Call Center Articles

The Saga of a Telemarketing Failure

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Last year my local phone company changed. There was much to-do surrounding this news, arriving in the form of frequent mailed communications and email messages and spanning several months. Throughout this, the phone company repeatedly promised that there would be no rate increases – all that would change was their name. I’m still not sure if this was the result of new ownership or merely a rebranding effort. Of course, these missives also made hazy hints of new services, but withheld helpful details.

My first indication that something was amiss came with my first bill. Contrary to their repeated promises, their charges went up, almost doubling. When I called to complain, evoking their pledge, I was informed that my past bills had been incorrect. Therefore, they were not bound by their aforementioned assurances and were actually under legal compulsion to correct the errors. Fortunately, it would not be adjusted retroactively.

This should have been sufficient warning to be wary of what they said, but I was bit slow to master that lesson. When they called me a few months later – a new marketing tactic – to “lower my monthly rate,” I was quite excited. With this new plan, I could recover much of what I had lost when they had previously “corrected” my bill. The rep’s mastery of English was questionable, so at each step I repeated back to her everything I understood her to say.

“You are going to lower my monthly base rate for local service to $17.95,” I concluded.

“Yes!” she confirmed and then transferred me for third party verification.

Giddy with excitement, I listened to a recapitulation of my order. “You’re signing up for our unlimited long distance calling package at $17.95 a month; this requires…”

“No,” I quickly interrupted. “That’s not what I want at all.”  Fortunately, the verification rep’s communication was clear and effective, saving me from something that I did not want.

So began an all-too-frequent barrage of solicitation calls from my “new” local phone company. Realizing that I could not rely on what they told me, I would extricate myself from each intrusion as quickly as possible and return to work. When my irritation over their incessant interruptions became intolerable, I began begging them to stop calling me. This proved unsuccessful, so I resorted to hanging up as soon as I heard mention of their name. That hasn’t stopped the calls, but it has provided a small degree of vindication.

When their most recent incursion breached my normally idyllic workspace, I listened to their spiel with a more critical ear. To recap: they called a business line about residential service, they did not use my name, and they did not know what services they were currently providing me. At that point, I wondered if the call was even from my phone company. Was it a scam?

When telemarketing is so poorly executed that it is indistinguishable from a scam, things have gone terribly awry. Intervention is clearly in order.

[From Connection Magazine Jul/Aug 2011]

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

Call Center Articles

When a Telemarketing Call Fails…

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

I am the first to appreciate and embrace well-done and smartly executed outbound calling. I am also highly critical of and greatly annoyed by poorly executed telemarketing efforts. Another example for this latter perspective arrived at my office today, courtesy of my telephone. The call went like this:

“May I speak to the person in charge of your freight deliveries?” She mechanically droned. The agent had a pleasant enough voice, but showed no enthusiasm or interest.

“We don’t do any freight deliveries,” I responded matter-of-factly.

“Really?” she asked.  “You do no inbound or outbound freight shipments?” she probed, as though I was lying. “But I got your number from the Internet,” she added, as if that was the ultimate source of accurate information. (Incidentally, the number she called is not listed on any of my Web sites.)

“We do no freight,” I confirmed. “I’ll let you go on to your next call,” I said as positively as I could muster.”

“You’re rude!” she declared.

I responded in kind and communication quickly deteriorated, with me hanging up on her—which would have been more productive had I done so much earlier in the call.

Each time that a telemarketing call fails, be it through lack of training, a poorly conceived campaign, a bad list, or a company that just doesn’t care, the result is the same: everyone’s job of making calls has just become a bit harder.

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

Call Center Articles

That’s No Way to Run a Business

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

A while back, the Connections Magazine sales line was slammed with a phone call— for another company. The calls were from irate individuals trying to call a removal line of the fax service bureau that had sent them faxes. It seems that they had received an unwanted fax solicitation on behalf of a travel company. They angrily called the fax removal number listed in the fine print to stop the unwelcome intrusions. Unfortunately, between too small print and the low quality of faxes, the number looked a lot like ours.

With voicemail now screening the calls, I set towards averting a future reoccurrence of this fiasco. I called the number in the ad. My call was abruptly answered by someone who cared little about professionalism or customer service. There was a cacophony of talking in the background. I had reached a call center boiler room!

Once the agent realized I was not interested in her spiel about vacation cruises, she became even less interested. When I asked to speak to a supervisor, I was disconnected. I called again. After more futility, I demanded to speak with a manager. I was placed on hold for several minutes—and eventually heard the dial tone. Calling the actual fax removal number, left me trapped in an automated loop with no escape.

At the risk of stating the obvious, permit me to make some recommendations.

For the fax service bureau:

  • Make sure the removal number is easily readable.
  • Provide a way out (press zero for operator or at least let them leave a message).
  • Offer an alternative means of contact, such as email or snail mail.
  • Don’t illegally fax ads.
  • Don’t provide services to unscrupulous clients.

For the call center:

  • Train your staff to be polite and professional. Retrain or terminate those who don’t capitulate.
  • Don’t hang up on callers.
  • Allow calls to be escalated when requested.
  • Have a website; make it easy for people to contact you.
  • Don’t use “bait and switch” tactics.
  • Remember that if you don’t police your agents and compensate only for sales, expect nothing else from them.

Most of the people reading this are not the ones who need to hear it, but perhaps this post will find itself in the hands of a call center manager who needs to reform their company’s wayward practices.

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

Call Center Articles

Outbound Calling is Not a Numbers Game

Peter Lyle DeHaan

Although outbound calling stats to vary by industry, campaign, and offer, they may look something like place 100 calls, reach 50 contacts, verify five prospects, and make one sale. At this point, you have a formula and calling becomes a numbers game. To sell more, you make more calls. You can increase the efficiency of existing staff or throw more people into the calling pool. In either case, the result is decreased efficacy—because quality invariably decreases.

Consider a comparable formula for the motion picture industry. I’m just guessing, but it might look something like: Make ten movies, five lose money, and one becomes a hit. Now they have a formula. Do they reason, “Let’s crank out as many flicks as fast as possible to more quickly reach that predictable blockbuster?” Hardly. Instead they focus on quality. No self-respecting studio sets out to make bad movies quickly. Instead, they strive to make each be the best that they can (given the parameters they have to work with).

I’m reminded of Will Smith’s movie, “The Pursuit of Happyness.” Smith plays down-and-out Chris Gardner, a homeless single parent working at a payless stockbroker internship. He’s competing with 19 others for one possible job. They’re tasked with making cold calls, trained to work up a company’s organizational structure to eventually reach the top and make the big sale—which seldom happens. Gardner’s personal situation prevents him from working as many hours as the others vying for the position, so he begins working smarter. Instead of his peers’ numbers focus, he adopts a quality perspective, giving his all to close the top man on his list—and succeeds. Quality trumps quantity.

Without exception the calls I receive indicate a quantity over quality mentality, giving me a front row seat to the “numbers game.” These call centers are seemingly pursuing the dual strategy of rushing new people online—as evidence by appallingly poor training outcomes— and pushing staff to do more, faster. Here’s what I experience:

  • The dialing rate is too high, and I hear dead air—or am disconnected.
  • The agent can’t pronounce my name.
  • They request “the person in charge of…”
  • They read a script with no enthusiasm, devoid of personality.
  • They talk too fast.
  • They mumble their name and the company.
  • There is often a tumultuous roar in the background.  (If inbound operations can keep the noise down, why can’t outbound operations?)
  • The connection quality is often poor (which is seldom an inbound issue).

Before you commend yourself for avoiding these issues, I challenge you to make a thorough investigation—because if you’re innocent of these infractions, you’re certainly not been calling me.

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

Call Center Articles

The Politics of Outbound Calling

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

With the fall elections in the United States approaching, call centers that make automated and/or political calls should consider:

  • Just because something is legal, doesn’t make it right. Check numbers against the DNC list when making political calls. Those who signed up did so for a reason. Calling them will only make them mad, causing them to assume you or the candidate are breaking the law.
  • Don’t overcall people. Even if the client is willing to pay you to call the same number multiple times, don’t do it—especially not on the same day!
  • Don’t mislead people; do provide responsible discloser. Email messages must contain legitimate subject lines; print and broadcast ads must state who paid for the ad; and mailed messages have their own content requirements. Apply these reasonable and accepted practices to recorded messages—people have grown to expect this from other channels, provide it on calls as well.
  • Expect both robocalls and political calling to come under greater scrutiny. Now is the time to diversify your call center activity into other, less contentious areas.
  • People do not understand why they receive these calls when they are on the DNC list—and they are angry about it.

Remember, just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right.

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