Call Centers Play Increasing Role in Direct Marketing

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Financial companies are increasing their reliance on and investments in call centers to reach current and prospective customers.


Some statistics suggest that overall spending on customer relationship management for financial services will increase from $4 billion today to $9 billion by 2003. There are two main reasons for this spending: to improve service levels to a point of differentiation; and to inject a sales culture enterprisewide that focuses on customer needs now and in the future.


Because of what we call "the invisible customer," call centers are relied on more and more to seek and find existing and new customers. The first rule of thumb is that many different programs and strategies are being deployed, which makes it difficult to categorize efforts into one initiative.


Companies are using mass mailings effectively, still doing telemarketing (under a different name) successfully and trying to exploit the Web as a new channel. Also, more of these efforts are being tied into the enterprisewide strategy of ensuring that all contact personnel are aware of customer interaction. This means the financial company is prepared even when the customer initiates an interaction. For example, a branch sales representative is aware of active marketing campaigns originating out of the call center and can act on those if the customer appears in the branch.


The one common denominator has always been analyzing the results to determine the effectiveness of the campaign. This analysis then feeds the follow-up marketing. One company took a novel approach in analyzing all the positive responses (i.e., those who purchased a product) rather than focusing on the negative; it found this to increase sales by looking at why people were buying.


Increasingly, companies are trying to understand more about their target markets by deploying data warehouses. These warehouses assist the marketing analyst by letting him bring the marketing aspect to a one-to-one level, meaning that customers being solicited probably have a need for the product being offered.


Though marketing analysts have always tried to focus on a target market, today they have more access to information. Plus, they have more vehicles to promote their products. For example, there are companies capturing information about their own customer base from their own data stores, as well as from external data stores. Not only does this include static information, such as name and address, telephone number, income, products, etc., but it also includes variable information, which may be customer activity at an ATM or a voice response unit, or even automatic call distributor information.


The call center agent is also an important source of information gathering, scripted to ask the right questions based on the call. Ultimately, it is important to understand these types of statistics by customer, to analyze profitability models of the customer, channel and product. This is key to developing effective marketing campaigns.


An example of this is how companies position their Web offerings. For competitive reasons alone, a company must have a Web presence. But how a company uses that channel within its product mix and pricing structures is a key strategy initiative. Should a company bundle in Web access free of charge as part of a product offering that comes with some price tag? If a customer decides to interact with you over the Web, should he be given an incentive by paying a different interest rate? What about customers who may come from a related Web site? This information must be factored into direct marketing campaigns.


The call center is a critical because it is the execution arm of this analysis. The following are questions and some key points to keep in mind when using the call center for direct marketing:


• Will the direct marketing efforts be blended into the existing infrastructure, including the existing personnel? Some companies have used the same staff for marketing efforts by paying that staff overtime for after-hours work. There also have been large groups set up specifically to deal with direct mail, telemarketing and Web interaction, all centered on product campaigns.


• Should you outsource aspects of the marketing efforts? This is an article in itself, but outsourcers can provide many benefits, including expertise in the subject matter, a dedicated staff 24/7, advanced technology, and a pricing model based on the project or program (i.e., when the program ends, your costs end).


• Do you have the right personnel? Are they sales oriented? Do they understand the product offerings? Have they been trained?


• What latitude are you giving to your call center? Must these employees follow a script, or can they react to variations that come up while the customer is on the line? (Example: If you have an outbound campaign to call all customers whose CDs are maturing because you want to retain the funds, what other products can you suggest if they do not want to roll the money over? Can you negotiate rates? The same is true when dealing with loan products.)


• What other areas must the call center interact with to respond to a customer? Many banks, for example, have not included their branch personnel with knowledge of specific campaigns. What if the customer takes your direct mail piece into the branch?


• Is the call center capturing all the necessary information from the customer that will help the marketing analyst with campaign results and follow-up actions?


• Finally, do you have the right technology to support your call center efforts?


Call centers can and will play a big role in marketing. And as customers continue to use alternate channels and become financially savvier, the level of sophistication required from the call center will only increase.


• Rege Rapp is senior vice president, business unit manager, at Fiserv, Brookfield, WI, an information technology company for the financial industry.

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