Technology Rings Up Call Center Success

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Inbound call centers, outbound call centers, call centers for consumers and business-to-business marketing and call centers specializing in healthcare, debt collection, sales of automobiles, cellular phones or kitchen appliances -- there is a bewildering array of options and challenges.


What technology should a well-equipped call center have and why?


The short answer is that the call center should accommodate the shopping habits of your target audience. Call-center automation can be beneficial as can improvements to call-center technology.


The call center you select should be able to place outbound calls for its agents automatically, with no manual dialing. In this way, the call-center management system handles the unproductive calls, like those that connect to answering machines, busy signals and unanswered phones. Only live contacts are passed on to call-center agents.


Inbound call centers are similarly automated. With an automated attendant, calls are passed to agents trained on the specific topic.


With the appropriate call-center environment, you can make shopping convenient for your customers. But beyond basic automation, a number of technological advances can help you sell your products through telemarketing.


For example, do you sell to people likely to surf the Internet? If so, your call center should be equipped with one of the new Web-callback products.


Let's say a shopper -- whether a consumer or BTB prospect -- is browsing the Web, looking at your product as well as the products of two competitors. After hitting your Web site, reading your product description and perhaps downloading your product demo, the prospect is ready to talk turkey.


If you had a Web-callback feature integrated into your call-center management system, the prospect could click on a "Phone Me" button on your Web site. This function pops up a form requesting customer information such as name, phone number and time and date preferred for a callback (including an option for "Now").


Although this could be thought of as an inbound call, Web-callback products


typically insert the information immediately into an outbound calling campaign at the time and date specified.


The better Web-callback products allow the caller to specify information such as language skills or technical skills. The result? An appropriately skilled agent makes an outbound call at the specified time and date to an interested, self-qualified prospect.


If your two competitors' Web sites lack such a feature, you're even more likely to gain the sale because your Web site made it more convenient for the customer to obtain additional information about your product.


Many products have a long sales cycle, whether BTB or business-to-consumer marketing techniques are employed. For example, durable consumer products, such as cars or kitchen appliances, usually require several customer contacts before a decision to buy is made.


If your prospect would benefit from a follow-up with the original telemarketing rep, make sure the call-center management system you choose has both pooled and same-agent call-back features.


A same-agent callback feature allows the agent to schedule the time and date of a return call convenient to the prospect, improving your chances of making the sale.


If you're holding your call-center agents accountable by quota, this feature provides them a better opportunity to complete the original transaction.


As more call centers are staffed with sales reps individually responsible for territories -- and fewer with part-time "smilers and dialers" -- building a rapport is one of the best ways to facilitate the sale. Or consider combining the two features.


Perhaps you've initiated a telemarketing script at the end of which the agent says, "Please visit our Web site at www.ACMECO.com for more details." You might just close the sale if the consumer could, after surfing your site, click on a "Call me" button and talk again to the agent who initiated the transaction.


Of course, these examples work best in a combined inbound-outbound, or blended, call-center environment. In a well-run blended call center, agents can transfer quickly and smoothly from servicing calls on an outbound campaign to accepting inbound calls on the same or another topic.


To facilitate this, the best centers have a sophisticated scripting package or conversation-management tool on their agent desktops. Some of the better packages enable agents to access data from a number of sources at once, combining various bits of information into a single informative screen -- not a mish-mash of windows through which the agent must hot-key or toggle back and forth.


A good program will also allow virtually instantaneous changes so your telemarketing script can be altered at a moment's notice if results are not meeting expectations.


The best telemarketing campaigns are run as a carefully integrated component of the complete marketing program. With BTB telemarketing service agencies charging $40 to $55 an hour per agent, and business-to-consumer call centers weighing in at $30 to $40, there are no minutes on the phone or dollars to waste.


Focus on allowing your marketing components to complement one another. Make


plans to tie your Web site and call center together, then mention the Web site in all printed advertising and collateral materials and refer your direct mail programs to both the Web site and the call-center 800 number.


The most successful call centers are those that make it easier and more enjoyable for their customers to do business with them.


Diane Katzaman is product marketing manager at Melita International Corp., Norcross, GA.
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