Seven Tips for Call Center Upselling
Illustration by Shirley Wu

I have had the same home phone provider for 25 years. I subscribed to that same company’s Internet service 18 years ago. Three years ago, I became a mobile phone customer with that same firm. This spring, I saw a flier in my mailbox advertising that same company’s TV service. So, I called and switched from cable TV to Internet TV. I am glad I did, since bundling all of my telecom/TV services saves over $1,000 a year versus using different providers.

I realized I could have saved $2,000 since this TV service’s debut two years ago. I was upset. Even though I had called that company several times to ask questions about my phone bill or make adjustments to my long-distance plan, their agents had never taken the time to explain their TV service to me properly.

You never want your customers saying, “I didn’t know you offered ___ product.” Instead, train your agents to spot upselling opportunities so your customers can choose from the full range of products and services.

The following are seven tips to help your agents upsell more effectively. These ideas can be used during new-hire training or with veteran agents at team meetings.

1. Earn the right to upsell by handling the caller’s initial question or problem.
There’s an old sales adage: “People buy from people they trust.” Build that trust by helping your callers with their reason for calling. By dealing with their initial question or concern in a competent, friendly way, your agents will establish credibility as someone who can help.

2. Listen for upselling clues spoken by your customer.
Do not randomly pitch products to your caller. Instead, listen to what they are saying to find clues for possible upsells. For instance, if a client says, “I just hope my boss doesn’t move that project deadline and ruin my vacation,” a possible upsell is travel interruption insurance.

Here is a training exercise to help your agents spot upselling opportunities: Play the first part of an audio clip of an actual customer call. Then ask your agents, “Based upon what the caller has said, what are some products and services that could help them?” Repeat the process using different calls to train your agents to listen for sales opportunities.

Here’s a second key tip: Provide a job aid at team meetings listing customer “trigger phrases.” These are key words indicating a caller is a good candidate for a certain product. This handout should have two columns: “If a customer says…” then “Offer this product or service…” Agents can then pin the handout next to their computer monitor as a reminder.

3. Look for upselling opportunities based on the customer’s account.
Have your agents analyze their caller’s account for another source of upselling clues. During training (or a team meeting), show live screenshots or screen captures from an account. Circle or highlight where the agent should look to spot upselling opportunities. Ask them what products they would suggest to help that client. For instance, if a caller’s account shows a dramatic increase in usage over the past three months, the agent may want to suggest changing their rate plan.

A more advanced training exercise is called, “Find the Buried Treasure.” Ask agents to look up a specific account on their computer. Do not tell them where to look on the customer’s account. Instead, ask them to find specific information within the customer’s account information that suggests an upselling opportunity.

4. Plant seeds during the call.
Think back to the last time you called a service provider. It could be your phone company, insurance company or bank. Once your initial question or problem was solved, how receptive were you to an upselling pitch at the end of the call? If you are like most people, you just wanted to finish the phone call and get off the line. After all, you had already gotten the help you needed.

The same is true when your customers call. Once they get the help they need, they want to end the call. So, do not leave the upsell for the end.

Instead, plant seeds throughout the call to create interest so the caller wants to stay on the line. For instance, early in the call say, “I can help you with your question. Based on your account, I also noticed a way for you to save money on your service. We can discuss that once I’ve fixed this initial issue for you.” That gives the customer a benefit for staying on the line. They should be curious about how they can save time, save money or make money with your suggestion.

5. Ask the right follow-up questions.
After your agent has spotted clues about a particular upsell opportunity, they need to ask questions to confirm if the customer is a good candidate for that item. For instance, if the customer says, “I need it delivered quickly,” your agent can ask, “How soon do you need it delivered? We have same-day and next-day delivery options.”

Here is an exercise to train your agents to ask the right questions for every upsellable product or service. Break your agents into groups of three. Once that is done, assign a different product or service to each team. Then, ask each team to brainstorm all the questions they need to ask to qualify someone for that purchase. Have each team write each question on a separate sticky note. Then ask them to stick their questions on the wall in the order they would ask them during a call. Tell them they can arrange their questions into branches. For example, if a customer answers “A” then all the logical follow-up questions can be arranged under that answer. And if the customer answers “B” then all of those questions should be grouped under that answer. By the time the exercise is done, each team should have a flowchart of the questions they need to ask to qualify a caller for a particular upsell.

To wrap up this training exercise, have each team present their flowchart of questions to the entire class, so everyone benefits from this knowledge. You can also capture these flowcharts and reprint them for your department.

6. Customize your benefit statements.
You may have heard the old adage, “Features tell, benefits sell.” However, benefits only sell if they relate back to your customer’s identified need. Often, sales training programs focus on features and benefits in isolation, rather than relating them back to the customer’s needs. That leads to a “shotgun” approach where agents spew every known feature and benefit of an item. As a result, customers feel confused and overwhelmed.

To improve your team’s sales results, train your agents to choose one or two benefits and tie them back to their customer’s needs. Here are two examples:

Example 1: The agent says, “This rate plan will help you save money on long-distance calls.” How specific is that? How likely is the customer to buy?Example 2: The agent says, “Since you mentioned that you call England twice a week, the rate plan I recommend will reduce your bill by $35 a month. That saves you over $400 a year, which you can spend on other things.”


How likely is the customer in example 2 to buy? The more specific your benefit statements, the more likely you are to make the sale.

Here is an exercise to train your agents to give specific benefits that relate back to the customer’s needs: Play back the first half of a recorded call and pause the recording. Then ask your agents, “Based upon what the customer has said, what additional products can we upsell to make their life easier or help them make money?” Listen to their answers and then ask a follow-up question: “Keeping that caller’s needs in mind, tell me how your product will help me address their specific problem.” As the facilitator, be ruthless in insisting your agents give only benefits that relate to that customer’s identified needs.

7. Ask for the sale.
In a decade of consulting, I have noticed that asking for the sale is the hardest area for most inbound agents. They are very customer service-focused, so they do not want to appear “pushy” or “rude” by asking for the sale. On the other hand, if an agent has listened to their caller, asked the right questions and suggested the right product, they need to go the extra mile and encourage the caller to buy.

You don’t need to do be pushy. Just ask if your caller has any further questions. If they do not, ask a “process” question such as, “Should we ship this to your address on file, or is there another location for delivery?” That is a lower pressure way to encourage your caller to make a buying decision.