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Customer Care Feature Article

March 07, 2006

Help in Reaching Customers

By TMCnet Special Guest

By Gary A. Pudles
President and Chief Executive Officer, The AnswerNet Network
Customers sit on the marketplace throne. They have, thanks to the Internet, access to large volumes of information about products, services and companies. They decide what, when and how they want to buy, and from whom.
For small and especially startup businesses, satisfying customers poses rewards and challenges.
The Internet has opened the doors to more opportunities to reach customers. Yet to get their attention you need a top quality, glitch-free, easy-to-navigate website, even if it is just to provide information. Building and maintaining professional websites requires considerable expertise.
To get your site noticed you may have to buy your way into web searches. Search engine firms charge companies who want to be ranked higher on search results. In return, website traffic, leads and sales may, but are not guaranteed to, increase.
At the same time you must still budget for traditional, yet effective, marketing methods. These include directory listings, print and broadcast advertisements, business fairs and telemarketing. There is no predicting which channel customers will choose to reach you.
Not surprisingly customers expect that their calls and emails must be answered ASAP and 24/7; they do not want to be sent to voicemail or email jail. Small companies have lost business because they did not have people to pick up the phones.
Unfortunately customers are making it more difficult for you to reach them directly. Unlisted phone numbers, Caller ID, Do Not Call lists and restrictions on commercial email, faxes and automated dialers limit cold contacting prospects. Many businesses rely on voicemail and virtual receptionists to thwart unexpected callers.
Handling contacts is expensive. Wages for quality staff start at around $9/hour or plus employment expenses such as payroll. Employees must be supported with office space, furniture, hardware, software, phones and lines that cost up to $35,000/year per workstation in operating and amortized fixed expenses.
There are professionals who can help you gain and retain customers’ attention and patronage. Have a consultant, who has assisted similar businesses, review and make necessary changes to your website to ensure it is user-friendly and glitch-free. This will also cut down on costly calls and emails that are prompted by problems with your site.
Have your site optimized to make sure it contains effective keywords for your business. There are inexpensive ways to ensure your firm is ranked high in search rankings, but you will need to research them.
To connect with customers, reach out to contact center outsourcers. They supply customer service, sales, support and order entry. Some will also provide telephone and email answering and triage; they will notify you of, and forward, important messages.
Other services outsourcers offer include credit card processing and product shipping and fulfillment, including returns management. There are outsourcers that can help you reach specific markets, such as Spanish, French, Chinese or other non-English speakers, and customers in other countries.
Outsourcers can be available 24/7, manage overflow contacts when you are tied up, answer your lines evenings and weekends/holidays and take calls and emails during emergencies. They can quickly add staff to handle product launches, advertising campaigns, special promotions and seasonal demand.
Outsourcers can save you money. You hire these firms only when you need them; you avoid paying for idle employees and tying up resources for office space.
You can also tap outsourcers to market or sell your products or services, or to qualify leads that will be worth your time pursuing. These firms will help you target your campaign to reach likely customers. Employees are expertly trained to get through to buyers and present persuasive offers at the right moment.
When deciding on an outsourcer ensure there is a good fit between both businesses. Are the prices and service exactly what you are looking for? Have they worked with companies, and on programs similar to yours?
Look for low staff turnover, varied customer base and a successful track record. If you plan to rely on an outsourcer as your backup, ask about their disaster response methods. You must be satisfied that they will service your needs, no matter what.
There is a wide variety in outsourcer size and capability. Most of the larger firms have the latest technology, but can demand high minimum volumes or charge more.
Other very capable outsourcers, especially answering services that have evolved into contact centers, are much more flexible and have lower minimums. They typically have small facilities, which enable more personalized service. Some own multiple networked centers, which provide significant scalability. These firms are usually entrepreneurial. They can relate well to you and understand your specific needs.
With the right knowledge and with suitable partners who can fulfill your needs, your business will satisfy your customers and grow.
Gary A. Pudles is founder, president and CEO of The AnswerNet Network, a contact center outsourcer based in Princeton, NJ. He is also an instructor at the Wharton School Small Business Development Center

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