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Call Center Articles

Don’t Chase Away Shoppers: Turning Prospects into Customers

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

I often share customer service stories in this column. While I prefer to pass on examples of excellence, they are harder to spot than service gone awry. Even so, I try not to let these tales become a rant but instead offer helpful information in an interesting way.

As my history teacher said, “If we can learn from history, we will avoid repeating its mistakes.” Contact center managers, then, will benefit by considering my accounts of less-than-ideal customer service. Here are two more that occurred while researching Internet access for a friend.

I entered his address into the website of the most likely provider. Four options came up. I clicked the first, and it said, “Service not available.” I clicked the second, and it said, “Service available.” What perplexed me is that they appeared to be the same basic service, but one had more features. The third was likewise not available, while the fourth one was.

I called the support number, and the rep said, “I’m sorry, but we do not serve your area.” I explained what I found online. He checked again and then a third time, verifying the address with each attempt and muttering as he did. Finally, he said, “I guess my system’s not up-to-date. Let me transfer you to customer service. Even though you’re not a customer, they can help.”

The person in customer service didn’t appreciate me being transferred to her, acted snarky, and assured me that all four options were available. She needed to transfer me to another department, but I never heard what they had to say; I was disconnected during the transfer.

I intended to start all over, but then I considered the company I called. I had a bad encounter with them, a relative had a string of bad experiences, and several friends also complained. I couldn’t recall anyone ever sharing a positive experience about this outfit.

I went on to the second company. Again, four options came up, but there was no indication whether or not they were available in the area. I called the number listed. The closest prompt on the IVR was “To order service, press 1.”

The rep wasn’t pleased that I only wanted information. In less time than it would take to check, she snapped, “Of course it’s available.” Then she tried to sign me up. Despite me saying I didn’t want to order service, she made three attempts, with the last one being for a delayed installation. At each try, she grew more irritated over me wasting her time. When I said no the third time, she hung up.

I’d heard negative things about this company, too, but also some positive things. As the least undesirable option, I’ll recommend this one to my friend. I hope they really do service his area and won’t subject him to frustration by later telling him, “Oops, service isn’t available in your area after all.” I’ve heard stories of that happening.

No self-respecting call center manager wants to hear these types of complaints, yet how can you know for sure? Here’s an idea. Ask some friends to place an order – friends you trust to give you honest feedback. But don’t give them any background about your company or call center; don’t even tell them what number to dial. Just share your company name, and then make them work to find the number, just as a real prospect would. Also, if it’s legal in their area, have them record the call. But don’t merely rely on the recording; ask them to share what happened and their reaction to the experience.

If the report and recording are perfect, you can celebrate your success – but also take steps to make sure every call produces the same level of excellence. However, if your friends uncover glitches or shortfalls, address each problem, starting with the most critical one. If your friends have issues placing orders, prospects are likely suffering the same fate, resulting in lost business.

[From Connection Magazine May/Jun 2014]

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

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Call Center Articles

How Do Your Prospects Perceive You?

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

When my office phone rings, I don’t want to answer it. This may seem odd coming from someone who has spent three decades in the call center industry, experiencing it from almost every angle. Though there are multiple root causes, the primary reason is that these calls are seldom welcome.

With over half the calls I answer, my greeting encounters silence. But this column isn’t about dialers set too tight or high abandon rates; it’s about the other calls.

Of the remaining calls – either made by a person or a machine that connects me to a person – most have a goal counter to mine; some are a complete mismatch. Judging by these calls, some databases must indicate that I run a call center or a print shop.

For example:

“May I ask you a few questions?”

I sigh. Do I have a choice? “Go ahead.”

“How many seats do you have?”

“Just one.” I smile as the agent processes this.

“Well then, do you outsource your calls?”

“No. I’m not a call center.”

Usually the call wraps up at this point, but one agent pushed forward. “Do you currently use workforce management software?”

Sheesh.

Or consider this exchange:

“How many offset printers do you have in your plant?”

“None.” This is going to be interesting.

“Ah…well…how many digital printers do you have?”

“Zero.” My anticipation mounts.

“How can you be a printer if you don’t have any printers?”

“I’m not a printer.”

“You’re not? It says here you’re a printer. May I speak with the person who handles your printers?”

But I digress. Many of my unwanted intrusions are automated calls from a big name company wanting to verify information for my free local online listing. I receive these calls a couple times a week, every week. All I need to do is press “one” to confirm or “nine” to be removed. Of course, they don’t mention the part about opting out until I listen to the entire recording. On every call, no matter how busy I am or what project they interrupted, I take time to press “nine,” hoping it will be the last time. It never is.

Yesterday when they rang I had no deadlines looming so I put extra effort into the call. This time I pressed “one” to verify my information, hoping to reach a person and stop the unwanted phone calls.

The agent answered in an upbeat manner, bordering on perky but in an annoying way. I think he might have been having a good day.

I began sharing my frustration over the repeated calls and not removing my information as requested. But then, months of pent up frustration boiled over and spewed out of my mouth. Within moments, raw emotion took me from civil to incensed, with colorful language that my tongue seldom tells, spilling forth to my unsuspecting target.

“I can tell you’re upset.” He took charge of the call. “Let me get you over to the ‘permanent opt-out department’ right away.”

“That would be great.” Now I’m getting somewhere. I wanted to apologize for my tirade, but before I could, he transferred me.

The man at the “permanent opt-out department” asked for my number so he could enter it into their “permanent do-not-call database.” Since I didn’t know which number they were calling, I said I’d give him both. I shared my local number but while relaying my toll-free number, the line went dead.

Sheesh.

This company has repeatedly irritated me for months with their unwanted calls. Now in their one moment to shine, they disappointed me again. They could have ended the call in a positive manner, but instead, they confirmed they don’t care.

[From Connection Magazine May 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

Want More Sales? Check Your Email

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

If it’s your job to obtain clients for your call center, I have a secret technique to increase your closing ratio and success rate: check your email. Seriously.

I suspect that there’s a better than even chance that you are missing leads, spurning prospects, and losing sales – all because of email. If you don’t believe me, I have proof.

On the Connections Magazine website, I list outsource call centers. There is an expanded version of the same information on the website Find a Call Center. All the data listed have been directly submitted by the call center themselves, be it the owners, marketing managers, or sales professionals.  [List your call center.] The one thing they have in common is that they are all eager to receive leads and make sales. Once the information is submitted, I review it, verify that the information is relevant, and then post it on both sites.

I verify listings annually and recently sent out the verification messages. The lack of response—and the slowness of response—was appalling. Emailing sales contacts at 188 call centers, only 48 (25%) responded to my first email message, while 21 (11%) of the addresses generated a failure notice. The majority of those responding did so the first day, but many trickled in over the next week.

I sent a second email message to the remaining 119 non-responders. This time 16 (13%) responded, with 4 (3%) generating a “delayed” message, eventually “giving up.” One third of the responders did so within one day, with the rest taking up to five days. A third and final email was sent out to the remaining 103 call centers. This time only 5 (5%) responded.

Someone might assert that sales inquiries take precedence over my verification email, but does this somehow justify never responding? That is unacceptable. Remember, if my verification request is ignored, they lose their listing and all subsequent leads.

In summary, only 37% responded at all—only about half did so on the same business day; 13% had non-working email addresses (“failures” or “delayed”); an entire 50% were seemingly received but ignored.

If your call center marketing strategy and sales staff relies on email inquiries for lead generation, prospecting, and sales, then these are indeed sobering numbers.

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

Categories
Call Center Articles

When Shall I Check Back With You?

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

A few months ago, I was doing research on software designed specifically for periodical publishers. The general promise was that this class of software would streamline and integrate operations, as well as provide the ability to offer new services. With all its promises and pretension, I suspected that it would likely be pricey as well.

Why not dream a little, I reasoned? It wouldn’t hurt to get prices. Perhaps I would be pleasantly surprised. I found a resource guide that compared the key factors of the major players’ offerings. Using a couple of basic screens to limit the roster of some thirty providers, I quickly narrowed the list down to four promising contenders. To be efficient, I sent an email to each of them, asking the entry-level price and sharing my contact information.

I chose to request pricing for two reasons. Firstly, if it was astronomical, I could quickly opt out of further interaction and not waste any more time – mine or theirs. The other reason was that I expected a query about pricing to invite dialogue, thereby allowing me to learn more about the product and the company behind it. Although I could have chosen a more formal approach and submitted at RFP (Request for Proposal), preparing it would have taken up a great deal of my time, most likely exposing my naiveté and producing reams of largely worthless documents – not to mention demanding a lot from these vendors. (Now you know what I think about RFPs.)

So, I merely sent an email asking for their entry-level pricing. Of the four, one responded almost immediately, two the next day, and one never answered my query. All three of the responses contained a terse statement of price. Only one asked a solitary follow-up question, and no one attempted to enter into further dialogue. Another promised to send me a demo – but never did. For the third, I needed clarification on his poorly worded message, which garnered me another brusque email.

No one did any follow-up – ever. Although my initial communication was via email, I conspicuously provided both my phone number and mailing address. Sadly, there was nary an email message, phone call, or mailing. It doesn’t even appear that I have been added to any marketing databases for any future sales efforts or routine communication.

Of the three prices, one was too high for consideration, the second was also shocking, although feasible if the software proved as compelling as promised, and the third, although also high, was not unrealistically so. The bottom line is that had either of these later two software packages lived up to their grand pronouncements, I would have made a purchase, most likely within the month. But we will never know, because no one bothered to follow up with me.

Frankly, I am perplexed. At a price point comparable to a decent used car, you would think that there would be sufficient motivation to diligently pursue all possible leads.

The opposite of no follow-up is endless, pointless follow-up. It is perhaps even more deadly, because each purposeless contact serves as an effectively poignant reminder not to buy from that company.

Take Joe for instance. Joe was a good-ol’-boy salesman, with an order-taker mentality. He stumbled onto my name and called to set up an appointment. Even though I stated my preference to conduct business via the telephone and through email, he pressed for an in-person meeting. Since I did have some interest in what he was peddling, and based on his assurances of top-notch customer service and competitive pricing, I eventually acquiesced to meet with him.

During our appointment, it became quickly apparent that his company was not a good match for me. If Joe’s demeanor was representative of his company, I was confident that customer service would be decidedly inadequate. My conclusion of a mismatch was further confirmed with his price quote, which was twenty-five percent higher than “competitive.” I told him so and concluded by saying that I would call him if I wanted to pursue things further.

Sadly, Joe did not hear me, and my name and number were firmly ensconced in his Rolodex. Mechanically, he would periodically call, not for any real purpose, but just to talk. He never provided more information, never shared company news, and never attempted to move the selling process forward. His spiel was always along the lines of, “Hi, this is Joe; I’m just checkin’ in to see how you’re doin’.”

At first, I was relatively cordial and would conclude each call with, “I’ll call you if I need something.” Over time I became less affable, eventually ending a call with “Joe, please don’t call me anymore; I will call you if I need something.” Although necessary, I felt horrible for being so blunt.

My dismay was short-lived, because two weeks later, he called again. I cut him off, and as politely as I could muster, I said, “Joe, I don’t wish to be rude, but I asked you not to call me anymore. Please don’t call again.”

This may have been the first time he actually listened. “D-d-did I do something to offend you?” he plaintively implored. I explained my perspective on the situation. Incredibly, he called again a few weeks later, spewing his same tired, old rhetoric. That was the last I heard from him. Either he finally got the message – or got canned.

You may think me a malcontent, first complaining about a lack of follow-through and then being critical about too much. In reality, there is a middle ground that salespeople should aim for.

Quite simply, follow up until you hear a definite “Yes” or an emphatic “No.” And by all means, do not assume that the lead is not a good lead or infer that the prospect will say “No”; wait until they actually voice it. If they are not ready to make a yes or no declaration, you need to continue doing your job until a decision can be made.

This brings up two more thoughts. First, use careful discretion in the frequency of your follow-up contacts. Many salespeople ask, “When shall I check back with you?” Seemingly, this is a wise tactic, but the uninterested prospect will simply opt for a time as far in the future as possible, without the need to say “no.” All that does is string the salesperson along and waste time. Better is to ask what other information the prospect needs from you or what the next step is in their decision-making process. The other point is that even when a prospect says “No,” that may not mean “Never.” Ask them if they might want to revisit the situation in the future. If so, make sure you contact them at the appropriate time, but not before.

Most importantly, when you call, be sure that you have a reason for doing so. Don’t call just to chat; today’s decision-makers are far too busy to engage in idle, purposeless conversation. Call only when you have a predetermined purpose in mind or have defined a worthy goal directly relating to the sales process. Examples of reasons to call are to provide more information, update the prospect on new developments, share about new products or services, or offer a special promotion.

This way, your calls will be of value and your communication will have a better chance to be welcomed. And then you will be more likely to make a sale and less apt to read about your failure to do so!

[From Connection Magazine January 2008]

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

Categories
Call Center Articles

Check Your Email

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

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.