Continuous Improvement for Telemarketing Programs



By Rich Hamilton

After countless hours of planning, preparation, and implementation, you finally have the new telemarketing program in place. The program is running smoothly, and more importantly, client goals and expectations are being met. You have a great operations team in place to keep a close eye on KPIs (key performance indicators), and you make adjustments as needed to continue to reach and exceed client goals.

But does the work stop there? Absolutely not. Even though the telemarketing program is running smoothly and considered a success, you should always look for ways to improve it. Strive for continuous improvement.

Continuous Improvement Process: Each program assessment or evaluation should start with a specific objective. The objective could be focused, such as trying to figure out why the contacts per hour (CPH) is low. Or the goals can be broad, such as assessing all aspects of the telemarketing program to look for possible efficiencies or automation that could be implemented. Knowing the objective in the beginning will guide the rest of the assessment.

After understanding the objectives or goals of the assessment, dig into the program. This can be done in many ways, depending on the type of program. Here’s how to start to dissect the program:

  • Interview: Conduct interviews with stakeholders (executive team, vendors, and the client—if this is an outsourced telemarketing program) and those on the operations team (managers, supervisors, agents, and IT or dialer team). Ask specific questions to better understand how the program is running. This is also a great way to learn about pain points or areas for improvement. Provide these questions ahead of time to help others come to the meeting better prepared.
  • Evaluate: Ask managers and supervisors to provide scripts, training material, and several recorded calls. If there are multiple campaigns involved, have these items for each campaign. Listen to the calls to better understand how the scripts are being used. This will also reveal if the script is organized well for the telemarketing agents.
  • Review: Ask IT for a copy of each dialer report. Look for trends in the data. Focus on the KPIs that are the objective of this assessment.
  • Understand: Gain an understanding of any processes that are happening outside of the dialer. Are there spreadsheets being used for tracking or reporting? Are there processes that could be automated?It’s important for the company to have a culture of continual improvement. Click To Tweet

After analyzing the information, write a report of the findings and possible solutions. Prioritize the findings by importance or ROI (return on investment). This helps stakeholders see the results in an organized way so they can better make decisions on which items to focus additional hours and resources.

Once decisions are made, work to make changes or implement new processes. Give proper testing and training for new processes or applications.

The last step is to evaluate the whole process. First, see if changes are having the desired effect. Second, evaluate the overall process to make any needed adjustments for the next program assessment.

Having someone from outside assess the program is the most effective. This doesn’t mean it needs to be someone from outside the company. It could be someone from another part of the organization. This person can give the program a fresh look and be objective in evaluating the telemarketing program.

To be successful, it’s important for the company to have a culture of continual improvement, and it’s vital that employees are willing to be a part of the process.

Continuous Imrpovement Benefits: Though this appears to be a lot of work, I have been evaluating telemarketing programs for over four years and have seen some positive outcomes to continual program assessments, such as:

  • Improved Employee Satisfaction: If done correctly, an assessment can have a positive effect on frontline agents by showing that their input matters. Many times ideas told to a supervisor never make it to upper management, but a person coming from the outside with a new perspective encourages sharing and sparks ideas. The possibility of seeing their suggestions become a reality can be a real morale booster for employees.
  • Decreased Costs and Increase Sales: If done properly, a program assessment should show areas for improvement. It could be as simple as adjusting the script or as complex as using a different dialer or application. The results are lower costs or more sales—often both.
  • Increased Opportunities: During one evaluation I found that we weren’t dialing wireless numbers. We presented our findings to the client and did a trial calling wireless numbers. It was such a success that currently about 35 to 40 percent of our dialing for this particular campaign is now to wireless numbers.
  • Enhanced Client Relationships: Telling a happy client that we will do an assessment to improve even more really impresses them. This shows we care about their goals and expectations and want to exceed those expectations through improvement. Many times clients have given us extra work based on this approach.

The moment we decide not to focus energy on improvement will be the time another company will come along that can do the same job we can, but better. Program assessments allow us to evaluate the program and look for ways to make it more efficient, thereby better retaining the business. Not only will the assessment improve the KPIs for the program, it will also strengthen the morale within our companies and set us apart from the competition.

Rich Hamilton is the director of implementation and team improvement leader for Quality Contact Solutions, a leading outsourced telemarketing organization. Rich is responsible for implementing new programs and managing the continuous improvement process of existing programs. With a background of nearly a decade in managing small and large call centers, Rich is passionate about improving efficiencies and decreasing cost per call for every client. In addition, Rich is a telemarketing compliance guru with a Customer Engagement Compliance Professional (CECP) certification. Reach Rich at rich.hamilton@qualitycontactsolutions.com or 516-656-5105.

The Growing Risks in Cross-Border Telemarketing

By Joshua Briones, Harrison Brown, and Crystal Lopez

In 1997, President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Jean Chrétien established a US-Canada Working Group on Telemarketing Fraud and directed it to report on ways to counter what it considered deceptive cross-border telemarketing. The Telemarketing Fraud Working Group’s Report to the Commission, now considered a blueprint for coordinated binational actions against telemarketing fraud, recommended expanded cooperation and information sharing between the countries in an effort to avoid duplication of effort by law enforcement agencies and to expedite identification and prosecution of fraud.

The report also recognized that different legal standards may interfere with effective cross-border law enforcement. As a result of the report, the countries have harmonized their efforts and cracked down on illegal marketing. This effort continues today, nearly twenty years later, with the recent signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two nations. As a result, legitimate telemarketers face increased compliance risks.

Cross-border telemarketing is still a useful and valid business process, particularly in the business-to-business sector. Trained outbound sales reps can gather and warm up leads to pass on to outside sales personnel. Problems arise, however, when companies deliberately cut corners or operate out of ignorance of the law. In those circumstances, telemarketing can become a costly mistake.

American and Canadian Enforcement Activities: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) jointly regulate telemarketing in the United States and maintain strict rules for the circumstances in which companies can place outbound telephone calls to customers and prospects. The agencies have handed out many fines, some quite hefty, to players who violate the rules.

In Canada, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is responsible for enforcing telemarketing rules and regulations. Fines levied on violators by the CRTC have recently spiked. For example, the commission recently handed out fines to Thrift Magic ($250,000), Québec Loisirs ($200,000), Telelisting ($260,000), Florida-based Consolidated Travel Holdings ($200,000), and Metroland, one of Canada’s largest media outlets ($240,000). Additionally, other companies were hit with smaller fines: AcademyOne Learning Ltd., a company offering educational tutoring ($25,000); Eagle Water of Ontario, a water treatment company ($32,500); Outsource 3000 Inc., a telemarketer offering calling services for telemarketing ($15,000); Scentral Cleaning Services, a residential and commercial cleaning company ($20,000); and Ontario Eco Energy Inc. ($30,000).

Altogether, the CRTC has issued thirty-two notices of violation (totaling over $2 million in monetary penalties), sixteen warning letters, and five citations. In most cases, the fines were levied for failing to comply with national Do Not Call (DNC) list regulations, which were established in Canada in 2008. Canadian consumers have registered 12.8 million numbers on the national DNC list to date, and any businesses engaged in outbound telemarketing are required to remain up-to-date with the lists and scrub any numbers that appear on the list from outbound calling schedules.

Memorandum of Understanding: The FTC and CRTC signed an MOU on March 24 encouraging cross-border cooperation in DNC and anti-spam enforcement. Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL), which the CRTC enforces, authorizes Canadian authorities to provide investigative assistance to foreign enforcement agencies, including the FTC. In turn, the US SAFE WEB Act allows the FTC to help the CRTC in its investigations. The announcement follows a speech by CRTC Chairman Jean-Pierre Blais to the Canadian Marketing Association, in which he pledged that the country’s antispam legislation would only get tougher. Blais urged the group to empower its members with the information and insight required to comply with its rules and laws.

The laws administered by the agencies – the FTC Act and CASL, respectively – both contemplate sharing information with foreign enforcement agencies under certain conditions. The new MOU recognizes that it is in the FTC’s and the CRTC’s “common public interest” to extend support across the border where the agencies will assist each other in investigation and enforcement efforts, including:

  • cooperating with respect to the enforcement of telemarketing fraud, including sharing complaints and other relevant information and providing investigative assistance;
  • facilitating research and education related to unauthorized telemarketing and unauthorized telephone calls;
  • facilitating mutual exchange of knowledge and expertise through training programs and staff exchanges;
  • promoting a better understanding by each country of economic and legal conditions and theories relevant to the enforcement of the other’s laws; and
  • informing each other of developments in their respective countries that relate to this MOU in a timely fashion.

Accordingly, the FTC and CRTC will share information, provide investigative assistance, and coordinate enforcement against cross-border violations that both sides agree are priority cases.

Ramifications: The CRTC had a banner 2014–2015 year for fines against telemarketing violators. The association said the fines were the result of investigations and collaboration with domestic and international partners. With a formal MOU in place, companies can expect an even further uptick in investigations and fines. For this reason, companies engaged in cross-border telemarking activities would do well to familiarize themselves with the rules and comply with them.

Joshua Briones, Harrison Brown, and Crystal Lopez are from the law firm Blank Rome. Joshua Briones is a partner in Blank Rome’s Los Angeles office. He focuses his national practice on bet-the-company class actions and has participated in the defense of dozens of class actions in state and federal courts across the country. He can be reached at JBriones@BlankRome.com. Harrison Brown is an attorney in Blank Rome’s Los Angeles office. His practice encompasses a wide range of business litigation and class action defense, with an emphasis on consumer fraud and privacy claims. He can be reached at HBrown@BlankRome.com. Crystal Lopez is an attorney in Blank Rome’s Los Angeles office. She focuses her practice on class action defense, with an emphasis on consumer fraud and privacy claims. She can be reached at ECLopez@BlankRome.com.

[From Connection MagazineJuly/August 2016]

When Games Supersede Work

By Peter DeHaan

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineLast 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.

Peter DeHaan PhD is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from peterdehaan.com.

[From Connection Magazine April 2013]

The Right Touch

By Peter DeHaan

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineEmail 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 useful 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.

Peter DeHaan PhD is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from peterdehaan.com.

[From Connection Magazine October 2012]

Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Outsourcing as a Solution, Not Just as a Service

By Randall McKee

The other day, I phoned a menswear company to find out more about their business. A nice lady answered the toll-free number, which I realized had been forwarded to a cell phone. She asked my name and business and then handed the phone to the CEO/ sales and marketing director. While conversing with me, this fast-talking, genuinely honest person was simultaneously entering a new order to fulfillment via a wireless laptop and obviously hurtling down some expressway, most likely to source new and exciting products while still getting business done. This explains why their corporate profile includes only four employees. The lady who answered the phone counts for one, and he is probably the other three!

This, my friends, is the new face of the catalog industry: a fantastic illusion whereby business owners and operators are no longer trapped in their offices or warehouses, no longer bound by business images of old. No vast employee woes, no expensive phone systems, no bricks and mortar. Today’s storefronts are made of ones and zeros, managed by PDA and wireless laptop-wielding visionaries.

Overhead is manageable because it’s more clearly visible, allowing for more actionable cost-of-business controls, something the traditional business owner may have more than a little trouble ferreting out. Outsourced warehousing and fulfillment, customer care, and marketing campaigns are becoming the norm, which is good news for those of us who offer outsource services in this brave new world.

I asked Ian MacDonald, vice president and general manager of CenturyNovelty.com, a Multichannel Merchant Award 2009 Silver Winner, to express how outsourcing affects his business.

“Outsourcing customer service creates a competitive advantage on the cheap,” said MacDonald. “Every company would offer 24/7 service if that convenience to the customer would generate enough sales to be profitable. Outsourcing makes 24/7 service affordable; in fact, it is far less expensive than trying to do it in-house. With in-house staffing, you pay your employees by the hour, whether they’re on the phone or browsing Facebook waiting for the next call. With outsourced agents, you pay by the minute and only when they are on the phone. A recent review of our services found that sending our calls to an off-site call center was 44 percent cheaper than staffing our internal call center 24/7.

“24/7 availability shows your customers that you’re serious about providing a stellar customer service experience. When you’re open all day, every day, and your competitors are only open eight or ten hours a day, customers notice and understand who values their business.

“Outsourcing allows me to focus on growing my business, not running it. What if one of my agents calls in sick or wants to leave early? Now it’s not a problem because we just send the calls to our outsource call center.”

This new vision has efficiencies built right in when you consider that instead of purchasing or leasing space to operate, answering phones to manage customers, requiring equipment to manufacture, and people to pick, pack, and ship, these processes can be outsourced to those who already do these things and do them well.

Today’s entrepreneurs may not be the mom-and-pop shops of yesteryear, but they care about their customers, they’re ready for your business, and they’re here to stay – with the help of outsourcing call centers.

Randall McKee is sales manager for Taction – The Contact Center.

[From Connection Magazine May 2010]

Mind Your Business: Grow Your Call Center

By Steve Michaels

Q: How can I grow my call center service?

A: That’s a great question, one that I am often asked. Here is what I recently shared with a caller:

First, sign up with an email blast service. For content, target your clients who are thriving during this recession. If you can’t do that, then find a niche – that is not affected by these difficult times – and hone in on that industry. Question them to find out what they’re doing well, how they do it, and what part you play in their success story. By sharing success stories about your clients with prospects, sales interest is generated.

After you have identified your target audience, you can purchase an email list that pertains to the market in your target area. Next, using the program’s templates, write a testimonial, but keep it brief, as many people today are bombarded with emails and will only read your message if it’s short, of specific interest to them, and shows a benefit to their business. Include your call center’s name and the number of years you have been in business.

Some ideas for your marketing email are:

  • Did your prospects have to let staff go and now need someone to answer their phones?
  • Perhaps your targeted clients stopped using a call center in order to save money, but this has left them tired and nonproductive.
  • Your potential clients’ companies will look bigger when someone else answers their phone calls.
  • Having calls screened gives your clients time to focus on other things.
  • Successful people don’t want to deal with unsophisticated people. Using unskilled people to answer the phone sends the wrong message.

Ask your prospects, “If you called two businesses and one had an answering machine and the other was answered by a person, which one would you give your business to?” Depressing economic times force everyone to work that much harder and to think about every lead and call which could generate a sale.

Sending e-blasts is just one of the ideas call centers are using to boost their client base and bottom line. In summary:

1) Setup an email broadcasting service.

2) Find a market segment to highlight.

3) Use colorful graphics and testimonials, but keep it short.

4) Send your message.

Steve Michaels is a business broker with TAS Marketing and can be contacted at 800-369-6126 or tas@tasmarketing.com for questions.

[From Connection Magazine September 2009]

Your Call Center’s Marketing Future May Be Online

By Peter DeHaan

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineI 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 experience, or are a veteran, there are always more opportunities waiting in the rapidly growing realm of cyberspace.

Peter DeHaan PhD is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from peterdehaan.com.

[From Connection Magazine April 2009]

That’s No Way to Run a Business

By Peter DeHaan, PhD

A while back, the Connections Magazine sales line was slammed with phone calls — 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 dialtone. 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.

[Posted by Peter DeHaan for Connections Magazine, a contact center publication from Peter DeHaan Publishing Inc.]

Creating Landing Pages that Increase Your Conversion Rate

By Sue McCrossin

It is expensive to buy traffic using pay-per-click. It is expensive to “optimize” your website pages for natural search. In both cases, the ultimate goal is to convert these clicks to conversions so that you see a nice return on your investment (ROI). One way to increase your ROI is to increase the conversion rate on the pages that visitors land on when they click on your ads or visit your site because of natural search.

There are really only two kinds of landing pages: campaign-specific landing pages and organic-searched pages. People who know what they want click on ads; they are different from organic searchers doing research.  Organic searchers want what they search for, and they want it fast. Your landing pages should provide them with facts, take them exactly where they want to go without any hassles, and make it simple for them to get what they want. So what should you consider when designing your pages to increase conversions?

What Is the Most Effective Landing Page? Avoid using your home page as your landing page.  Create specific landing pages for every ad and paid search term. If this seems daunting, remember that retailers can use the “product page” as a landing page, and service providers can use the “service page.” However, if you have the time and resources, the most effective strategy is to create landing pages specifically targeted towards your PPC campaign. This provides you with more freedom to customize the design of your landing page.

If your ad campaign is a temporary offer, you won’t want this landing page indexed by search engines, and you can use the robots.txt file to tell search engine spiders not to index it.  It would be embarrassing for you if you remove the ad listing, but consumers continue to find this landing page because it appears in the natural search results.

What Goes on the Landing Page? Make sure your landing pages answer these questions:

  • What’s the offer?
  • Who’s interested?
  • Why are they interested, and why should they take further action?
  • How do they get started?

On your landing pages, start with benefits, not features, and use persuasive wording:

  • Be concise: If you use paragraphs, use one idea per paragraph, no more than three lines long. Use bullet points and make headlines bold and prominent.
  • Match the wording of your ad on your landing page.
  • Use a big call-to-action image button placed at the top right of the page.
  • Show the price; give the shipping information.
  • Make sure the page is grammatically correct.
  • Show credibility: Add testimonials, awards, partners, associations, etc. Show product ratings or reviews. Include a phone number! You want to establish trust.
  • Don’t clutter the page, but do use images: Create a landing page that looks professional and appealing. Put graphics on the left side. Make sure the page looks good on a mobile phone.
  • Show some cross-sells, such as “best sellers” or “best value” services.
  • Use short forms: Do you require more information than name, email, phone, and product or service interest?
  • Say thank you afterwards. You can even give customers an unexpected bonus like a link to a survey or a case study.

The Message from Your Ad Listing: Make sure the content on your landing pages works with your ad copy and follows through on your ad promise.  For example, if your ad says you are a low cost provider, show them price comparisons on your landing page.   In this way, you begin to establish trust with visitors, because your message is consistent from the ad to your landing page. Trust increases sales and encourages long-time customers.

Position Critical Information at the Top of the Page: Your landing page does not have to be short, but all the important information, like benefits and the order button should be visible without scrolling.  Web developers refer to this as “above the fold.”  Since people use different size screens and different browsers, make sure you test this information placement.  Your landing page might look great on a 1024×768 screen resolution, but most of your visitors are still using 800 x 600 screen resolution, and they won’t see the buy button without scrolling.

Don’t Give Visitors Too Many Navigational Choices: On targeted landing pages, you should completely remove the website navigation and instead provide only links that will help complete the sale. You don’t want to give customers too many choices on your landing pages, because this might distract them before they buy.  Once they complete their purchase, then you can take them to a “thank you” page that offers them links to the rest of your site.

Use Action Words: Use words that easily convey what you want the visitor to do, like “Buy Now,” “Sign Up,” “Download,” and “Add to Cart.” In addition, make sure you place the words where they will be noticed.  Many people ignore the top sixty pixels of a screen because that’s where they expect to see a banner ad.  Make buttons large, graphical, and brightly colored, in the middle of the landing page, above the fold.

Consider the Google Quality Score: Since many of the landing pages you will be designing will correspond directly to your Google Adwords campaigns, it is important to understand the Google Quality Score. The Google Quality Score system affects everyone who runs Adwords, because it determines the position of your ad on the sponsored listings. On August 21, 2008, Google changed the way the quality score affects ads, based in part on landing pages. It now matters what content is on your landing pages; it has to match your advertising copy. Load time matters too, among other factors. If you increase your quality score, you will lower the minimum bid necessary for your ad to appear.

Since this is an automated process for Google, your landing page content should be text-based. Because of this, take the content out of the flash portion of your landing pages, or duplicate it in text.

Testing Your Landing Pages: Strategically test your landing pages. Remember that a conversion may be different for different marketing campaigns and target groups. For instance, a B2B conversion just gets people to sign up for your newsletter so you have their email addresses, while a B2C conversion means that they buy something from you. Keep in mind that a landing page will improve the quality of the visitors to your site, but this may actually decrease the total number of visitors to your site.

Also, remember that you will be testing metrics, which can become political. You will probably upset both the technical and creative people in your organization when you conduct landing page testing.

On the other hand, testing is preferable to “redesigning the site” because it can save you money to test a concept rather than scrap a whole site and start over. There are sophisticated tools you can use to test a landing page, including a free one: Google website Optimizer. The idea is to use the tools after you develop your testing plan, so that you don’t waste time and money on the testing. Google website Optimizer allows for A/B split testing, but remember that the most effective way to conduct A/B split testing is only changing one element at a time.

Things to Include that Can Help Increase Conversions

  • Give a deadline for ordering; tell them that a price increase is coming, or that a trial period is expiring.
  • Give a gift or some accessories.
  • Tell them they cannot get this offer anywhere else.
  • Make sure they know there is “no risk”; they can cancel at any time.

What Is a Good Conversion Rate? Google says that an average conversion rate for an ad is 2 percent. That means that 98 percent of those landing on your pages are not converting. Conversion rates will always be higher for “soft” offers than for “hard” offers.  Therefore, an ad that offers a free download will result in a higher conversion rate than an ad that sells high-priced products or intangible services. A free offer can result in conversion rates of 20 to 30 percent or higher. For B2C eCommerce sales, it shouldn’t be difficult to achieve above 5 percent. Moreover, for softer offers – low-priced products, free trial software downloads, etc., a 10 to 20 percent conversion rate is achievable.  With careful testing, you should be able to raise all of your conversion rates.

Optimizing a Landing Page for Natural Search: Ultimately you want conversions from organic search, because this can be far more cost-effective in the end.  Start with an internal audit of all of your pages to determine if they are appropriate or in need of an upgrade. If you have a statistical program on your site, check the bounce rates for each page, and determine where you need to place most of your effort. Your website should bestructured to provide valuable information that is pertinent for the search word.  Each page should have a keyword-focused theme and offer incentives toward making a sale. Keep the page simple and informative, and add a call to action on every page on your site if yours is a commercial enterprise.

Internal Linking: On pages with the highest Google page rank, create at least five links to your preferred landing page, using the keywords that you want to track for ranking in the linked text.  This tells search engines that the landing page is important.  If you follow this guideline, you won’t have to do as much external linking (from other sites) to get your content on the first page of Google.  How you link to your content, both internally and externally, determines the organic search ranking.

Optimize your image alt attributes, and make sure the same image principles for ad landing pages apply to natural landing pages (i.e., position the image on the left).

In many cases, a content management system will make it easy to change pages quickly. Create the content specifically for each of your main areas of interest. For natural search, it is much better to design many small pages with specific information than create a few large pages.

Achieving organic rankings takes a long time, but it is worthwhile because it allows you to become an authority on your topic. You should continually add new content on a regular basis, using keywords you wish to rank in the copy and titles. Even though this method may take as long as a year of consistent work, your pages will begin to appear with greater frequency and drive more quality traffic to them.

In conclusion, landing pages should convert Web clicks into clients and create that first all-important impression of your company.  The better you test and improve your landing pages, the more conversions you will see.

Sue McCrossin is a writer for Answer Center America, Inc., which offers answer center outsourcing services that can handle Web chat, conference and Internet bridge services, email, faxing, and credit card processing for your business.

[From Connection Magazine January 2009]

Want More Sales? Check Your Email

By Peter DeHaan, PhD

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 has 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.

[Posted by Peter DeHaan for Connections Magazine, a contact center publication from Peter DeHaan Publishing Inc.]