Outbound in the contact center
Many of the contact centers started out as a telemarketing-based outbound call-center. This is where the general public got the wrong idea from call centers. "You know, the guys that ennoy you in the middle of the night, asking whether you want something you absolutly don't need." But, face it - it is true. A lot of contact centers started like this - get a large database and start calling.
Fairly unsophisticated at the time, creating the negative perception towards the general public. However, it has taken only a few years for custome organisations to pressure legislators into limiting telemarketeers calling them at any hour and protecting their privacy.
As a result, an increasing proportion of outbound calling is now directed to existing customers, delivering customer care, cross-selling, up-selling, and proactively informing them about possibilities.
These events, however, have not diminished the market. Outbound calling has grown even in the last couple of years, helping the contact centers to maximize the agent utilisation. Typically, the agent accounts for more than 70% of the contact center costs. Of course, if your main cost is agents, you will try to maximize the use of them. Therefore, contact centers have asked their contact center software editor vendors for
- improved dialing capabilities
- screen pops with customer information
- blending inbound and outbound interactions
Improved dialing capabilities
One of the best improvements in dialing capabilities is the predictive dialing. With predictive dialing, your contact center software will monitor the behaviour of your agents and when the software estimates that one of your agents will be near call completion, will place another routbound call, thus maximizing the use of your agents. Beware however, that you can wear out your agents more quickly - so pay attention to more frequent pauses.
Screen pops with customer information
When doing outbound, you especially need to pay attention to help the agent in assessing the situation. You will need to provide the agent with as much information as he will need when he is connected to the client. This will help him talking to the client more natural.
Blending inbound and outbound interactions
Sometimes, it can be advantageous to blend inbound and outbound interactions. Your system can be set up to handle all inbound interactions, and, when inbound call volume is low, agent resources can be used to do some outbound work. If you train your agents for that, this will greatly enhance your agents' productivity.
How does outbound calling work in a contact center?
Outbound calling is fundamentally different from inbound; there are laws and cultural issues to be overcome. The customer is more likely to be defensive of the purpose of the call, so your agents will need to build in trust into the call at the beginning. This means having the right information at their fingertips at the start of the call. A tight integration with a CRM application could be critical to better target the customer. This is better for the agent and for the agent.
Don't underestimate the outbound work on your agents. Outbound work is much heavier than inbound work. They are constantly confronted with people who don't welcome outbound calls, persistent refusal, lack of interest, and outright refusal; this can be very wearing for the agents, especially if predictive dialling is used. You should consider ways to alleviate stress; think of scheduling, call blending, communication; the right use of technology, focused training, the best work environments amongst others.
When the technology is there it is tempting to treat outbound calling as an exercize in maximizing call volumes and agent talk times, and therefore (theoretically) revenues. But do you want to do this. Think twice before you start such an exercise. This can result in brand damage and high staff turnover, because of exhausted agents delivering poor quality interactions. Is this what your clients are asking for in your high quality contact center? I think not.
Another tendency is to ofshore low-value outbound sales campaigns that would otherwise be unprofitable to run here. But - the same level of training is necessary for offshore agents to do their job properly; too many businesses simply put the agents on a hardware dialer with a script in front of them and then wonder why their customers and prospects complain.
In several countries different legislation has been taken place. Cold calling is illegal in Germany (ouch!), the US has a National Do-Not-Call Registry (NDNCR) while in the UK residential and businesses may opt out receiving any sales call at all. Around 60 million telephone numbers or 1/3 of the US households are registered in the NDNCR and four million housholds in the UK have opted out.
The use of dialing technologies does have an effect upon staff turnover; you should be aware that you should balance agent productibity against agent retaining. There is ample evidence that misusing the technology will effect in agents leaving your contact center. Vendors may argue the opposite, that providing the agent with a constant source of live contacts gives them a better experience, no more waiting around to talk to someone - the will get so many more live contacts... Actually this is partially true. But don't think that they can sustain the same rate during the day. With that I mean that they might be able to handle 30% more calls per hour, but you wil need to give them 10% more breaks per hour. So bottomline - you will gain - but not as much as the vendors will want you to believe. And I know this, I'm a vendor :-)
What holds the future for outbound voice contacts?
The future for cold calling is not exactly colourfull. Legislation, poor customer attitudes, and so on, will have a negative effect on the unsollicited telemarketing call. Probably, it will be used more and more for proactive customer care and customer satisfaction; to learn about market opinions and to up- and cross-sell to existing customers. The large scale offshore telemarketing projects of today will disappear. Tomorrow they will only damage the customers' brand: the future of outbound belongs to those companies who can create a personal network with their clients, and thus are able to call them without disturbing them. This, of course depends on the ability to have a 360 ° view of your customers throughout all the channels that you employ. Be prepared to have a unified customer view so that every interaction will fit in. Be aware that the customer needs to get the same message independent of which channel he chooses to connect to you. In addition to that, you will need highly skilled agents. Successful outbound calling is a skill that depends on a mix of empowered, well-trained people, sensitive management and systems that support agents through providing them with the right number of contacts and any information relevant to the call.