DMCNY Luncheon Speaker: Trust Means Response in 50-Plus Market

NEW YORK — Taking a holistic approach to customer management and building trust will yield better sales and response rates from consumers older than 50, Jeff Bergen, assistant vice president of the Hartford Customer Service Group, said yesterday.

Doing so requires understanding the needs of 50-plus consumers, developing a CRM strategy to fit those needs and training a contact center force that knows how to serve them, Bergen said while addressing the Direct Marketing Club of New York during its monthly luncheon here.

The senior market is large and growing, representing $1.7 trillion in buying power, he said. There were 50 million Americans older than 55 in 2004, and that figure is projected to reach 95 million by 2020.

Healthcare is among the top worries for people in the 50-plus market, Bergen said. The Hartford Customer Service Group, a business unit of The Hartford, specializes in the 50-plus marketplace and provides teleservices to health insurance product marketers such as the nonprofit seniors group AARP.

The group developed its CRM strategy through cooperation between its contact center and marketing staffs, Bergen said. To determine success, they looked beyond simple data and numbers and judged the quality of the company's relationships with customers. This included monitoring telephone conversations between customers and agents.

“It's the little things,” he said. “When you listen to calls, you hear people talk about the experience they've had with their agents.”

Good call centers focus on relationships, not just transactions, Bergen said. Beyond making a sale or fixing a particular problem, call centers should be geared to providing a consistently positive experience for the 50-plus customer.

Training is key, and Hartford Customer Service Group's training expenses are double those of the average call center, Bergen said. Agents are licensed to handle insurance and trained to deal with older people — including those suffering from hearing problems or dementia — and the business unit has a “gerontology finances team” that develops business and communications solutions for seniors.

Highlighting its focus on trust-building, Bergen's unit refers to its 900 customer service representatives as “trusted advisers.” In addition to inbound customer service, Hartford Customer Service Group provides cross-selling and upselling and conducts outbound calling, including customer acquisition, retention and winback.

Telephone sales are effective despite public skepticism of telemarketing, Bergen said. Hartford Customer Service Group identifies about 5 percent of its 17 million annual inbound contacts as opportunities for cross- or upselling and converts 43 percent of those.

Scott Hovanyetz covers telemarketing, production and printing and direct response TV marketing for DM News and To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting

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