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
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
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
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
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
’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.
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
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
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
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
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
Price pressure intensifies when capacity gets out of line with
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
’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