TELEMARKETING New Age Technology Turns Telemarketers into Tech
By Sharon R. Cole
Live chat rooms aren't just for Internet happy friends who tap and click their way through conversations. It seems some telemarketers also are wiring into this popular resource as a way to communicate with customers wanting quick, real-time responses to basic inquiries. At least this is the case for USA-800, Kansas City, MO. With new tech-savvy tools such as live chat, e-mail, instant Web-page pushing and click-to-call options, the primarily inbound contact center is able to service customers using a keyboard and a mouse.
"Our conversion from a call center to a contact center is defined by flat growth rates in toll free phone usage and an increasing rate of Internet use," says USA-800 president and CEO Tom Davis. "Because of this shift, I'm encouraging more direct marketers to set up interactive Web sites that incorporate tools that humanize their customers' online experience."
The Human Touch
Through live chat, customers navigating a direct marketer's Web site are able to get on-demand responses. Not only that, but "chatting" agents can handle three or four customer requests at one time—something they can't do on the phone. Davis explains that many Internet-adept users prefer the convenience even if they have to give up some human interaction. For those wanting a more personal connection, however, the click-to-call option exists.
"This allows Web-browsing consumers to input their phone numbers and then click the option triggering a telemarketing agent to call them immediately," Davis says.
At this point, instant Web page pushing can be enabled. While conversing, the agent can push through a Web page that is pertinent to the browsing consumer's inquiry. "We call this 'Web collaboration,'" Davis says. "We can even use our wipe board technology that enables the agent to draw on the screen that is seen by the agent and customer simultaneously."
By clicking on an option to send an inquiry via e-mail, consumers can expect a response within 24 to 48 hours—an accepted time frame for e-mail users.
Because of this diversification, Davis says business is growing and revenues are up. And because direct marketers are pouring money into new Web sites, they need to outsource their high-traffic online customer queries, he adds. In addition, they need to move the perpetual costs of changing technology to a contact center that can spread the cost across its client base.
"Our customers want to focus on their core competencies so they are letting us handle the advancing technology," Davis says. "Now we are much more integrated with our clients' marketing programs and we've become the experts who can give them advice."
Positive effects on the staff also have resulted from the new technology. Davis reports that employee morale has boosted while turnover rates have declined, which he attributes to increased responsibility, new challenges and job variation. "Agents are developing new skill sets to handle Internet communication," says Davis. "Instead of spending eight hours on the telephone, reps spend time on the Internet, the phone and researching inquiries."
At The Telemarketing Co. (TTC), Chicago, IL, telemarketing reps are Internet accessible in a different way. According to TTC's vice president of sales and marketing Bob Aloisio, telephone service representatives (TSRs) receive phone calls and input order information that is then automatically sent to the cataloger via the Internet. While direct marketers appreciate the quick reporting provided through the Internet, Aloisio says, it's TTC's new telephone technology that is getting the most praise. Such technology includes an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system, a Computer Telephone Integration (CTI) link for inbound callers and a sophisticated recording system to monitor calls for quality assurance.
"IVR is the voice message callers hear when they initially contact our center. It tells the caller which number to press to get the information they are looking for," Aloisio says. Acting as a screening device, IVR allows more qualified calls to come through to the center, while diverting other calls to their appropriate location. "This results in increased responses and makes for greater efficiency in our center," Aloisio says. "It also brings down billing for our clients since reps are not spending unnecessary phone time with a customer they cannot directly assist."
With a CTI link on inbound calls, Aloisio explains that the computer reads the dialed number and activates the correct order entry form to instantly appear on the telemarketer's screen. "By the time the call is routed to an available operator, that rep will be able to see what the customer is calling for and can then handle it appropriately and efficiently," he says.
To ensure the quality of service, TTC also has incorporated monitoring systems through which it can record conversations to be sent to clients digitally through e-mail. "The calls are monitored and recorded to detect a rep's strengths and weaknesses in call handling," Aloisio says. "In addition, recorded conversations can be sent to clients for further quality assurance or for specific inquiries regarding their business."
Total Response, Indianapolis, IL, also uses IVR to better service its clients, including providing member authorizations for EyeMed Vision Care, a national provider of vision health coverage with a four million member network. To handle the overload, Jodonna Hunter, director of marketing, says that steps were taken to add online vision benefit authorization for EyeMed, allowing providers access to pertinent information via the company's Web site.
Through IVR, providers are prompted to enter the required information for authorizations through their phone keypad. Providers without complete information are routed to Total Response where call center representatives are on hand to answer questions and determine vision authorization coverage benefits. "Total Response was able to do this by connecting the Total Response and EyeMed networks via a 56k leased line allowing agents for both companies access to real-time data," Hunter explains.
Advantages for Direct Marketers
Finding a contact center that could align its computer system with EyeMed's own system was at the top of EyeMed's wish list of call center capabilities. And, according to Stanley Staiger, EyeMed's senior manager of operations, Total Response's networking capabilities and technical expertise fulfilled that desire.
"The key to Total Response handling our authorizations calls was its ability to link our respective AS/400 systems," Staiger says. "Its customer service reps literally saw the exact information our service reps saw which facilitated training, communication and quality control."
Staiger adds that the IVR system significantly reduced EyeMed's operator-assisted call volume which resulted in better response times and more satisfied customers.
For the American Historic Society, Westlake Village, CA, it is TTC's upgraded telephone system that has been a great advantage.
"The Telemarketing Company's IVR system asks our customers whether they have a customer service question or if they want to order something and, if they need customer service, the call is hot transferred to our California center," says Don Baker, vice president of marketing at the American Historical Society. "This technology allows three companies to appear as one which makes it much easier for our customers."
In addition, Baker says it saves his company money since the customer doesn't have to talk to two or three reps before getting an answer. "And that increases our customer satisfaction, which increases ordering," he adds.
TTC's recorded monitoring system also receives kudos from Baker. "Their technology allows them to digitally send us, via e-mail, any recorded question a customer needs answered by us personally," Baker says. "That has proven to be an important customer satisfaction tool for us." Baker adds that being able to log on and monitor a live situation has also been helpful. "We are able to listen to calls and instantly make adjustments, such as a change in upsells, which has tremendously improved our sales," he says.
Sharon Cole is an associate editor with North American Publishing Company, Philadelphia, PA, where she writes for Promotional Marketing and Business Forms, Labels & Systems magazines.