Use Outbound to Build Relationships

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Toll-free numbers and e-mail addresses increasingly are being used to invite consumers to obtain additional information and to submit product questions. They appear in advertisements, Web sites, on product packaging and news reports on subjects ranging from headaches, magazine offers and vitamin supplements to music selections and telephone service options.


But, to further strengthen customer relationships and build brand loyalty, direct marketers should consider employing outbound teleservices programs to add outreach and value for customers responding to advertisements, Web sites and news reports.


The most progressive product and services marketers have recognized that their inbound customer contact programs require reinforcement. Building a customer relations model for telephone contact requires that knowledgeable and sensitive customer service representatives reach out to consumers.


Avoiding aggressive sales calls. The trend in outbound teleservices for complementing inbound programs is shifting away from aggressive outbound sales calls to easing consumer fears and concerns and adding value and quality to the consumer interaction. Employing kinder, gentler customer contact representatives who put customers at ease and address their product/service-related concerns and questions is vital.


Today's priority is more about improving customer relationships than aggressively selling product.


Customers who, for example, have already raised concerns and questions by calling the inbound toll-free number posted with a product or service marketing ad, or who have sent an e-mail in response to a manufacturer's Web site, can later be followed up to ensure that they received the information they requested.


To increase the manufacturer's outreach, customers can also be queried about effective product use, customer satisfaction and qualitative results. In addition to cementing inbound customer relationships, outbound calls can help close the sale on record or tape club selections or take monthly reorders as appropriate.


Customer retention is enhanced by friendly personal reminders to order refills for satisfactory products, advise customers of new products/services, discount sales and special offers, or alert them to new literature - a major benefit of employing outbound teleservices. To borrow a marketing adage, the best new customer is a repeat customer.


Also, outbound calls to customers are vital to collect customer data used to develop fresh marketing campaigns for new and existing products and services or those that are still in development.


An outreach call can offer a free subscription to a company's newsletter or provide product improvement information to build stronger customer loyalty and encourage customers to consider future purchases.


Finally, consider outsourcing your telephone customer contact requirements. Outbound calls may require some new skills you may not have internally, perhaps new levels of delicateness, sensitivity, professionalism, tact, tone of voice or product moxie. Rather than trying to retrain existing staff or hiring new people with these skills, it may make sense to outsource this function.


The following are some dos for outbound calling:


o Build a telephone response program for use with each call-in advertisement or call-in opportunity.


o Carefully select outbound customer contact representatives for manner, patience, sensitivity and telephone clarity.


o Use outbound calling to offer reminders and capabilities for reordering products and service continuations.


o Use it to advise respondents of related new literature and new offers.


o Use it to offer subscriptions to product and company newsletters.


o Use it to offer a free sample and/or coupons for over-the-counter items.


o Use it to conduct telephone customer service surveys.


o Use it to conduct product marketing surveys.


o Consider outsourcing outbound contacts for cost-effectiveness and flexibility.


The following are don'ts for outbound calling efforts.


o Don't use outbound representatives who are impersonal or who might intimidate or otherwise make recipients uncomfortable.


o Don't use representatives accustomed to hard-sell approaches to recipients. Employ representatives who are tuned in to the customer during calls so that they can offer to call back at a better time if they hear or sense distraction from the prospect.


o Don't assign outbound calling as an afterthought to be used when all of the other work is completed. Consistency will ensure success.


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