Hello world!

 How many times have you found yourself seeing red because of a rude sales clerk?  Or hung up in frustration because a company’s auto-attendant refused to understand your replies?  Or been pestered by a pushy telemarketer who interrupted your meal (one of the few you actually get to have with your family in this day and age of jam-packed schedules) or sleep in the most unpleasant manner? 

It was one such call that prompted me to start this blog.  If you are in business, you know that your customers are your most important asset (next to your employees).  You also know that customer service needs to be excellent in these days of social networking if you want to maintain and grow your business.  Yet so often companies that should know better, have people on their front lines who act as if the customer is a pain in the butt.

 This blog is intended to give people who value their customers some ideas for improving the service they provide (and yes, there are actual tips at the end of this rather lengthy first post).

 Okay, back to me having been awakened this morning with “Hi this is a courtesy customer service call from…”

You just know that the moment you hear that phrase that you are about to be harassed by the person on the other end of the phone.  In most cases it’s someone whose command of English is less than stellar – which probably explains why he or she cannot understand the words, ‘No thank you’.

In the early 1980s we recommended that clients call customers to thank them for large ticket purchases… and in those days, it was unheard of and customers responded well to the calls. 

 Then AT&T coined the phrase ‘telemarketing’ when the long distance market exploded.  Since then the industry has grown exponentially in volume and bad practices… and all the negative things now associated with the word ‘telemarketing’ represent the reasons why your home number can likely be found on the ‘Do Not Call’ list.

 Yet companies continue to use telemarketing because it works.  Last year 32% of people in North America (more in the US than in Canada and 34% men vs. 30% women) purchased something as a result of a telemarketing call, with an average cost of $136 USD per transaction.  And this does not include all the successful donation solicitations.

 In particular, people were persuaded to purchase long distance plans (12.6%), magazine or newspaper subscriptions (11.5%), cable and satellite service (9%) along with lawn care, insurance, cleaning and repair service and others.  

 Indeed, telemarketing. response rates are over 3%, which may explain why over $900 billion worth of products were sold through teleselling.

 Hundreds of thousands of Canadian businesses use telemarketing every year, according to Wally Hill, vice-president of public affairs and communications of the Canadian Marketing Association.  He also says that “Telemarketing is far and away the leading source of calls and complaints about marketing that we receive at our organization.”

 The picture is the same in the US, where the number of companies using telemarketing as a marketing tool numbers in the millions (it’s no wonder consumers are complaining!).

 It’s not just violations of the Do Not Call registries that generate the complaints, but scams and rude people on the other end of the line.

 If you are one of the companies using telemarketing, here are a few tips to help you be more successful – and to not alienate potential customers in the process.  Note: As you read these suggestions, remember that i) they are borne from complaints heard over and over in research and ii) that many complaints are associated with companies who think their call centres behave better.

  1.  Never start a call by lying to customers with the customer service courtesy call line.
  2.  Don’t call before 9:00 a.m.  At that time people are either asleep (it’s a weekend, they’re home sick, or they’ve just come in from shift work and may be getting ready for bed) or they are rushing out the door to work or school.  Either way, the last thing they want is a sales call.
  3. Don’t expect your prospective customer to wait to talk to your rep; that’s highly disrespectful.  It also prompts respondents to hang up when they hear the silence, and makes the people who don’t hang up 40% less likely to purchase.  

    Even worse:  An outbound telemarketing call recording that asks respondents to wait while their call is transferred to the next available agent.  Yes, some companies actually do this! 

    Instead, program your autodialer so that the call is transferred to a sales person as soon as the ringing starts.  Yes, it costs more to do it this way, but the higher closing rates more than make up for it.

  4. Make sure your reps speak English (or Spanish, or French, or whatever language your customer speak) well without heavy accents.  Many companies outsource their telemarketing to India – yet over 70% of North Americans HATE dealing with customer service reps from India, and even more object to telemarketing calls from people who can barely speak English.

    If your customer asks to someone who speaks English, the rep needs to transfer the call immediately to a North American call centre, instead of getting angry and insisting that they do speak English.

  5. Train your call centre reps well so that they never cross the line from persuading into high pressure bullying.  If you are using an out of country, outbound call centre the reps must be trained in the cultural norms and expectations of the inhabitants in the country they are calling – preferably by someone from that country.  What is considered acceptable in some countries is considered to be overly aggressive and downright rude in others.
  6.  When the respondent says ‘no thank you’, the caller needs to end the conversation immediately and politely.  It leaves a very sour taste in people’s mouths when a telemarketer hangs up on them.
  7. Make sure the rep knows enough to answer questions without reading from a script, and that they are aware of all promotions being offered by the company.
  8. Make sure your outbound telemarketing campaigns dovetail with the rest of your marketing initiatives.

    Also, it you are combining telemarketing and direct mail or e-mail, then everyone at the call centre needs to receive copies of the printed pieces or e-mail message at least two shifts before the campaign is launched.  The reps need to be briefed and have the opportunity to ask questions.

    Their call screens also need to be updates accordingly.

    We have found that this simple step makes for better customer/ rep conversations and higher close rates.

  9. Train your reps to use the script as a guide and to talk to customers in a normal, friendly conversational tone.  This one thing can increase close rates three fold.
  10. Use online media as a way of making the initial connection so that your phone contacts are not complete cold calls.
  11.  Wherever possible use landlines, not cell phones.  Over 80% of people surveyed indicate that they view telemarketing calls on a cell phone much more of an invasion of privacy, than they do similar land line calls.  Yes, we expect this to change as more and more consumers move towards only having one number… but we’re not there yet.
  12. Get your call centre reps to take good notes when they talk with prospects – even the ones who say ‘no’.  This will let you better tailor your calls for other campaigns.

 Hopefully these tips will help your reps deliver better customer service and speak with prospective customers in a way that makes them want to become clients.

If you would like more info on any of the above suggestions, please feel free to contact me: jmc@theQgroup.com.

 Regards, Jane-Michele Clark

P.S.  I will be updating this blog regularly.  Until then, remember our cardinal rule of customer service:  Always treat customer according to the Platinum Rule (treat them the way they want to be treated).

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