• December 10, 2009
  • By Mary Conway, SVP & CMO, DialAmerica

Conscious Conversations

Almost everyone has received a telemarketing call that felt mechanical, impersonal, and scripted. It's a turn-off that irritates consumers and poorly serves businesses that expect their marketing campaigns to provide a solid return on investment.

Years of experience have produced a set of best practices that define the optimal way to utilize teleservices as an effective sales discipline. These practices make an enormous difference when it comes to differentiating between a campaign that generates a high success rate at a low cost-per-sale, and one that burns through hundreds of agent hours with a poor close rate and a high cost-per-sale.

The Ultimate Challenge

Telesales calls are the ultimate challenge when it comes to selling. Agents have mere moments to build a rapport, communicate product benefits, answer objections, ask for the order, and confirm the details verbatim — all within a federal- and state-regulated environment that requires detailed compliance.

Success under these circumstances requires agents to deliver a planned presentation in a fluid and interactive, yet controlled, manner. We call this approach "conscious conversation," and it has proven to be highly effective in overcoming the many barriers telesales agents encounter.

Agent Selection and Training

Not all people are capable of engaging in effective conscious conversations. That's why staff selection and training are vital. It is crucial to identify candidates who can be articulate and persuasive when expressing themselves, all while not becoming overbearing. Moreover, agents need to be able to absorb and recall information quickly and adjust rapidly to the changing dynamic of a telephone conversation. During the job interview process, these qualities are best assessed through role playing exercises conducted by an experienced supervisor.

Once hired, agents should undergo a comprehensive training regimen that includes general instruction in technology use, professional demeanor, customer sensitivity, and regulatory compliance. These skills are in addition the training necessary to learn about the product or service, client brand messaging, and sales proposal they will be communicating to customers and prospects. 

Planned Presentations Are a Must

A tightly outlined presentation — one designed to disarm the consumer, gain attention, and sell specific benefits — is critical. With strong training and preparation, the agent learns the message inside-out and gains the confidence to engage in a natural dialogue with a prospect, which entails:

  • speaking in a conversational voice;
  • acknowledging customer responses;
  • answering questions and objections;
  • returning to the planned presentation; and
  • closing the sale.

Unlike routine, highly scripted telemarketing calls, a conscious conversation puts prospects at ease because it feels like a natural human interaction, even though it is still carefully planned and controlled to avoid awkward pauses or tiresome overtalking.

Importance of Attitude

A positive attitude, polite demeanor, persuasive style, and assumptive tone of voice greatly enhance telesales success. Agents should exude excitement, convey urgency, and address the prospect by name throughout the call. These techniques personalize the interaction and ensure that the consumer feels good about the experience — even if he or she declines to make a purchase.

Adapting on the Fly

Perhaps more than any other marketing discipline, teleservices has the ability to change messaging on the fly. Feedback from agents about their conscious conversations coupled with real-time performance metrics can quickly illuminate what's working and what isn't, enabling on-the-fly improvements to the planned presentation. 

Program Monitoring

It's critical to develop a monitoring program that ensures the integrity of client messaging, regulatory compliance, a positive customer experience, and campaign effectiveness. Comprehensive program monitoring should include four key levels:

  1. Account and client management monitoring: Teleservices management and their employees should monitor calls to ensure that brand messaging is properly conveyed and sales potential is maximized.
  2. Government affairs monitoring: Calls should be monitored to ensure that all applicable teleservices regulations, including privacy, are carefully followed.
  3. Industry sector monitoring: Management familiar with industry-sector regulations should monitor calls for compliance issues.
  4. Quality assurance monitoring: Supervisors should monitor agents to ensure that customers are having a positive experience.

Oftentimes teleservices agents are the only direct contact between brands and consumers. With conscious conversations and proper documentation, these agents can input a wealth of information into a CRM system, greatly aiding brand management's efforts to retain customers and build loyalty. For example, placing a simple follow-up call to an unhappy customer who's had a difficult experience can completely transform her feelings about a company and its brands.

In today's challenging marketing environment, teleservices programs can help businesses communicate brand benefits in a highly compelling way. But to be effective, companies need to connect with consumers at a personal level. Conscious conversations fulfill that intent and do so in a timely, cost-efficient manner.

About the Author

Mary Conway (mconway@dialamerica.com) is senior vice president and chief marketing officer of DialAmerica. With over 30 years of experience, Conway leads the company's marketing and communications functions.

Please note that the Viewpoints listed in CRM magazine and appearing on destinationCRM.com represent the perspective of the authors, and not necessarily those of the magazine or its editors. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top.

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For the rest of the December 2009 issue of CRM magazine please click here.

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