By David H. Martin

Traditional outbound telemarketing, long a staple of water improvement dealers, is faced with some evolutionary challenges and technical opportunities in marketing’s new Web-centric e-age.

Privacy’s growing impact
Privacy—if not a new issue in telemarketing—continues to remain uppermost for telemarketers, with changes in state laws coming quickly and the presidential candidates of both major political parties tossing it around like a buzzword for the new millennium as it relates to the Internet. “Privacy should be paramount,” says Tom Cardella, president of Access Direct Telemarketing Inc. “It should be number one on people’s minds. It goes hand-in-hand with quality.” Telephone representatives should understand the laws. And, if a customer doesn’t want to be involved with the contact, they “need to feel welcome to immediately break the contact,” he says.

However, there’s a difference between inbound and outbound calls, as far as privacy is concerned, Cardella says. With an inbound call, the customer initiates the call; he or she is already an interested prospect, and there may be pre-existing data that needs to be looked at (if they have a purchase record in the company’s database, for instance).

Dealers need to be aware of state as well as federal legislation impacting telemarketing practices in their marketing area. As telemarketing becomes an element of websites in the not-so-distant future, privacy will be a part of anticipated legislation governing all web-related marketing activity.

New models and methods
For many that have outsourced telemarketing services, it had become a commodity service, where price was perceived as the primary difference between companies and services. The march of technology is changing all that. Today, there’s a virtual smorgasbord of telemarketing services and pricing, both of which are increasingly interlinked, according to industry experts.

One of the newer technology methods is online script tracking. “This replaces paper scripting,” says Sandra Alexa, vice president, FutureCall Telemarketing West Inc. of Colorado Springs, Colo., Scranton, Pa., and Augusta, Ga. The customer’s response drives online script tracking, giving you the opportunity to analyze and offer and change it if necessary to accommodate the customer’s feelings.

Professional telemarketers have traditionally taped calls for training purposes. Now, they’re recording calls on CDs rather than tape. Because CDs require no rewinding, they are more accessible than tape, making it easier to show telemarketers the best and worst of their performance. “Best of all, CD recording costs less to store than tape and costs less in labor for retrieval,” says Lisa DeFalco, president of TPG TeleManagement Inc., Yardley, Pa. DeFalco says it can save up to 35 percent over tape.

The great convergence
It won’t be long before telemarketing converges with web-marketing. Experts feel the day is coming when every business will have its own website—including yours. At that point, the main purpose of all business communications shifts to driving people to your website. But what then?

Let’s face it. The average website has the feel of having being put together by robots. Visitors find most sites to be impersonal with no human element.

But that will change thanks to converging technologies that will introduce the ability for Website visitors to contact a living , breathing human being when they have questions.
The Internet is all about flexibility, experts say, and you have to give visitors a choice of ways to do business on your Website.

A technology called voice-over Internet protocol (VoIP) will soon link direct phone call capability to business websites. Outsourced call centers will provide weblink calls to visitors seeking a more personal level of customer service. VoIP is the equivalent of making a phone call over the ‘Net while browsing a business’ website. While it’s expected to become prevalent as it matures, VoIP isn’t yet mainstream because there are still a lot of people with slow modems out there. Voice-over IPO is all about bandwidth.

Other current technologies include voice interaction and live text chat.

Doing business on the Internet has become a matter of high comfort for the consumer. “Technology is not the issue any more,” says Angela Young, financial services market manager, Convergys Corp. of Cincinnati. The key is to deliver a variety of customer service options.

Short of VoIP, there are other methods to respond quickly to website visitors, from synchronized web browsers to advanced e-mail and chat.

“Synchronized browsers” is a form of web collaboration in which the service rep uses a synchronized browser and talks on the phone at the same time, combining voice with visual.

E-mail is a tried-and-true method, or at least the method that’s old enough to have a history. Traditionally, the consumer has left an e-mail message when he or she visits a site. Sometime later, Perhaps in a day or two or maybe even a week, someone from the company replies. “The days when this was good enough are gone,” says Tim Kowalski, president of iCT ConnectedTouch.com. “It’s not even good enough to answer e-mail within 24 hours, in most cases. That’s enough to drive them to a competitor’s website. You need to answer within an hour or two, at the longest.” Even better, a prompt follow-up phone call provides the personal attention that impresses.

New e-mail services are designed to give automatic responses to some frequently asked questions. Some questions automatically cue call service operators for an immediate response. And with “live chat” capability, telemarketing companies can answer questions real-time without losing web connectivity. This connectivity can be integrated with e-mail, says Convergys’ Young.

One thing is for sure. In the e-age, companies offering the best customer service will be ready to do chat, telephone and e-mail with customers.

Integrating e-age technology
If you have been doing traditional outbound telemarketing with in-house (or off-premises) people—and little technology—you may want rethink your approach when you integrate web marketing.

Large companies may be tempted to buy the technologies and keep everything in-house. But putting together Internet technologies (including voice) can be daunting, both financially and technically for most companies.

A better approach might be to bring the specified technology into your offices on a lease or other basis, establishing an in-house call center at reduced cost. In this scenario, the voice connection to your site would be answered at your company.

The third option, outsourcing, puts the entire operation in an outside telemarketing call center. The question to ask yourself is whether you’ll still need technical people inside to answer complex customer questions? To help you make that decision, Tim Kowalski
suggests you must first carefully define your business’ “core competency.”

On the other hand, the core competency of an e-age outside call center will be to “focus on all client web response channels, starting with e-mail,” but soon including voice as well.

The important thing, it seems, is to respond to the customer’s preferred method, the one that makes him or her feel “most comfortable.”

Conclusion
With thousands of new users each day (and despite Wall Street’s fickle mood swings), the Internet already is becoming the center of most business marketing programs integrating more traditional media, including telemarketing. Water treatment dealers who telemarket in this web-centric environment will be faced with decisions on how to best integrate call center services into their e-marketing programs.

About the author
David H. Martin is marketing consultant and partner at Lenzi Martin Communications (www.lenzimartin.com)—a Chicago-based marketing firm focusing on products protecting consumer’s personal environments. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404, (708) 848-9062 (fax), or email: newage@mediaone.net

QUOTEBOX:
“The Internet is now a mainstream utility and marketing medium with 86 million users in the U.S. (that are) age 16 or older.”
—April 2000 Internet User Study, The Standard

http://e.FYI.com
Other “Creative Marketing” columns on this topic:
• Hold the `Spam’—Email Marketing Grows Up, November 1999
• Telemarketing—Evolution or Extinction? August 1999
• Your 1999 Marketing Plan—Should it Include Website Advertising, December 1998
• Email Marketing—New Friend or Foe? February 1998

For information on call center marketing, contact the American Teleservices Association at (202) 243-2452 or online: http://www.ataconnect.org

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