CRM Contact Centers Will Shift From Price to Service

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The teleservices industry has grown exponentially in technology and human resources deployment in the past 20 years. This has produced more profit-driven differentiation of services in the internal and outsourced contact center arenas. The Direct Marketing Association estimates total call center volume in 2004 to exceed $240 billion in expenditure. Though the figure doesn't take the national no-call registry into account, it still represents an industry with a vibrant future.


The next 36 months will bring a drive away from technology and price-based outsourcing toward a more traditional model that focuses on shareholder revenue, retention of customers across the clients' diversified bases and value on the outsourced investment or simple ROI. Both our industry clients and their customers want to be treated as customers, not as transactions. This will create a shift from technological-based solutions to live agents.


The demand for these live agents to multi-task, service, sell and cross-sell a client's products, as well as communicate across voice and e-mail venues, will create a need for a more highly trained and skilled agent than in the current price-based environment.


These new agents will be defined by their ability to cross-sell service and manage customer relationships across different media. These new client brand managers (CBMs) will develop as a response to client demand for performance and quality.


Products and services will be differentiated by clients, not prices. Within each client, specific differentiation will occur by individual client customer portfolios. This practice of diversifying and segmenting individual customer portfolios by brand, habit and demand will become the complete realization of what CRM services will deliver.


A spectrum of services will be covered and managed by CBMs including billing, reporting, sales, payroll, fulfillment, collections, human resources screening, upselling, cross-selling and customer retention.


For the past several years, drivers for production have been the economies of scale and technology that have driven contact center savings. Today and in the future, quality service and revenue by human contact will be the strategic initiative.


The industry will be charged with growing client portfolios and developing non-industry-specific solutions for sales and acquisition. It also will have responsibility for preserving brand identity, creating a perception of excellence for customer service via e-commerce and voice transactions, executing projects and exceeding metrics.


Other capabilities needed by call centers of the future include scaling capacity as client needs change, providing a solutions-based approach for service and delivery challenges and developing quality-specific pricing by project that can be measured in real time.


Call centers will have to execute all of these processes while increasing client shareholder revenue and closely managing expenses. Our industry must be poised to design, implement and deliver the high-end solutions demanded by the competitiveness of today's economy. We need to focus on exceptionally trained agents and innovation in product and campaign design that will change the industry for the better.


The recent attention brought to telemarketing by the no-call regulations will hasten the switch to more developed programs. What consumers really are tiring of is the process of marketing, not the message.


Telemarketing replaced door-to-door sales as a methodology of reaching the consumer with a specific product presentation. It will be replaced by more precise direct marketing and specialized service offerings to consumers that ultimately will increase revenue and provide exceptional levels of service to the customer.


Consumer perception in some quarters is that telemarketing is a quasi-criminal activity. It is time to face the possibility that we will be further tarnished by the criminal element that will engage in false charity work and the abuse of legitimate programs. As before, the responsibility will fall on each of us to develop and execute a certification program that will ensure the professionalism and integrity of our industry.


The coming changes of the customer relationship management process juxtaposed to the national no-call regulations create an interesting era, not unlike the posting of do-not-solicit signs across our nation in the early 1970s. Then as now the creative innovations of commerce that create, provide for and run our country will overcome the abusers, criminals and ill-informed politicians who seek to limit and abuse the process of creating commerce.


The leaders of our industries will develop, implement and manage their way through these challenges and continue to succeed on the simple principle of Adam Smith's "invisible hand," that the market will dictate the calling and sales patterns as it always has. People are buying through the mail and over the phone, and they are buying in large numbers.


The irony is that people might now become inundated with political and solicitation calls for charities. We cannot afford as a nation any negativity about our political process or let charities become an annoyance. But that is another issue that perhaps our lawmakers have not thought through, as was the case when they eliminated 2 million jobs in telemarketing.


The fit, creative and stable companies will survive, and the commerce of our nation will be the better for it. After all, one still sees the do-not-solicit signs in offices where sales occur every day.


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