TELEMARKETING: Telemarketing Comes Of Age - Telemarketing is no longer just a case of manning the phones. As the sector grows in size and also in sophistication, delivering a quality service is crucial - getting it wrong can damage your brand. Andy Fry in

For most people in 90s Britain, picking up the phone to book theatre tickets, buy insurance, order a pizza or request a brochure is a normal part of everyday life.

For most people in 90s Britain, picking up the phone to book

theatre tickets, buy insurance, order a pizza or request a brochure is a

normal part of everyday life.

The Direct Marketing Association’s communications manager, Martin

Bartle, says: ’Telemarketing is as much at the heart of direct marketing

as direct mail. Most consumers want to be able to call clients 24 hours

a day, seven days a week and they expect them to know their trading

details immediately.’

This trend towards telebusiness is illustrated by rapid growth in the

response-handling market, which is being driven by the likes of BT,

Sitel and Scottish Telecom. Currently, 1 per cent of the population

works in a telephone call centre. By 2001, analysts expect there to be a

staggering 16,500 call centres compared with the current 5,000.

The market leader, Sitel, confirms the trend by reporting growth of

40-50 per cent a year. Its managing director, Paul Cresswell, believes

the company’s UK arm will be a pounds 250 million business in a matter

of years. He expects staff numbers to rise from 2,500 to 10,000 in the

UK alone.

The prospect of consumers queuing up to talk to companies on the phone,

rather than zapping their television ads into oblivion, sounds like a

marketer’s dream. Not only does it hold the promise of an instant sale

but it allows clients to build up a database of prospects. In addition,

telemarketing can cut out the need for a costly salesforce.

However, telemarketing is fraught with difficulties. Get the phone

communication wrong and you may damage your brand irreparably. Andy

Evans, outsourcing manager at the response-handler, BPS Teleperformance,

warns: ’Every phone conversation is a new piece of creative work carried

out by the agent.

When the phone experience jars with the brand’s values, the brand loses

credibility with the caller. If this happens often it will weaken the

brand and, because of the discrete nature of the phone, no-one may even

realise it.’

Another response specialist, Tony Moss, the marketing director of IMS,

reinforces this particular point. ’It is all well and good having hot

creative work and well-bought media campaigns,’ he says, ’but if you

don’t have the right call-handling solution, you might as well not have


Getting the right call-handling configuration depends on the


Sending out holiday brochures may require a direct response TV ad backed

by a high-volume automated response system. By contrast, marketing

financial services or running an after-sales careline means a small pool

of well-informed live operators may be the best approach.

Either way, there are cost-per-lead implications that clients must

address. The higher the response, the more lines you need to employ. The

more knowledgeable the response handlers need to be, the more you have

to pay them.

Even if you know which route you need to take, there is also the

question of whether to build an in-house call centre or outsource the

work. While outsourcing has its attractions, clients need to be sure

that the companies they appoint have a clear understanding of their

brand’s objectives.

Phil Hammond is business development director at the direct marketing

agency, Carlson, which has its own call centre of 50 operators. He

believes that clients ’don’t always think through who they want to talk

to, what relationship they want and how to continue it. When they are

looking for a response solution they should shop around - and confront

what they don’t know.’

The most obvious place to seek advice is the client’s main advertising

agency, although these are often accused by specialist telemarketers of

giving bad advice. The Media Business Direct’s managing director, David

Kyffin, handles DRTV campaigns for 38 clients.

He claims to have witnessed situations in which ’call centres and

clients are miles apart in their expectations because of agency

forecasts. When it comes to response-handling, there is a danger that

everyone assumes it is everyone else’s responsibility.’

Unsurprisingly, Kyffin believes specialist media independents and direct

marketing agencies are best positioned to make judgments for


’We know approximately what level of response is likely in each medium,

which allows us to make forecasts, do tests and co-ordinate


Many above-the-line agencies still don’t think this is their


This is very important in the case of multi-tiered solutions. ’In the

case of a Revlon sampling campaign, we needed to be able to handle 4,000

concurrent calls,’ Kyffin says. ’There was no single live or automated

solution so we had to network response centres together.’

In another example, Oddbins wanted a live approach. So TMBD organised a

system in which Sitel handled an order line for basic enquiries but also

had the facility to divert calls to the Oddbins office for more

sophisticated requests.

Direct marketing agencies put a powerful case for the handling of

complex campaigns. ’Our call centre does not pursue the sweat-shop

approach,’ Hammond says. ’We deal with clients who have a reasonable

volume of enquiries but want the ability to integrate what we do into

their business processes.

We take down orders, look things up, dispatch loyalty cards, make


For Eurostar, for example, we handle customer enquiries in several


This integrated approach is evident at another direct marketing agency,

IMC, which runs a call centre in Northampton. The managing director,

David Thomas, describes himself as a ’heartland direct marketer’ who

believes that if you can ’bring together strategy, creative work and

fulfilment, you stand a better chance of getting it right’.

For Thomas, telemarketing is just one tool in the direct marketer’s


’Telemarketing enables clients to use their data intelligently and the

results can be instantly measured,’ he says. ’But we construct the best

solution for our clients, whether or not it involves the telephone.’

While this direct marketing perspective can provide a client with a

useful assessment of the likely value of telemarketing in a campaign,

the practicalities of managing a high-volume response require input from

call centres. The BPS sales and marketing director, Neil Perring, says:

’We have set up a separate teleservices division which seeks to deal

with the whole customer relationship.

We are not just taking calls but acting as the point of contact for all

sorts of customer communications.’

Moss says: ’Response handling is our core business and increasingly we

are asked to build solutions for clients. A lot of them are coming to

telemarketing for the first time so we have to do it right.’

A typical example of what IMS can offer is its work with the Index chain

of 170 stores. Moss says: ’They were getting phone calls at the stores

asking where the shop was and what time it opened, which was distracting

the staff. So we created an individual number for each store which

carried the details. It also allowed customers to key-in a four-digit

code to check product availability. Finally, there was the option to

transfer to a live operator to order a product direct.’

This increasing involvement in strategy is also evident at Sitel, which

claims to have a 40 per cent share of the UK call-handling market.

Sitel’s Cresswell says: ’If a client or agency comes to us with a

campaign that we know won’t work, we will tell them.’

Sitel has 20,000 employees worldwide and is aiming to become ’the

natural global choice for major international companies. No-one has the

same global presence or integrated competence. So we want to offer

clients the same standards and reporting methods everywhere,’ Cresswell


In the UK, Sitel’s growth plan is based on the belief that the

outsourcing of call centres to specialists will become the industry

norm. ’Nine out of ten call centres are in-house but I think they will

go the same way as IT, which started to be outsourced six or seven years

ago,’ Cresswell explains.

Companies such as Direct Line and Lombard Bank can easily justify

in-house operations rooms. By contrast, outsourcing makes clear sense

for companies with seasonal campaigns, ones that are new to

telemarketing or those that use it as a second-string method of


However, Cresswell believes outsourcing can offer most clients a

future-proof solution - which saves them making gambles on investments

in technology. ’We can invest more in state-of-the-art equipment and are

prepared to absorb more of the risk, if clients are willing to let us

have a say in the planning stages of a campaign.’

Cresswell dismisses fears that it is inappropriate to outsource customer

care. ’The key for us is to establish long-term relationships with


If you came to our British Gas call centre you would meet people who

have absolutely no doubt about the brand values they represent. We have

started to employ senior figures who specialise in industry sectors such

as utilities.’

Whether or not a client chooses to outsource the telemarketing function,

the question inevitably arises as to how much the client is willing to

pay. IMC’s Thomas says: ’There are clients who want to do things on the

cheap but they must realise that telemarketing is expensive. It requires

quality, motivated staff who can be retained for period of time.’

The telemarketing consultancy, Calcom, was set up in 1992 to help

in-house call centres get the most out of the phone. It has worked with

companies such as Bupa on its business conversion rates and Barclays on

the launch of its direct financial services business, b2.

Calcom’s managing director, Natalie Calvert, says: ’There really is no

point putting millions into brand-building and then not investing in the

telemarketing element. Used creatively, you can do some fantastic work

in areas like cross-selling and customer retention.’

For the launch of b2, Calcom staff took a six-week induction course

which explained the basics of the financial services sector and how to

deal with customers on the phone. ’This is account management by phone

which means the emphasis has to be on ensuring quality of service,’ she


The need for a quality response is what has persuaded some clients to

keep the work in-house. Mark Huggett is the call centre manager at the

Royal National Pension Fund for Nurses, which offers financial services

to all healthcare professionals and their spouses.

He has a team of 12 who can offer ’a high level of customer-focused


We are not in an environment where 70 per cent of staff are temps. We

need people with great communication skills and a deep understanding of

the market. We are not only interested in getting a sale.’

For Calvert, this marketing mindset is essential. ’Some call centres can

be awful. Often the problem arises where the call centre comes under the

operational side of business and there is no clear link with the

marketing department.’

In a new report on outbound calls, the Henley Centre says the market has

increased nearly tenfold in the past two years, with banks, retailers,

utilities and phone companies driving the trend. Thomas says evidence

that outbound can work is a recent campaign his agency conducted for

News International, which has successfully increased newspaper


According to the Henley Centre, the outbound approach has been broadly

accepted by consumers, two-thirds of whom get one outbound call a


’Given the usual assumptions about unwelcome calls at home, a surprising

conclusion is that many of these calls are welcomed by customers,’ the

report says.

But the Henley Centre warns that ’a bad call can be a very costly

mistake’ with 70 per cent of people saying they are ’angry or irritated

by bad outbound calls from companies’.

Calls to customer carelines are not in the clear either. Recent research

by Cable & Wireless with the Henley Centre and the telemarketing

specialist, ARM, indicates people are not altogether happy about much of

their telemarketing experience. The 33 per cent of callers to customer

carelines that took part in the survey said they were ’optimistic’

before making a call, but only 24 per cent were optimistic afterwards.

However, 9 per cent described themselves as ’furious’ after their


Calvert says there are 3 Rs which must be adhered to if telemarketing is

to provide an effective communications and distribution platform. ’A

call must be Relevant, the company must have a good Reputation and it

must be looking to build long-term Relationships.’