Competing for new revenue streams

by David Saxby, president, Measure-X

Every utility looks for ways to increase revenues and selling products beyond traditional power generation is one option. Some are selling a high-speed internet service and if not, you probably are considering it.

This poses a challenge, however. An internet service may be your first venture into selling a nontraditional product. What if you have competition in your area for high-speed internet connections? How do you compete?

The answer is promotion, knowledge and training. Following are ideas on how to make that happen.

Promotion

* On-hold messaging — I regularly call utilities and am put on hold. Often, I sit in silence. Fill that void with a recorded message promoting your product or service. Describe the benefits to the customer.

* Voice mail — Customers leave messages for your company and your employees every day. Add a brief, upbeat promotion at the end of the voice message letting customers know about your new service.

* Celebrate — Hang a large product-promotion banner on the outside of the building. Decorate the lobby with balloons and brightly colored signs. Be sure all customer service representatives wear colorful promotion buttons. Have the product or service set up in the lobby so customers can give it a test drive.

* Marketing on wheels — Your company vehicles travel around your community every day. Turn them into moving billboards that promote the product. Make it eye catching and easy to read at a distance

* Target marketing — Identify areas in your community that do not have access to high-speed internet. Determine where the local phone company does not have equipment to provide that service. People in those areas are hungry for a fast connection, so send direct mail marketing pieces that are targeted to them.

* Web site — Your company website is the most inexpensive place to promote your product. Put a promotion banner on your home page with a link to another page that answers the most commonly asked questions your customers would have about the product or service.

* Is your marketing working? — Do the newspaper and TV ads, radio spots and bill stuffers make the phone ring? Each time a customer calls about a product, the CSR should ask how the customer heard about it. Track customer responses to know which marketing approach is generating the best results. What are the demographics for each inquiring customer? Does one marketing tool draw more qualified customers than another?

Knowledge

* Product knowledge — Your employees are selling a new technology that they may not understand. That doesn’t allow them to sell it with confidence. Install the product at your CSRs’ homes so they can learn about the product and experience its benefits first hand. Give to it to them at cost, for free or as a 90-day trial. When your employees understand how great this product is, they will become passionate sales people.

* Field installation — Customers will have questions about installation. Employees who sell the service should go in the field with technicians so they can see what an installation involves.

* Outside the plant — As you market the product, your people in the field are bound to encounter customers who are interested in the service. Your marketing department must make sure these employees are knowledgeable about the product and have written information to provide to customers.

Training

* The phone is ringing, now what? — Your utility has invested in marketing the product to get the phone ringing, but are your CSRs ready? CSRs play a critical role in assisting customers with the buying decision. Training will give them the skills they need to effectively sell the service.

Here are aspects of training to think about:

Do CSRs know how to build rapport with the customer? Have they qualified the customer to know the customer’s knowledge about the product and to determine the appropriate information to provide? Do they ask the right questions to understand the customer’s needs and then explain the benefits of high-speed internet? Can they effectively deal with an objection by a customer who says your competition is selling it for less? Once the customer is sold on the benefits, do CSRs ask for the business?

* Coaching — Selling is a learned skill that requires practice and coaching. Supervisors need to become coaches to make sure their staff has the skills to be confident in selling the product.

* Recognition and incentives — For many utilities, selling the product may be their CSRs’ first experience with promoting a product. This can be a difficult situation. Create a recognition and incentive program to reward CSRs for their efforts.

David Saxby is president of Measure-X, a firm that specializes in providing training on customer service skills to utility companies. He can be reached at 888-644-5499 or at david@measure-x.com.

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