By Helen Murray, Chief Customer Solutions Officer, Webhelp UK
The outbound telemarketing industry is in the throes of change. With the emergence of regulation and the option for customers to ‘opt out of contact’, the sector needs to sharpen its approach and respect its main asset – the customer – in order to boost and maintain sales.
In July 2013, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and the Office of Communications (Ofcom) published a joint action plan to tackle irresponsible sales practice across all channels, aiming to stamp out unsolicited contact.
Coupled with around one third of the UK population now having placed themselves ‘beyond contact’, as a result of the Telephone Preference Service established in 1999, outbound telemarketing risks becoming economically unviable.
Together this means telemarketing behaviours need to adapt and change in order to ensure longevity and business success. Here are our top three tips for adjusting the industry’s approach:
1) Understand the data
Every customer record represents an individual, so making every contact relevant to that individual has to be the holy grail of telemarketing. Before making contact, consider consolidating existing data and applying analytics to profile the customer. This will help determine the next best action strategies.
The task becomes much harder, of course, when dealing with newly acquired customer records, individuals you have not traded with before and have no previous knowledge of. Even here analytics can help. If you have acquired data wisely you will know something about these records, at least basic demographic information.
From this it is possible to model the likely behaviour of these new individuals based on the behaviours and preferences of similar existing customers. It won’t be precise, but it should tell you enough to begin ‘in life’ data testing that will refine accuracy and performance.
2) Respect the agent, recruit talent and reward success
Before patting ourselves hard on the back for our technological and strategic brilliance, we would do well to remember the agent that sits at the front line and, ultimately, either closes the deal or doesn’t.
Outbound selling is a particular skill that attracts a particular type of person. That type of person is typical of the average contact centre agent. They are extremely results focused and expect you to create an environment in which that can happen and, if you don’t, will complain.
For this very reason it is important to identify and recruit talented people and reward success. Agents of this calibre challenge our thinking and put us on our mettle. They grasp the business which is imperative of making a sale and will both engage in and contribute to commercial discussions around profitability, margin and cost.
With a high energy workforce of this kind it’s important to recognise that they are motivated by personal success. Top performers will expect to earn more and, therefore, compensation and bonus strategies must be built accordingly.
3) Farm, Don’t Hunt
In the past companies have relied heavily on outbound sales – and more specifically, cold calling – because high attrition rates have driven a constant need to recruit new customers. In short, organisations have ‘hunted’ new customers because they have failed to ‘farm’ the ones they have.
Companies would be wise to reduce their dependency on new customer recruitment by focusing on effective retention, cross and upsell strategies. There’s nothing new in this, the principles and virtues of long term customer relationship management are well known. But we are advocating that a new level of pragmatism and urgency should be applied to acquiring new business from existing customers and to seeking fresh ways to introduce sales conversations.
On the whole, the industry’s response to date has been largely uninspiring. It’s time the sector recognised that every customer record, number and email address is a valued and cherished resource to be treated with respect. If this mindset is adopted, telemarketing companies have a chance to see a dramatic difference in their sales and retention rates.