Training a frontline team member to overcome a customer's objections may be one of the toughest coaching responsibilities on a manager's daily to-do list. All too often, managers and customer service representatives alike view customer objections as daily hindrances, negative exchanges -— or even personal attacks. But when a customer shows resistance to optional products and upgrades, either at the counter or over the phone, this is really an opportunity to offer additional information and greater customer satisfaction.

A three-step action plan can help create a positive and more productive environment while enhancing the customer's overall counter and reservation experience.

Step One: Set the Stage

Develop a process that begins with building rapport and being relationship-focused. Customer objections pose less of a challenge, or happen less often, when a customer is greeted positively and gets a sense that the company is relationship-focused. Speaking from firsthand experience, I am a much more receptive consumer after I am greeted professionally in a warm and sincere fashion.

When a service-based sales process begins by greeting and building rapport, the customer can relax and listen to the team's intended message. Giving your team the training and tools to support this process helps employees build confidence and understand the opportunities created by overcoming objections.

Build belief in all product offerings. One of the quickest ways to help team members overcome objections is to educate them on the benefits of all products offered. Bolstering belief allows confidence and credibility to grow.

Try sharing the following information with team members to help convince them that the products benefit all customers who walk through the door:

• Vehicle Belief Builder Consumer Trend -— Although the number-one class of vehicle booked in the industry is a compact car, the number-one-selling car size in North America is a full-size car or sport utility vehicle. This statistic indicates that most consumers actually prefer larger vehicles.

• Vehicle Belief Builder Homework Assignment -— Ask the team to keep an eye out for larger sedans, SUVs and vans on the road while driving to or from work. Ask them whether all of the larger sedans they spotted were filled to capacity. Most likely, the answer will be no. This assignment will build belief on offering top-end or the largest vehicles to every customer, regardless of the number of people in the party.

• Coverage Belief Builder Statistic -— Share with the staff the loss rates on loss damage waiver (LDW) claims. When a customer benefits from such a purchase, point this out to team members so they understand the true value of the product.

• Fuel Service Belief Builder -— Remind the team that 100% of customers have to fill up the tank upon return. Regardless of whether they have bought one of the pre-sold service options or made a stop at the local station, all customers are responsible for refueling. Like any additional service option, the main benefit is convenience. One of the most difficult team members to coach is the one who lacks belief. Asking the team for candid thoughts on whether they would purchase any of the products when they rent will easily draw out their thoughts on belief.

[PAGEBREAK] Don't take it personally. All too often, frontline representatives and call-center team members take a "no" to heart. This type of focus and personal attachment to the customer's objection leads to high-pressure sales techniques and a negative experience for the customer. Remind your team that the most effective frontline sales representatives and call-center team members deal with these statistical realities:

• 75% of customers do not upgrade. Focus on the 25% who will say yes.

• 65% of airport customers will say no to LDW and other coverage products. Focus on the 35% who are receptive.

• 60% of eligible phone inquiries will not make a reservation. Focus on the 40% who will commit to a reservation.

It's important that frontline and call-center team members truly understand that maximizing on opportunities is not about selling to 100% of customers; it's about offering all products to 100% of customers. The statistics mentioned above are only true if team members offer all products 100% of the time.

Set expectations. After you provide training and development tools to the team, don't be afraid to set expectations on every product opportunity. If you set monthly goals, team members will know what is expected of them and how achievable their new targets are. Break the targets into daily increments to help keep the team focused and motivated. The example below provides a sales target and coaching dialogue that would coincide with a 30% LDW goal on 200 rental opportunities in a month with 22 business days:

•A 30% LDW conversion rate on 200 rentals equals 60 LDW sales a month.

•The 60 LDW sales a month equal 15 a week.

•15 LDW sales a week equal less than three LDWs per day.

•"You would agree that this is a very achievable goal if we stay focused, right?"

By the 25th of each month, you can set team goals for the coming month to help keep team members motivated and on track. If you follow up on the 15th of each month, you will demonstrate your commitment to each team member’s development. [PAGEBREAK]

Step Two: "Walk the Talk" and Execute

Perfect practice makes perfect. Establishing a practice and coaching routine will keep the team consistent and confident. Remind the team that every successful professional team, leader, musician and actor does not settle for second-rate or just good enough. Professional people strive for perfection. In a four- to six-minute counter transaction or a two- to three-minute phone reservation, the smallest details and dialogues can mean the difference between a yes or a no.

Practice helps the team stay on track with confident -— not overly passive —- dialogue with the customer. Listen, listen, listen and listen. One misconception is that the best sales people are the best talkers. This is not entirely accurate. The best sales people are the best listeners. Coaching team members to listen for a soft no, versus a firm no or specific objection, will help them overcome objections more confidently.

Ask team members to log specific types of customer responses or objections over a short period so they can discuss the results with you during weekly coaching sessions. This will bring more substance and enthusiasm to perfect-practice coaching sessions. The objections below are just a few of the typical responses a frontline team member might face on any give day:

• "What's that?" -- This response presents an opportunity to inform the customer.

• "How much is it?" -- This is an opportunity to place customer benefits before price.

• "I have my own coverage." -- This is an opportunity to share product benefits and explain how they complement customers' personal or business coverage.

•"My credit card covers me." -- This is an opportunity to educate the consumer on the benefits of credit card coverages and internal coverages.

•"That stuff is a rip-off!" -- This is an opportunity to explain the overall benefits and misconceptions in the marketplace. Preparing team members for common objections will help them better communicate your products' benefits and provide better service.

Let the opening dialogue put your products into a position to win. How many of your customers trust car rental operators? How many of them have an open mind about incremental product offerings? Unfortunately, the answer is not many. But if you implement a process that helps prepare team members for common questions and objections, they can present your products concisely while having the customer's full attention. Having the customer solicit more information on your products will draw out specific or softer objections.

Remove objection accelerators. Coverage explanation sheets, fleet picture guides, pictures of damaged cars, fuel warnings of $5.25 a gallon on return on or near the counter can create an unpleasant atmosphere for the customer. Keeping these out of sight for future or specific uses will allow the customer to give your frontline team member their entire attention. Avoiding terms like insurance, accident, or decline during any stage of the rental process also helps keep customers more open-minded to your team's message. [PAGEBREAK]

Step Three: Maintain the Environment.

Coach and provide positive reinforcement. Keeping team members focused on overcoming objections takes time and patience. If you consistently coach them on your defined sales process and dialogues, they will stay positive. Remember to acknowledge their efforts to use the process, even if the customer says no. This will help keep them on track and more positive when dealing with future objections. Implement an incentive that promotes performance and good customer service.

A well-written incentive plan can motivate team members to stay focused on the customer. Setting a yield-based incentive will make it easier to coach the team member on revenue and sales percentage. A multiple-tier system also lets frontline and call-center teams learn how to advance to the next level. Overcoming customer objections is a big part of that.

You can also help establish expectations by setting customer service goals, based on the number of sales complaints to rentals. Use test-calling as a tool to boost consistency.

Test-calling your call center and counters is a great way to keep informed on how consistent your staff members are and how focused they are on overcoming objections. Below are just a few of the suggested comments a manager can make over the phone:

•What types of cars do you have? Ask to determine whether the team uses confident dialogue versus passive talk.

•Wow! That rate is too high! State to see how strong the team’s belief is.

• What is your coverage? Ask to determine how concise the team is.

•I don’t think I need that coverage. Ask to determine whether team members can distinguish a firm no from a soft no.

Test-calling, if conducted consistently and in an organized fashion, can become a part of a counter and call-center incentive. The ability to incorporate test-call results into the monthly goal-setting is a powerful tool.

Lead by example. Developing a good relationship with the team takes time. Team members need to learn the importance of executing on every opportunity. That's much easier if they witness first-hand their manager on the frontline "walking the talk" and implementing the process. Sometimes it's just as important for the team to see a manager get a no and stay positive and collected, instead of getting an easy yes.

The three areas of opportunity -— setting the stage, walking the talk and maintaining the environment -— provide a full-circle approach to helping your team overcome objections more effectively. If your team understands the importance of the opportunities in front of them, they can stay motivated and focused on your operation's future growth. The little details of overcoming objections ultimately lead to big-time results.

Ken Stellon is regional director for the Khoury Group.