Setting Up For Integrated Inbound/Outbound Teleservices
BY MIKE EBHARDT, UNITEL
Maximizing database penetration and achieving the highest possible number of positive
customer contact experiences is everyone's focus. Business or consumer, whether you're
marketing products and services, or serving an existing customer base, we all strive to
continually improve our results. With recent advances in call center technology,
integrated teleservices campaigns are quickly becoming your most direct path to success.
Not long ago a company would select a standalone direct mail, inbound, or outbound
marketing approach based primarily on its perception of its intended market, or its own
corporate culture. Savvy companies soon realized that a more integrated approach combining
inbound response to direct mail "chased" by outbound telemarketing would yield
improved results. The obstacle, however, was that a lack of supporting call center
technologies made this a rather cumbersome manual process. Recent advances in automatic
call distribution (ACD), predictive dialing and database management capabilities, however,
have now made truly integrated teleservices a reality.
Today sophisticated, technically capable companies will combine aspects of direct mail,
inbound, outbound, interactive voice response (IVR), and even Web-interactive resources to
create one comprehensive campaign. These assets are merged with real-time access to a
shared database from one or multiple call centers to dramatically increase a program's
And The Winner Is
Everyone, that's who! Gone are the days when you must sacrifice inbound utilization for
desired service levels or restrict customer choice, and therefore response, to limited
One call center manager, who just happens to be a very good friend of mine, was fond of
complaining that a call center manager serves two conflicting masters, and that attempting
to achieve world-class service levels while maximizing inbound representative utilization
was often a daunting task. Integrated campaigns using cross-trained, blended
representatives are his dream come true. A call center can now allocate the personnel
necessary to achieve its desired inbound service levels, without the fear of failing to
meet its agent utilization directives.
This seemingly contradictory result is realized through the efficient application of
multiple integrated technologies. When inbound call volume results in less than acceptable
agent utilization, based on pre-determined program parameters, an integrated predictive
dialer will launch an outbound call for the same program, simultaneously improving inbound
agent utilization and enhancing the program's outbound telemarketing component. For
example, you may decide that you want no more than thirty seconds to pass before you put
an agent back to work by launching an outbound call for your campaign.
When we add the additional support of an integrated IVR and interactive Web-based
agents, all of whom have real-time access to a shared relational database, we now have a
formidable arsenal that would be the envy of any call center professional.
What's in it for the marketing manager? How about much greater database penetration
through the selective application of outbound telemarketing to those who, for some
inexplicable reason, have neglected to respond to their brilliant advertising.
Let's not forget the customer service manager, and of course the customers/prospects,
who will be thrilled with the multiple options for a positive customer experience at their
disposal. Your techno-geeks, busy executives, and customers who don't prefer human contact
may now respond in the middle of the night, or at the peak of the day through your Web
site, or by IVR. With the variety of response options available, customers who desire live
interaction should experience much shorter queue times, and those who prefer not to
receive an outbound telemarketing call have multiple options to respond prior to an
For the bean counters out there, real-time updating of a central relational database
also insures that you are not wasting your money, as well as your customer's time. This
cost savings is achieved because you will not be placing an outbound call to someone who
has just responded. This not only saves resources, but is just better customer care. By
achieving greater penetration per marketing dollar spent, integrated teleservices is your
most cost-effective option.
While potential applications for integrated teleservices are numerous, sales, lead
generation, appointment setting, seminar registration, surveys and pro-active customer
service programs seem to be a natural fit. An example of integrated teleservices would be
a seminar registration program where you would drop direct mail, receive inbound
registrations by voice, e-mail, Web-site entry and IVR. Since each of these inbound
customer interactions would result in a real-time update of your shared relational
database, these records would be marked as completed and removed from your outbound
calling queue. Your outbound agents, as well as your blended agents that are currently
under-utilized, are now making outbound calls to invite your potential seminar registrants
who have not yet responded.
One of the key considerations in setting up for integrated inbound/outbound
teleservices is human resources. Ask any teleservice professional and you will find that
their hiring profiles for inbound and outbound representatives are as different as night
and day. While highly qualified professional representatives can make the transition to a
blended environment, we have found a greater degree of success training successful
outbound associates in customer care and empathy skills than training inbound associates
to place outbound telemarketing calls. Either route you choose, you will find that the
additional incremental expense of training blended representatives will be more than
offset by the efficiencies gained. You will soon find that training blended
representatives will result in the added benefit of greater associate longevity. Blended
representatives feel that their job is less monotonous, more interesting and that they are
making a greater contribution to the organization.
The most critical factor in your ability to execute integrated programs is information
technology. The investment to achieve all of the benefits of integrated telemarketing can
be considerable. An ACD with advanced routing capabilities, such as ANI- (automated number
identification), skills and DNIS- (dialed number identification service) based routing may
be required. Your ACD must also be CTI- (computer telephony integration) enabled for each
system you are integrating, and support application bridges to your IVR and predictive
dialer. If you're operating multiple call centers, multisite voice and data connectivity
as well as network interqueue call routing may be necessary. Each Web-interactive agent
will require secure, direct Internet access from his or her desktop. The decision to
acquire these technologies should be made very carefully and only following a thorough
cost/benefit analysis of your business, targeted markets and competitive environment.
If the benefits of integrated telemarketing sound like a good fit for you, but your
company chooses not to make the investment, or wisely decides to focus its resources on
core functions, then outsourcing may be the right decision for you. There are a handful of
quality firms in the teleservices industry that are capable of executing the type of
integrated teleservices program I have outlined. When choosing a teleservices partner,
insist on a professional firm that has a reputation for quality and integrity to match
your own. Choose a firm that has demonstrated a track record for success in your specific
industry and application. Most importantly, choose a firm that will work with you as a
business partner and share your vision of success.
Setting up for integrated inbound/outbound teleservices is not a simple or inexpensive
endeavor. This process will require not only the financial commitment to acquire the
necessary technology, but a significant human resource investment as well. I.T.
professionals with the experience and expertise to integrate multiple systems will be
required. Trainers, supervisors and teleservice representatives that have the skill sets
required to perform professionally in a blended role are absolutely essential. If your
analysis reveals, however, that an integrated environment is the right choice for your
program, whether in-house or outsourced, there are significant efficiencies and
performance improvements to be gained.
Michael A. Ebhardt is vice president, Business Development, of Unitel Corporation, a full-service teleservices company
based in McLean, Virginia. The company provides outsourced inbound, outbound, integrated
and IVR services for both business-to-business and business-to-consumer applications.
UniTel received C@LL CENTER Solutions magazine's MVP Quality Award in 1994, 1995, 1996 and
1997, and is a "Top 50" company, currently ranked as the 31st largest inbound
teleservices agency in the nation.