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Call Center Articles

The Failure of New Customer Discounts

Companies Focus on New Customer Acquisition and Then Encourage Customers to Leave in Two Years

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

My family just completed our biennial cell phone switch. We’ve been doing this like clockwork for two decades. We pick the company that offers the best price and switch to that one. Two years later our rates jump, and no amount of pleading results in a package we can accept. So we switch carriers.

Of course, the same thing happens with our internet service provider and our cable TV/satellite provider. They also entice us with low introductory rates and then methodically jack up our bill every chance they get. We’re on a two-year cycle with them too.

Loyalty Goes Both Ways

new customer

I’d prefer to find a vendor I can stick with and not change every two years. All they need to do to earn my loyalty is to offer fair prices. But they don’t. They give sweet deals to new customers as they gouge their current ones. They apparently value new business more than existing business. Don’t they know it costs several times more to gain new customers than to simply keep the ones they have? They should, but their actions don’t show it.

They prove their disloyalty to me with their unfair pricing. This causes me to be disloyal to them, and I have no regret about leaving them for a better deal. They’ve trained me to act this way.

The Burden on Customer Service Staff

Each time we switch a provider, we make multiple calls and even visits to each potential vendor, gathering information and looking for potential shortfalls in their service package. Of course, we foolishly start with our existing provider, but they’re not interested in keeping our business—at least not yet.

As we proceed, we take time with our existing provider and then all their competitors, including the one we eventually select. Our existing provider spends time with us to lose our business. Our new provider spends a couple of hours to close the deal and transfer our account. That’s a huge investment of time to obtain an account they won’t keep. In addition, all the other providers waste time with a prospect they won’t land.

The Impact on Customers

As customers, we spend a lot of time analyzing our options. Then we expend more time switching providers. But the biggest investment of our time is programming and learning our new technology, be it our phones, video entertainment, or internet access. Maybe someday I will gladly accept my bill doubling to avoid the agony of switching. Or maybe not.

Churning Customers Is a Futile Business Model

If companies worked harder to keep the customers they have, there wouldn’t be so much pressure to gain new ones. They wouldn’t have to offer their new-customer incentives, which are likely at or below cost. They wouldn’t have to spend as much money on marketing. And their sales and customer service people could avoid a lot a of needless effort that produces no results.

Too Late to Make a Difference

Most of the time, once we switch providers, our former provider then makes a last-ditch effort to “win back” our business. But they’re too late. We’ve just gone through the agony of considering our options and doing a thorough spreadsheet analysis. We’ve gone through the pain of switching. We have shiny new equipment, which looks promising—once we learn how to use it. And now they think they can keep our business? No way. The only way we’ll do business with them is in two, four, or six years as we go through another cycle of selecting a new provider.

Though these service providers will persist in their insane cycle of customer acquisition and churn, your company doesn’t have to. Make sure you don’t follow their foolish example.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry.

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Healthcare Call Centers

Using Email to Reach Out the Right Way

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Email is a cost-effective way to reach customers and patients. But just because it’s cheap and easy doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea. When done incorrectly, email messages can alienate the very audience we’re trying to cultivate.

Send Only Useful Messages: I once had the grand idea of using an email-marketing program to keep advertisers (those folks who make this magazine possible) and potential advertisers informed and engaged. When I began working on each issue, I emailed them with the theme and deadlines. A week before the due date, I sent a reminder. When the magazine went to print, I dashed off an update. When it mailed, I let them know.

This lasted for one issue. Although sending the messages seemed free, it cost time. I also worried about annoying the recipients. This was in the early days of email marketing, and I couldn’t tell who was reading what I sent.

I scaled back my messages to one per issue. I stopped sending all but that first email, informing advertisers of the theme and deadlines; that one mattered most. Besides, I hoped if I emailed less often, my recipients would be more apt to read what I did send.

What messages matter most to your audience?

Segment Your Audience: I quickly developed a rhythm of sending out one mass email per issue about advertising, but it wasn’t as smooth as I hoped. No matter how carefully I worded my message, I always seemed to confuse someone. This resulted in follow-up communication to clear up my miscommunication.

I realized that I was trying to make one message work for everyone: regular advertisers, occasional advertisers, and potential advertisers. A message for regular advertisers might confuse the occasional ones. Alternately, a message encouraging potential advertisers to run an ad might irritate existing customers. To solve this, I divided my list into three groups, sending a different message tailored to each segment.

Your biggest customer is different than your smallest, and both are different from your patients. How should you segment your list?

Send Only Wanted Messages: About a fifth of AnswerStat readers receive their copy electronically. I email them each time a new issue is available. As part of their subscription, I send occasional, relevant messages that have a high likelihood of interest. So I don’t irritate readers, I send no more than one extra email per month. If you’re like me, you’ve unsubscribed from organizations you liked simply because they emailed too often.

How frequently should you email your audience? How often is too often?

Allow for Unsubscribes: Even though it’s a legal requirement to provide a way to unsubscribe, I’m shocked at how many organizations don’t. Plus there are unethical ones who let you click unsubscribe but don’t actually remove you.

Allow for and honor unsubscribes.

Maintain List Integrity: Though I’ve never done it, email databases are easy to buy. It’s also common for companies to harvest contact information from websites and directories. The result is sending messages to folks who didn’t opt in. These messages are illegal and constitute spam.

In your zeal to communicate with as many individuals as possible, make sure you don’t add people who didn’t expressly opt in to your list.

When you send usefully and wanted messages to your segmented list, allowing for unsubscribes and avoiding spam, you are on the right path to effective communication.

[From the October/November 2013 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat and Medical Call Center News, covering the healthcare call center industry.

Categories
Call Center Articles

When Games Supersede Work

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Last September in my column, “Let’s Play,” I discussed gamification and questioned if it was mostly hype or offered merit. I wondered then – and still do – if gamification has any application in the contact center. Those who talk about gamification mostly do so from a theoretical perspective, lacking tangible real-world examples. In my article, I shared my experience with gamification from a customer perspective: It motivated a change in my behavior but left me frustrated, so I gave up.

Now I’ll share my gamification experience from an employee perspective. My story goes back a few decades, long before the word came into being.

My first full-time job was repairing copy machines. I didn’t necessarily like the work, but I liked having work. I viewed my employment as temporary, something to pay the bills until I could move into my preferred career. Not only did I grab the first job offered, I also failed to verify the compensation, assuming that what my school’s placement department told me was correct. It was not – the company paid about half of what I expected.

Nevertheless, I poured myself into my new job, striving to do my best at fixing copy machines. I soon became quite good at it. Imagine my dismay, then, when I saw the first ranking of technicians: I was near the bottom. Something was wrong.

I asked the dispatcher, who calculated the results for our boss, what criteria she tracked. She told me, and I listened carefully. To my surprise, the metrics had little to do with repairing machines quickly or cost-effectively. Most measurements addressed other factors – such as how much time was spent driving, the number of hours worked, or how many leads I passed to the sales department. I was doing everything wrong.

Taking this information and working backwards, I established a new way of doing my job – not focused on serving customers or saving money but on maximizing my rating. My incentive pay was tied to the results, and I desperately needed to earn a sizable bonus to offset my lower-than-expected base salary.

With my newfound focus, the next ranking came out with me near the top for the month; my year-to-date number had now moved to the upper half of the list. My paycheck, however, was my real reward.

For the third month, I was number one; year-to-date, I was in the top quarter. Six months later both my monthly and annual results were number one; my bonus almost equaled my base pay. By playing their game, I’d nearly doubled my compensation.

Though I was still a good copy machine repairman (yes, we were all guys), I no longer put the customer first; I put me first. I didn’t prioritize customers based on the urgency of their need, I scheduled them in the order designed to minimize my drive time, since part of the bonus was for spending 10 percent or less of my time behind the wheel. I’d also start and end the day with a stop close to home because driving to my first call and driving home didn’t count in the calculation. I also drove faster, but that’s another story.

Also, I no longer tried to save the company money but focused on increasing my rating instead. For example, if protocol called for cleaning a filter or retrofitting a part, I’d replace it. Though this cost the company more, it all but eliminated me being called back to redo a job – and be penalized in the process. If one of two parts would fix the problem but only time would tell which one, instead of replacing the cheaper part first and then waiting, I’d replace both and be done with it.

No one ever realized what I was doing. My rating was stellar, so my superiors were pleased and the customers never knew the difference.

After nine months, I quit. A better job beckoned. It still wasn’t my dream job, but it was much closer. The base pay for my new job exceeded the salary and bonuses of my old job. And with my new employer, there were no games to play. All I had to do was focus on the work.

[From Connection Magazine April 2013]

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry.

Categories
Call Center Articles

The Right Touch

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Email is a cost-effective and simple way to reach out and touch clients and customers. But just because it’s cheap and easy, this doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea. When done wrong, email messages can alienate the audience you’re trying to cultivate.

Send Only Useful Messages: Many years ago I had the grand idea of using an email-marketing program to keep advertisers (those folks who make this magazine possible) and potential advertisers informed and engaged. When I began working on the next issue, I emailed them with the theme and deadlines. A week before the due date, I sent a reminder. When the magazine went to print, I dashed off an update and when it mailed, I was sure to let them know.

This lasted for two issues. Although sending the messages seemed free, it cost me time. Plus I worried about becoming a nuisance. And in those early days of email marketing, I couldn’t tell who was reading what I sent.

I wisely scaled back my messages to one per issue. It was that initial email letting them know the theme and deadlines that was the one that mattered. Besides, I figured if I emailed less often, they would be more apt to read what I did send.

What are the messages that matter most to your audience?

Segment Your Audience: I quickly fell into a rhythm of sending out one mass email per issue, but it wasn’t as smooth as I wished. It seemed that, no matter how carefully I worded my message, someone would be confused. This resulted in more communication to clear up my miscommunication.

The problem was that I tried to make one message work for everyone: regular advertisers, occasional advertisers, and potential advertisers. A message for regular advertisers might confuse the occasional ones and vice versa. Alternately, a message encouraging potential advertisers to run an ad might cause regular advertisers to make wrong assumptions about their status. To solve this, I divided my list into three groups in order to send specific messages tailored to a particular audience.

Your biggest client is different than your smallest, and both are different from your prospects. How should your list be segmented?

Send Only Wanted Messages: Twenty percent of Connections Magazine readers receive their subscription electronically. I email them when a new issue is available online to view, download, or read from our website. As part of their subscription, we also send an occasional email message relevant to the industry that has a high likelihood to be of interest. So that we don’t overwhelm or irritate readers, we send no more than one per month. If you’re like me, you’ve unsubscribed from publications you liked because they contacted you too often.

What type of messages does your audience want? Which ones do they just delete?

Allow Unsubscribes: Even though it’s a legal requirement to provide a means to unsubscribe, I’m shocked at how many publications don’t. Plus, a few let you try to unsubscribe, but then don’t follow through.

Allow for and honor unsubscribes.

Don’t Spam: Though I have no firsthand experience in this regard, it’s apparently easy to buy an email database. It’s also common for companies to harvest contact information and send you messages you don’t want. (I know because it happens to me all the time.) These messages are spam; no one likes a spammer.

Finally, verify that in your zeal to communicate you don’t spam.

When you send usefully and wanted messages to your segmented list, allowing for unsubscribes and avoiding spam, you are ahead of most companies. You are providing the right touch.

[From Connection Magazine October 2012]

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry.

Categories
Call Center Articles

Your Call Center’s Marketing Future May Be Online

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

I have long been a proponent of the necessity for outsourcing call centers to have websites. In fact, I view a website as a veritable requirement for success in today’s market. To the point, call centers lacking a website are quickly viewed as second-rate providers and not worth the consideration of first-rate prospects. With the current concerns over attracting and signing new call center clients, now is the time for site-less call centers to embrace the Internet as a means of marketing and validation.

I know that there are still call centers out there that are yet to fully embrace the Internet revolution. Sadly, I hear from them on a regular basis. As amazing as it sounds, we occasionally hear from call center owners who want to place a classified ad, but can’t because they don’t have Internet access. (Placing classified ads online is requisite for us to keep the ads affordable.)

In addition, when people subscribe to the magazine, we ask for their email address so that we can contact them if we have questions or to renew their subscription (again to keep costs down). Some people are adamant that they do not have an email address. As a result, they run the risk of being dropped at renewal time. We will soon get to a point where a working email address will be required to receive the magazine; that’s just the evolving nature of the magazine publishing business.

Now, back to the website issue. We currently list several hundreds of outsourcing call centers on the Connections Magazine website (and on FindACallCenter.com). When people submit their listing information, we require that they have a working website. The reason is simple. If a prospect is looking at online listings, they will likely make contact online as well, first by perusing the websites of potential vendors and then via email. The call centers that lack websites usually fall into the start-up category or are stuck in the past, seeing no value in the Internet.

Therefore, there is clear anecdotal evidence to confirm that there are still call centers without Internet access, an email address, or a website. How can they serve their clients, market to prospects, and stay in business? If you feel singled out and maligned by this, I urge you to take action today to embrace the Internet before it is too late, with your call center paying the price.

Website Basics: Although it can cost thousands of dollars to have a whiz-bang, high-tech, professional-looking website designed, there are less costly options. After all, we don’t all drive a MercedesBenz — sometimes a Chevy will do. You can make an inexpensive website yourself for under $100. The goal is for it to not look cheap. Most hosting companies offer do-it-yourself website templates that you – yes, you — can customize to provide a basic, yet professional-looking site. However, there are a few beginner mistakes that you will want to avoid:

  • Stay away from line art graphics or any artwork that looks like it was homemade.
  • If you need to resize a graphic, be sure to keep it proportional. Otherwise, it will become distorted, either being stretched or squished.
  • Take time to proofread the text, verify spelling, use correct grammar, and employ commonly accepted punctuation. Have others double- and triple-check your work.
  • Don’t get carried away with different fonts. Use one, or two at the most.
  • Uppercase text is strictly verboten; people will feel like you’re screaming at them. (The one possible exception might be listing your call center name at the top of the page.)
  • You might be tempted to insert a page counter or some other nifty gadget. Resist that urge. Just because those features are available doesn’t mean you should use them.
  • Although not available with predesigned website templates, you might think you need to have a flashy animation on your home page. Don’t go there; the only ones who will be impressed will be you and the person who designs it. Everyone else will be irritated, and the search companies will dismiss you.
  • Don’t piggyback off someone else’s domain name; get your own. This can be inexpensively obtained from your hosting company. While you’re at it, set up an email account using that domain name. Post that email address on your website. If need be, you can have this new address forwarded to an existing email account.

Search Engine Optimization: Now that you have a functioning website (which avoids all the beginner errors), you want people to find it. Aside from telling everyone you meet and listing it on every piece of literature and stationery that you have, you need to be noticed and appreciated by the search engines. This is called Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Although this is more of an art form than an exact science (since the search engine companies closely guard their methodologies), here’s some generally agreed upon SEO basics:

  • Each page of your site needs a title tag, and each page’s title should be different.
  • Each page also needs a description tag; again each one should be different from the other pages.
  • Adding reasonable and accurate keywords is recommended. Although it is generally accepted that Google ignores them, some search engines will use them, so it’s a good idea. Again, they should not be the same for each page.
  • Although some people still value reciprocal linking (that is, “I’ll link to your site if you link to mine”), the conventional wisdom is that this no longer helps and likely actually hurts your visibility with the search engines.
  • Most of the companies that guarantee you top search engine placement for a fee fail to deliver or can’t do so for the long-term. There are experts who can do this, but they are in a minority and often hard to substantiate.

Search Engine Marketing: If you want people finding your site and contacting you about your service, the next step to consider might be Search Engine Marketing (SEM). This is when you sign up with Internet advertising companies such as Google, Yahoo, or a host of others. Basically, you tell them how much you are willing to pay each time a person clicks on your ad, and they place your ad on websites where potential prospects frequent. If you go this route, proceed slowly and carefully until you have a good understanding of how this works. I have heard stories of novices spending hundreds of dollars in a couple of hours with not much to show for it. A key thing to remember is that just because they clicked on your website does not mean they will become a client – or even contact you.

Given the current concerns over the economy and finding new clients, call centers need to do everything they can to help their business succeed. The Internet is a cost-effective and increasingly popular method. It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner in this area, have the experience, or are a veteran, there are always more opportunities waiting in the rapidly growing realm of cyberspace.

[From Connection Magazine April 2009]

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry.