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10 ways to convert customer service into sales

February 14, 2007

A key factor in the success of HelpSpot has been the ability to turn customer requests into sales. As a small software company there's simply no budget for a sales force, nor am I that interested in having one. I'd much rather work in a consultative manner with my customers and through that process drive sales. Here are a few items which have worked for me in turning my customer service requests into sales.

1. Respond Fast

There's no better way in my opinion to convert customer service requests into sales than responding fast. A fast response to a customers inquiry isn't just a nicety, it directly leads to sales. In fact, I'd say it's probably responsible for more HelpSpot sales than anything on this list or any advertising I've done.

Fast responses show you're serious about customer support. It's also very likely that a fast response will help set you apart from the crowd with potential customers since your competition is most likely not responding as fast as you. Finally, a fast response will simply leave a good impression in the customers mind.

2. Cross sell products

Whenever you are responding to a customer service request you should always be looking to cross sell. Nothing heavy handed, but if you have a product or service that it sounds like the customer could use be sure to mention it in your response to their request.

3. Cross sell cool features

Yes, you must cross sell features. This is critical. Every product has a few key features which are unique. In HelpSpot's case one I like to cross sell is Live Lookup. It's an API that allows customers to do real time data retrieval from CRM systems into HelpSpot so staff can access customer data from within HelpSpot.

It's a great feature, but since no other help desk software has it (that I know of) customers are not looking for it. I'll often mention it to potential and existing customers during the back and forth of a customer service request. More often than not they were not aware of the feature and find it to be very powerful once they try it out. Live Lookup has made more than a few sales for me, sales which may not have been made if I hadn't mentioned it.

It's hard when you have a stack of requests waiting for responses to take the extra time to write a few cross sell sentences, but it's time well spent.

4. Always be the last response

Never let the customer be the last response on an email correspondence. I know this sounds silly, but if they write a final email saying "Hey, thanks for the help". Write back and say no problem, anytime, let me know if you need anything else. Yes, we're trying to go over the top here. Again, we want to leave a lasting impression. Optimizing the humanity out of your support email process is not the way to go. It only takes a few seconds to respond back.

5. Avoid overly prepared responses

I know I'm treading on delicate ground here since I make a product that makes it very easy to have loads of prepared response! Never the less try and avoid fully canned responses except for the most common of questions. It's almost always possible to tell that a response is canned and it can leave a bad taste in the customers mouth. Instead, I use lots of partial responses. So I'll have a paragraph of this and a paragraph of that. This way I can write the intro and end, but insert the body from a prepared response.

6. Know who you're dealing with and respond accordingly

As much as possible try and know who you're dealing with during a request. Is this the person who downloaded the trial? Is it the president of the company? Is it a blogger? Is it someone you've heard of before? If you can add a personal touch to the email it can be a great way to extend the conversation. It also affects how you may cross sell other products and features.

7. Customer care discounts

Great customer service is knowing when to admit you're wrong. Sometimes you screw up. Sometimes things just go the wrong way or you hit some flat out bad luck. No matter the cause, when this happens you need to make amends to your customer. Giving out a discount or offering something for free can be a great way to do this.

For instance, I've given out 10% off coupons on several occasions where a potential customer had a very hard time with the installation of a trial. In some cases these coupons cost me hundreds of dollars, but it was the right thing to do. In addition, almost every person I've offered that coupon to has ended up purchasing. It's better to have 90% of the revenue than 0.

8. Staff product knowledge and training

For most MicroISV's and small ISV's this isn't an issue, but as the company grows making sure your support staff is well trained in your products is key. Not just in how to fix common problems, but in understanding how they're used day in and day out. There's no chance of them cross selling without having a strong understanding of how the products work.

9. Personalize everything

Stand behind your product. When you send out general notification type emails to your customers and trial users they should come from you. Of course these messages are automated, but they should have your name and contact information included. Making your organization seem more personal and approachable is a huge advantage for your company. It separates your company form the faceless organization of your competitors into one where customers actually know the name and email of the company president and feel much more comfortable approaching you with comments and questions.

10. Data Mining

Your customer request history is a treasure trove of valuable information on how to improve your product to increase sales. Making sure you use a help desk product that can report on this information is critical (product pitch: HelpSpot's reporting tags feature makes this easy). Over the long term eliminating error prone operations, installation issues, and adding key features are important ways to drive sales. The most effective way to find these is to track and data mine your customer request history to identify these issues.

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