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January 2001


Dedicated Outbound Teleservices Rediscovered 


Oliver W. Finn's long-distance company (BLD) of five years called him about a deal. BLD offered to cut his rates in half and eliminate a $6 per month service charge to boot, no strings attached. However, BLD's timing was poor. Unknown to them, Finn was smarting over a $350 bill for overseas calls clocked at $.92 per minute.

Finn went comparison shopping and confirmed he had been taken for a costly ride. "How long has this deal been around?" Finn asked. "About eight months," the customer service manager replied. "What took you so long?" Had BLD been practicing effective customer relationship management (CRM), Finn might still be a customer and an upsell candidate. Left unexplored, however, was Finn's interest in high-speed Internet connections. Feeling ripped off and treated indifferently, Finn will not be retained as a customer, let alone upsold this new BLD product.

Savvy companies will avoid the Finn quandary. To retain customers, you must communicate offers in a timely fashion. If you are a communications company offering new cable modem access to the Internet, tell your long-distance customers first. Other-wise, someone else will beat you to it. If you are a cable company offering new local telephone service, tell your cable television customers or someone else will beat you to it. By not moving quickly and effectively, you could forfeit your customers, one at a time.

Extraordinary technological innovations have made CRM and the blended contact center industry darlings. However, effective CRM is not simply the virtuoso juggling of inbound, outbound, blending, e-mail, IVR, fax, collaborative browsing and chat. Do not be fooled by the warm and fuzzy feeling you get knowing your customers can reach you by any means. The means you choose to reach customers will have as much impact on retention and profits as anything.

Thinking about doing it yourself? Forget it. Thinking about saving money by outsourcing to a bureau that will blend your inbound, outbound and Web-enabled needs? Be cautious. In the end, you may pay a steeper price for those attractive monthly consolidated reports. Blended, or predominantly inbound, bureaus may not be the best fit for your outbound sales needs. For outbound sales, find a specialist in outbound CRM. Analyze your selling needs and make a comparison.

The Difference Between Blended And Dedicated
The differences between blended and dedicated outbound bureaus are vast. In a blended bureau, teleservices representatives (TSRs) either make outbound and inbound calls simultaneously or shift during different parts of the day. In a blended environment, queues dictate. The bigger the queues, the bigger the dictator. There is no putting off a customer on the line, even if it means sacrificing outbound.

Blended TSRs may also simultaneously respond to e-mail queries and conduct live chats with customers as they surf your Web site. TSRs not dedicated to your account may juggle your outbound selling and a variety of customer services for your bureau's other clientele. By diversifying the workload, the bureau can maximize the use of its facilities and human resources. This may work to your advantage or disadvantage. It depends upon the nature of the work you outsource.

Make Internal Assessments
Initially, make a determination of the complexity of the sale. Is it a business-to-business sale? Are these small businesses where the decision maker is readily identifiable? Will you need to bypass multiple gatekeepers? What is the cost of the product? How much does your customer currently spend? Is the decision maker likely to be technically savvy? Is he or she likely to respond only to someone with equal deftness? Well-honed skills are required to bypass gatekeepers, demonstrate value in upgrades and converse with empathy and acumen. Add persistence when your service is likely to be considered by more than one decision maker. Follow-up calls are usually required. Programmed by the dialer, the call is rerouted to the original TSR. This representative must display awareness and warmth as the discussion resumes months later.

Next, assess your product. If you sell product of any complexity, you should consider outsourcing to a specialist. The bureau you select should have extensive experience and proven success selling what you market. You should be able to set parameters for sales per hour, list penetration, cost per sale, talk time, contacts per hour and calling times, confident that the entire call center -- owners, operations, information technology, monitoring and client service -- are poised to exceed your expectations.

The Outbound Sales Dynamic
Every TSR is empowered by technical/ sales training and motivated by an affection for selling. Incentives are designed to fill in the gaps. A sales dynamic we have found to be very effective is as follows: for clients with long-term needs and multiple offerings, TSRs assigned to your less-complex sales will earn lower commissions. However, as soon as they prove themselves, they become eligible to move up to the higher commission programs. Over a period of years, you will be able to depend on a core of TSRs heavily steeped in your company's corporate culture and technology. In your project ramp-up, you will be able to specify the experience of each assigned TSR. There could be four or more levels from which to choose.

Few operations directors dispute that the ability to sell is largely innate. A person can be trained to be adequate; however, if he or she does not possess the requisite resourcefulness, you have an excellent blended candidate. This person may be articulate enough to offer genuine customer service. He or she may possess writing, research and analytical skills sufficient to respond to e-mail and conduct literate Web chat. To expect to find many persons with these skills and expect them to be cracker-jack sellers is an illusion.

If what you require is a customer service manager to answer inbound queries, with some light selling, either on the inbound call or a subsequent outbound call, a blended agency is the answer. However, given the "Finn case," the lesson is that even "easy" sales should be considered for dedicated outbound selling. Had Finn been called and asked the right questions before he was so far gone, the TSR would have detected that Finn was looking for a faster Internet connection. The agent could have enticed Finn to agree to a future sales call. Finn's record would have been captured and could have been uploaded to a dedicated outbound partner.

Dedicated Outbound Benefits
A confident dedicated outbound bureau partner will accept a sizable risk. In exchange for a modest hourly rate and a generous commission, the bureau will wager it can achieve your key performance indicators and make a profit. By preferring a commission, the outbound call center will pay TSRs whatever it takes to sell your product, as opposed to a flat hourly rate which is always negotiable. There are, however, no guarantees.

Risk-sharing motivates your outbound partner. You never know how much you can sell until you begin selling. In an outbound setting, there is flexibility to experiment with different scenarios to boost numbers. Say that after two months your product is selling at 0.5 sales per hour (SPH). You are ecstatic, but your partner is not. The bureau knows that a few more tweaks here or there could raise the numbers substantially. For example, your outsourced partner could boost commissions on one program, drop commissions on another, intensify mentoring and monitoring, experiment with "best time to call" scenarios, trade supervisors between projects and substitute high producers on one program for those faltering on another. Because it does not contend with inbound queues, your dedicated outbound partner can shut down the call center floor, retrain on the spot, practice script changes and recraft rebuttals.

Any combination of these strategies could boost your sales by another 0.2 SPH or even 0.5 SPH. Four months later, reps are selling at 0.7 SPH or 1.0 SPH. You wonder how you were satisfied with a 0.5 SPH. Topping themselves is what dedicated teleservices is about. Success means their SPH rises and your cost per sale goes down.

If you are selling to businesses, your dedicated bureau will know the time to call decision makers is between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. weekdays. Outbound telemarketing is driven by list penetration, and you cannot penetrate an outbound list without exhausting the best times to call. A strong benefit of a dedicated outbound agency is that it does not have to worry about unanticipated inbound queues that can thwart scheduled callbacks.

The outbound call center is not dying a slow growth death. Technology is forcing dedicated outbound centers to rediscover the human element in telemarketing. Big corporations around the world are splitting into smaller operating units and distributing decision-making authority to focus on clients' specific needs. This trend toward specialization is also at work in the teleservices industry.

Although technology has rendered unrecognizable the bygone call center, the human being at the telephone remains the same. The future belongs to quality, as this magazine has so eloquently argued for years.

Scott Kleinknecht is a partner at Protocall Communications of Laurel, Maryland. Protocall is a dedicated outbound service bureau specializing in high-tech business-to-business sales and lead generation.

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