• September 1, 2014
  • By Donna Fluss, president, DMG Consulting

Outbound Solutions Engage Customers and Enhance Relationships

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The outbound market is undergoing a renaissance. Outbound dialers are being replaced with a new generation of robust omnichannel customer engagement solutions. These outbound solution suites are capable of driving intelligent, personalized, relevant, and regulatory-compliant multichannel and cross-channel communications that are having a positive impact on profitability. Just as important, they provide capabilities that meet the expectations of the new breed of online, mobile, and social consumers, and are fostering customer engagement and satisfaction.

Next-Generation Outbound Solutions

The chart pictured here shows DMG's vision for the ideal outbound solution. It depicts an omnichannel solution that supports multiple dialing capabilities and modes, and enables both human-assisted and agentless contact methods. It comes with a functionally rich campaign management solution that supports list management, regulatory compliance, internal and external do-not-call (DNC) scrubbing, dispositioning, and fulfillment. It also comes with a servicing application to help users handle typical outbound activities: collections, sales, telemarketing, customer service, and proactive notifications. The ideal solution should include an incentive management module as well, a differentiator for companies when it is properly deployed.

This next-generation outbound solution should have a unified agent interface (desktop application) that can effectively and seamlessly handle inbound and blended calls, emails, short message service (SMS), chat/instant messaging, faxes, video, and social media. It should come with tools to help managers and supervisors optimize departmental performance. These modules are used to identify the best time to call, detect answering machines, perform callbacks, and do agent scripting, workflow, contact center performance management, and workforce management to forecast and schedule agent staffing needs.

The outbound solution should be integrated into a company's business systems to facilitate the sharing of campaign lists and records on a real-time or near–real-time basis. These solutions should come with software development kits, application programming interfaces, and adapters to facilitate this integration. Effective outbound solutions also need to have reporting and analytics environments that can generate actionable reports, and analytics to make it easy for managers to rapidly measure the performance of their department and each agent's or salesperson's activities and identify areas where improvement is needed. This includes delivery of both operational (historical) and real-time reports, dashboards, alerts, and analytics to managers and agents. These reports and analytics should be mobile-enabled. Lastly, the ideal outbound solution should be built on industry-standard underlying technologies, such as virtualized processing platforms, databases, and rules engines.

Innovation Courtesy of the TCPA

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), passed in 1991, continues to exert a major influence on the outbound market and the vendors that support it. The purpose of the TCPA is to protect the rights of consumers by requiring telemarketers to comply with a series of restrictions governing how and when commercial solicitation calls can be made. Federal Communications Commission rules address proper identification of the entity initiating the call, calling-hour restrictions, compliance with DNC policies/restrictions, and adherence to auto-dialer and automatic dialing recorded message player regulations.

As recently as one year ago, impending changes to the TCPA had the outbound market in a state of flux. Prospects were scrutinizing outbound solutions and looking to the vendors not only to help them interpret the changes in regulations in the U.S. and abroad, but more importantly, to provide them with functional solutions that would ensure adherence and mitigate risk while helping them continue to realize the productivity advantages provided by predictive dialers. As DMG anticipated, changes in the legislation woke up the market and drove substantial investments and innovation by the outbound solution providers; enhancements included modifications of the applications to limit the vendors' risk and exposure, as well as to help customers be in compliance. TCPA legislation continues to stimulate the growth of the outbound market, driving a major replacement cycle and new purchases by first-time users.

From Point Solution to Solution Suite

Outbound dialing was once considered a point solution managed as a totally separate application and function within companies. Multichannel outbound capabilities are increasingly becoming fully integrated components of contact center infrastructure solutions (the traditional inbound world). These blended environments leverage economies of scale and advanced routing and queuing to allow contacts to be routed to the most appropriate agent or agent group based on skill, proficiency, availability, etc. Outbound solution providers are focused on building out the functional capabilities of their offerings to include recording, quality assurance, interactive voice response (IVR), agent scripting, surveying, and, increasingly, speech analytics.

Proactive Customer Care/Outbound Notification

Proactive customer care continues to be a business strategy and function that is highly valuable and beneficial for organizations and has become a big hit with customers as well. Consumers are becoming more comfortable initiating an ongoing online dialogue with companies and brands via casual posts on social media sites and in texts, Web chat, and SMS interactions. Outbound vendors have begun integrating their systems with proactive customer care solutions to provide support for multichannel outbound campaigns that can be highly personalized based on customer preferences and past behavior. Proactive outbound campaigns and notifications enable organizations to anticipate, identify, and address customer needs by sending the right message to the right customer at the right time, in that customer's communication channel of choice. Proactive customer care has become an essential component of a comprehensive omnichannel customer engagement strategy that builds brand loyalty and high levels of customer satisfaction.

What's Next for the Outbound World?

New cloud-based solutions continue to enter the market, and the outbound sector is seeing its share. Traditional on-premises-based dialing vendors are now offering deployment options to meet customer demand for outbound services in the cloud. In particular, first-time adopters, small contact centers, sales teams and collectors, and those environments that scale seasonally are finding the cloud-based deployment model highly appealing.

Capturing and evaluating all stages of the customer journey will be a major area of focus for businesses during the next five years. This will include self-service (IVR and Web), live agent interactions, multichannel outbound activities, retail or branch experiences, social customer care, back office activities, fulfillment or follow-up activities, and all actions initiated by the customer or agent on the customer's behalf. Analytics will make major contributions to the future of contact centers and customer experience management, with true customer engagement being the ultimate goal. Leading organizations will employ analytics solutions to execute personalized customer engagement strategies cost effectively, based on each customer's individual profile and needs, via automation, workflow, adaptive routing, and "touch" rules.

Outbound solutions will play an important role in enhancing the overall customer experience by helping users build and deliver omnichannel customer engagement strategies. Unlike in the past, outbound touches and interactions will be a fully integrated component of the customer service strategy, and one that is instrumental in building customer engagement and loyalty.

Donna Fluss (donnafluss@dmgconsult.com) is founder and president of DMG Consulting, a provider of contact center and analytics research, marketing research, and consulting.

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