Sales Through Service: The Right Way to Up-sell in the Contact Centre

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Martin Taylor highlights that up-selling need not be upsetting.

A while ago, I was discussing annoying PC issues with a colleague – I have many annoying PC issues.

Is up-selling upsetting?

We concluded that ‘spell check’ was one of the more annoying attributes of the modern age, especially when the default is so often ‘English US’ even when you have carefully tuned your settings to UK… Now, ‘color’ instead of ‘colour’ is frustrating enough, but… as my colleague has had an even more windswept and interesting life than mine and as a result uses a Mac… his Mac changed ‘upselling’ to ‘upsetting’, which actually got me thinking – is this more accurate than we thought?

Odd, given that Apple is built on up-sell and cross-sell…

Up-selling at an inappropriate time can easily become a negative experience. Trying to act in the interests of the company when the customer is not the centre and focus of the conversation or transaction can spell trouble – imagine, you call up to discuss a recent complaint and the advisor does their level best to steer the conversation towards an additional order…

Putting the customer where they are comfortable to buy

Here’s my point of view and action plan to ensure your customer engagements are enhanced by the opportunities to ‘up-sell’ rather than run the risk of causing ‘upset…’ I have always considered that if you put the customer into a position where they feel comfortable to buy, rather than be seen as obviously selling, you are far more likely to produce a loyal, engaged customer.

So is up-selling upsetting?

It can be but it doesn’t need to be. Done right – it can increase revenue and make the customer feel special.


Let me first declare my bias towards up-selling across any media and customer touchpoint: I think that up-selling or ‘sales through service’ can actually accelerate your customer to advocate plans if executed correctly. Personally, I have been the customer for and seen some really positive customer-focused up-selling initiatives.

We are all relatively comfortable with the concept of up-sell. Look at the way that extremely successful organisations such as Amazon use it. You buy anything at Amazon and they offer you additional suitable products that your peers typically ordered when purchasing your choice. I – and I’m sure many of you – see this as an extension to service rather than a sales ploy, yet Amazon apparently attributes up to 35% of its revenues to up- or cross-selling… 35%!

That’s equivalent to every customer spending an EXTRA 50p for every £1 of their original purchase – every time they shop!

My wife managed a project a few years ago deploying a solution to drive up-sell in a service environment which yielded fantastic results in terms of revenue and customer satisfaction.

Interestingly, the system that was deployed – like the one that Amazon uses – was designed for ‘affinity’ selling. As soon as any item was ordered via any channel, it would proactively promote an additional suite of products that had been selected by the previous customers. Even when there appeared to be little ‘affinity’ between the product and the offer, customers still seemed to be keen – maybe they felt specially selected…

To create the up-sell initiatives in your business, you need to consider the following questions:

  • Who should I up-sell to?
  • When is it appropriate?
  • What channels should I use and how?
  • Who determines the answers to the above questions and owns the up-selling strategy?
  • How is the advisor rewarded?
  • What tools can support their efforts?
  • How is the process measured and managed?
  • What additional skills do I need?
  • What support can be offered to the front-line teams?

Clearly, this is a complex topic and the answers to the questions above will depend on several factors – the market you serve, the products and/or services you offer and what you know about your customers… etc.

The most important factor is what the customer situation is right now and whether an offer is appropriate to the customer and the current situation.

Just expanding on this point, what do you and your systems know about the customer situation?

  1. Does the customer have an open case?
  2. What score did you give last time they were serviced?
  3. How long have they been a customer?
  4. What is their relationship with you like?
  5. Are they an advocate?
  6. What is their value?
  7. How well connected are they?

Surely, answers to some or all of the above would deliver significant benefits across the operation, deliver some real insight to inform effective up-selling opportunities and avoid the potential alienation of some of your customers?

So can up-sell actually add demonstrable value to the customer experience?

I would argue yes. If all the answers are aligned to the customer, up-sell can enhance the advisor and the customer experience and create genuine service advocates.

The challenge, as so often, is: what situation does the customer need to be in that makes it appropriate to up-sell?

Forget Average Handling Time

If you are already asking yourself about the impact on average handling time and knock-on queue length, you are missing the point and need to turn 180 degrees, focus on the customer and build the operation appropriately.

In the same way that trying to up-sell at inappropriate times and in inappropriate situations, this must be a challenge that is cognisant of the customer experience and not how the operation will be impacted.

A word of caution, though, you must know your customers in order to fully leverage the up-sell opportunities – it’s key to up-sell and not upset…

I ran a quick straw poll around the office posing the question – “When was the last time you were up-sold to and was the experience a service enhancement or not?” I got a mixed bag in terms of a response, which I guess goes to show that we tread a fine line between enhancing the service and alienating your customers.

Martin Taylor

Martin Taylor

I think, unless we absolutely know our customer’s preference, that so long as common sense is used by the business rules and the customer service agents, then most customers will politely decline the offer.

Remember, Amazon have built their business on up-sell… and they’ve not done badly.

Please feel free to connect and we can discuss this and many other challenges in a meaningful way that is specific to your business.

With thanks to Martin Taylor at makepositive

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Author: Megan Jones

Published On: 2nd Sep 2015 - Last modified: 20th Oct 2017
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