Image Makeover Urged for Teleservices

LAS VEGAS — The public's negative perceptions about telemarketing can be improved if the teleservices industry is unified in showing the benefits that call centers provide, teleservices veteran Mitchell Lieber said in a presentation at the American Teleservices Association's 18th Annual Convention & Exhibition.

Lieber, past president of the Chicago Association of Direct Marketers and president of teleservices management consulting agency Lieber & Associates, proposed an industry-wide initiative to remake telemarketing's image. No longer can telemarketers afford to accept that consumers dislike them, he said.

Lieber estimated that the teleservices industry in the United States conducts 28 billion inbound and outbound customer contacts yearly.

“We have a public perception problem,” he said. “But we have the greatest machine that exists to fix that problem.”

Negative public perception about telemarketing has led to reduced conversion rates and tighter government scrutiny and legislation. If the industry's image doesn't change, outbound cold calling one day might become unprofitable or be legislated out of existence, Lieber said.

But the industry can act now to sell its story to the public better, he said.

“It's not a small feat,” he said. “It's something that could happen over a number of years if we do the right things.”

One suggestion Lieber made was to have industry members end each call, both inbound and outbound, with the same tagline, such as, “Thank you for doing business by telephone.”

The public generally is unaware that inbound calling is part of the same industry as outbound. By drawing a connection between the outbound calls the public perceives as bad and the inbound calls the public sees as harmless, those in teleservices can begin to mitigate ill feelings toward the industry as a whole.

Telemarketers already have a tradition of good corporate citizenship, contributing on a local level to community efforts and charity work, Lieber said. The industry was vital in fundraising for disaster relief after last month's terrorist attacks.

The industry needs to expand beyond local community contributions and launch nationwide efforts that link the individual contributions of different companies, Lieber said. One way would be to form a foundation or create industry-wide pro bono projects.

Another important aspect of changing public perception is a renewed focus on basic direct marketing principles such as sharp targeting and more creative offers, Lieber said. Telemarketers need to improve at differentiating themselves from competitors and presenting offers to people most likely to accept them.

They also need to use more conversational calling methods and bolster agent training to improve the quality of customer contacts, Lieber said. Something as simple as pronouncing a consumer's name correctly goes a long way toward leaving positive impressions.

The toughest challenge is that, to consumers, telemarketers are depersonalized and objectified, Lieber said. In consumers' eyes, telemarketers have no face and no address, so consumers lack any reason not to dislike them.

“It's that disembodied voice on the telephone that you never speak to again,” he said. “It makes us easy to hate.”

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