TOP 50 TELEMARKETING AND CUSTOMER MANAGEMENT LEAGUE TABLES 1999: Telemarketing and CM leagues - Taking up net opportunities/Integration with the internet, service quality and recruitment of staff are all challenges for telemarketing bureaus today

Like other leading supermarket chains, Sainsbury’s is experimenting with remote ordering. Customers at selected stores can call in with their grocery orders, using telephone, fax, or the internet.

Like other leading supermarket chains, Sainsbury’s is experimenting

with remote ordering. Customers at selected stores can call in with

their grocery orders, using telephone, fax, or the internet.



Although the shoppers won’t realise it, all calls go to a dedicated

team, working at Brann’s newly opened second call centre in Bristol.

What’s interesting, however, is that the volume of orders coming in over

the internet has been steadily rising, and now accounts for a fifth of

the total. Operators on the team are being switched progressively from

taking telephone orders to providing support to web users who need

help.



Telemarketing is likely to be affected by the growth of the internet and

e-commerce as much as, if not more than, industry at large. But

predictions that the world wide web heralds the death of call centres

are widely rejected.



What is certainly going to happen is that the emphasis will change. Many

requests for information, traditionally met by putting a brochure in the

post, could be eliminated. Customers will simply download the

information they want from the web site.



On the other hand a good web site can stimulate calls and, as Tony Moss,

marketing director of IMS, points out, ’call centres will still have to

be there to handle those enquiries’.



’The web site can be used to entice people,’ adds Mark Osman, the

managing director of InTelMark. ’It becomes a shop window. People walk

into the shop, and we’re waiting behind the counter to close the

sale.’



Put more prosaically, the bigger bureaus in particular are investing to

become ’web-enabled’. At its simplest, this means visitors to a web site

can click on a button, asking someone to call them back. It is also

possible to have a voice connection over the internet between operator

and customer as they look at the same pages.



As with last month’s direct marketing league table, Marketing included a

list of issues with this year’s questionnaire to the sector. Bureaus

were invited to identify and rank in order the three they felt were most

pressing.



Growing complexity



The integration of the internet and e-commerce with telemarketing was

the clear leader (see chart), though, as Osman points out,’it is not so

much an issue as a very exciting opportunity’. The growth of e-commerce

is being recognised for the first time at this year’s Telemarketing

Awards - sponsored by Marketing and BT - in June. There are four new

categories, one of which commends best use of telemarketing on the

internet.



Serco, a new arrival on the telemarketing scene, specialising in

long-term, outsourced contracts, believes true e-commerce is still ’a

revolution waiting to happen’, but the situation will change

dramatically and quickly.



The need for personal interaction will continue, the company claims.



It sees telemarketing being affected in two main ways.



First, call centres will have to be able to handle communications in all

formats - voice, fax, or e-mail - and give equal weight to all of them.

It won’t be good enough to leave the e-mails to the end of the day.



Second, all types of technology, from automated call handling and voice

recognition software to fax-backs and auto e-mail formats, will be used

to keep costs down. This will enable managers to focus their best people

on the calls where the personal touch makes a real difference.



Niki Turner, marketing director at The Ops Room, argues that this

growing complexity is likely to strengthen the case for client companies

to outsource these activities. It is a point endorsed by Peter McCarthy,

chairman of Telecom Potential, and of the Direct Marketing Association’s

telemarketing council. Clients, he believes, would rather turn to

bureaus than get involved with the investment needed to keep pace with

technology.



’The integration of call centres and the internet will provide all of us

with a great opportunity to improve the level of service we offer, as

well as providing genuine cost savings,’ Turner says. ’However, the

internet won’t be able to replace conversational telemarketing. For

instance, the growing demand for technical helplines and carelines will

always require a ’live’ one-to-one communication.’



There is general agreement that integration of the internet and

e-commerce with conventional telemarketing requires what BT CiB calls

’the super agents’ - computer-literate operators with people skills.



Personnel problems



This is one reason why several of the other issues attracting a lot of

votes in the poll were to do with personnel. Staff represent the biggest

cost element in bureau operations, and maintaining or improving the

quality of service, human resource questions such as training,

motivation and staff retention, and the shortage of experienced

management in a fast-expanding industry were all highlighted.



Funnily enough, difficulty in recruiting operators doesn’t emerge as a

major problem. And that is interesting, because there is quite a lot of

resentment among bureaus at national press coverage, describing call

centres as today’s equivalent of an earlier age’s dark satanic

mills.



Diane Stafford, head of marketing for Access 24, the specialist

healthcare bureau, speaks for many when she says that the plethora of

media horror stories ’continues to blight the reputation of the industry

as a whole, and particularly that of the extremely high-quality

operations’.



All right, a basic operator’s pay may not be very high, and a lot of the

work must be very boring. However, telemarketing in total (and the

bureaus represent only a tiny fraction) has created many thousands of

jobs, often in depressed areas. Conditions in many I have seen compare

favourably with office jobs anywhere.



That’s not to say the problem doesn’t exist. Dave Wilson, business

development director at Active Resource, says the rapid growth of the

industry has attracted a rash of new start-ups, some of which treat

contracts like a commodity, fail to add value for clients and suffer

high staff turnover.



Most of his own clients are in financial services, and demand a

long-term commitment to quality, he adds. ’Active has achieved this

through investment, and a focus on staff retention. We implement

continued training and avoid operator boredom and burnout by providing

workers with variety in the calls they make and receive, and the

opportunity to use their higher skill levels. This is often rewarded by

increased pay.’



Brann has introduced graduate recruitment to help ease the management

shortages. Managing director Clare Davidson is hoping to extend the

opportunities for management training by co-operating with other call

centres in the Bristol area, perhaps through the western arm of the

Direct Marketing Association.



Telemarketing has been through a phase, typical of young industries,

where no one would dream of co-operating with competitors, she says. It

is a little maturer now, and companies should be willing to tackle

common problems together.



Pressure on margins was another issue highlighted by a number of

respondents.



While some, such as InTelMark’s Osman, regard it as something that’s

always present, there is probably also some truth in the idea that it is

cyclical.



Price pressure intensifies when capacity gets out of line with

demand.



And that is not just bureau capacity. Jim Seedhouse, head of marketing

for BT CiB, says: ’We have found competition increasing in the past year

from companies with spare capacity at their in-house call centres.

They’re coming into the market in an effort to make their assets sweat a

bit.



’These companies are coming in with very low prices just to recover

their costs. What they are offering can’t compare with an experienced

bureau in terms of working with clients to manage their brands and their

customer relationships.’



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