Virtual Tour Tells Tale of Two Call Centers

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ORLANDO, FL -- Instead of going offsite for a call center tour as had been done in past years at the Direct Marketing Association's annual Teleservices Conference, attendees stayed at the hotel for a video tour last week.

The virtual tour of two call centers -- one inbound and domestic, the other outbound and offshore -- emphasized that no matter where a call center is located, employees are the key to teleservices success.

Attendees here at the Omni Championsgate who gathered for the conference's final session saw presentations by America Online and PacificHub, a call center based in the Philippines. America Online's presentation focused on its domestic, inbound customer service operations whereas the PacificHub presentation explained an outbound calling program.

AOL's customer service and retention programs succeed by ensuring that call reps are focused and enthusiastic, said Tom Karinshak, executive director of loyalty programs for AOL. To do that, AOL uses marketing techniques that normally are used on prospective customers.

AOL internal communications feature videos, e-mail, newsletters, print collateral, contests and catchphrases. In response to competition from broadband Internet service providers, AOL developed the "Bring Your Own Access" concept, in which people with separate broadband connections could pay to continue using AOL content and services.

AOL mounted a marketing program to explain and sell the idea to customer service reps so they, in turn, could sell the product to customers, Karinshak said. The campaign used catchphrases like "Hook 'em up" and "Show 'em the way with BYOA." CSRs were successful in converting 800,000 customers to AOL for Broadband in 2003.

This year, AOL ran a contest that pitted its domestic centers against each other. AOL used a video campaign with a football theme and assigned each call center a team name, such as the "Jacksonville Hurricanes." The top prize was a celebrity visit by Emmitt Smith, the National Football League's career rushing leader.

In the case of PacificHub, conference attendees heard the story of how president and chief operating officer Bill McLaughlin struggled to persuade investors to help him open an outbound call center in the Philippines. Filipinos were considered too laid back to do outbound selling and more suited for customer service, McLaughlin said.

"Well, I found some investors," McLaughlin said. "Not only does it work, it works better than anywhere in the world."

The secret of PacificHub's success is teamwork, McLaughlin said. Filipinos like a "home atmosphere" and close relationships with supervisors, so employees at PacificHub get a hot meal every day, have a karaoke bar attached to the office and enjoy a 13-to-1 employee-to-supervisor ratio.

PacificHub's employees have proven loyal, with less than 20 percent attrition each year, McLaughlin said. They are highly qualified, with 95 percent having college degrees. One PacificHub call center director who accompanied McLaughlin to the show had a medical degree.

PacificHub started doing simple call campaigns, but has since advanced to complex, multiple-call sales campaigns and account management, McLaughlin said.

Scott Hovanyetz covers telemarketing, production and printing and direct response TV marketing for DM News and To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting

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