Bell Atlantic Communications Corp., the long distance arm of Bell Atlantic, this week began outsourcing its e-mail communications to ICT Group, a customer relationship management firm, in a move it believes will help the division improve its growing e-mail relationships.
The agreement is an attempt to establish more formal procedures for dealing with the hundreds of customer service requests and sales inquiries the long distance group receives via e-mail each day. In turning over its e-mail communications to the Langhorne, PA-based ICT, Bell Atlantic is also counting on the specialist to identify e-mail prospects that it can then catalog for future marketing campaigns.
All e-mails relating to Bell Atlantic long distance are now routed through an ICT service called intelligent e-mail management that processes them, delivers an instant, auto-acknowledgement and assigns the e-mails to various queues. At that point, live representatives then search for the appropriate answers and deliver the response.
“We've defined a lot of rules and routing mechanisms that allow us to be as flexible as possible but to also answer the e-mails correctly,” said Tim Kowalski, president of ICT ConnectedTouch.com, a unit of ICT Group. The customer relationship firm launched its intelligent e-mail service in mid-1999.
This semi-automated system has helped Bell Atlantic move from a 24-hour guaranteed e-mail response to a 12-hour response, according to Mark W. Adams, director of offer management at Bell Atlantic Communications, Arlington, VA. For cases in which a standardized answer is available and built into ICT templates, the response is often immediate.
“We know more and more customers are transacting online, but we also want to remain personal — no automated responses,” Adams explained. “Regardless of whether it's over the Web or talking to a live person, the service level should be the same.” Bell Atlantic long distance said it turned to an e-mail customer service outsourcer after getting bombarded with e-mail requests related to the January 2000 launch of e-Values, a long-distance calling plan designed specifically for its online customers.
“When we first launched e-Values, customers were really skeptical,” Adams said. “In the first two weeks, we received an average of 100 e-mails per day asking questions like, 'Does this cover instate rates in New York?' or 'Can I see it in writing?'” Some of those e-mails were forwarded to Bell Atlantic sales reps, but many more dealt with general information or Web site-related questions. Adams was forced to reply to those e-mails himself.
While the situation forced Bell Atlantic to outsource these e-mails to ICT, a company that was handling some of the long distance group's direct mail and telemarketing accounts, it also convinced Adams of the potential power of e-mail marketing.
E-Values launched in New York in January but was not available nationwide until March. During those in-between months, Adams collected hundreds of e-mails from interested consumers across the country who wanted to know when the service was coming to their states. Once the service went national, Adams sent those prospects an e-mail that said it was available and included a URL enabling them to click onto the e-Values Web page. He didn't divulge the conversion rate but said it was a successful and inexpensive way of marketing the service.
“It's a cost-efficient way to market, but it's also how customers want to be marketed,” Adams noted. Further down the road, Bell Atlantic does intend to use the system to get leads and build a database, he added. The Bell Atlantic Communications unit covers residential and business long distance services as well as DialOne calling cards and other products.
ICT's program allows it to specifically identify e-mails with lead potential and route them to the appropriate marketers within the long distance group, Kowalski said.