Online shoe and clothing retailer Zappos thinks customer communication is so crucial that inbound sales calls should last indefinitely.
That’s an unusual stance when inbound call strategies generally dictate that time is money. Theoretically, the longer a rep spends closing a sale, the more revenue he’s missing from other customers responding to call marketing campaigns.
So who’s right? Both outlooks have their pros and cons, and the method that’s best for your company depends on the nature of your brand and the product(s) you’re trying to sell.
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Proponents of the talk-as-long-as-necessary philosophy wish to emphasize their excellent customer service, and they view lengthier sales conversations as opportunities to gather more information about their audience. Advantages purportedly include increased brand loyalty, an ability to gather additional valuable information about customers and better retention of agents.
Such strategies can be difficult to grasp for number crunchers more attuned to metrics such as average handling time (AHT) and average talk time (ATT). Still, they appear to work for Amazon-owned Zappos, which racks up some $2 billion in annual sales after 16 years of continual growth, and for clothing retailer L.L. Bean, which realized $1.6 billion in 2016 sales. Presumably, both have run the numbers and determined that the strategies pay off.
At Inc 5000’s 2016 conference, Zappo’s CEO Tony Hsieh had the following to say about the importance of having an 800 number easily seen on your website: ”
“… I ask questions like do I need to make my 800 number bigger on our website. Believe it or not but focusing on the phone is still one of the smartest things you can do to improve your business. “
At Zappos, new hires undergo five weeks of training before working at a call center that logs around 5,000 calls daily. Agents work without scripts, quotas, upselling techniques or time limits. One record call lasted six hours.
“Zappos views the inbound call experience as a branding device and urges customers to call about nearly everything,” explains a recent study by the Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center (DVIRC). “(It) made a deliberate decision to redirect its marketing budget towards delivering exceptional customer service with a great company culture, in hopes the move would help the business thrive where others had failed.”
Maine-based L.L. Bean, which sells primarily by inbound calls, similarly encourages agent conversations. Over some holiday seasons, it employs 3,000 agents who handle about 155,000 calls daily.
“Agents are trained to spend whatever time is necessary to make every customer feel valued,” notes the DVIRC study. “Despite this conversational approach (or perhaps because of it), agents maintain low average order times.”