TELEMARKETING: Down the Line - The internet and the advent of digital will force telemarketers to consider how best to handle new forms of communication. Meg Carter reports

By MEG CARTER, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 26 June 1998 12:00AM

Technology as much as demand is fuelling the rapid expansion of the telemarketing business. Call handling specialists continue to introduce increasingly sophisticated call handling software. Meanwhile, telecoms companies are developing more attractive packages of services to businesses eager to better exploit the telephone for sales, marketing and customer care.

Technology as much as demand is fuelling the rapid expansion of the

telemarketing business. Call handling specialists continue to introduce

increasingly sophisticated call handling software. Meanwhile, telecoms

companies are developing more attractive packages of services to

businesses eager to better exploit the telephone for sales, marketing

and customer care.



Customers can use their telephone keypads to conduct increasingly

sophisticated tasks, such as making credit-card payments, checking bank

statements and ordering tickets. Callers are now quickly and seamlessly

re-routed to call-handlers around the country and abroad. Predictive

software, meanwhile, can estimate how long a call is likely to take and

line up a second while the first caller is on the phone.



However, the main challenge now facing the industry is to adapt to the

broadening range of communications channels customers are starting to

use. Already in the US, the traditional call centre is evolving into

’response management’ handling customer communications via fax, e-mail

and the internet as well as the telephone. Now, British companies are

bracing themselves for the same quantum leap.



’Commerce is aware of new media but has not fully embraced it - yet,’

David Daly, director of product development at Sitel UK, says. Part of

the world’s largest independent tele-business, it handles 15 million

calls a month, one million of which are within the UK. ’Ninety per cent

of the UK know about the internet but only 5 per cent regularly use it.

However, this will change significantly with the arrival of digital TV.

From an estimated 500,000 UK homes online by the end of this year, 20

million are expected to be connected to the internet in just a few years

as the penetration of digital equipment grows.’



This presents marketers with a significant opportunity. It also presents

the call handling industry with challenges to overcome, although not

’the obvious one’, according to Alex Green, managing director of

Broadsystems.



’New forms of response are an issue. More important, however, is exactly

what clients want to achieve,’ he explains. ’Sorting out a bureau to

accommodate the Internet is not a major problem. What’s key is a focus

on the benefits to clients - it is how it’s implemented that

counts.’



Today’s call centres will soon become ’customer commerce centres’

handling any form of customer communication via telephone, e-mail and

the internet.



’Fax will go downhill because there will be faster means of

communication.



We are preparing for the significant growth of internet communications

and e-mail,’ Daly predicts. Traditionally, call centre response systems

have been set up to cater for one of three areas: to provide IT helpdesk

assistance to customers, for sales and marketing and for general enquiry

handling. Single systems must be able to support all potential

applications, he says. ’A healthy business will revolve around the

customer. Companies that once used different call centres for different

types of call or product will have a single set-up catering for

everything, with front applications connected directly to the heart of

their business.’



This is a strategic management issue rather than a technical one.

Back-office support is critical, Susy Ling, media director at Greenland

Interactive, says. Databases will need to be completely integrated to

cover every possible way in which data might arrive. ’It’s about

integrated response solutions,’ she says. ’Major efficiency improvements

will come when we can truly communicate all data digitally.’



Call handlers will be supported by far more information to answer a

broader remit, juggling all customer enquiries through whatever

communications channel they choose to use. Daly believes there will be

significant cost savings as a result. ’Today, call centres are still

widely seen as cost centres with a hidden benefit: improving customer

satisfaction. Tomorrow, a single centre handling every customer

communication will enable greater up-selling and cross-selling. They

will become profit centres in their own right.’



That’s not to say that new technology will eventually replace today’s

live call handler. ’Twenty-four hour support will become increasingly

important as more channels of communication between company and customer

open,’ Green admits. ’But while anything that replaces human beings has

a cost saving, there are more benefits to be gained from automating

certain transactions and leaving live call handlers for others.’



Few believe the growth of customer communication via e-mail and the

internet will replace the telephone call. Telephones are in 98 per cent

of UK homes, after all. But the rapid growth for which the industry is

now bracing itself presents a number of international issues yet to be

adequately addressed, says Doug Roberts, e-commerce manager at

Electronic Business Solutions, a division of Mail Marketing, which is

behind several websites, including Wallace and Gromit and Enid Blyton.

’In our experience, customers who want to use the internet or e-mail to

order and purchase a product want to use it for other customer-service

uses,’ Roberts says. ’This becomes increasingly important when you are

buying a product from another country - sending a query via e-mail is

far cheaper than picking up the phone.’ Customers don’t care whether

they order by phone, post or Net, he claims. The upside is that e-mail

and the internet allow marketers to get to consumers they might

otherwise be unable to reach. The downside is that what starts out as a

domestic, UK-only initiative can very quickly spread worldwide.



’You must ensure you have the best infrastructure in place to deal with

broader issues associated with conducting international business via the

Web, such as tax liability, time delay and currency parity,’ Roberts

warns.



’And you should never forget that if you can go on the Net and market

yourself globally, others can too. While a UK-based business can pick up

customers in the US, a US business can also tackle you at home.

Standards of customer service will become crucial.’



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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