Welcome to Issue 05 of Outbound Focus, a free email publication of Sytel Limited.
This month we have examples of outbound calling from both ends of the ethical spectrum. At the top end we have Jo Simkins, outbound manager for BPS Teleperformance, sharing her insights. At the bottom, we have some rather less discriminating techniques used by some of the smaller operations we have come across.
In This Issue
- TECHNOLOGY CORNER
how do outbound products support call blending?
- TIP OF THE MONTH
an interview with BPS Teleperformance.
- INDUSTRY UPDATE
more on nuisance calls.
- CANDY STORE
a lighter telemarketing moment.
A question that comes up a lot is “How do outbound products support call blending?” Here is our view.
Well, strictly speaking, they don’t support it at all. They enable call blending, driven by inbound requirements. Although, as a specialist case you might just argue that the necessity for making planned right party calls is such that agents should be taken off inbound, and surplus calls diverted to an IVR system. Not too many cases like that, we guess.
The first thing to do is to analyse your call outcomes and durations. The first class of calls below doesn’t lend itself to predictive dialing. The second class does. As an approximation, the more calls in the second group, the better the case for predictive dialing. Or, if some of the calls in the first group have very small durations as far as agent involvement is concerned, this again helps the predictive case.
There are two elements to enabling call blending.
(i) Releasing agents
As inbound spikes arise, then inbound applications will look to pull in extra agents as quickly as possible in order to stop inbound queues building up, calls being dropped, and/or IVR systems having to bear the overload.
If all the outbound agents are engaged on calls, then the best that can be done is wait until they become free. Provided that the quality of outbound calls is not compromised a discreet broadcast message alerting agents to the inbound buildup might be a good idea.
What about agents who are free, waiting for a dialer to deliver another outbound call? Can they be moved over to inbound immediately? It’s possible, but there is a price to pay in terms of nuisance calls, and if you are working within responsible guidelines, then you’ll pay a price in reduced outbound performance.
Best practice is to let a dialer handle blending requests such that the tally of nuisance calls is unchanged. Release won’t be automatic, and some waiting outbound agents (waiting at the time when the blending request comes in from the inbound application) may take a further outbound call in order to achieve this objective on nuisance calls.
But this process should be quick enough to handle most inbound spikes, without compromising inbound performance significantly.
(ii) Adding new agents
There should be no problem in adding agents to an outbound campaign at any time.
If your outbound campaign is optimized for right party contact dialing, then you may have planned in advance to match numbers of agents, and right party calls, for each time segment, just as inbound applications seek to do. If this is the case, then you may want to have some additional right party numbers to dial, if you get hit with unexpectedly high numbers of inbound agents going outbound, as inbound spikes fall away.
TIP OF THE MONTH
This month we sat down with one of the UK’s star outbound managers, Jo Simkins of BPS Teleperformance, and looked at life in the fast lane. Here’s what we learned.
i) How has the outbound market changed in the past 3 years?
Dramatically! Outbound calling is now being seen less as a sales tool in itself, more as a tool for acquiring and retaining a customer base. And this is especially true of blue chip companies. Some of this work is based on cold-calling, but in most cases involves affinity calling, where there is some kind of prior association or related interest on the part of those being called.
ii) What major changes do you expect in the next three?
I think more and more companies will look at outbound not only as a tool to acquire new customers, but also as a way of checking on the needs of existing customers and retaining their loyalty. And we are seeing an increasing use of ‘welcome calls’ to new customers to ensure a high level of satisfaction and also offer extra value and follow-up products and services.
iii) Anything likely to hinder the growth you see?
Technology is always an issue. Outbound centers like ours live on the cusp of change, and are quite demanding of our technology suppliers. The better the CRM solutions we can deploy, the better we are able to respond quickly to our own customers’ needs. Outbound centers who are controlling their technology, rather than being controlled by it, have a competitive edge, and that’s what we have today.
We don’t see legislation being much of a hindrance. But it could be if bad practices were widespread, and, touch wood, there’s no sign of that.
Quite a few companies are using blanket cold-calling to acquire business and customers. This can be successful, though if the volume of this activity gets too high, then I think that UK consumers will react adversely. I also wonder whether the marketing case for such activities is sound. It’s not cheap, and if the returns are not there, perhaps this kind of calling will fall off, being replaced by more targeted calling.
iv) Any secrets to share with us on outbound agent acquisition and retention?
The main thing is to get the right agent for the job; some agents can hard-sell, some are better at soft-selling, some are better suited to more demanding sales roles. We also try to give agents a view of the bigger picture; for example, the purpose of campaigns, how they relate to our clients’ core businesses and what the agents’ contributions are. We encourage career progression in terms of skills being acquired and levels of responsibility.
And it’s important to have fun! We try to loosen agents up using all the classic motivational techniques, from daily team debriefings to dancing the conga!
v) There is a move in the US in some quarters from fixed revenue per agent hour to payment by results. What’s the trend in the UK and why?
The UK is a mix of the two. We always seek to cover our costs and achieve a profit contribution, but the best campaigns involve an element of risk on our part. If we take that risk and perform really well, we earn accordingly. To achieve this requires a strong relationship with our clients.
vi) ‘Call blending’ is an in buzz word. What are the real opportunities for this in an out-sourcing operation like yours?
We don’t use it for consumer calling, mainly because the opportunities to do so are strictly limited. Most CRM solutions seem to be ‘call-blending’ enabled these days. Well, that’s what the marketing literature normally says, but we have concerns anyway about agents doubling up – being inbound at one moment and outbound the next. It can work, when the calls are closely related in content, but otherwise agents just aren’t that ambidextrous. I have fewer reservations in a B2B environment.
vii) In Europe, a lot of inbound operations are working offshore. Some outbound is offshore, but not a lot. Do you see this as changing? What are the drivers?
It’s OK for some inbound, but not for outbound where there is a large trust element, and consumer confidence is the issue. It’s surely more difficult to sell to a consumer in the UK if he discovers he’s being called from a center in Malaysia. It’s also harder to manage people from a distance, especially with outbound being quite changeable and dynamic.
viii) How are you coping with the TPS?
The TPS is a fantastic benefit to us. We don’t want to waste time and money calling people who don’t want to be called. If they are called, then the call is often a difficult one, and we have the added problem of having to restore the agent’s morale. We encourage agents to give unwilling consumers the number for the TPS, because it benefits us, and also gains us some respect in the eyes of the consumer.
ix) You’ll know that we have focused a lot on excessive nuisance calls in the US, in Outbound Focus. Do you see this ever being a problem in the UK?
The number of nuisance calls will go up as a result of more predictive dialers being used, but as a percentage of all calls should go down, as call centers learn to manage their dialers better.
x) As a successful outbound manager, do you want to share with us your key differentiators from other out-sourcing bureaux.
Overall is operational control. We are very hands-on, and rely greatly on personal experience in managing campaigns. We have developed a very strong sense of what the best practices are, and follow them.
Human resource management is an integral part. People are our lifeblood, so we strive to understand our agent base and put the right agents on the right campaigns.
We encourage a strong agency/client relationship, where everyone understands the needs and expectations of the relationship.
We have dedication. We put in long hours to ensure client success, because, in the bigger picture, it benefits us.
And we take things personally. Don’t believe the management books that tell you not to! Any failures reflect badly on us. We want to be successful, and we want our clients to be successful. If things aren’t working, we find out why and put them right.
Click here for a complete archive of our ‘Tip of the Month’ column.
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As Bill 2721, which aims to ban predictive dialing in California, continues to make its way through the Legislature (click here to check its progress), we have been turning our attention to the general issues of nuisance calls in the US.
In Issue 03 we said that the problem of nuisance calls is right across the board in the US, affecting big and small call centers alike. This is still the case. But the bigger call centers, often members of some of the main marketing organizations, may be right in thinking that a quite disproportionate number of nuisance calls are coming from smaller players, not members of national marketing organizations, and oblivious to any rules or laws on outbound activities.
Why? Well, we have been checking some of the calls that Sytel, our parent company gets, and we got a rude shock. Calls arrive on a weekly basis from the US (but not other countries!), looking for outbound solutions, which are simply very consumer-unfriendly.
The first two cases are calls recently taken by Sytel.
Hello, how are you?
It’s Sytel, how can we help you?
I want to see how we can use your predictive dialing stuff.
Can you tell us where you are, and a bit more about what you are trying to do.
I am in Missouri and I want to do it for two agents.
Predictive dialing doesn’t work for two agents.
Says who, of course it works for two agents!
If that’s what you want, but the only way you get any benefit is by being well outside of responsible dialing codes. I am sorry we can’t help you.
You are very rude, you shouldn’t talk to customers! You have a very closed mind!
(phone slammed down)
Ever had a bad day at the office, on the phone? Some remedial training is in order, but the Sytel man still talks to customers! The real point is of course, that if this caller is hell-bent on buying a predictive solution, then it’s because he is probably going to open the tap on it, to get a lot more talk time per hour, and the consequence is going to be very high nuisance calls. Fact, not opinion.
Hello, I’m in Florida, and I’m looking for an outbound system that can play messages to advertise my plumbing business.
What kind of messages, and who is the audience?
I am just looking for more customers and have been told that I can reach 60 people per hour.
Even though we believe that this kind of activity is banned under the Federal TCPA law, by itself this man will probably cause little nuisance. But if the message gets out to all plumbers, decorators, roofing contractors etc. that this is a cool way to market…then consumers get telephone overload, with what are actually nuisance calls.
This case concerns a small call center that Sytel recently encountered in the US, who were describing how their (home-grown) predictive dialer did its thing.
Every time we are running out of calls to make we pick the next 24 numbers in the list and just launch calls for them. Non-connects we dump, and then we hang up on all the live calls. Then as agents become free in subsequent seconds and minutes, we know from the answered calls, who is at home and answering the phone.
No comment, except on the Richter scale this comes in at “100%”plus nuisance calls.
Where individuals and companies don’t bear the consequences of their behaviour in any way (except possibly in the size of their phone bills), and where there are no enforceable peer or industry group ethical standards, then these kinds of behaviour will have a tendency to proliferate.
Which takes us back to California. If the main culprits are beyond the membership reach of the national marketing associations fighting Bill 2721, what alternatives do we see? As we have said previously, one may be to enshrine the DMA guidelines in law. Unenforceable? Not if it’s the vendors who must comply. Another is to consider establishing an effective national ‘don’t call’ list. Then those people, including those proposing the bill in California, who wish to be free not just of nuisance calls, but of any telemarketing calls, will have their wish granted. And call centers won’t waste time and energy on guaranteed ‘no sales’.
We respect initiative around here. This is from Simon White, Marketing Manager at Direct Marketing Concepts Limited.
Salesman: Good morning, please can you give me the name of your Marketing Director?
Receptionist: We don’t give out names!
Salesman: OK, can you give me the Marketing Director’s email address so that I can send an email introducing my company?
Receptionist: Yes certainly, it is mike.smith@… (this is true – I was that salesman!)
Know any good outbound anecdotes? Send us an email.