Cutting third-party call center offers helps Lillian Vernon

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After cataloger and online retailer Lillian Vernon's call center went 
under the microscope last year, several upsell offers were eliminated 
and the average script time was reduced, resulting in lower staffing 
costs.
Soon after its acquisition last summer by Sun Capital Partners, 
Lillian Vernon management, led by new president/CEO Michael Muoio, 
was interested in knowing its telemarketing operations better. At 
issue was the ROI delivered by the nearly decade-long practice of 
having call center reps. try to upsell callers with in-house and 
third-party offers.
"There was some curiosity as to if it was beneficial even though it 
was bringing in money," said Peg Porell, quality assurance manager at 
Lillian Vernon, Virginia Beach, VA.
The management wanted to compare the impact of the dollars coming via 
the selling program versus the cost of making the offers.
The firm was keen to gauge the time call center agents were taking to 
make the pitches, concerned that customers might be feeling some 
"fatigue" since it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep the 
offers fresh.
The offers were made on a daily basis and consisted either of an 
internal Lillian Vernon (www.lillianvernon.com) promotion or a third-
party offer for a magazine subscription or insurance. Once customers 
had purchased an offer, the system was designed so that they wouldn't 
hear that specific promotion again.
Because the offers did provide an additional revenue stream for the 
company, senior management wanted hard numbers before making any 
decisions.
Therefore, Lillian Vernon contracted with HyperQuality Inc., a 
Seattle-based contact center quality assurance firm, to conduct agent 
evaluations in its call centers at the start of the busy holiday season.
HyperQuality was already monitoring Lillian Vernon's call center 
calls and telling agents how they could improve. To evaluate the 
upsell portion of the calls, HyperQuality trained its staff to know 
how to "time stamp" a call, or indicate exactly when a new portion of 
the call - such as the upsell - had begun, said Karen Vaughn, vice 
president of client services at HyperQuality.
In addition, HyperQuality taught its staff to recognize the various 
portions of the call.
"We look at the components within the call, put a parameter around 
them and a success level around each," Ms. Vaughn said.
What HyperQuality discovered was that, on average, calls lasted 7 
minutes and 2 seconds, with agents spending 20 percent of each call 
on various upsell offers. Breaking it down even further, 6 percent of 
the call time was spent on third-party offers and 14 percent on in-
house promotions.
"That 20 percent of the talk time is huge," Ms. Porell said. "If you 
can narrow it down even a little, you can handle calls much more 
efficiently."
As a result of the HyperQuality study, Lillian Vernon decided to 
eliminate the third-party offers as well as those in-house offers 
that weren't getting a good response. It also removed some verbiage 
from the script, reducing the script time 84 seconds overall.
The elimination of some offers should also result in increased 
customer satisfaction. The evaluation found that some customers felt 
"they had heard the offers before and wanted to move on," Ms. Porell 
said.
By reducing the length of calls, Lillian Vernon's agents now are able 
to take more calls during a shift and the company can hire fewer 
agents, saving money on staffing.
Lillian Vernon employs 100 to 150 full- and part-time phone agents 
year round, with a peak of 750 to 800 between Halloween and the end 
of January.
The shorter average call time "also translates to customer 
satisfaction, because callers can complete their interaction with us 
more quickly," Ms. Porell said.

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