The growth in telemarketing continues apace and shows no sign of
letting up. Already this year, the use of the telephone has increased by
35% as against market forecasts of 20%. And estimates about the
expansion of the telemarketing industry suggest that the number of
people working in call centres will double by 2001.
’The telephone has finally come of age and it’s recognised as a key
communication method,’ says Natalie Calvert, managing director of the
There are four reasons for this, says Calvert.
’First, costs have fallen significantly and the telephone is now
recognised as a way of doing business cost-effectively. Second,
deregulation has opened up the industry and businesses in general have
become more competitive.
’Third, we have the technology to communicate on a global basis. Fourth,
as consumers we have become a demand society that wants things
immediately and the telephone provides an immediate access route.’
Clients may be won over by the advantages of telemarketing, but the pace
of change is being driven by the consumer. ’It is all down to customer
expectation,’ says Jon Abrahams, director of customer services at
’People expect to speak to an operator day or night, any day of the
year. They want to be able to order something from a catalogue and for
it to be fulfilled within 24 to 48 hours.’
The result is that clients are investing more in call centres but, says
Calvert, they want more for less - and that is where new technology is
playing a vital role. ’Clever use of technology can provide the
answers,’ she says. ’For instance, Interactive Voice Response (IVR) - if
used correctly - allows companies to handle more calls and offer a
better customer service at a lower cost.’
IVR is certainly useful as a way of conveying simple messages and for
basic data capture, but it is also being used effectively to ’top and
tail’ calls handled by an operator. But the main progress, according to
Abrahams, has been seen on the computer desktop.
’We have been able to take information and product knowledge out of the
heads of the operators and onto the screen. We have moved away from the
operator script which is repeated parrot-fashion.’ In its work for Post
Office Counters, for example, SSL has developed an A-Z of hundreds of
transaction enquiries with internet-style links and key words that
operators can be trained to use quickly.
Closer to customers
Harnessing the power of the computer with the telephone has also been
extremely powerful. Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) has brought in
caller identification so that customer details can be brought up on
screen within seconds.
’Modern technology is a means of letting our agents focus on the
customer relationship,’ says Helen MacKenzie, managing director of The
Business Extension, whose clients include Cable & Wireless and
’Instant access to the facts makes the call more productive and more
satisfying to both the agent and the customer. CTI allows automatic
scheduling of call-backs, and power dialling presents the agent with
connected calls only.’
New technology is set to revolutionise the industry further. ’I see huge
leaps and bounds on the horizon,’ says the Calcom Group’s Calvert.
’In five years, we will be looking at each other thanks to online video
conferencing for business-to-business calls. Later, there will be no
keyboards as voice text will update information automatically. And the
internet is developing fast.’
SSL is planning to open a third call centre by the end of the year and,
says Abrahams: ’Our call centres will soon become customer contact
centres offering fax, e-mail, telephone and internet services.’ The big
leap forward here has been for web pages to include a ’phone-me’ button
that allows customers to talk to an operator if they have questions,
with the operator looking at the same page on screen as the
’In a few years time,’ predicts Abrahams, ’people will expect an instant
answer to their e-mail enquiries as well, which call centres will be
able to provide.’
Meanwhile, international call handling is radically affecting the
telemarketing industry, although - by design - the customer may not have
noticed. Telemarketing firm Matrixx, for instance, has installed a
system developed by BT and AT&T, which automatically overflows calls to
international centres when its UK call centre reaches capacity.
The company has 25 call centres in Europe and the US. It recently
trained a team of 43 multilingual agents in its Newcastle-upon-Tyne
centre to be able to handle work for Kellogg in Germany.
Last year’s launch of the European freephone means that companies can
advertise one memorable number and route calls according to country of
origin in seconds so that customers can talk to operators in their own
language and get in-depth local information.
But deregulation in Europe bring threats as well as opportunities, warns
Calvert. A combination of legislation and technology means that the
industry is now competing on a global basis, she says. And, with high
labour costs in the UK, companies may site call centres in countries
where labour costs are lower, simply switching customer calls overseas -
especially as the 24-hour culture continues to take over.