Automated, Multichannel Strategy Boosts Sales
The automated project began two years ago with a new telephone strategy and expanded last year with the introduction of a still-evolving e-mail system. It now fields 800,000 to 1 million calls a year and 2,500 to 3,000 e-mails a month.
"We started two years ago, but we are continuing to modify it as the business evolves," said Mike Burroughs, vice president of operations, Phillips Publishing Inc., Potomac, MD.
On the telephone side, the company uses 60 distinct 800 numbers representing different products and promotions to segment calls into categories. A dialed number identification system routes the different inbound lines to the appropriate agents. The 60 inbound lines are also used to route calls between centers in high-volume periods.
"If one center is very busy, we can isolate a number and send it to the other center," Burroughs said. "It's a trafficking tool."
For existing customers, the company uses automatic number identification to recognize the phone number customers are calling from, and then automatically populates agent screens with customer information.
"When someone calls in from a recognizable number, the agent will ask a few questions to make sure its the right person, but the agent already has the customer information on the screen. The agent has some extra time to look over the screen and absorb information as the customer is being identified at the beginning of the call," Burroughs said. "It gives agents a heads up of what the customer might want to talk about and adds talking points. For example, if a customer had called the week before because of a missed delivery, the agent could start by saying 'did you get that newsletter we sent out last week?' It allows us to build a better rapport with customers."
Using the Edge database from IMA, Shelton, CT, the company captures all pertinent account and purchase history information on each customer and stores it in the customer's profile.
Contacts to the company are stored in categories according to the nature of the question or request to allow the company to better track customer concerns. Categories, or boxes, might range from groups of customers who have called about a missed delivery to groups of customers who have called about a stock written about in a financial newsletter. This has helped the company better establish customer purchase patterns and interests to identify upsell and cross-sell opportunities.
"Basically, we receive requests from customers and match them to our database, and our database knows that if a customer has X request, we have Y product offering built right in," Burroughs said. "We add some logic into adding a small, attractive offer associated with the response. It might be as simple as an early renewal. Because the system has helped us to build a rapport with the customer, upsells and cross-sells are easier to sell."
Cross-sell and upsell offers worked so well that the Edge database paid for itself within the first year from the rise in incremental sales alone, said Burroughs.
As with telephone contacts, e-mails are stored in each customer's profile. They are answered by an e-mail-dedicated group of agents who have access to the same information as telephone representatives.
"If you sent an e-mail at 10 last night, I wanted the telephone agent at 9 a.m. to be able to see it as part of the customer history," said Burroughs. "We track the number of transmissions and the type of transmissions, we want to be able to get information that is useful from our e-mail operation."
With e-mails, as with telesales, agents offer cross-sells and upsells based on the nature of the customer contact, though this process is still evolving.
"It's easier to develop a rapport over the phone than over e-mail. With e-mail, we often get four or five lines saying this is what I want, please advise," Burroughs said. "Many people are just happy that we are able to answer them. E-mail is still so new as a customer service medium that some companies don't respond or take a very long time to respond."
The company plans to add technology that will automatically put cross-sell and upsell opportunities in e-mails rather than have e-mail agents add them. Burroughs expects the company's e -mail volume to rise to 500,000 a year within the next couple of years.