A lot of companies think about customer service as a cost center.

Investments made in customer service tend to focus on gaining efficiencies to answer more calls, close tickets faster, or enable customers to solve their own problems. Companies do this because they don’t see a business opportunity within customer service. That can be a very costly assumption, since customer service has been shown to be a remarkable source of referrals and sales opportunities.

Here’s how.

Customers Make the Best Salespeople

Customer referrals are one of those rare win-win-win scenarios. You win because you get a new qualified lead with relatively little effort. The customer wins because it is inherently rewarding to share good advice—and maybe you have an implicit reward systems for referrals too. The new customer wins because she is introduced to your wonderful product or service that solves her problem.

Referrals make great leads. According to Ken Krogue of InsideSales.com, referred leads can be up to 36x more valuable than a lead generated via cold call, and 4x more valuable than a web-generated lead. Not only do they convert well, they carry a higher value. The Wharton School of Business reports that referred customers have a 16% to 25% higher lifetime value.

It’s not just about new customer referrals, though. A positive service experience is a critical moment during which a customer feels especially good about your company. If you’re smart, you can turn that into an upsell or cross-sell.

Listen and Learn From Customers

This is not a time for pushy salespeople who are following a talk track and trying to hit a quota. Selling through customer service requires listening to what customers have to say, letting them tell you what problems they’re having, and helping them solve the problem. It’s a “non-sale sale.” Customers are vulnerable when they’re dealing with your support team, so if they feel like they’re being sold too aggressively, they’ll recoil and back away.

Don’t just sit on a call and wait for a customer to say a trigger word and interrupt, “We have an app for that!” You need to act like a doctor, and get a customer to tell you where they’re hurting. Sometimes the best treatment is just some solid advice and a free lollipop. Other times, it’s prescribing medicine they need to make the pain go away—your product.

Turn Stressful Moments Into Opportunities

It’s a little backwards to think that companies would invest so much money into the service department with the goal of having fewer or shorter customer interactions. That’s where you learn! If you have a service outage or send an errant email (everyone’s done it, it’s okay), take those opportunities to reach out to your customers. That kind of proactive outreach can show that you care, and it creates an opportunity for customers to tell you something they otherwise may not have.

Maybe your email about a broken feature reminded a customer that they had a question about a related issue. Suddenly you’re learning about something that matters to that customer, and maybe it’s something they’re willing to pay to get handled.

Make the Most of Your Hero Moments

Think about what’s really happening in a customer service interaction: a customer is having a problem, and cares enough about getting it taken care of that she reaches out to you for help. By resolving the issue, you not only put that problem to rest, you’re helping the customer reaffirm her choice to use your product or service. The transition of a troubled customer to a satisfied one should not be wasted. This customer is feeling especially great about your company right now. Why not ask her to post a review, refer a friend, or join your advocate program?


Remember, the people who contact your service team are typically on either extreme of the spectrum: they are your most active users trying to get every bit of value from the product, or they are your most dissatisfied users who are wondering why they bought your product in the first place. Keeping power users happy and converting churn risks into happy customers certainly sounds like a worthy business opportunity to me.



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