good option in the business-to-consumer (B2C) space where offers are generally less complicated, Ragsdale said. Plus, field service agents who visit companies seldom meet with business decision makers.

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