By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
The majority of Connections Magazine readers are involved with businesses that focus, either exclusively or primarily, on incoming calls. To someone who specializes in processing reactive, inbound calls, the thought of being proactive and placing outbound calls can be both frightening and mysterious.
Although both inbound and outbound calling make use of agents who use the telephone, there are seemingly few similarities beyond that. For this reason, the majority of teleservice companies handle either inbound calls or outbound calls. Even those companies that do both often segregate these functions into two separate call centers. The key reason for this is that these functions have different requirements for staffing, compensation, and management.
Employees: Staffing for outbound centers is much different than for inbound. As mentioned, inbound work is reactive. The line rings and the agent reacts and answers the call, seeking to assist the caller. These callers, by the way, placed the call of their own volition, wanting to talk to someone or looking for information. The agent takes on the role of facilitator, seeking to help and assist the caller. When agents are properly trained, equipped, and empowered, they are able to addresses the callers’ needs and both parties end the call with a sense of satisfaction.
Contrast this to the outbound scenario. Here agents must be proactive, taking the initiative. They call someone who is likely not expecting the call, and all too often is not interested in the reason for the call, or even in receiving such calls in the first place. The agent must be able to quickly and effectively communicate a compelling reason for the call to continue. Frequently, despite the agents’ best efforts and regardless of their level of training, the call ends prematurely. The agents must deal with this rejection and then quickly and effectively proceed to the next call. Outbound calling is essentially a numbers game, with hundreds of calls made to uncover a handful of prospects in order to close a couple of sales. It takes quite a different personality to successfully work in an outbound environment compared with an inbound call center.
The hiring and screening process is likewise dissimilar. The personality and character traits that make one ideally suited for inbound work would cause that same person to flounder doing outbound, and visa versa. Yes, there are some who can effectively perform either function, but even so, they are likely better suited to, and will probably be happier doing, one versus the other.
Compensation: Remuneration plans and motivation tactics also differ. The perspective of inbound agents lends itself to providing a predictable, fixed hourly rate. The agents want, need, and expect to receive a consistent and predetermined paycheck each pay period. Bonuses and incentives do little to motivate most inbound staff or to shape their behavior. Outbound reps, however, are greatly motivated to produce, resulting from incentives in the form of commissions, bonuses, or some other pay-for-performance plan. The desire to sell, thereby maximizing their compensation, is what motivates them to push rejection aside and go on to that next call; after all, it could be a sale!
Management: Just as inbound and outbound reps tend to have contrasting personalities and motivations, their supervisors and managers must be similarly focused, using differing management styles and employing differing control techniques. Scheduling also varies. Inbound agents are scheduled based on traffic patterns and projections from historical data. If the call traffic forecast is correct, one absence can have a huge effect on workload and service level, causing staff to work harder and callers to wait longer. Outbound agents are scheduled as dictated by the needs of the campaign. A certain number of agents are scheduled for so many hours or days. If one agent doesn’t show up, it is not as critical, since those calls can always be made later (as long as the client’s completion date is met).
Types of outbound: Within the outbound world, there are two main types of calling: business-to-business (b-to-b) and business to consumer (b-to-c). B-to-b calling focuses on selling to or targeting businesses, whereas b-to-c calling addresses the consumer market. (These are the annoying calls we get during dinner or at other inopportune times.) Just as distinctions exist between inbound and outbound, differences, though less pronounced, also are present with b-to-b and b-to-c. Hours of operation are a key divergence, with b-to-b being done weekdays, during business hours. These hours of operation are generally ineffective when trying to reach consumers, as they are often at work. Therefore, consumer calling is generally done during evenings and weekends. When calling businesses, the first goal is to get past the gatekeeper to reach the decision maker. This involves either befriending or essentially tricking the receptionist. In consumer calling, the gatekeeper is often the decision maker as well. Therefore, agents must get past the gatekeeper persona without alienating the decision maker. Here, the first few seconds of the call are critical to success (see the section on scripting for more information).
Technology: Just as agents are generally better suited to either inbound or outbound work, equipment and software are similarly focused. Although it is feasible to use an inbound messaging or order-taking system to do outbound calling, or conversely, to use an outbound system to process orders, the result is often less than ideal. This is not to imply that such systems cannot effectively do both, however these fully integrated platforms will make use of different software modules and perhaps hardware to effectively accomplish the desired task.
To consider the requisite technology for outbound work, the options for placing calls must first be considered. Often there is a corresponding trade off between price and effectiveness. Bill Cortus, marketing manager at Alston Tascom, identifies six modes of outbound telemarketing: predictive, progressive, preview, database, speed dial, and manual. All outbound systems and calling methodologies fall into one of these categories. Note that most outbound systems can be programmed to perform at various levels, although there may be some cost considerations to doing so.
- Predictive dialing: The system “predicts” when an agent will complete a call and begins dialing the next number in anticipation of the agent becoming available. The intent is that an agent will be ready at the exact moment that someone answers the line. The risk is that no agent is ready, in which case the called party hears silence, is treated to a recording, or is automatically disconnected. To reduce the possibility of this occurring the dialing parameters are fine-tuned, but this has the side effect of reducing agent productivity. Predictive dialers are now outlawed in California; other states are expected to follow.
- Progressive dialing: The agents’ screens display the outbound account information and script when they disconnect from the previous call; the system initiates that call immediately. Although this is not as efficient as predictive dialing, it avoids the problems of predictive dialers, while also providing agents a brief pause between calls. As such, it is less stressful on the reps.
- Preview dialing: The agents’ screens display the outbound account information and script when they disconnect from the precious call. The agent previews the information (such as practicing how to say the person’s name or reviewing past contacts). The agent initiates dialing when ready to make the call.
- Database: The agent opens a database, selects the next record from it, and initiates the outbound dialing sequence.
- Speed dial: The agent is offered a series of pre-determined speed dial numbers and selects the appropriate choice (or the system presents a recommended choice). The agent initiates the outbound dialing sequence.
- Manual dialing: In this mode, the agent works from a printed list of phone numbers and manually dials each prospect.
The above list of types of outbound methodologies is ranked from the greatest agent efficiency and system sophistication to the least.
Blended call centers: While many call centers segregate inbound and outbound calling, it’s also true that most agents can only effectively handle inbound or outbound calls. Even so, some call centers not only intermingle inbound and outbound work, but they also have at least some reps trained to do both. This is called using blended agents, ones who can dynamically switch between inbound and outbound activity.
Most fully integrated inbound and outbound systems allow for the blended agent concept, which provides both outbound dialing modes and the ability for the agent to process inbound calls. According to Bill Cortus, “When an agent is free (that is, with no inbound calls assigned), the agent is given an outbound call. After the outbound call is finished, the agent is released from the outbound cycle,” and can then be assigned an inbound call. This allows outbound calls to be made between inbound calls. Although doing so makes agents more efficient, it is difficult for most reps to quickly switch between an inbound mindset and an outbound perspective. Therefore, most inbound/outbound centers that use agent blending will assign a block of time for an agent to handle one type of call or the other. This allows for greater continuity, while still increasing worker productivity.
Scripting: Aside from personnel issues and equipment considerations, a critical aspect of a successful outbound campaign is the script. Sometimes this is a word-for-word passage that must be read verbatim. Other times a script is merely an outline or a call process flowchart. Although personnel are key and equipment important, the success or failure of an outbound campaign often hinges on the script. This is an area that cannot be overlooked, downplayed, or minimized.
Guidelines and ideas for scripting are included in two supplemental pieces. First, Susan Best of Best and Associates, which specializes in call centers, offers instruction in the sidebar entitled, “Scripting For Outbound Telemarketing.” This is followed by another related sidebar, “Ensure Success with Effective Outbound Script Writing,” by Wayne Scaggs, president of Alston Tascom.
During the call: For some outbound campaigns, the process is straightforward, requiring that agents merely follow a predetermined, linear script. This can be displayed on screen or can exist in paper form. Most calls, however, are more complex, requiring conditional branching or decision-making processes. These can usually be handled within the outbound system itself, which guides the agent through the call, while allowing data to be verified or information to be gathered. Sometimes ancillary systems are needed to document the call or obtain information. This could be a separate database, a specialized program, or an Internet-based program or data repository.
Outbound call centers that prospect for new business on behalf of clients can schedule service appointments or sales visits using Web-based appointment scheduling software. “Web-based appointment scheduling,” said Ken Coleman, executive vice president of TimeTrade, “represents a significant new business opportunity for outbound call centers, allowing them to target companies whose business is appointment-intensive or reservations-driven.” The result is an increase in revenue and an improvement in resource utilization. By using Web-based scheduling software, both the call center and client can simultaneously work off the same schedule, using the same resources, without the risk of overlapping or double booking. “This represents a large, untapped market,” Coleman added.
Vendors: Several vendors in the teleservices industry offer products for outbound telemarketing. Although many other fine vendors exist, their offerings are generally intended for in-house operations and may not be conducive to multi-client, multi-campaign environments found in outsourced call centers. Here is a selection of vendors offering outbound telemarketing products to the teleservices industry:
Alston Tascom: The Alston Tascom Evolution Outbound Dialer is a programmable dialer that allows for multiple configurations and dialing patterns. It is designed to complement both the contact center and the telemessaging industry’s needs. It offers blending of inbound and outbound calls and supports five of the six types of outbound calling, with the exception of predictive dialing. Bill Cortus, marketing manager, said the Alston Tascom Evolution System “is an end-to-end contact center solution offering a powerful outbound dialing capability optimized for (teleservice companies.”
“All Evolution dialing features operate on the basis that one or more dialing queues (or lists) have been created,” Cortus explained. There is no limit to the number of dialing queues that can be set up. Evolution is then responsible for taking numbers out of the dialing queues and presenting them to appropriate agents. The system automatically detects hang-ups and busy signals, taking the appropriate predetermined action. If the call is completed but the prospect is unavailable, the agent may reschedule the call.
Evolution features do-not-call lists and incorporates the local time zone of each called party into its dialing scheme. The main features of the Alston Tascom Evolution outbound system are:
- Access external dialing databases
- Integrates with IVR applications
- Blended agents
- Uses same interface as inbound agent
- Easily expandable to more than 200 agents in single or multiple centers
Contact Alston Tascom at 909-548-7300, 866-4TASCOM, or email@example.com.
Amdev: Amdev offers three predictive dialer solutions. “The AMDial Series II has been designed for call centers to allow for more sophisticated dialing, monitoring, recording, and control of all aspects of the dialing and call process,” said Paul Purifoy, president and CEO. “The Series II is highly productive (for call centers) whose primary objective is to initiate, control and successfully complete telephone calls, with live agents.”
The AMDial Series III is similar to the Series II, but is a stand-alone system for individual agents; multiple Series III units can be networked to allow several agents to work on the same campaign. The series II and III can also be used in the progressive and preview dialing modes.
(The AMDial Series I has been designed for companies, schools, churches, clubs, political campaigns, government agencies and organizations who primarily need to dial lists of telephone numbers and deliver or receive information. The automated attendant and voice mail software are included.)
The five prominent features of the Amdev dialers are:
- No-call list
- Voice mail
- Fax back
- Pager notification
- Answering machine detection
For more information about Amdev dialers, contact Amdev at 209-962-5900.
Amtelco offers a suite of outbound calling applications: the Infinity Auto Callout Gateway, the Abandon Eliminator, and IVR Appointment Reminders. “These applications,” said Kevin Beale, director of R & D software, “include call analysis to determine the dial completion results of each call,” including no answer, busy, excessive rings, telco reorder, answering machine, voicemail, or a person answered. “This is important because it provides the capability to control what happens with each outbound call based on the completion event.”
Auto Callout Gateway: The optional Auto Callout Gateway enables Infinity to automatically initiate outbound calls and execute pre-assigned client behaviors based on the dial completion results. When a person answers a call, Infinity treats the call just like it would treat an incoming call. Voice greetings can be played and client behaviors can be executed. This allows calls to be placed and when someone answers, a greeting can be played and the call can be directed to an agent. Phone numbers and times for each callout can be retrieved from an external database or file. The call results can be written back into the database.
Abandon Eliminator: Amtelco’s optional Abandon Eliminator application provides the ability to call back incoming callers who hung up while in queue. Infinity uses the caller’s ANI to automatically place a call back to the callers to let them know that their calls are important.
IVR Appointment Reminders: Amtelco’s eCreator 2.0 IVR module can automatically place outbound calls based on input from the eCreator appointment taking application or from external appointment taking systems. Outbound calls initiated from IVR execute custom IVR scripts and use text-to-speech to read information, from a database or file, to a caller. This allows the information to be tailored to the individual being called.
Contact Amtelco at 800-356-9148 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
CadCom: CadCom’s newly released Portal is a unified system, provisioned for messaging, along with an auto dialer, predictive dialer, fax server, IVR system, and a simple PBX system. In consideration of outbound calling, Portal can interface with an existing PBX or switch, but it also has the capabilities to provide analog extensions for agents.
“Portal can have an unlimited number of call queues and calling campaigns that can be added and maintained on the fly,” said CadCom’s sales executive, Mike Dutton. “It comes with an on-screen GUI application referred to as the CallQAgent.” It provides real-time queue information and statistics, as well as estimating the number of agents required. Portal is open-ended with a multi-use capability, boasting a complete solution for outbound calling. Its key features include:
- Unlimited campaigns
- ODBC compliant
- Flexible protocols
- 4 to 512 ports
- CallQAgent application
For more information call 800-422-3266.
Professional Teledata: ProDial-2000 the combines the scripting capabilities and database management functions of its PI-2000 system with campaign management tools. “This achieves effective outbound telemarketing results while maintaining strict agent control and accountability,” said Dale Schafer, VP of engineering.
Call ordering and management allow users “to maximize campaign resources allowing up to 200 agents per campaign, programmable time-of-day dialing windows, automated recall assignments, and automatic exclusion of restricted or incomplete contact records,” Schafer added.
The main features of the Pro-Dial-2000 system are:
- Ability to preview contact data prior to dialing
- Contact history tracking
- Real time agent progress tracking
- Automated recalls based on time, day, or date
- Integrated inbound and outbound campaigns
For more information, contact Karen Black at Professional Teledata at 800-344-9944.
|Product||Evolution||AMDial Series 1 & Series 2||Portal||Pro-Dial 2000|
|Dialing modes||Progressive, preview, database,|
|Preview, interfaces to some predictive dialers|
|Operating system||Microsoft NT server||Windows 2000 or NT||Windows NT/2000/XP||Win98 or higher, NT server|
|Stand-alone or add-on||Either||Stand-alone||Either||Add-on (to most standard switches)|
|First introduced||1999||1990||July 2002||1998|
|Entry-level cost||Varies||4 line systems start at $3,990||Not provided||$500/seat add-on to PI-2000|
|Hardware||Dialer/switch included||Included||User provided, analog phones or existing PBX||User provided|
|Annual support costs||Depends upon system size||None (maintenance contract extra)||Varies per port||$25 per seat; max of $250/month|
|24 x 7 support||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Installation||User installed||User or AMDEV installation||User or CadCom installation||User installed, if adding to PI system.|
|Training||3 day classroom or on-line training||On site using customer’s system||On-site and telephone/Web||Telephone|
|Top features||Access external databasesIntegrated IVRBlended agents
Same interface as for inbound
Expandable to 200+ seats
Answering machine detection
|Unlimited campaignsODBC compliantFlexible protocols
4 to 512 ports
|Preview dialingContact historyReal time agent tracking
Integrated inbound and outbound campaigns
Connections wishes to thank Bill Cortus of Alston Tascom, Inc., Paul Purifoy of Amdev, Kevin Beale of Amtelco, Mike Dutton of CadCom Telesystems, Dale Schafer of Professional Teledata, and Ken Coleman of TimeTrade for their assistance and input in writing this article.
[From Connection Magazine – November 2002]