Words That Sell

The words you say, as well as the ones you don’t say, can make a big impact on your sales results.

Insurance Company Example

Several months ago, I had the opportunity to work with a very large international insurance company. Much of its business is conducted via phone, with both inbound and outbound contact centers. Both centers track the agents’ closing rates as a key performance indicator. The inbound agents typically serve the customer and then, if appropriate, try to up-sell them with additional coverage or policies. The outbound agents receive a daily list of customers and prospects that are nearing the end of their current policy, and are tasked with trying to get them to renew. In both cases, the agents have various offers and suggested scripts they can use to try to close the sale. 

This insurance company deployed a speech analytics solution, which analyzes every word and phrase of every call recorded. The focus for leveraging speech analytics was placed on trying to determine why some agents excel while others fail at selling. The company analyzed customer calls that ended in a sale and compared them with calls that didn’t end in a sale. The solution generated a report comparing the actual words and phrases that differed between the two call types. 

What the company discovered was surprising. One of the questions agents could ask the customer when trying to sell car insurance was how many miles they typically drive a year. What seems like a basic question, and one that we’ve all been asked is apparently not the norm in all scenarios. While some agents were asking the question within the first minute of the conversation, others didn’t ask at all—or inquired several minutes into the call. What the company found was a significant difference in sales conversion rates. The agents that made the query regarding mileage early in the call experienced up to 50% higher average closing rates than the ones who asked several minutes into the call. Part of the explanation for the improvement was that customers who drive less are entitled to a discount, which is already taken into account as their risk of an accident is lower. 

With this insight, the company defined a simple “mileage” speech analytics category to track exactly how often each agent was asking the question. Taking into account all the necessary coaching, training and monitoring, it estimated the return on investment for this simple process and behavioral change would have more than a 300% return within the first year—all from a few words!

Financial Institution Example

The insurance example isn’t unique. In some cases, even a single word or phrase can have a huge impact. For instance, an international bank that I have worked with used speech analytics for analyzing the success and failure rate of up-sell attempts. This was an inbound contact center, and once the agent completed the customer’s original request, s/he was then guided to try and up-sell the customer with additional financial products such as savings or CD accounts. One unexpected insight was that the calls that didn’t end in a successful up-sell had a much higher rate of mentioning the simple question: “May I have another moment of your time?” This was actually the phrase that appeared in the script agents were given to transition the service part of the call into an up-sell attempt. The most intriguing part was that while the average conversion rate of all up-sell attempts was roughly 15% for calls that contained this transition phrase, the success rate dropped to just over 6%.

In hindsight, this made sense. This transition phrase indicated to the customer that his/her service request was complete, and now the agent was going to try and sell something additional. At this point, most customers would say, “I can’t stay on the line” and would hang up. 

Some agents figured this out themselves over time and either consciously or subconsciously discontinued asking for another moment of their time. Instead they would transition the call more naturally without indicating that the service element of the call was over. Some would say things like, “I see you have extra funds in your checking account where you could be earning interest.” This was a way to disguise the up-sell attempt as a continuation of the service the agent was genuinely providing to the customer. This strategy worked extremely well—for some agents, the conversion rates tripled to well over 40%. Unfortunately, the successful agents didn’t share their secret with the rest of the team. They may have not even been aware of what they were doing differently. 

The speech analytics solution surfaced these “promoting” and “detracting” words and phrases automatically, and validated their impact across thousands of sales calls. Once these surfaced, it was fairly simple to readjust the scripts for all agents. For this center, an increase of each percent of conversion rate meant well over $1 million of additional revenue per year.

Many say that selling is a combination of art and science. The “art” part may be elusive, but the “science” can boil down to specific words and phrases that can have a huge impact. What you say, when you say it and how you say it—can significantly impact how much you sell.

2 comments about "Words That Sell ".
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  1. Arlene Gleicher from Arlene Gleicher Marketing Communications, February 27, 2013 at 10:18 a.m.

    Yes, I have found choosing words and phrases carefully for scripts is incredibly important. You included great examples.

  2. D. daniel Ziv from Verint, February 28, 2013 at 7:55 a.m.

    Thanks Arlene,
    The catch is that the words that sell and don’t sell typically change over time. I’m sure there was a time when the phrase “may I have another moment of your time” did work for this bank. To be most effective in selling we should constantly monitor which words work and which are no longer effective and guide our sales people and agents accordingly!

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