TMCnet - World's Largest Communications and Technology Community




callctmgnt.gif (2323 bytes)
April 1999

The Emerging Face Of Outbound TeleServices


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 industry.

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 "Live-to-IVR" calling.

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.…" Electronic 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 processed.

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.

Technology Marketing Corporation

2 Trap Falls Road Suite 106, Shelton, CT 06484 USA
Ph: +1-203-852-6800, 800-243-6002

General comments: [email protected].
Comments about this site: [email protected].


© 2023 Technology Marketing Corporation. All rights reserved | Privacy Policy