Smile Train brings smiles to children around the world: Latest InfoCision Marketing Solutions magazine

What is the value of your smile? It’s a question you’ve probably never considered, but it’s at the heart of the mission of the featured client in InfoCision’s latest Marketing Solutions magazine, Smile Train.

What is the value of your smile?  It’s a question you’ve probably never considered, but it’s at the heart of the mission of the featured client in InfoCision’s latest Marketing Solutions magazine, Smile Train.

Smile Train is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing children with cleft lip and palate the surgery they need to correct this birth defect.  The organization is a modern day success story, founded in 1999 yet already having provided more than 850,000 surgeries to children around the world who need them.  They currently average 340 surgeries per day.

Beyond the amazing good that they do for these children, Smile Train also has an interesting philosophy on how they raise funds for the surgeries they provide. The entire organization has a staff of just 62 employees, so Smile Train utilizes strategic partnerships with marketing companies like InfoCision to spread their message, attract new donors, engage with current donors and re-connect with lapsed donors. But outsourcing marketing efforts requires a leap of faith; and the organization works very closely with its marketing partners to ensure its needs and goals are being met.

Finding partners that can meet their very specific needs is key for Smile Train’s continued growth and success. And by trusting partner companies like InfoCision, that specialize in building relationships to create a lasting connection with their donors – the most important thing a charity can do to secure its future – Smile Train’s staff is able to focus on their core mission of providing cleft surgeries for children all over the world.

To read more about Smile Train’s story, please check out the latest issue of InfoCision Marketing Solutions magazine.  You’ll also find useful articles about

  • utilizing a work from home model for call center work
  • the benefits of personalizing calls with tailored up-sell and cross-sell messages
  • cloud routing’s impact on the customer experience
  • why B2B calls require a different skill set and training than B2C calls
  • the importance of scalability in a call center provider

I encourage you to check out the latest InfoCision Marketing Solutions and let me know what you think by commenting below.

The Value of the First Impression

Sometimes, one shot is all you get. As harsh as that may sound, that is exactly the mentality that is required to succeed in any competitive environment. In our industry, whether it is taking a customer service call, or asking for a donation, our Communicators only have one opportunity to make sure each customer or donor leaves the phone call with a positive experience for the clients we represent. InfoCision has always been known for its impeccable quality, and that begins with our training process. That is why CUSTOMER magazine recently sat down with InfoCision Vice President of Training and Development Monica Ross to talk about how InfoCision ensures all of our Communicators understand the value of first impressions.

Time and Training in the Call Center – Monica Ross

first impression
InfoCision Vice President of Training & Development Monica Ross

Most companies know the key to long-term growth is generating repeat business. Repeat customers mean greater brand loyalty, higher referrals and a steady stream of sales. Adding a new customer also costs considerably more than retaining an existing one. Companies need more than just order takers. To be competitive in this disjointed marketplace you need call centers that can build outstanding interactions by being as professional and connected to the brand as your own employees are.

It really is all about the people on the phones. Your call center is the voice of your company, so it’s crucial to have mature, experienced professionals on the phones. The agents making and taking your calls are representing your company in front of your most valuable asset – your customers. Reputable call centers have highly selective hiring policies. At InfoCision the average age of our Communicators is 42 years old, close to 80 percent are full time and almost 75 percent are their family’s main provider. Successful call center companies will also have robust recognition programs to retain and reward top performers.

What separates brand ambassadors from typical call center representatives is their deep level of product and client knowledge, which can enhance the value of a call in a number of ways. Instead of just answering questions, brand ambassadors act as an extension of the brand they’re calling for, so they can do a better job connecting with the customer from the first phone call. They convey the feelings and voice of a brand. These ambassadors are also comfortable enough with the product or service lines to present other opportunities and upsell, increasing customer profitability. By enhancing brand value, brand ambassadors also add future value in customer retention. The real value comes after the phone call is completed: The prospect will have a stronger tie to the particular brand as well as a clearer idea of who the company is and what it has to offer. Even if it’s a purchase of a singular item, it’s a company that the customer will want to go back to.

When you know the product and client, and understand their business, you’re going to serve your client better, it’s that simple. In this economy where competition for customers is extremely fierce, strategic use of call centers can provide a company with far-reaching benefits to achieve goals, enhance market position and maintain your company’s good reputation.

Do you have any thoughts on the important role training plays in call center success? If so, be sure to leave a comment.

Data and its impact on customer experiences

In business, there are few things as important as a customer’s experience. The customer service you provide has a huge impact on the overall perception people have when dealing with your organization. Often times, companies and organizations have collected plenty of data on their customers and donors, but are unsure what exactly to do with it.  Here at InfoCision, we have access to more information than ever, with a database that includes 205 million records, 132 million households and 40 million distinct phone numbers. We are able to take that data, and that of our client’s to create a great customer experience. Advances in technology are bringing companies and their customers closer together but how to go about doing that can seem overwhelming, so that’s why I recently sat down with InfoCision Vice President of IT Client Services Mike Herston to get a better understanding of this “big data” and how it can be used to positively impact the customer experience.

Using data to add a personal touch – Mike Herston

Wouldn’t you love to learn more about the customers you’re calling or those who are calling you? Determine the best time to call? Map their purchasing behavior and patterns? With today’s technology, it is entirely possible. Tests have proven that predictive modeling can have a positive impact on acquisition calls by improving file performance and driving down costs.

InfoCision Vice President of IT Client Services Mike Herston

On one 95,000 call test we conducted, the response rate increased by over 21 percent and the revenue per call increased by over 17 percent (compared to the control). These results were well above the goals for the program, and allowed further penetration into lower-performing records.

Every call is a reflection on your company and an opportunity to build a lasting relationship with your customer. Pre-built statistical models can be used to tailor our Communicator’s scripts using real-time inscription technology that help them focus on the call and building that relationship. We can actually tailor a script based on the fact that we know someone is male or female, or if we know their age range. We can tailor a script to a household that has a presence of children. The whole idea is that it allows us to deliver a script that resonates with the person we’re calling.

When it comes to making things personal, organizing your data can make all the difference. I know from my own experience, I’d much rather have somebody sell me something that’s within my economic means as opposed to something that’s not. It’s also beneficial to know what I’ve purchased in the past so I can be made aware of any offers that are aligned to those types of products or services. Business Intelligence not only allows us to provide a great experience for new customers, but it also helps us rekindle relationships with customers or donors that may be at risk for churn. On a recent campaign for a wireless client where we utilized both Business Intelligence and multichannel strategies, we saw the cost to save a customer drop from $127.04 in the control group to just $14.65 per customer in the test group. While at the same time an additional 138,400 customers were saved.

Companies need to strategically align themselves with partners that can help them leverage the growing amount of data available. We make a lot of calls, and that gives us a lot of past behaviors to model depending on what the client’s goal is. Let me put it this way, we don’t operate on the one-size-fits-all model.

For more information on the Business Intelligence Group or other InfoCision IT services contact Mike Herston at (330) 668-1400 or mike.herston@infocision.com

TCPA Legal Action Thrown Out

Recently, I came across a blog post about a TCPA class action lawsuit that was thrown out for being frivolous to say the least.

Without getting into too much detail, a man recently tried to sue Citibank, claiming that its direct marketing efforts were a violation of the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act. The man claimed that he contacted Citibank in May of 2011 to apply for a credit card. As part of the application process, he gave his cell phone number to the bank and a few days later he received a text message with a promotion for Citi Cards (Citibank’s credit card). That message said he had the opportunity to opt out of future text messages by simply replying with the word “stop.” He did this, and Citibank sent him a final text, confirming that he would no longer receive promotions through the text message program. The man then proceeded to file suit in the Southern District of California, where he argued that the final confirmation text message violated the TCPA.

Now, if the man had opted out of the text message program and continued to receive promotions, I could very easily understand why he would be upset. That would be a direct violation of the law and his rights would have been considered to be infringed upon, but this simply was not the case.  The ruling in this case helps set a precedent and protects the industry from frivolous lawsuits like this in the future.

New Technology in Contact Centers

The teleservice industry is continuing to evolve and as direct marketers, we must adapt to the way consumers choose to connect with us. The digital age is thriving and things like text messages, email and social media are becoming more and more popular mediums of communication with consumers. When I look at this particular case, I am encouraged to see the judge’s decision reflects a balance in protecting the rights of consumer privacy with that of legitimate business interests.

With all of this being said, I think it is important that call centers, like InfoCision, understand our role in all of this. We have to remain compliant and follow the regulations that are in place. Here at InfoCision, we have invested millions of dollars in technology and dedicated resources to ensure all of our campaigns comply fully with all applicable laws and regulations, including the TCPA and the Federal Trade Commission’s Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR).  We also have to be aware that our industry is unfortunately often under scrutiny. Violations by a few bad actors could ultimately result in more restrictions on our business. The new advances in technology are enabling us to expand consumer choice and create a superior customer service experience.

Mobile Marketing in the Call Center

One of the technologies that is gaining interest among direct marketers and their audiences is mobile marketing. I sat down with our Chief Technical Officer Mike White for a short Q&A to talk about how mobile technologies are changing the way direct marketing works.

What factors drive the growth in text marketing?

InfoCision Chief Technical Officer Mike White

Definitely the rise in the number of mobile devices. And with the new generation, texting is how they communicate. It’s the new demographic. Also, there are some statistics out there that show that the age gap for people that do texting is widening. It’s not just the 18-to-29-year-olds now. It’s the 30-to-40-year-olds and the 50-to-60-year-olds that are starting to text as well. It’s becoming very commonplace.

How is the growth in mobile text marketing affecting the call center business?

We look at it from a service bureau perspective. We are handling calls on behalf of our clients, and what we’re seeing is that as we contact people through traditional channels, like the phone, we find individuals who request to be contacted via other channels.

Texting is becoming a type of marketing that is growing in popularity because a large percentage of the population has cell phones or mobile devices. I’ve seen statistics that show 90 percent of texts get opened and read within 15 minutes of being sent. As we see that proliferation, as a call center vendor, we need to be able to have that channel available to our clients so they can communicate with their customers.

What changes are call centers making to capitalize on text marketing?

The main thing is they need to have a provider or in-house platform that is capable of sending and receiving SMS messages. (SMS, or short message service, is a standardized communication protocol that enables the exchange of text messages between fixed line and mobile phone devices.) It’s basically a tool set and call centers need to have the right tools to provide the service.

Why has InfoCision chosen to make this investment?

It’s another option for how our clients can reach out to their customers. In addition, because it’s a very new and emerging space, we’re finding significantly higher response rates.

For more information on mobile marketing, contact Mike White at (330) 668-1400 or mike.white@infocision.com.

More information helps donors make more educated decisions

I highly suggest everyone read the article by Dan Pallotta, Why Can’t We Sell Charity Like We Sell Perfume? published in The Wall Street Journal, September 15, 2012. It provides a compelling look at nonprofit organizations and why there is a need to change how the public thinks about charity. Here’s a short except from the article: “In short, we are asking nonprofit groups to deal with social problems whose scale is beyond easy comprehension, while denying those groups the tools they need to build any meaningful scale themselves”…The conventional wisdom is that low costs serve the higher good. But this view is killing the ability of nonprofits to make progress against our most pressing problems. Long-term solutions require investment in things that don’t show results in the short term.”

Dan’s thoughts in many ways echo InfoCision’s sentiments and we thank him for the wonderful job he is doing in helping to educate consumers. The important fact is that all nonprofit organizations need to raise money, which is essential to their success and their ability to accomplish their mission. InfoCision is proud to partner with the nation’s most trusted and reputable charities. We provide a much needed service by helping them reach out to people on a much larger scale than they’d be able to do on their own. Without telephone acquisition bringing on new donors and volunteers, their mission could not be accomplished. Nonprofit organizations are managed by professionals and if the calls we make for them were unsuccessful and, if they were unhappy, we would not be able to continue representing them, nor would they want us to.

If you’d like to learn more, Dan is also the author of “Charity Case, How the Nonprofit Community Can Stand Up for Itself and Really Change the World” and he has also been published in many other media outlets including this opinion piece in the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

The media must provide both sides on issues so consumers can make informed decisions. Please feel free to comment…

Here’s the story that wasn’t told

The important fact is that all Nonprofit organizations need to raise money which is essential to their success and all the good works they accomplish.  InfoCision supports their missions by carrying the majority of the costs of fundraising for them.  We do NOT keep the money raised.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  Each charity has an annual budget goal to raise a certain amount, let’s say X million dollars.  On average an organization will budget 25% of the total raised for administrative, fundraising and other marketing costs.  The remaining 75% is always used by the organization for the critical programs and services they provide so well.  InfoCision is paid out of the budget for fundraising, plain and simple.  We bill the client for our costs, then pay all our wonderful 4400 employees, for facilities, phone bill, technology, mailings, etc. and as a business strive for a 10% margin…although in the economic climate of the past few years, we have struggled to reach this target.

For 30 years, InfoCision has partnered with the largest and most reputable Nonprofit organizations in the world.  If the calls we make for charities were unsuccessful for them and, if they were unhappy, we would not be able to continue representing them, nor would they want us to.

The campaigns mentioned in the report were all designed as donor acquisition appeals to breakeven upfront.  Without proactively attempting to acquire new members, any charity will ultimately lose its membership through normal attrition and in time may no longer exist.  Once a new member has been acquired, all their subsequent contributions will provide significant net return to the client over time and more than pay for the initial cost to bring them on.   All our neighbor to neighbor campaigns recruiting volunteers provide a much needed educational and outreach mission where for example, diabetes tests, cancer prevention or the signs of a stroke information kits are distributed out to millions of families to help them be aware of risk factors and improve their overall health.  There is no initial net return anticipated from these types of campaigns because it’s all about engaging new donors and getting educational information into the hands of people who need it.

Think about all the research and all the good being done by the world’s leading health organizations to fight disease…Leukemia, Heart, Diabetes, Cancer…we help all these causes.  Without telephone prospecting bringing on new donors and volunteers, the mission could not be accomplished.  For-profit businesses roll out new customer acquisition types of campaigns all the time, such as free giveaways of sample products.  Consumers don’t question this strategy even though it drives up marketing costs.  Stores use what’s called loss-leaders to get people through their doors.  They’ll take a loss on say a gallon of milk in hopes the consumer will purchase other marked-up items in the same trip and, become a regular customer because of their shopping experience.

Charities do many different types of fundraising campaigns each year.  Isolating just one individual campaign’s report filed with a state attorney-general gives a distorted and confusing view.  To find out how much a nonprofit organization commits to its core mission, review the Nonprofit’s Form 990 filed each year with the IRS, which provides a comprehensive summary of the way an organization’s uses all the funds entrusted to them.

InfoCision’s message is honest and clear. Any deception comes from the reporter’s story.  This type of irresponsible journalism seeks to hurt those valuable national charitable organizations who do so much good…they are our clients and we are proud to be their partner.

If you would like a more detailed explanation of how the fundraising process works, check out the fundraising series, where I go into greater depth and shed some light on the subject of professional fundraising.

 

InfoCision: The Healthy Call Center

Last week, InfoCision’s Chair of the Board, Karen Taylor shared an interesting article with us about the benefits of periodically standing up at work instead of sitting down all day.  It really got me thinking about how important it is to stay focused on healthy activities, especially when working in a role that may require being seated for long periods of time. I found a similar article in the New York Times advocating getting up and moving around throughout the workday in a number of creative capacities.

Here at InfoCision, we try to do everything we can to help our employees live a healthier lifestyle, and when we see articles like this, we feel obligated to pass the information along.  For the same reasons, we have established annual health fairs, which take place at all our call center locations throughout the months of August and September. We believe that a healthier,

Members of our Employee Benefits team working a booth at our Health Fair at our corporate headquarters in Akron, OH

engaged workforce begins with employees that are encouraged and given the tools to make good health a priority. These health fairs provide team members with access to 30 or more vendors who offer free health screenings including blood pressure, body fat, BMI, cholesterol and glucose checks; and information on health issues, health insurance and other valuable employee benefits.  The health fair we just concluded at our Akron headquarters drew more than 500 individuals in one afternoon looking to find ways to improve their health and their lives!

Does the cost pay off?

At times, when I mention the amenities that we offer our employees, I am asked “Isn’t that expensive?” The answer is yes, there is a cost, but it’s well worth it and ultimately we receive a measurable ROI from our overall wellness programs.  By providing employees with convenient and affordable access to health information and resources, we have seen our workforce respond by becoming healthier, which has kept insurance rates from rising for both the company and our employees themselves.

And beyond the business reasons, it’s really just the right thing to do for all our staff. A healthier employee is a happier employee and it is well worth the cost to make sure our employees are taken care of so they can provide the best service possible to our clients. It’s a winning formula for everyone!

Offshoring: is it really worth it?

As Chief of Staff at InfoCision, I am constantly looking at newsfeeds and industry updates, trying to keep up on the different trends, rules and regulations that are going to impact our call centers. Recently I stumbled upon an article that caught my eye because it involves one of the most well-known American companies bringing jobs back to the U.S. that they had been outsourcing overseas.

The article – published in the online version of Nearshore Americas, a leading source for IT outsourcing news – was about American automotive industry giant, General Motors, deciding to cut back the outsourcing of its IT services to other countries by over 80 percent! General Motors currently outsources 90 percent of its IT services, but the plan is to cut that to 10 percent over the next three years. This article really got me thinking about how views on offshoring have changed across the business landscape over the last decade.

It’s about more than cost

In the teleservices industry, I have always believed that domestic call centers are better positioned than offshore call centers because more and more companies are beginning to realize that in a market where new customers are hard to come by, they must put a premium on customer service and care to drive optimal levels of customer retention.  In order to do this, they need to have people on the phone representing their company who speak the language of their customers, and can relate to them and empathize with them. But these issues can extend beyond the teleservices industry into other outsourced functions such as accounting, HR, and in GM’s case, IT.

In any industry, when a company makes the decision to send jobs offshore, we all know there is one major driving force for that decision: cost. However, while saving money on the front end can seem appealing, especially in tough financial times, there is much more a business has to consider before making that decision. Language barriers and lower quality of service – between members of your team and the offshore company – can actually create more costs than the company saves up front because they have a negative effect on efficiency. I can’t help but wonder if those factors finally hit home with GM’s leadership team.

I applaud GM for this decision, and for bringing jobs back to the United States where we desperately need them.

Customer Service: The Key to Direct Marketing and Telemarketing Success

Recently, InfoCision’s Vice President of New Business Development, Yvonne Anderson was featured in an online exclusive article in Electronic Retailer Magazine all about customer service.  Yvonne brought up some great points in the article that I feel are definitely worth sharing:

Excellent Customer Service Starts with the People

Can you see them smiling through the phone? You should! Whether they are working directly for the company, or for a call center partner, agents need to be prepared to create a great customer experience for everyone who calls.

1. Put the right people on the front lines

Choose people who are passionate about what they do and will put in that extra effort.  In many cases, this is the first interaction your customers have with you or a client.

2. Train, train, and train some more

The better they understand the culture and philosophy you’re trying to convey, the better situations with unhappy customers will be handled. Softer skills like dispute resolution and dealing with difficult people are also valuable.

3. Monitor, provide instant feedback and share best practices.

If you don’t know what you’re doing wrong how can you improve, right? Providing feedback and tips on what has worked in the past will go a long way.

Evaluation is Key in Direct Marketing

When measuring customer satisfaction, there are some questions a company must ask:

  • Did the customer’s call get answered?
  • Did the customer feel his or her call was dealt with appropriately?
  • Were concerns or issues handled quickly and efficiently?

These questions may seem obvious, but asking them regularly and taking action is vital to continued success.

Developing Customer Care is a Process

As customer satisfaction increases more customers remain loyal and will continue to purchase items from the company, which will begin to positively impact the company’s bottom line. Your customers will tell their friends how awesome you are, and they will tell their friends and so on.

Everything is interconnected and the above concepts go hand-in-hand. Is it always easy? No, but customer service can make or break your company. Taking the time to hire the right people, evaluate along the way and think about the big picture is well worth it.