This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of Customer Inter@ction Solutions
Steve Brubaker (News - Alert) (News - Alert) is arguably one of the most knowledgeable, personable and passionate individuals one will ever meet in the contact center industry. Brubaker, who is who is InfoCision Management Corporation’s chief of staff, knows contact centers from the call floor up. He started out as a part-time contact center agent at InfoCision (News - Alert) in 1985 while studying at the University of Akron, rose through the ranks and now is now responsible for implementing InfoCision’s important operational processes throughout the company as well as overseeing the company’s public relations and regulatory compliance departments. He is also responsible for staff-related issues, project details and serving as primary corporate negotiator and spokesperson.
Brubaker has long been active in the BPO industry via the American Teleservices Association (ATA) and the Direct Marketing Association (DMA). He recently retired from the ATA board after serving for the better part of two decades to focus on InfoCision, which is on the cusp of major growth as a result of key trends and initiatives.
I sat down with Steve at the ATA annual convention held in Orlando, Florida last September to discuss the BPO industry, trends and InfoCision. Here is our interview:
BR: Outline the state of the North American BPO/teleservices industry
SB: This industry is big, dynamic and diverse with a mix of large multinational firms and conglomerates that offer outsourcing as part of their overall business offerings plus smaller niche outfits. The economy has forced a lot of consolidation and it is undergoing a lot of growing pains.
There will be more business for BPO companies driven mainly by the big corporations that will want to move away from their dedicated in-house contact centers and outsource noncore processes such as customer service, fulfillment, sales and the sales process. Businesses are having to do more with less and are finding it cost effective to partner with others rather than having to carry the cost and process management of a call center operation. Their stakeholders are continuing to demand that the firms concentrate on their core competencies and outsource those that are not. Yet they also want to make sure that the outsourcers selected are high quality and senior management is getting the message. A higher value is being placed on customer retention – this has not always been the case though. They are now saying: “these are my customers: they are valuable, I cannot afford to churn them; I want to have them served by a quality partner.”
BR: There is a viewpoint that believes that the BPO sector could be trouble with the rise of sophisticated of voice and web self-service taking many calls once outsourced. Yet when customers are finished with the self-service and still need to speak to an agent they want someone who is knowledgeable and committed and may get annoyed if they are speaking to a third party. Can BPO firms be as effective as in-house agents when it comes to meeting the needs of customers?
BR: Regarding self-service, too many companies have structured their self-service wrong. They are forcing all customers through self-service first as their only readily available option. If it doesn’t work for them and there is no resolution they are mad when they finally get to the contact center. Yet if they could choose their channel from the outset the possibility of first call resolution increases, as do the odds of having a satisfied customer.
This is where an experienced outsource partner can help. Teleservices is not a one-size- fits-all medium. Right now it’s all about maintaining an increased level of communication with customers while controlling costs. To be competitive, companies are focusing their resources on the calls that need more attention, or relationship building, through contact with a live person. However, there is a place for IVR: taking simple orders, gathering information and consumer inquiries.
This year we put together an online service called Rapid Response Routing, which is a technical application that queues a call to a consumer within minutes of them downloading product information from a website. According to the InsideSales.com/MIT (News - Alert) Lead Response Management Study, a customer was four times more likely to do business with you if you answered their online inquiry within five minutes compared with 10 minutes. Our Rapid Response Routing solution connects with the customer almost immediately. We know that if you can get to the potential customer while they are engaged in the client’s product the conversion rate increases. We can also ping the record against our database of 210 million records and, pretty close to instantaneously, have enough information about the consumer to personalize the conversation and boost the conversion rate or at least enhance the customer relationship. We can also determine which callers to be put in front of the lines based on need and value. Being able to strategically drive a customer to their preferred channel will leave the consumer with a positive feeling regarding their purchase or experience.
Our product line is growing to keep pace with the ever-changing demand from current and new clients. We’re venturing into new innovative areas of service. If you are providing a quality interaction then the end-customer will not know nor will it really matter if the agent is working for an outsourcer. Brand isn’t just a logo; it’s about how people feel about a company. We’ve taken this mindset to our training rooms by training what we call “brand ambassadors” for our clients. With Brand Ambassadors there is a shift from an “order taker” mentality. The focus isn’t just on getting the sale – it’s also to ensure there is a positive customer experience. While they require more training upfront, brand ambassadors generate results that ultimately produce a higher ROI by building customer loyalty, cultivating repeat business, and laying the foundation for future success.
BR: The BPO industry has had an image problem because of telemarketing complaints and the low-paid transitory nature of the work. Yet InfoCision has long been held as a model company. How can the industry as a whole improve its reputation to be like yours?
SB: The way for the BPO industry to improve its image is by listening to the end- customer and to tailor the marketing message to each individual. Years ago direct marketers were focused on mass marketing: mail everyone and call everyone. That doesn’t work anymore. Customers are insisting that they be treated as individuals and will choose their preferred communication channel. Competitive direct marketing partners are increasing their product base to offer their clients multiple channels to connect with their customers – such as by online, mobile, e-mail, mail and phone. This is also where business intelligence comes in. By using contact data and a cross-channel approach we can deliver the ideal customer experience.
We can also fix the image of the teleservices industry through self regulation. We are already taking steps through the ATA-SRO [American Teleservices Association-Self-Regulatory Organization] program in which InfoCision is certified. The ATA-SRO is the first ever comprehensive set of compliance standards for this industry that in meeting them encourages professionalism. There are, as of at the time of the ATA annual conference in September 2010, 35 companies that have expressed interest in ATA-SRO certification. In addition there is also a growing list of Fortune 500 companies now asking in the vendor selection process “Are you an ATA member?” and “Are you an ATA-SRO certified company?” They see the ATA-SRO as an external validation of important best practices. Certification also circumvent the need to spend unnecessary resources evaluating each and every potential partner
When the buyers drive the certification process, then the standard truly becomes established.
The industry has also changed. It is a better place. It has become more professional. A lot of the fly-by-night companies who were giving us all a bad name are out of business. Companies are also recognizing that as customers focus on quality they must attract and keep quality employees.
BR: What is happening with the onshoring versus offshoring in outsourcing?
SB: It is like a pendulum that keeps swinging back and forth. Ten years ago I was being criticized because we chose an exclusively onshore model. I said “every company makes their own decisions based on what their customers want and at this point this is the strategy that works best for us.” Now I see the pendulum swinging back with stories of poor end-customer experiences and bad training offshore. The U.S has a huge unemployment rate that is creating concern and friction in local communities and the way to fix that is by creating jobs here at home.
Now there’s nothing wrong going offshore: if it is serving offshore customers. Chinese customers would be served best by Chinese contact center agents who already speak the languages and understand the cultures. The same can be said for customers in India. From what I see and hear, the American consumer is no different.
BR: Where is InfoCision positioned in these trends and where is your firm going?
SB: We are going to continue to be the leader in raising funds for nonprofits, delivering superior return on investment (ROI). We are also continuing to see more business from multinational Fortune 500 companies as they seek quality onshore partners.
We’re in an age where technology is bringing businesses and customers closer together. Right now we’re investing in personalized CRM solutions - business intelligence, PURLs, on demand variable printing, chat, web; all these components can be used as part of a multichannel effort to meet the diverse needs of customers. We feel that by investing in improving the quality of their experience, customers will form a stronger bond with our clients’ organization and, as a result, increase their ROI.
Our focus is on quality and we have the customer testimonials and awards but much more importantly the process, technology and the people to prove it. We have invested in intelligent analytics to bolster the success of our customers’ programs, supported by over 150 full-time in-house IT professionals. We bring our customers to see our operations and they are impressed when they meet our people Unlike your typical contact center whose workforce are in their 20s who take the work until something better comes along and who don’t have the life experiences to relate to callers, the average age of our agents, which we call Communicators is 43. Their maturity enables them to effectively interact with our customers’ customers and we have one of the lowest staff turnover and absenteeism rates in the industry.
I can assure you that most of our competitors do not have the same quality of agents. That gives us a huge advantage in this space. We’re able to communicate very clearly, carefully and have the experience in customer care.
Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi