October 2008 - Feature: The Right Connection

Do you know how to get the most from your teleservices company? Industry experts reveal how to effectively leverage a call center’s expertise to make sure your DR campaigns are on target.

By David Lustig

Surprises can be fun. The birthday party you weren’t expecting, standing on the bathroom scale and finding that another pound has vanished, perhaps the boss letting you know you’re getting a bonus. These make your day.
Then there are the other kinds of surprises; such as a marketer not doing his or her homework before signing up with a teleservices company and finding out the partnership is not working out the way you had hoped. It happens. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

So what should you look for when connecting with a teleservices company?

“Experience in handling similar programs is paramount,” says Rod Kempkes, executive vice president of Omaha, Neb.-based West Direct, Inc. “There is no such thing as ‘basic services’ that is equivalent to a commodity. And when dealing with your customers, you do not want a ‘basic commodity.’

“So, first and foremost, see who else is using this company. Chances are that if a multimillion-dollar brand is using them for other services, they have passed the required due diligence to protect your brand.

Next is integration of services for your consumer/customer needs. Do they have integrated IVR, live agent and upsell offerings? Can you take advantage of home agents and higher performing soft offer brick-and-mortar training? Are they an organization with scale, compliance and industry-leading participation? Your customers demand more than ‘basic’ for service so your organization should as well.”

Are there any guidelines for how a marketer might wish to budget for these services?

“For inbound call handling,” says Vicky Walz, vice president, client services for Convergys Corp. of Cincinnati, Ohio, “the marketer should plan on paying a per-minute rate that can vary based on geography and volume. To estimate a per-call rate, estimate the average talk time associated with the offer and multiply it by the supplier’s per-minute rate.

“After benchmarking sales conversion, the supplier will often agree to put ‘skin in the game’ by evaluating a per-sale agreement. In those cases, the marketer and supplier will partner to understand factors that can affect sales conversion, including changes in media placement, offer and market conditions.”

One of the phrases that will come up in your discussions is an “abandon rate.” What’s that all about?

“Abandon rate is the percentage of calls made to/from prospective customers or by customers who are not intercepted by a live agent,” explains Matt Fisher, vice president and general manager, direct response at LiveOps headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif.

“It is critical in understanding how many calls are dropped,” he says. “In direct response, because spikes are dramatic, it is one of the reasons you need to do your homework when choosing a direct response partner. Every dropped call, or call that doesn’t connect, is a lost opportunity wasting good marketing dollars.”

What type of services are involved with inbound and outbound calls?

“For both inbound and outbound calls, many companies that use teleservices providers treat all prospects the same,” says Paul McConville, TARGUSinfo’s director, consumer-facing services in Vienna, Va.

“But all prospects are not created equal. Marketers would love to know which leads are promising and which are a waste of time and money, but few have tools to accomplish it. Conversion rates suffer when experienced salespeople chase bad leads, yet it happens every day because many companies cannot rank their leads according to how likely they are to convert to sales, place high-value orders or become loyal customers.”

Is technology a factor when choosing the right teleservices company?

“Much call center technology is about maximizing efficiency and getting the right call to the right person at the right time,” says Steve Boyazis, executive vice president of InfoCision Management Corporation of Akron, Ohio.

Boyazis adds that technology handles a variety of tasks, including skills-based routing, how long a call is in the queue, customer data and reporting, call blending and compliance.

“You want to make sure that you are partnering with someone who has, and will, continue to make the investment in technology. Your partner needs to be bulletproof.

“A pro-active partner with a good knowledge of information technology can add a whole new dimension to your call center efforts,” he continues. “The power of telemarketing is that it is completely transparent. With each and every call you have a yes, no or maybe conversation. Your partner should be looking at this as a gold mine of marketing data to constantly tweak the appeal, product offering, message or script,” adding that if you aren’t getting the reporting, data-mining, efficiency, skills-based routing you need, then your supplier isn’t the right technology partner.

Are there advantages to using home agents versus traditional call center agents?

West’s Kempkes says, “As to most things, there are advantages and disadvantages.

“The primary advantage that home agents have over brick-and-mortar agents is their ability to work more flexible hours, they are often more educated and can achieve higher quality scores. Because they do not have to travel to a site, it is relatively easy for a home agent to log on for an hour to handle a spike in traffic. This is advantageous when staffing for spike call volume driven by direct response media. Call center agents typically work consistent fixed schedules from week to week, making responding to DRTV volume more difficult.

“More often than not,” Kempkes continues, “only brick-and-mortar agents can experience the benefit of touching and operating the product they will be selling. They also benefit from interaction with you, the client, when you visit the site. Hands-on, face-to-face training with their sales coach and team leader is also a powerful plus.

“So which is it? Both home agents and brick-and-mortar have strong advantages and this is why America’s call center companies have recognized that a blended solution, using both, maximizes their clients’ results.”

Then, of course, there are the advantages and disadvantages of using a teleservices company that has offshore resources.

Walz at Convergys believes call center agents in countries such as India and the Philippines have demonstrated excellent sales conversion and call quality results.

“Suppliers must be adept at accent modification and culture training,” she says, “and once those two items are cared for, offshore agents can, and do, match U.S. agents in terms of sales conversion, call quality and customer experience, often at a lower cost to the marketer.”

Scott Richards, CEO of Dial 800 in Beverly Hills, Calif., says, “Difficult to understand TSRs is the major problem with outsourcing overseas. The harder it is to communicate, the less likely a purchase is made,” he says.

“The prudent thing for the marketer is to weigh the negatives created by the language barrier versus the cost of using overseas telemarketing services.”

How does the teleservices company assist a marketer with continuity programs, upsells and cross-sells?

“Teleservices agents can excel in each type of program with the right tools,” says TARGUS info’s McConville.

“In each case, marketers want to get the right message and offer to callers, but sometimes they have to resort to the one-offer-fits-all approach,” he says. “Automating scripts ensures that the client gets the right message and offer in front of callers, so long as the client or teleservices company can instantly evaluate them and determine which script is most relevant. It may sound like guesswork, but it’s not for teleservices providers who offer on-demand lead scoring. With this approach, clients predetermine which messages and offer, or even price/discount, goes to each of their own segments of prospects and customers.”

Be careful, there are common mistakes that can be made here.

“The most common is pushing the caller too hard, which can leave a negative impact on the client’s brand and lose them future sales opportunities,” says LiveOps’ Fisher. “You can also see returns and cancellations spike when this happens, which negatively affects your numbers.”

Another issue, he says, is the agents have a high conversion rate in the program, but on the backend of the deal, there are returns or the deal doesn’t come to fruition so the company ends up with a lower “stick rate,” and therefore, it’s not as profitable or it’s a loss.

“An experienced teleservices/call center will have data and business processes to ensure that these services work to the customer’s benefit. It is important to do your homework and work collaboratively to avoid this outcome,” notes Fisher.

How do marketers know if they’re getting a good ROI?

According to Dial 800′s Richards: “The close ratio (deals/calls) shows how many deals are closed relative to the number of calls received. There is no absolute number that is good or bad. It depends on the quality of the calls (are they qualified to buy the product/service), as well as the type of offer.

“A soft high price-point offer should have a lower close ratio and a lower price-point hard offer should have a higher close ratio. The close ratio alone tells only part of the story. The ultimate arbiter of success is always in the ROI.”

So how can marketers get the most out of a teleservices company?

Fred Shadding, vice president, business development at CCT Marketing in Hackensack, N.J., suggests, “I can’t stress enough. Treat your teleservices company as a partner, not a commodity.”

“Many marketers look at teleservices as a cost center. If you take this view, you’re leaving money on the table. Forward-thinking marketers are generating top-line growth from their in-house and outsourced contact centers by focusing on increasing conversions, cross-sell and upsell driven by automated [decision-making],” says McConville.

“The key to success is daily communication with the supplier about results, as well as ideas to enhance performance,” Walz suggests.
David Lustig is a contributing writer to Electronic Retailer magazine.

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