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October 1998

Setting Up For Integrated Inbound/Outbound Teleservices


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 success.

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 technology.

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 outbound attempt.

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.


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