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Upselling – the case for and against

12 August 2011 by
Upselling – the case for and against

Does upselling deter more than it encourages? Should the right product sell itself rather than being purchased because a customer is put on the spot? Two industry experts put the case for and against. Janie Stamford reports

The case for upselling

David McHattie, chief executive, Customer Service Benchmarkingwww.customerservicebenchmark.com

David McHattie
David McHattie
Upselling is a gift. It enriches the customer experience and meets their inner motivations for deciding to sample your services in the first place.

We do not sell a commodity. You can get a beer for 61p at Asda or a sirloin steak at Tesco for £4.07 because they do commodities very well. But we sell experiences. That's why guests choose our industry. We satisfy human emotional needs to relax, to socialise and to explore.

Upselling is a critical component of fulfilling that obligation. Every team member should be charged with up-selling, not just processing people and clearing tables; pulling pints or selling sides.

Upselling develops trust, long-term relationships and future sales. It can be done by seeking to understand the customer - their expectations, hopes and needs - then using your products and services to meet and exceed those needs. Upselling not only ensures delighted guests but it illustrates the points of differentiation from competitors and builds a brand.

Flogging chips, sides or doubles without a care of what the customer actually needs is not upselling; it's more like a bad case of rip-off Britain or Arthur Daley.

Businesses large and small invest a huge amount of time and resources in selecting and creating food, beverage or accommodation solutions and then don't tell their guests about them. They simply transact the people through their processes and systems.

Chasing and pushing to sell desserts, coffees and bottled water without any consideration to the desires of the individual customer is dangerous. That is not upselling, it is short selling.

It's clear from analysis by my company that knowledge exhibited by staff has a direct impact on the willingness of the guest to recommend. As a guest, I love it when I learn the origin of tapas at Camino, for example, or the benefits of wheatgrass at Crussh Juice Bars.

Guests feel better, they enjoy sharing their new knowledge with friends and they return for more great food and beverages where they get so much more than a commodity. Here's what a recent mystery shopper visit to Las Iguanas [Latin American casual dining chain] revealed:

"The waitress asked us questions and explained dishes I would never have tried. I trusted her - she was so knowledgeable and she seemed to care about us. She didn't disappoint and the food was brilliant. I love trying new things and she seemed to understand that. Her recommendations were superb and I can't wait to bring my mum."

Now that's a review most operators would gladly take and is a great example of upselling. Upselling is a gift and a must. Don't throw the baby out with the bath water based on a flawed understanding.

The case against upselling

Oisín Rogers, general manager, the Ship, Wandsworth, London SW18www.theship.co.uk

Oisin Roger
Oisin Roger
Publicans and restaurateurs are retailers. We take our customers' money, bring it to the bank, we pay our staff, landlords and suppliers and get left, hopefully, with a profit. The impact of our transactions defines our businesses. However, how the customer feels about those transactions dictates our real success.

That is because our customers generate our footfall by talking about us, recommending us and bringing their friends and acquaintances to us. How they feel about the contact they have with the outlet decides for them whether they are likely to detract or to advocate. This may be different for those lucky enough to have captive audiences - for example, restaurants in very busy locations or bars at special events.

Upselling is a retail sales technique designed to maximise customer spend at the point of sale. It's visible all over the high street and online, as a corporate directive it can be quite a blunt instrument. I've blogged about it before. It is a very powerful concept and successful implementation will increase average spend but it can be off-putting for customers if it's done in a scripted way.

Most people don't appreciate feeling condescended to or patronised by a company or their staff, which can often be the effect of an upselling campaign.

When a business has the right product, success is likely to follow if great customer service is provided alongside that. Upselling might add to short term takings but are these comfortable sales? Are customers purchasing because they are being put on the spot and do they feel pressurised into spending that extra cash, dreading a return? No customer wants to feel uneasy going to the cash desk. Who knows for sure?

I don't think it's a risk worth taking. I would prefer to know my customers have left feeling happy with their experience and are looking forward to returning. Putting customers off is likely to lead to a decrease in footfall and ultimately less profit for the business.

To be successful, I believe we need to seek happy transactions, where there is a big upside to the purchaser as well as to the business. In our pubs, that is often that intangible pleasantness, the connections with the customer or the personal touch. These can not necessarily be delivered through training; it is much more likely to be delivered through culture, ethos and a collective vision projected from within the business.

Good incremental selling is most often delivered in our businesses through passion, knowledge of our products and a good sense of what the customer might enjoy during their individual occasion.

A successful staff member will be able to guess what the client is likely to want. They will know that product really, really well and suggest it carefully, at the right time, in a friendly way. This method has a dual purpose - increased average spend and positive nurturing of advocacy.

Does upselling actually put customers off?

Gordon Cartwright I think upselling needs to be related with "completing and enhancing the experience" - simple as that. Selling unrelated products and services is when things begin to break down.

ace_chris Human nature dictates we dislike "being sold to", most people hate it. However, the successful upsellers are those who nicely wrap up the delivery in the form of suggestions or enhancements. In fact an aggressive upsell can actually undersell as you lose any chance of repeat business due to a bad experience.

fallowfieldsuk Does it not also depend on how the sell is made? Surely a customer asking for a dry martini could not possibly mind the gentle upsell of a premium gin: "Would you prefer Tanqueray, Bombay or house gin?"

CJ It is all about doing it the right way. If I go for a meal and I'm offered extra sides then I query whether the portion size is that inadequate that I need more. But "you may like to try" and "our dish of XX is great" is fine.

Zeddy Upselling is not a way of life, but a way of greed. It shows contempt for customers, and can frequently put them in a difficult and/or embarrassing position.

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