Good (not cheap) Telemarketing
By Alicia Orr Suman
Have telemarketers gotten nicer? As a member of the direct marketing community, I have not put my name on the state Do-Not-Call (DNC) list. And I've noticed of late an increased level of politeness from the people who call me on the phone to sell some product or service. Is this my imagination?
The answer to that question isn't really important. But it raises a point: With fewer names in their calling pools—as a result of more Americans asking that their names be put on DNC lists—telemarketers should be doing all they can to make sure every call is maximized.
Even more importantly, marketers certainly can't afford to tick off people to the extent where they run to add their name to the DNC rolls.
I asked telemarketing and customer service expert Liz Kislik of Liz Kislik Associates for her take on what impact the growing DNC presence is having. Kislik: "I can't really say whether telemarketers are going to be more concerned and sensitive; but boy, I certainly can say that they should be."
Making It Work
"Sensitivity" has two meanings in this case. First and most important is compliance with all laws and regulations. Resources such as Call Compliance's online Regulatory Guide (www.cci.regulatory- guide.com) and The Direct Marketing Association's guide, "10 Steps to Making a Sale under the FTC's New Telemarketing Sales Rule" (the-dma.org/guidelines/tsr.pdf) may help.
But beyond compliance, the key to the continued viability of this medium rests in the hands of the reps who make the calls: How do they come across to the consumers on the other end of the line?
What's needed is "training of call center employees, at all levels," says Joseph Sanscrainte, director of Regulatory Affairs/General Counsel at Call Compliance Inc.
What kind of training do today's reps really need? Kislik says the most important thing for reps is listening skills. "Listening to understand, not just to figure out which thing to say next. Really understanding benefits and value propositions. Learning how to express them persuasively, which might or might not involve scripting. Learning how and when to back off—how to be nice!"
Reps should not be given what Kislik refers to as, "pat, formulaic language like, 'Wouldn't you be interested if I could show you how you can save money on your whatchamacallit?'"
Call guides work better than such stilted scripting, but they take more time to develop, teach and learn, notes Kislik.
At odds with the need for improved call quality is call quantity. "No matter what, you want to have volume in an outbound telemarketing operation," says Sanscrainte. "But you have to balance consideration for call quality."
He continues, "Especially with the prospect of a rapidly reducing number of prospects out there, trying to raise the quality of your calls becomes more important than ever."
Strategically, the quality of calls will improve if the focus is on conversion rather than production. Look at sales instead of calls per hour.
Translation: If you're making fewer calls, you should have more time to make them as effective (and polite!) as they can be.
With less pressure on production, call center managers would feel they could spend more time on recruitment, selection, training and supervision.
Alicia Orr Suman is executive editor of Target Marketing. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.