Consultants Bring Expertise, Objectivity to Operations

As the telephone becomes a greater generator of revenue and a better facilitator of one-on-one marketing, companies are turning to consultants to develop and manage inhouse call center operations or to manage the outsourcing relationship between companies and their vendors.

Consultants, by definition, are paid by clients on a fee basis while brokers are paid on commission. Consultants bring business expertise and specialized knowledge to call center functions. They work with in-house and outsourced operations in program implementation, training, technology and evaluation, among other areas, assisting companies that lack the experience or resources to manage call centers on their own.

“Managers are all stretched too thin right now, and many have never been exposed to telemarketing management,'' said Liz Kislik, president of Liz Kislik Associates, Valley Stream, NY. “We set up the rules of the road so to speak.''

Lisa DeFalco, president of TPG Telemanagement, Yardley, PA, said the teleservices boom has made experienced call center managers as scarce as programmers. Consultants are stepping in to fill that void.

While some consultants may work with clients on an ongoing basis, their main responsibility is to get a call center on solid footing to manage on its own. Kizlik's goal is to work her company out of a job by teaching the client the ropes.

“To be successful as a specialist you have to be involved in knowledge transfer,'' said Rudy Oetting, president of call center consulting firm Oetting & Company, New York. “Specialists are most effective when they transfer that knowledge to people in organizations during implementation.''

A consultant must understand how every piece of a call center fits together but usually has expertise in one particular area. Sandy Pernick, president of S. Pernick & Associates, Wilmette, IL, specializes in managing outsourcing relationships between clients and vendors.

Based on a client's need, Pernick's role could involve very specific functions, such as monitoring or giving staffing recommendations, or broader functions, such as providing an industry overview or keeping track of legislation.

“People are more open to outsourcing when they realize what is involved in bringing in or keeping the program at home,'' Pernick said. “People on the phone have to be managed. If you take your attention off outsourced telemarketing it gets out of control.

“There is a demand from clients for on-site liaisons to monitor all functions of a vendor.''

A consultant can give objective analysis without fear of losing a contract or account and can let a client know if a vendor is not performing up to expectations. They can also make recommendations about expenditures on technology and personnel.

“A consultant is fee-paid by a client for objectivity, for telling a company what it may not want to hear,” Oetting said.

DeFalco works with companies to improve the performance of existing call centers. She developed experience as a call center manager before becoming a consultant, which is essential, according to Oetting. DeFalco calls her type of consulting telemanagement but the goal is the same for all consultants: to improve inbound and outbound sales and customer service.

“More money is being spent in the teleservices channel, the budgets are becoming grander and grander, and it is getting the attention of senior management,'' DeFalco said. “As more attention is paid, you need some type of call center expertise to truly know how to manage it correctly.''

Consultants can even help clients who are experienced in call center operations but who lack marketing skills. But, Oetting warns, don't let consultants dictate an agenda. He said most consultants are misguided about the mission of a call center and are adverse to promoting expenditures that benefit the customer and ultimately increase revenue.

“Everyone looks at the phone as a cost reduction device. The talk is to generate revenue, but the action is to reduce cost. We see companies leaving millions of dollars of profits on the table to save a few thousands on cost,'' Oetting said. “You have to manage your costs, but once in a reasonable cost structure, then the issue is revenue.''

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