TMCnet - World's Largest Communications and Technology Community




puboutlook.gif (1628 bytes)
October 1999

E-Commerce's Explosive Growth Offers Call Centers New Opportunities


E-commerce has been called the greatest business development since the industrial revolution began two centuries ago, and rightfully so; how else can you reach hundreds of thousands of people with a targeted message at little or no cost than through an e-mail via the Internet? With all due respect to direct mail, telemarketing, integrated marketing, trade show marketing, etc., nothing else has been as cost-effective as marketing through the Web. Having said that, the myopic person might respond, "Well, maybe that is all I should do" or, "Maybe I should abandon all traditional forms of marketing and rely solely on e-commerce." The realist, on the other hand, blessed with proper vision, would look at the opportunity of e-commerce differently, as I will explain.

First, some facts: If you browse through the Web sites of many corporations, you will find that many are boring, uninformative and often give you very little reason to call the companies to purchase their products. Admittedly, I cannot begin to claim that I have seen even 10 percent of the millions of Web sites out there, but even a fractional sample reveals that practically 90 percent of Web sites are nonproductive, which indicates a trend. Many Web sites are using horrible colors (known in the advertising business as "turn-off" colors). Others simply do not say what the company does or why you should call them as opposed to calling their competitors.

Perhaps the greatest failing of e-commerce has been the widespread customer abuse practiced by many companies on the Web. What I mean by customer abuse is the failure to either answer e-mail inquiries in a timely fashion or to provide a way for customers to place a call from a Web site to a call center through a Web callthrough or call-me button. There have been several surveys recently pointing out the abysmally slow responses (or even worse, lack of responses) to customer e-mail inquiries. Nothing will inspire a customer to switch vendors faster than the perception that a company does not care about its customers enough to answer their questions; it?s the equivalent of asking a department store clerk a question only to have the clerk turn around and walk away. (Tracey Roth, managing editor of C@LL CENTER Solutions™ recently performed an informal survey to evaluate the state of e-mail response of various e-commerce businesses. You can read the results of her survey in her TMCnet.com "Dot Com Commerce" column entitled "E-Service: Who's Naughty And Who's Nice")

Akin to this is the appalling lack of the adoption of call-me or talk-to-an-agent buttons by e-commerce sites. FAQs lists or Web self-help software cannot answer every customer question and as we are social creatures, there will always be the need for the human touch and the knowledge that only a live call center agent can provide to reassure customers and guide them to the solutions they need and as a result, help build a lasting customer relationship. Obviously, call centers are the only places equipped with the manpower, routing and customer information technologies (that play such a large part in CRM [customer relationship management]) and customer service skills to handle large volumes of direct customer interaction, whether by phone, text chat or e-mail, and should be developed to their fullest potential.

But, assuming that one day these companies will wake up and realize their problems and actually enhance their Web sites to encourage potential buyers to inquire about buying their products or services, then an entirely new opportunity will become available to their call centers. Unless looking to buy some low-cost, nonsophisticated items such as napkins or socks, consumers need to know a lot of information about sophisticated and expensive products such as home entertainment units, digital televisions or cutting-edge computer systems before they can actually purchase the products.

Among other things, the consumer may request additional information or literature to be mailed or e-mailed and eventually, when a product is purchased, since this is an online transaction, a distributor still has to ship the product to the consumer. Given that the core competency of many companies is not effective marketing, distribution, CRM, processing e-mail or making the most of inbound calls to feed outbound calls, i.e., cross-selling and upselling, then a tremendous opportunity exists for call centers of all kinds to fill this great void. By turning themselves into experts in these critical functions, call centers can play a pivotal role in bridging the gap between Corporate America and the consumer.

If you think about it, if professionally done, the above opportunity, largely created by the untold millions of calls and e-mail messages generated daily through the Internet by inquiring consumers, can be perhaps the most lucrative and profitable opportunity opened to call centers of all types. Visionary call center managers will understand that the potential volume of business created by this opportunity is simply endless.

Selling Strategy
Should you decide to bring your call center to the next level, and I certainly hope you do, address your customers’ decision makers as follows:

Mr. or Ms. Corporate America, as you know, the key to success in today’s fast-paced economy is for every corporation to remain focused on its customers and only perform services that are within its core competency. Advertising, promotion, fulfillment, distribution, fielding calls, skillfully and rapidly handling e-mail, building customer relationships, CRM, cross-selling and upselling are clearly not your core competency. We want to be your strategic partner and handle these functions for you on an outsourced basis because THESE ARE OUR CORE COMPETENCIES. In short, you do what you do best and let us do what we do best.

For those of you who think of the Web as an enemy, may I suggest that you think again: You have no better friend than the Web. If you think about it, there is nothing more enormous in terms of market size or potential profitability for the call center than what I have proposed above. As always, I welcome your opinions.


Nadji Tehrani
Executive Group Publisher

Choices In Your Call Center — What’s In It For You?


(Editor’s Note: We received the following article in response to a sidebar we ran in the September 1999 “Publisher’s Outlook.” That article, “Removing Complexity And Cost From Your Call Center Strategies” by Marcus Heth, vice president of call center and telephony development of the Customer Relationship Management division at Oracle, addressed the benefits of using a single set of pre-integrated applications to address the intricacies of customer relationship management.)

“Customer self-service” is an admirable goal, and customers are increasingly letting us know that’s what they want. Some want the ease of pressing a few keys or looking at a Web site to find the information they want, when they want it. They want to be able to do this at 9 a.m. or at 8 p.m. or at 2 a.m. Customers want to be able to choose what’s best for them.

The call center manager or vice president of sales and marketing is no different. These sophisticated buyers of state-of-the-art call center hardware and software are no longer willing to be held in thrall to “you’ll take what we make and you’ll like it” suppliers. They want the best information available, the best solution, the best pricing, the least aggravation, the best service, the most convenience — when they want it, which is almost invariably “right now.”

So how are they getting there? Purchasers of systems (whether that system is a computer, a PBX, an IVR or any of the other systems that comprise a call center) are making it clear they want open systems.

What’s an open system? Ask any of the computer mainframe manufacturers of the 1970s. They learned in a painful hurry that an open system called the personal computer would revolutionize the way business is done. And the trend continues with no sign of letting up. Linux is now the fastest-growing computer operating system, currently with about 30 percent market share among Web servers. Why has Linux achieved such great success? The reason, which you may have already guessed, is that Linux is an open system. Open systems promote multiple manufacturers, countless programmers and efficient distribution, sales, and support channels.

Why all the interest in open systems? Here’s why.

  • Open systems foster competition. At first glance, you might think that a manufacturer would want to steamroll all his competitors and “rule the world.” But in the end, that would be a very poor result. Indeed, competition is a good, healthy thing for buyers and sellers alike.
  • Competition validates the market. If you’re the only manufacturer in the world of a particular widget, you probably aren’t selling very many of them, and if you are, you’re probably absorbing losses.
  • Competition forces manufacturers to continually improve their products.
  • Competition validates pricing by allowing purchasers to see for themselves the range of available pricing. If a particular solution is priced way above or way below the others, at least ask “why?”
  • Competition keeps pricing structures reasonable. If I buy a range of proprietary solutions from a single vendor, how long will it be before I start to experience price hikes from that vendor?
  • Competition keeps manufacturers on their respective toes from a service standpoint. If Manufacturer A doesn’t provide outstanding service, the customer should have the option to call Manufacturer B.
  • Open systems ensure that the customer always has access to the most advanced technical solutions available. It is impossible for any manufacturer to be “best of breed” for every application across an entire spectrum. Manufacturers of open systems can afford to specialize, gaining depth and expertise in focused areas, confident that their solutions can be easily integrated into other companies’ solutions. ODBC (open database connectivity) is an ideal example in our industry. Databases that are “ODBC-compliant” are designed from scratch to communicate with one another.
  • Open systems mean the customer always has somewhere else to turn if he or she is dissatisfied with the pricing or service provided by a manufacturer. He or she does not have this option if locked into a proprietary, closed system.
  • Most important, open systems allow the customer a range of choices every step of the way.

What about the argument that selecting just one vendor that supplies a proprietary system, but nevertheless promises to provide a “soup to nuts” answer for every one of your problems, is the best way to go?

There’s an Asian saying that states: “When your only tool is a hammer, every problem is a nail.” Customers must be permitted to select the best tool for the job. Manufacturers build the tools, knowing that their open systems will talk to other open systems (even those built by their competitors). The supplier of each part of the answer brings a particular strength to the table, and presumably makes a fair profit doing so. And in the end, the customer wins — with a superior overall solution at the best-possible price.

Ed Kmetz is director of channel marketing for Call Processing Solutions. He may be contacted at 973-361-7770, ext. 209 or at [email protected].

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