April 5, 2011, 2:50 PM

When it comes to call center agents, a meek, shy attitude doesn’t boost sales

Vermont Teddy Bear increases sales by encouraging agents to engage consumers.

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The Vermont Teddy Bear Co. sells furry fake animals that might appear meek, shy and oh so adorable, but the multichannel retailer recently has learned that when it comes to boosting sales and profits, a confident, engaging and extroverted attitude among call center agents is the key.

The retailer, No. 233 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, last August began implementing changes to its contact center practices after training from Envision Telephony Inc., a contact center services firm that Vermont Teddy Bear has used since 2005.  The goal was to get the retailer’s 300 or so full-time and seasonal contact center agents to persuade more consumers to buy accessory products—for instance, clothes for the toy mammals­—and also to opt for quicker and more expensive forms of shipping. The retailer makes money from shipping and enjoys fatter margins on, say, two-day delivery than standard ground, says Carrie Jenkins, Vermont Teddy Bear’s customer relations training and development supervisor.

“We traditionally had been a laid-back sales environment, with our agents having an attitude of being order takers,” she says. “But we stepped up by getting them engaged with customers and focusing on actual sales.”

This meant having agents, who handle about 275,000 calls a year, try to sell not only related products to customers, but also push premium shipping services such as overnight delivery. And that meant agents had to create a sense of urgency with the callers. For instance, instead of merely giving callers a dry description of shipping options, the agents would say something along the lines of “I can have that gift delivered tomorrow,” according to Jenkins.

The more aggressive contact center attitude had led to a nearly 30% increase in sales of premium shipping services for both Vermont Teddy Bear and Pajama Gram, a sister company that sells pajama apparel and bath goods online.

Vermont Teddy Bear operates one retail store, in Vermont, and Jenkins says that 80% of the retailer’s business comes from online sales that require no help from contact center agents.

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