The call center industry can thrive if providers of call center services quickly and thoroughly adopt complete quality cultures.
Posted Mar 17, 2003
What is going to happen to the outbound and inbound telemarketing and teleservice industry in the United States? Threatened by increasing, onerous regulation and pressure from international economics and the global economy, is it dying or even dead? And if it is dying, how do those businesses and employees in the industry adapt and evolve to thrive in this new world?
We believe that the call center industry can thrive if providers of call center services quickly and thoroughly adopt complete quality cultures, and compliment or replace lost outbound options with inbound maximization strategies.
The industry has employed and trained literally millions of people in the art of customer service, sales, and technical support. Hundreds of thousands of them have advanced to supervisory, management, training, and motivational roles that they could not have dreamed of attaining in other traditional careers. Millions of employees who were marginalized and without real advancement opportunities in other fields found a wonderful home in the exciting, energizing, and professional field of teleservice.
Furthermore, for decades states and municipal governments have courted the call center business due to its environmentally friendly and labor-intensive nature. Major cities like Omaha, Dallas, and Salt Lake City, as well as suburban and rural communities throughout the country, have benefited by the growth of the call center industry in their regions. Many local economies decimated by declining farming, forestry, and heavy industries have found new life in the world of telemarketing and service call centers.
But the harsh reality is that despite all of the jobs and careers created, economies supported, and customers served, the industry is facing radical change. The list of state and federal laws and regulations that constrain telemarketing is large and growing larger. With Do Not Call laws in more than 28 states, numerous states with telemarketer registration and sales restriction laws, states with predictive dialing and abandon rate restrictions, and the FTC and FCC joining to create Do Not Call lists, abandon rate and telesales process regulations at the Federal level, the challenge to comply with all laws and regulations is getting enormous and costly.
The costs of complying with state and Federal regulations includes the expenses associated with processing countless Do Not Call Lists that vary not only by state and now Federal government, but also by the industries to which they apply. There is a whole new field of compliance departments in both corporate and call center outsourcing organizations; departments that are dedicated to the proper administration of call center service within the context of ever-proliferating and complex regulations.
The expense associated with noncompliance is considerable as well. Recently major firms in the banking, telecommunications, and securities industries have been forced to pay multimillion-dollar fines to settle noncompliance allegations from regulators.
Adding to the pressure on the domestic call center industry is the economic pressure to explore offshore alternatives. The dramatic reduction in global communications costs and improvements in international communications quality have made locating call centers offshore a feasible alternative for many applications. Furthermore, the cost of labor in many of these areas is a fraction of the cost in the U.S. Already countries and regions like Canada, India, Ireland, the Caribbean, and the Philippines have been building enormous call center businesses, siphoning domestic jobs and their associated benefits away to other nations.
Given these compounding pressures on the call center industry, what can be done to preserve the industry and the jobs it creates? How can the industry turn this adversity into opportunity that benefits both the call center business and the clients that it serves?
A number of things have to change, and will change as the industry evolves:
Complete quality in delivery of teleservices will become critical in call center business and in the selection of teleservice partners (outsourcers). And quality will include total compliance capability as well as the increased costs associated with the selection, training, and management of superior call center agents. The resulting requirement for this new level of complete quality will result in higher initial costs for both in-house and external call centers, but these costs will be less than the total cost associated with lower quality work. The risk and absolute cost of noncompliance with regulations will exceed the cost of the complete quality strategy. End users of call center services will turn to outsourcers with proven complete quality delivery skills and capabilities, because the risk and potential cost associated with using lesser quality avenues, whether in-house or outsource, will be higher.
Since quality output is dependent upon quality resources, the industry will need to consistently excel when hiring, training, and motivating call center agents. Forward-thinking providers are taking a new look at leading-edge human resource practices and tools to ensure quality. For example, a management assessment tool called the Predictive Index (PI) can be administered to candidates to accurately assess if an applicant has the necessary skills and traits needed for key positions such as customer interaction specialists and their managers. Human resources should represent a provider's number one investment.
Inbound maximization will become an increasing source of growth and opportunity. By inbound maximization we mean adopting the model that every client contact represents a potential opportunity to service and sell the client properly. Whether it is a billing question, consumer complaint, consumer product order, or technical support matter, the contact represents an opportunity to both service the client and create a sale. Inbound sales and customer service call centers that specialize in helping consumers solve their problems will meet the objectives of both consumers and marketers.
The mechanisms for generating these increased sales through inbound maximization include:
o Sales goal-setting that compliments existing service level goals
o Key performance-indicator-driven management that measures sales and service performance versus targets and goals in the call center.
o Enhanced training in listening and selling skills to enable call center agents to better diagnose consumer needs in order to offer and properly position solutions.
o Building a sales culture that reinforces and motivates cross-selling and upselling
o Call center agent and management education curricula that ensure that all individuals in the center know, understand, and work towards the goals of the client and customer.
By using principles of complete quality the teleservice industry can become more productive and retain its place in the marketing mix while assisting marketers to be compliant with ever-changing state and federal legislation.
Inbound call center professionals can increase their value to the marketer by becoming an increasingly valuable mechanism to generate incremental sales through inbound maximization. It is a commonly accepted business principle that it is less expensive and more productive to retain and grow existing client relationships. By utilizing principles of inbound maximization, the call center industry can help marketers to maximize existing customer relationships resulting material increases in sales and customer satisfaction.
About the Author
Jeffrey Plaut is senior vice president of business development at CyberRep, Inc., an outsourced call center and CRM solutions provider based in McLean, VA.