You have heard the axioms. In times of economic downturn, companies that maintain or increase marketing spending often reap benefits in increased sales. Those that slash budgets likely will face reduced market share when the economy revives.
It appears that in both consumer and business-to-business direct marketing arenas, many businesses have taken this caveat to heart and are continuing with their programs, albeit at a slightly slower pace.
According to the latest statistics published by the Direct Marketing Association, direct marketing expenditures as a whole are projected to grow 9.6 percent over the next five years, down only slightly from the prior five-year period. Telephone marketing represents a 9 percent growth rate, down only 0.3 percent when compared to the prior five-year period.
Yet, despite the intellectual acceptance that marketing must not be abandoned in a recession, the harsh reality may be that there is just not enough money to continue business as usual. Maintaining marketing budgets when faced with directives to improve the bottom line can be difficult, if not impossible.
So what are today's call program managers or business owners, who are concerned about maintaining and growing the customer base, to do? They can start by looking to improvements in the call center. Make sure that the overall quality of the company's telemarketing effort, both inbound and outbound, is best in class. Experience has demonstrated that sales numbers can increase from 10 percent to 20 percent, and customer retention also can be improved dramatically when telephone representatives have the right training and motivation, and the program is designed and monitored properly.
Although often tough to quantify, there is a measurable cost to poor quality in a telemarketing operation. Telephone representatives who are not appropriately recruited, trained, managed and motivated will have a high turnover rate and produce low-quality results. Not only does a business miss sales opportunities on the front end; a bad experience with a telephone representative can influence negatively an account for its lifetime. All the money and energy spent on creating an image through other marketing media can be eliminated or compromised with one bad telephone experience. Multiply one bad experience by hundreds, and soon there are no customers.
So how does a company measure the performance level and overall quality of its teleservices operation? Initially, call center diagnostics should be performed where the center's people, systems, hardware, software and processes are examined. Whether done through independent consultants, or the inhouse management team, this diagnostic phase should measure the center against best in class practices, giving management a clear picture of where improvements can be made. Once the diagnostics have been completed and evaluated, the results may indicate that a total re-engineering of the operation may be necessary; or at least a curriculum needs to be established to correct any problems and improve overall operations. All actions considered should be those that yield results and are measurable. A manager should start with just five to 10 actions, assess their impact, readjust, and continue testing until the desired goal is reached. It is a learning process with huge dividends.
Remote monitoring measurements. Measuring the effectiveness of programs can be done in a number of ways. Remote monitoring is perhaps the most used. Here a trained, quality evaluator listens as a silent party to a live call between the telephone representative and the customer. In so doing, the evaluator can critique the representative on his telephone etiquette and general communication skills, product knowledge, problem-solving skills and customer care abilities, compliance with regulatory and program requirements, and overall selling skills.
The evaluator is in a position to make recommendations on how to improve the particular representative's performance, but also has an opportunity to evaluate the customer's response to product offers and positioning, and to learn more about his needs and concerns. This information is invaluable to the overall marketing effort.
The effectiveness of remote monitoring can be magnified significantly when done in real time. In other words, the quality evaluator will alert the telephone representative of his performance during the monitoring session through a software utility, rather than have a performance appraisal session with him at a later time. Waiting to provide the feedback at a later date is a lost opportunity for improved productivity.
There are numerous software vendors that provide packages that enable this real-time monitoring, each with its own particular features to fit the needs of specific organizations and markets. Those with built-in reporting features provide measurable statistics, which when evaluated over time can designate trends.
Seed and mystery calling. Although remote monitoring can be a very effective measurement tool, it has one disadvantage. Many, if not all times the telephone representative is aware that a monitoring session is taking place and tends to be on his best behavior. To get a true picture of a representative's performance, many businesses turn to seed and mystery calling. In seed and mystery calling, a quality evaluator poses as a customer. The telephone representative has no idea he is talking with a quality representative rather than a true customer/prospect, and, therefore, you are able to get a totally authentic look at the communication.
Customer surveying. In some instances, a company may need to take the evaluation process a step further, and actually survey customers directly after their call center experience. The survey instrument should be designed to identify the key elements of the campaign and to determine whether it produced a positive response from the customer. The feedback from such a survey provides invaluable information for developing future telemarketing campaigns, as well as providing critical marketing information on the customers' wants and needs.
Training and motivation are the keys to top performance. Monitoring and surveying only go so far. The follow-up to these activities is critical to the success of the program and to improve overall quality. Most often a dedicated training program corrects most negative situations. And the training that is needed is more than educating the telephone representative to the features and benefits of the selling proposition, or how to respond to certain customer reactions.
Representatives need to have training that teaches them the value of the product or service being marketed and the culture that is behind it. Their goal should be focused on the long-term brand relationship, not an immediate sale. Many telemarketing programs can have an adequate sales rate, but when you look closer at activation or usage, you often find these are far below acceptable levels.
A good telephone representative understands that he is seeking a long-term customer – doubly important in a recession where customer retention is more likely an emphasis. The call center effort should be toward obtaining commitment and loyalty in every communication. A representative that understands this premise, and receives adequate compensation and incentives, will be the best statesman for your organization.
We have all been the recipients of a poor quality telemarketing call. You know how distasteful that experience can be, and how it can turn you off to the company for any future dealings. Yet, you often do not look within to make sure that your own operation is not leaving that same negative impression.
Now that business may be on the lighter side, a simple investment in some call center diagnostics, quality monitoring and training can make all the difference in the world to a company's performance and bottom line. And whether it is belt-tightening time or the economy is booming, that is a result a business can ill afford to miss.