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Call Center/CRM Management Scope
March 2004

Legislation Doesn't Always Mean Loss Of Productivity

By Kathleen Kelly, TeleDirect International, Inc.

In the past few months, there has been a lot of emphasis on the downside of the national do-not-call registry (NDNCR) and related telemarketing regulations. Contact centers have wrung their hands over loss of productivity. Associations within the contact center industry have predicted significant impact as an outfall to the new requirements. Despite the accuracy of some of these predictions, there are a number of companies that have seen little to no loss of productivity between the pre- and post-October 1st timeframe. Their 'bumpless transfer' can be attributed to three factors:
' Early, coordinated planning that involved key members from all departments;
' Implementation of a leading technology solution to meet the new requirements, particularly abandonment rates and NDNCR list management; and
' Unswerving focus on meeting the needs of their customers.
These factors have enabled contact centers to maintain a competitive advantage despite a challenging legislative environment.

Top Teleservices Outsourcer Planned Early For October 1, 2003
The modification of internal processes and smart application of technology have helped one service provider gain competitive advantage. Headquartered in the Midwest, this company has been ranked as one of the 'Top 50' teleservices firms by Customer Inter@ction Solutions' magazine and has 400 employees in call centers in Iowa and Minnesota. It provides high-quality outbound teleservices through its business-to-consumer and business-to-business divisions to help companies increase revenues and is known for its excellent service and cost-effective results.
With the advent of the FTC and FCC regulations early in 2003, the company made the strategic business decision to move forward, regardless of whether or not the regulations would actually take effect.
'This enabled us to keep our focus,' explained their vice president of client services, 'and not have to watch the news every day to determine how we were going to operate. We already knew what our future plans would be.'
Beginning in February 2003, a compliance task force was formed to plan for the upcoming compliance issues. The task force focused on deciphering the legal issues, as well as understanding the company's internal business practices and how they would affect customers.
'Even though it sounds like a clich', we made the decision early on that we wanted to be a leader in compliance,' said the vice president. 'While the result of the NDNCR is to shrink caller lists, we believe that by being at the forefront of compliance we will have a competitive advantage and gain business because of it. The reality is that not every call center is going to be able to stay compliant or to be able to change or adjust their internal processes. By putting together the right processes with the right ethical business practices and the right technology, we felt we could increase our market position and increase revenues.'
Technology has played a key role in the service provider's preparation for the regulations. Each of its call centers is equipped with contact center automation software and linked through a local area network (LAN). Some of the technology features they have leveraged include:
Abandonment Rate ' the system allows them to set the abandonment rate for each individual campaign, which they have established at 2.5 percent, below the required 3.0 percent. The system tracks the abandoned calls and also plays a recorded message identifying the caller on whose behalf the call is being placed. With this information, they are able to determine which calls are abandoned, as well as when and why.
Caller I.D. ' when the caller I.D. portion of the regulations went into effect in late January 2004, telemarketers were required to transmit their caller I.D. information and were prohibited from blocking this information. While standard T1 connections can transmit caller I.D., this end user's new technology, coupled with changing to ISDN/PRI lines, allows them to send unique caller I.D. numbers for each campaign or client.
Answering Machine Detection ' some technology solutions force their users to disable answering machine detection to avoid unnecessarily annoying customers who are mistakenly interpreted by the system as an answering machine. The service provider ensured that their system could pick up continuous voice, any subtle voice or look for something consistently in the same tone so that 'live connects' were transferred to agents and not dropped by mistake.
Integrated Reporting/Results Tracking ' call results are accumulated automatically and can be summarized on command. This enables frequent monitoring of campaign processes, allowing for short-term corrections as needed to ensure compliance.
Digital Voice Logging ' the digital voice logging capability enables the audio monitoring of agents who are logged into the system, as well as the ability to play back, retrieve, organize and archive digital audio recordings. This capability satisfied the tracking requirements of the new FTC/FCC regulations.
Knowing that technology alone can't solve the problem, the firm has enhanced its call center operations through a concerted educational program to increase awareness about the regulations among employees and customers. Each employee has undergone intense compliance training multiple times to prepare for the changeover. The compliance task force prepared reference manuals and also administered quizzes and tests to assess comprehension.
'The education of employees was conducted to support the technology in place,' said the vice president, 'and we also conducted an e-mail campaign to educate our customers. We broke the regulations down in layman terms and explained the existing business relationship exemption and caller I.D. components in different installments as part of an ongoing series.'
Specialized teams were also formed in order to call on existing customers on the NDNCR list. The team was sensitized to address the responses of those customers who weren't aware of the existing business relationship (EBR) exemption clause of the new regulations. 'There's certainly a right way to inform customers of that clause without inflaming them or making them angry,' said the executive. 'We trained our agents on how to handle those calls. Consequently, we have not received many questions or complaints.'

Increased Competitive Edge, Reduced Annoyance
By organizing a task force specifically to focus on the regulations, with representatives from different departments, including human resources and finance, this teleservices firm has stayed ahead of the compliance game.
'You can't take your eye off the ball,' is their philosophy, 'so we monitor the regulations continually. Education about the regulations is critical.'

Cable Company Feels It's Better To Be Safe Than Sorry
Yet another company that has seen no dip in its productivity since October 1, thanks to careful planning, is an east coast cable company. The firm has come a long way from its origins in the 1940s with some of the country's first cable television systems. The company now serves nearly 11 million customers in 27 states. A key cornerstone of the company's philosophy is offering the highest customer service possible, featuring user convenience, value and choice.
As the company expands its services to keep up with a changing market, it has also been faced with increasing regulations and the need to comply with the NDNCR and associated guidelines to prevent customer annoyance. One of the largest operating divisions has approached the registry with a combination of technology, preparation and training.
In preparing for the telemarketing requirements and challenges, the cable company's checklist included such factors as compliance with abandonment rates; playing recorded messages when necessary and having a guaranteed ring time of no less than 15 seconds. According to its division's director of sales, 'With the new guidelines, we had to rethink how we conducted business, the call abandonment rate, displaying caller I.D., how often we recycled records and how all that that affected the telemarketing to our existing customers.'
Their early decision was to comply with the requirements, despite the uncertainty regarding their legality and future viability. The director served as point person for multiple company sites. He and his team maintained a constant focus on the FTC and FCC Web sites. They read the regulations thoroughly, involved the corporate attorneys to seek their interpretations and recommendations, and talked to other divisions. 'The environment was changing by the hour,' noted the executive.
He also attended the fall 2003 ATA conference to get up to speed. During the general discussions, he noticed some attendees were looking for loopholes. 'Our approach has been different,' he said. 'We took a look at the most restrictive of all the regulations, and that's what we're complying with. Better safe than sorry. If someone doesn't want to be called, we want to honor that. We feel we can still be pretty effective with our telemarketing services and acknowledge requests that people don't want to be called.'
If targeted by the FTC, companies will have to prove they have provided compliance training to their personnel. The cable company required every one of its customer service telemarketers, direct sales reps and administrative staff to sign off that they've received and read information that summarized the guidelines. A copy of the signed acknowledgment is included in their personnel files.
Over the last few months, the division has focused on ensuring its call center complies with the following restrictions:
Connecting Calls Immediately To Avoid 'Dead Air.' They can detect that a human has answered a call and immediately connect the call to an agent so the agent can respond correctly after the first 'hello,' reducing hang ups and customer annoyance.
Ring At Least 15 Seconds to avoid having consumers answer the phone and find no one at the other end, the FTC/FCC requires each call to last a minimum of 15 seconds. The company employs a customizable setting on its system that ensures no phone call will be terminated before a predefined number of seconds.
Recycle Templates. In the past, telemarketers would often call a consumer's home repeatedly throughout the day. The premise was that more attempts would result in more contacts and thus an increased ability to sell their product or service. To eliminate the annoyance that this causes, the cable company implemented a revised recycle template within the dialer. This template predetermines how frequently, and at what intervals, you call a consumer back on any given campaign. The new rules were set to dial after four hours, assuring the call center that on any given day they would not attempt to call any phone number more than three times. As a result of the recycle templates, the 500+ upset consumer calls that used to come into the center each day have been reduced to less than 20.
National Do-Not-Call Registry ' Once the system database has been updated with the appropriate national/state do-not-call list, the system automatically propagates the numbers out to the individual clients' lists and flags records so they will never be dialed. Each number is also checked against all appropriate tables in real-time before dialing, an additional level of assurance that a restricted number on the NDNCR will not be contacted.

Increased Performance, Reduced Annoyance
The division has seen an increased contact rate with customers, and reduced needless attempts, all while reducing customer annoyance and complying with the regulations.
Their advice to call center managers facing similar challenges is to 'interpret the laws conservatively, opt on the side of caution, comply with the most restrictive of the rules and resist looking for the crack in the sidewalk or the way out.' Protect your business and the integrity of your lists, they recommend, and honor consumers' requests that they not be called.
Preparing for the intervention by government into their business has been a challenge for call centers in a variety of industries. 'It's been a bear to get our arms around,' said the director of sales, 'but with our own research, with insight from people throughout the industry, and the aid of intelligent automation, we have obtained the guidance and options necessary to manage data and calling in a customer-friendly, compliant, responsive and productive manner.'

These are just two examples of companies that planned for the legislative impact early, leveraged automation to meet the new regulations and focused on providing unparalleled, uninterrupted service to their customer base. Going forward, their best advice to call centers for 2004 is keep these three factors in mind and work closely with your in-house legal counsel to ensure your practices meet the guidelines.

Kathleen Kelly is president and CEO of TeleDirect International, Inc. (www.tdirect.com), a Scottsdale, Arizona-based provider of contact center performance solutions.

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