By Nicolas Klein, Associate Research fellow at LATTS (Laboratoire techniques, Territoires et Société) - February 20, 2018
Digital is Revolutionising Commercial Sales Organisation and with it Customer Relations Roles. In his research into sociology, Nicolas Klein questioned the future of those sales personnel who are often referred to as “customer advisors”, basing much of his work on observations he made in various Orange retail outlets. He explains how their professional identity is being redefined.
How is digital transforming customer relations roles?
The digitalisation of customer relations is having a variety of impacts on existing customer advisor roles (in-store, call centre-based and the emerging web-advisor role). It is seeing tasks being distributed differently between customers and sales professionals as well as between customers and the company. The commercial transaction itself (sale) is increasingly migrating to digital platforms, meanwhile the service is provided in-store, over the phone or online on message boards, forums and social networks. Companies today see their customers as better informed and more autonomous in their shopping patterns, looking to consult sales personnel when they want advice or assistance using the platform, but not for a sale since this would be considered too forward. This perception of changing customer behaviour is integrated into their strategies and is significantly affecting the way customer advisors operate, the way retail spaces are organised and the way teams are managed.
How are traditional customer advisor roles evolving?
We are seeing sales activity move into customer relations territory – a phenomenon that presents itself differently in call centres and in-store.
Sales opportunities for customer advisors working in call centres are diminishing due to a sharp and continued reduction in the number of phone calls compounded by a reduction in the percentage of sales-related calls. This trend adversely impacts sales staff’s variable pay component, which is much more focused on selling and the potential to make a sale on every call when compared to their in-store counterparts. Despite the efforts of managers in technical support centres to progressively integrate customer service satisfaction indicators (bill verification, options management, etc.) into their advisors’ variable pay components, it remains a position under pressure.
What about in-store? How is the digitalisation of customer relations affecting advisors there?
Up until a few years ago, the store was the spiritual home of sales. This model is changing. As part of a strategy that is no longer focused on conquest but instead on satisfying people and making loyal customers out of them, Orange has developed a new concept in digital shopping – the Smart Store – conceived as a “space dedicated to the customer experience, where people can discover new ways of using products” and where sales take a back seat. Customers go there to discover things, watch demos, get advice, ask for help using products – it is an after-sales service and not a place where you buy stuff. This concept is aimed at redirecting the needs of the customer almost exclusively towards service and support, both before and after the sale, on the assumption that the transaction will take place online...In so doing, it is recreating and transmitting internet models and ways of thinking in the non-digital world. Following the example of the giants of the e-commerce world, it is helping Orange predict what the future of sales will look like. This approach is revolutionising the role of sales staff by moving their activity elsewhere. It is revolutionising the way teams are managed and the way work is organised. Yet if it is to work, companies needs more training, fewer barriers within the organisation, new means of enabling staff working in different departments to know about each other’s roles and share access to the same customer details (centralised CRM), as well as new methods of evaluating the performance of sales personnel…
Our findings show that, unlike web-advisors, in-store customer advisors with a “sell more” as opposed to a “sell better” attitude find it difficult to adapt to this new service style, despite the fact that both are providing sales-related services.
What are the key features of the emerging web-advisor role?
Web-advisors advise customers in the digital space: they respond to customers’ requests for information and assistance on forums and social networks and are increasingly active on community blogs set up by customers, too. They deal with a much wider range of requests compared to a telephone advisor and act as a dispatcher of sorts, directing the customer towards the right member of staff to help them with their query and managing the relationship until the customer gets what they want. Although they work in sales insofar as they answer sales-related questions and their answers might result in a sale, they never actually try to make one themselves. They see themselves as a “non-seller” and this is how they present themselves – they even use it as a trust-winning strategy with customers. They use the language and tone of the digital platforms on which they are active and not those of the company that employs them. Web-advisors do not base the value of their work on the end-goal of the customer relationship, but rather on the relationship itself. These features make web-advisors a small-scale test case for the sales model towards which Orange is moving.
Given these changes, how would you define the professional identity of the customer advisor of tomorrow?
In the future, we won’t be asking salespeople to stop selling, just to sell differently. The role of salesperson will not disappear altogether. Salespeople will continue to sell, only there will be a balance shift between the selling process as a transaction, as a service and as a consultation. In managerial discourse, the sale has long been reduced to little more than the transaction itself, despite the fact that it integrates all of the various other dimensions which numerous sales personnel have already integrated. This depth to the role enables all varieties of sales profiles (incentivised by turnover/ incentivised by service/ incentivised to give impartial advice) to coexist and assimilate to ongoing changes.