VarTec Opens Campaign for Piece of German Telecom Market

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VarTec Telecom, Dallas, is branching out from the United Kingdom to mainland Europe with a direct mail campaign to promote its long-distance service in Germany.


The company is offering dial-around long-distance service -- in which customers dial a six-digit code from any phone before they dial the telephone number to use VarTec long distance -- in the German cities of Dusseldorf, Freiburg, Hamburg and Hannover.


It plans to expand the service city by city until customers in all of Germany can use VarTec long distance. Consumers in four more German cities will be able to access VarTec long distance by the end of January, the company said.


VarTec plans to drop multiple mail pieces to every household in the four cities, which have a total population of about 3 million. Eventually, the company expects to send mailers to every household in Germany, which has a population of 82 million, and will send multiple mailers to some regions depending on response rates.


To support the campaign, VarTec opened an 18,000-square-foot, 160-workstation inbound call center in Freiburg, Germany, in October. The center, which is staffed by 400 agents, is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week to field calls to a toll-free number listed on the mail piece and answer customer questions about service and billing.


The company has three call centers -- in Tulsa, OK; Waco, TX; and Lancaster, TX -- and opened a call center in Northampton, England, in March 1999, when it began offering long distance in the United Kingdom. The center in Freiburg represents VarTec's first attempt at conducting customer relationship management in a non-English-speaking nation.


While VarTec owns the Freiburg call center property and equipment, it has contracted with the Swiss customer relationship management firm The Bee Co. to run its daily operations. Freiburg was an attractive location because it is a university city and thus has a good labor base. It also is strategically located near France and Italy, both targets for possible future expansion for VarTec.


VarTec executive vice president Ray Atkinson said it is too early to tell how successful the company's direct mail efforts have been in Germany. The company tested mailers designed by both American and German consulting firms and found that the pieces designed by the American consultants brought the best response rates in Germany.


This contrasts with VarTec's experience in the United Kingdom, where similar tests were tried and mailers designed by UK consultants had the best response rates. Atkinson declined to speculate on the reason behind this trend.
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