Many would argue that it’s easier to clinch a deal face-to-face, but there are a few things that businesses can do to make inbound calls a marketing success too. In this article, David Barrow shows just what customer analytics can do for call centres.
In recent years it seems that the reputation of the telemarketing industry, and call centres in particular, has taken quite a knock from its negative portrayal in the UK media. The BBC’s television programme Brassed Off Britain found direct marketing to be Britain’s number one consumer gripe back in 2004.
And the public’s irritation with this form of marketing has been demonstrated ever since by the increasing numbers of people signing up to the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), which now has a membership of over 10 million people.
The problem for the call centre industry has been that while the majority of organisations operate good practices, the reputation of the sector as a whole has been tarnished through its association with the bad practices of a few. This especially relates to the practices of cold calling and badly managed cross-selling, which have become notorious among various sections of the UK press.
The question that many members of the industry are asking is what can be done to resolve this situation? There is little doubt the responsibility falls in some part to that minority of call centres that are currently operating bad practices and are not changing their ways. However, it is clear that developments in customer analytic technologies and new marketing techniques can have a real part to play not only in improving the reputation of the telemarketing industry, but also in helping call centre managers to see substantial returns of investment (ROI) both in terms of physical investment and improving the customer’s experience.
A new approach
In many ways the technology world has been playing catch-up over the past few years in its attempt to improve the relationship that the call centre has with its customers. But today, finally, new forms of customer analytics are now enabling call centre managers and telemarketers to implement ‘micro-inbound telemarketing’ and, in so doing, build up a much more detailed picture of the customer – one which presents them as an individual rather than a member of a demographic group to the call centre handler.
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Rather than being purely geared around one factor such as age, this profile is based upon a variety of details, including previous customer interaction experience, traditional customer information – for example, billing details – and real-time answers to questions asked by the call centre handler. The software then presents further on-screen questions to the agent, enabling them to gain further information about the customer’s needs and, as a result, provide them with services that will appeal to them.
With this technique, the ‘C’ in CRM should arguably now stand for ‘conversation’ rather than customer. The customer will finally feel they can control the level of interaction they have with the call centre, developing a relationship between themselves and the service provider that simulates conversation – just like old friends who speak now and then on the phone. Conversely, through this greater understanding, call centre handlers will be able to offer the customer tailored service and hence avoid an embarrassing and potentially damaging cross-sell situation.
I can already hear you all saying: “This approach sounds great, but the customer will never contact us”. The reality, however, is quite the opposite. Outbound mailing can be used to invite a call, and once the customer views the call centre as competent in offering them relevant and sometimes cost-saving services, they are more likely to keep in contact to ensure they have the current best deal. Follow-up outbound mailing can maintain the ‘conversation’ from one call to another. And as a result of this new strategy, sales will increase because call centre handlers will be talking to customers about services they want to hear about at a time they want to hear about them.
Putting theory in to practice
The advantages of the implementation of this technology can clearly be seen in the example set by O2.
Competition in the mobile phone market is rife and what can give a company the competitive edge is the knowledge that they are offering the most personalised and relevant service to their customers. O2 has therefore decided to use customer analytics technology in a number of its call centres to implement inbound micro-direct marketing techniques.
To encourage customers to ring, O2 offers training sessions to those customers who receive new handsets. They have to call up to arrange these sessions, but they do so willingly because they want something from the company.
O2 understands that this is a good moment to discuss parts of the service, which may lead to them suggesting other products, services or cost savings. And since adopting the new strategy, the company has seen astounding results. Its direct marketing success rates have shot from 2% to over 50%, with a daily conversation rate standing at between 75 and 80%. What’s more, the company’s return on investment for the project is estimated to be around 2000%.
The figures from O2’s call centres clearly demonstrate the advantages of adopting this technology. However, it is important to note that it is necessary to embrace the new micro-inbound techniques that come with it if call centres are to see the true benefits. Call centres that fail to see the benefits of this new strategy and its bespoke technology are likely face a number of difficulties.
And such difficulties do not exclusively relate to sales. As the reputation of outbound direct, cold calls and badly managed cross-sells continues to sour, it is likely that call centres that adopt these strategies will be tarnished with the same brush. As a result, the current situation will continue whereby the bad practices of a few will bring down the reputation of the industry as a whole.
However the future for call centres and telemarketing does have a positive outlook. Micro-direct marketing technology has the potential to change the atmosphere at the call centre for the better. The majority of calls will last beyond the initial: “Hello, I’m calling from…” and customers will be keen to listen. Suppliers will also feel happy to see the success of their
campaigns increase from 2% to over 50%.
David Barrow is vice president of vision, solutions and architecture at Chordiant Tel: +44 20 8380 0600