The Emerging Face Of Outbound TeleServices
BY DON McCORMICK, BEACH DIRECT MARKETING RESOURCES, INC.
Remember the days of paper scripts, call cards, printed labels and telephones that
required manual dialing? Those of us who are old enough to remember, or to have even
participated in that type of outbound calling, must admit that the medium has come a long
way since then. The paper scripts, call cards and labels were first replaced by mainframes
with "dumb" terminals and eventually by "smart" PCs. The familiar
telephone instruments were replaced with predictive dialers, eliminating the need to
manually dial the telephone and listen to busy signals and disconnect messages from the
operator. These enhancements, in the hands of talented people, have certainly lessened
teleservices representative (TSR) stress and made us a more efficient and productive
I had my first experience with predictive dialing in 1983. As is still the case today,
the equipment was capable of dialing more telephone numbers than there were TSRs waiting
for calls. If a call was placed to a potential customer when there was no available TSR,
the equipment played a "hold" message. The message stated something
approximating "please hold for an important message.
" This worked
reasonably well until one day such a call was placed to the parents of a military
serviceman who had just been sent overseas to participate in a dangerous mission.
Certainly, it would have been better had the message stated who was calling. Most
marketers at the time quickly decided that it was not a wise idea to play a recorded
message to an individual who had not called their company.
Is it ever productive to use recorded messages during an outbound call? Automatic
dialing recorded message players (ADRMPs) certainly have their place in our industry, but
they have been the subject of negative press for years. Many will remember the incidents
of ADRMPs making sequentially dialed calls into hospitals and emergency services.
Additionally, ADRMPs would hold the customer's line open, not freeing it until the
recorded message was finished. Rightfully so, these days ADRMPs are strictly legislated.
If one could still use ADRMPs for commercial advertising and promotional messages, would
the buying public respond favorably to them? (In a number of states, for example, ADRMPs
may not be used for commercial marketing purposes*, but may still be used effectively for
nonprofit campaigns and other nonadvertising uses.) It is my opinion, and I know that it
is an opinion widely shared in our industry, that there is no substitute for human
contact. A friendly voice at the other end of the line inspires trust and raises customer
enthusiasm for the product or service being offered.
But what if you could combine the best of both worlds? That is, have the outbound
contact made with a live TSR and get across a consistent message that would inspire trust
and enthusiasm, perhaps from a well-known spokesperson or other celebrity? In 1985, I
worked for a company that tried something interesting. The editor of one of their client
magazines had decided that he wanted to get a message across to his customer base in his
own voice. As a result, the TSRs called the customers, obtained permission to play them a
taped message from the editor and held on the line waiting while the message played. While
this process did bring the editor directly to the customers, albeit with cassette deck
quality, it made for inefficient calling, since the TSRs were still "tied" to
the calls. The program was short-lived.
But the editor of that magazine had the right idea. The technology of the day did not
effectively support what he had hoped to accomplish, but the technology of the late 1990s
does. There is a new face emerging in outbound teleservices, which I'll call
IVR, or interactive voice response, is a familiar term in our industry. It is a service
offering primarily designed to take inbound calls in an automated fashion through the use
of a voice response unit (VRU). Those same VRUs can be programmed to make outbound calls
as well, effectively turning them into ADRMPs. The technology of today has allowed a few
innovative, technical individuals to take those wonderfully versatile machines and marry
them to predictive dialers to produce a new, powerful offspring of the outbound medium. I
have recently had the good fortune to work with some of these individuals at a company
called Intelogistics, Inc., located in South Florida. This association has afforded me a
first-hand opportunity to see this new platform in action.
This is how it works: Using the publishing example mentioned earlier, the TSR, at a
predictive dialing terminal, waits for the next call. The call comes through and the TSR
pleasantly introduces him/herself and the company. Working from a script, the TSR asks
permission to play a recording. The call is then transferred to the VRU and disconnected
from the TSR, who immediately becomes available to take the next call. Along with the
voice, data can also be sent to the VRU (i.e., the customer record). While the call is
connected to the VRU, the customer hears a high-quality, digitally recorded message that
is delivered with the same level of enthusiasm each and every time. Just as important,
once the message is finished, there can be a "call to action" requiring
immediate customer input. For example, a message might inform the customer, "To save
20 percent off your subscription, please press or say 'one' now.
commerce can be handled online as well, as in, "Please enter your credit card number
now..." or, "Mr. Jones, if you would like to use the credit card that we have on
file for you, please say 'yes' now.
" Of course, the charge is authorized and
settled in real-time, with the customer still on the line.
What benefit does this new platform afford its users? First, the same list universe
that would traditionally be called in a live, predictive environment can, in some cases,
reach the same file penetration with 75 percent fewer hours, providing a tremendous
savings to end users of the medium. The platform also eliminates much of the human error
and rejection factor. By this, I mean that the message is consistently played to the
customer universe in the same voice with no degradation in enthusiasm and no deviation
from the scripted message as the day wears on. Consistency is the key. Additionally, with
the customer actively choosing an option to take advantage of an offer, a stronger
back-end can be expected. For sale verification purposes, the customer's voice can be
digitally recorded by the VRU, stored for future reference and retrieved on demand.
Answers to frequently asked questions could easily be integrated into the platform and
available to the customer at the touch of a button. However, if at any time the called
party would like to speak to a customer service representative or technical support
personnel, instantaneous transfer of both voice and data is available by simply pressing a
key on the telephone keypad.
Not all VRUs in service today are running software that is as interactive as the
customer would like it to be. I personally am looking forward to the next generation of
IVR, which is a platform that might be referred to as "intelligent voice
response." This new platform will use truly conversant technology, virtually
eliminating the need for touch-tone input from the customer, as well as the need for
transcription of voice messages. The customer will carry on a dialog with the machine and
in some cases may never know that it was a machine. It should be understood that not
everyone with a VRU and a predictive dialer can make this type of program work. There has
been an enormous amount of proprietary IVR code written by the specialists that simply
isn't available off the shelf. I have seen some of these types of campaigns run well and
others run poorly. If you are looking to test something like this, I recommend that you
contact someone who specializes in this technology and has done it successfully before.
As mentioned earlier, this new platform is not a panacea for the sometimes high cost of
outbound teleservices. It will not be an option for every campaign. While
"Live-to-IVR" calling is not suitable for all situations, it is an efficient and
cost-effective way to bring a specialized message to certain audiences. An example might
be a book/video/music club calling its customer base in an effort to cross-sell a new
product. The live message can be very succinct (i.e., the customer is aware of the club
that he/she belongs to and understands the concept of such a club). Not a great deal of
explanation or set-up is required for the pitch. Perhaps the customer currently belongs to
the "Mozart Music Club" and now the club marketer would like to introduce the
customer to the "Beethoven Music Club." With the customer's permission, the call
is switched over to the IVR platform, where the customer hears the voice of a well-known
celebrity discussing the benefits of club membership, while Beethoven's music plays in the
background. Today's digital technology enables the sound quality to be very good. Once the
message is complete, the customer takes some course of action and the transaction is
To be effective, the call duration must be shorter than most traditional outbound
campaigns (there are some "magic numbers" being developed as testing continues).
I have seen improvements in contacts per hour of up to 250 percent. There are many
programs, like the music club example, that can be explained in this abbreviated amount of
time and can therefore benefit from "Live-to-IVR" calling. Additionally, many
teleservices clients who have simply written off certain segments of their lists as
unprofitable using conventional methods may find new hope for those segments in this
emerging technological advance.
* Certain exceptions may apply.
Don McCormick is president of Beach Direct Marketing Resources, Inc., a direct
marketing consulting firm in Pembroke Pines, Florida.