By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
How do you regard email? Is it something that you can’t live without, a necessary evil, or somewhere in between? At Connections Magazine, email is a critical tool that we use to communicate with readers, advertisers, and each other. Without it, our ability to put out this magazine would come to an abrupt stop. However, even with it being such an indispensable tool, email is also an ongoing source of frustration, sometimes extremely so.
In the October issue of Connections Magazine, we published a list of outsourcing call centers. This list is compiled from submissions which are also posted on our website. This has been an ongoing effort for several years and a service which we are happy to provide to the industry – and to your potential prospects. Since I am well aware that business listings and contact data change over time, I wanted to verify that all listing information was still current before being printed in our magazine’s outsourcing call center directory.
Starting with an initial 156 call centers in our listing, I sent an email to each one, asking them to verify their information prior to publication. Several of those messages bounced back immediately, with varying types of unresolvable error messages. Several more came back after four days of trying. To their credit, some people responded immediately or the next day. After a week, I sent a follow-up email to those who I hadn’t heard from yet. A few additional addresses were undeliverable with this second round.
With both mailings, I received many “out-of-office” messages. Few of them were of the “out on a sales call” variety, but rather, they were the “on vacation for two weeks” type. This would not be alarming, if not for the fact that I had sent my message to email addresses that had been posted for sales inquires.
The end result was that of 156 originally listed call centers, thirteen (8.3%) were bad email addresses, eighty (51.3%) were apparently good, working email addresses, but no one bothered to respond, and only sixty-three answered, either to confirm or update their listing. Remember, this was not a list that I bought or harvested, but rather the result of self-submitted email addresses from people who wanted to be contacted. This was an astoundingly poor 40.4% response rate.
Can you imagine if someone were that apathetic about their telephone number? The analogy would be that on 8% of call attempts the caller would receive a “nonworking number” recording or a busy signal, 51% would ring but never be answered, and only a scant 40% would be answered by a person and responded to. With a track record like that, how long do you think a call center could stay in business?
Before you criticize me for implying that email is a comparably critical comparison to the telephone, I need to point out that email is the default communication channel for an increasing number of people – especially the younger generation, who are rapidly becoming the decision makers at your prospects’ offices.
Each month I hear from call centers (by the way, they generally email me) who wonder how they can obtain more clients. I have been hesitant to give them my ideas because that was not one of my strengths when I was in their shoes, but I’m starting to realize that perhaps I do have something to offer.
Start with Your Website: Firstly, you need a website. I’ve said it often and I’ll say it again, if your call center doesn’t have a website you won’t be taken seriously. Once you have a site, check it periodically to make sure it is still there and working. Sites can go down (usually temporarily, sometimes permanently), pages can get deleted, links break, domain names become pointed to the wrong place – or to nowhere – and on and on. As I delved into this project, I removed all listings that didn’t have working websites. After all, if a prospect finds you online, they will likely want to contact you online.
Keep Track of Your Email Addresses: You need to assign an email administrator who keeps track of all email addresses that your call center uses. This includes both the ones to individuals, as well as general purpose ones, such as for a department. When an employee leaves, don’t just deactivate their email address, but have it forwarded to the email administrator so that important messages can be received and routed to the proper person.
Test Your Email Addresses: Once you’ve accounted for all your email addresses, they must be periodically checked to make sure they are working. This is especially true of department and company-wide addresses. Also, carefully test all of those email addresses that have an auto-response message or are forwarded to another mailbox. Both of these situations are prime areas for problems to occur – and can easily remain undetected for a long time. The most critical email addresses to check are those that are published. This includes those listed on your website; printed in ads, directories, and listings; and posted online on other websites. These should be tested daily. (Incidentally, this is a service that you should be offering your clients.) This testing can be automated – just make sure someone is faithfully checking the logs to ensure the program is running and the errors are being addressed. Perhaps better still is to simply have an agent do the testing during a slow time of the day.
Develop a Vacation Policy: A policy needs to be established for staff email when they are on vacation. Short of having them check their email while gone (a requirement that I would discourage), an auto-response message is the minimal expectation. This message must provide the name, number, and email address of a qualified alternate contact. A preferred approach would be to not inconvenience the client or prospect and simply have someone check the vacationing staff’s email account for time critical and urgent communiqués. (This is an excellent reason to keep business and personal email separate. Just as you don’t want personal email encroaching on the business hours, it is wise to keep business email from detracting from personal time.)
Heighten the Importance of Email: If your call center switch, server, or telco connection goes down, it is a problem of the most critical nature; all else becomes subordinate until it is resolved. There are backup options, contingency plans, notification procedures, and escalation steps. The same needs to occur with email.
Verify Your Sales Staff: Up until now, I have addressed the technical side of email. The human side, however, should not be discounted. Left unchecked, salespeople can become lackadaisical, forget to check email, or merely delete any lead that doesn’t sound like a sure thing. This is only remedied through diligent monitoring and verification.
So the answer to my most commonly received query, “How can I get more sales?” may be as simple as “Check your email!”
[Are you listed on the Connections Magazine website and Find a Call Center.com. It only takes a few minutes to sign up. And remember, the next time I email you to verify your listing, be sure to respond!]
[From Connection Magazine – December 2007]
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry.