Cutting third-party call center offers helps Lillian Vernon
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
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
"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
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
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-
"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
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
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
The shorter average call time "also translates to customer
satisfaction, because callers can complete their interaction with us
more quickly," Ms. Porell said.