Keep Pace With E-Commerce Trends in the New Year

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Your online business must be responsive—not only to visitors but to trends which, if ignored, may trip you up eventually. With the quick pace of modern societal and technological advances, organizations need to keep a finger on the pulse of their industries and develop the agility to react to pressures at the drop of a dime.

The outlook for 2017 includes several e-commerce trends that are primed to turn into major industry drivers. Find them listed here, along with steps you can take to stay ahead of the curve:

Dynamic real-time shopping: The online shopping experience is becoming personalized to each customer. Improvements in collecting, organizing and analyzing data mean that customers will no longer be asked to respond to product recommendations that seem to come out of left field. Instead, recommendations will be based on their unique preferences, geographic location, demographic group, past purchases, market trends and brand interactions—automatically. E-commerce businesses should tap into the technology of leading e-commerce platforms to enable this capability.

Cyber November: Online retailers have started to offer customers discounts in advance of the Black Friday and Cyber Monday rushes—to offset unruly crowds in stores and to get a jump on holiday spending. In 2015, major retailers Target and Walmart announced in-store deals leading up to Black Friday, and mega online retailer Amazon took the cue, offering deals throughout the month of November. To gain a piece of the pie, focus on mobile spending, which is slated to account for 60 percent of online sales by year-end; offer stellar shopping experiences on smartphones and tablets.

Chatbots: These are fully automated “chat” agents that can act as a first point of contact for brands. Chatbots increase the number of platforms on which brands can offer transactions through guided, interactive browsing. In 2015, tech giants released the enabling application programming interfaces (APIs) that made it cost-effective for bot developers to create their own, using their own servers. Experts predict that the artificial intelligence that fuels chatbots will improve with time, making conversations more natural, with better response rates. Explore this technology now to reduce customer effort and lower support costs.

Checkout: Expect traditional wallets to be replaced by “mobile” payments, and set your site up to accept these new payment methods. Same-day delivery is also becoming a competitive differentiator, as is operating in smaller spaces that can serve as showrooms, fitting rooms, and pick-up/drop-off points.

In this era where power has shifted away from companies and toward digitally connected, technology-empowered customers, retailers need to fully embrace digital commerce to thrive. With a few clicks of a mouse, customers can easily switch companies to find a better online experience. In this environment, being customer-obsessed must be your competitive strategy.

Technology to the Rescue for Government Agency Engagement

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

How is your agency operating these days as far as engaging with the citizens you serve? Ideally, you would answer that citizen engagement has been a key priority, so you’ve modernized your contact center and improved the citizen experience overall.

The contact center provides a critical path between constituents and the state workers who deliver customer care. New communication methods employed in these centers enables government agencies a means to improve citizen engagement.

A 2016 infographic encompasses the results of a Governing Institute study, “Citizen Engagement Modernization in the State Contact Center,” showcasing how state agencies are positioned today, along with the technologies and resources that will take them to the next level in citizen engagement.

The research identified areas of need and gaps facing government institutions, as well as ways to better address these issues by modernizing contact center technologies. For example, of the 129 state and government officials surveyed, 72 percent agreed that digital communications are the fastest-growing form of citizen-to-government communication. Yet, a majority of their contact centers don’t support popular digital communication channels like interactive voice response (IVR)/self-service, mobile apps, or online messaging or chat.

The study included a look at how changing societal methods of communicating in the Digital Age have raised citizen service expectations. They expect the same well-oiled machinery of modern communication—instant access to information via mobile devices like smartphones—to be replicated by every service organization with which they connect. This expectation is especially well-formed among millennials (citizens born between 1980 and 2000), who were raised on digital technologies.

These generational and cultural shifts have resulted in the accelerated uptake of technological innovations across a wide swath of businesses and industries.

Study findings indicate that state governments recognize the changing environment and are prioritizing technological initiatives to meet the needs of citizens. These initiatives include comprehensive self-service strategies, engagement through digital channels and advanced knowledge management solutions.

Respondents say they’re improving the efficiencies of contact center staff by employing self-service offerings; however, only 20 percent use knowledge management solutions. And while 26 percent of respondents claim to be making access to internal policies and procedures easier for citizens, 22 percent acknowledge that data sharing capabilities are an unmet need.

If your contact center can focus on just a few avenues for improvement, these three areas are key: digital communication channels, self-service and streamlined processes. Make the moves now to put you in good stead with citizens and customers in the future.

Top Take-aways from InfoCision’s Recent Business Analytics Fair

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Every phone call from a customer, every purchase or response to a direct mail campaign, every online inquiry—these are all perfect opportunities for your company to listen to customers and gather valuable insight. Leveraging this wealth of data means you can pinpoint customers’ needs, enhance personalization and deliver a more individualized marketing experience, improving quality of customer service.

Business analytics play an integral role in achieving these objectives. With business analytics, companies can utilize data to create more targeted marketing campaigns that drive response and increase ROI. In fact, a business analytics boom is on its way—global business analytics services spending is forecasted to reach $89.6 billion by 2018, growing at a CAGR of 14.7 percent, according to IDC. All in all, the market is expected to hit $51.6 billion this year.

Recently, InfoCision showcased what business analytics can do to drive our very own service initiatives. In late September at the University of Akron, we hosted a Business Analytics Fair for leaders and support department employees from all divisions and areas of the company, educating employees on the ways they can harness data to improve and innovate. Numerous analytics employees set up interactive presentations that showed how call center analytics, data analytics, marketing analytics and more are already positively impacting our business at InfoCision.

Below are a few key take-aways our employees walked away with that can help your teams, too:

  • Focus on Best Time to Reach Customers: We can improve KPIs by recommending, facilitating and implementing best practices in call centers, leading to more profitable business for clients. It’s paramount to focus on the best time to reach people, as well as the times to avoid calling.
  • Highlight Useful Data to Enhance Campaigns: By evolving how we interact with data—moving away from generating charts of endless numbers toward providing visual data—we can empower employees with actionable insight to enhance a marketing campaign.
  • Facilitate Seamless Collaboration: Through coordination between account staff, IT and other business analytics teams, we can drive innovation and analytical support, helping staff “gain those inches on programs.” By providing immediate and actionable insight, we facilitate quick collaboration on cross departmental projects.

Hopefully our team can inspire yours when it comes to establishing business analytics best practices. So, will your enterprise invest in business analytics? Tell us your plan in the comments section below!

How to leverage your Big Data to generate Big Results

How do you leverage Big Data?

That’s really the question, isn’t it?  The #BigData buzz word is floating around on Linked In, Twitter and in articles that marketing professionals see every day.  And with good reason.  Having a wealth of data allows us to personalize our marketing offers, creating a more effective pitch while also providing the customer with a better and more engaging experience.

That sounds great in theory… but how do you really do that?

It starts with business intelligence

But let’s not put the cart before the horse. Big data is a wonderful means to an end, but before we can begin to map out a strategy, we need to first determine a calling campaign’s key performance indicators (KPI’s). Your client will have a set of KPI’s they want you to meet like service levels, call volume, conversion rates, etc.  As their call center partner, you’ll have additional KPIs to consider.  Once the goal metrics are identified, the next step is finding out where the data resides that will help you manage the objectives.  Then you can integrate that information into your strategy.

Highly skilled IT professionals and analytical marketers working together as a business intelligence team can utilize all available data to build statistical models that show behavior and patterns, and determine which factors drive a particular type of customer. They can set up algorithms to compute this information, which is used to tailor information in call center scripts, emails, targeted web ads and direct mail pieces. All helping to increase productivity, customer satisfaction, conversions and ultimately ROI.

And it’s more than just messaging. In the call center we can use previous call history to determine the best time to contact customers, increasing our connect rates.  We can determine the channel(s) of communication individual consumers are most likely to respond to favorably.  We can evaluate buying and purchasing patterns that give us insight into what offers consumers may be more interested in so we can personalize their offer – even upselling and cross-selling further enhancing conversion rates.  We can also identify and remove customers with the highest propensity to churn,  further minimizing marketing costs. For example, on one customer retention campaign, we utilized much of what I just outlined above. Using multiple strategies we were able to drive down the client’s cost per customer saved from $127 to a minimal $14.65, while at the same time retaining an additional 138,400 customers.

Leveraging real-time Big Data in the call center

This is where it gets fun. Using intelligence and technology to determine service level differentiations to boost conversion rates, improve customer service, customize call center scripts and sales scripts — on the fly, will ultimately increase customer value and drive long-term growth.  Real time analytics can also be a cost saver by driving target routing strategies (matching the appropriate agent with the sales lead), intelligent queue (prioritizing higher converting leads for quicker answer times), etc.

In the call center, as information is collected during a call, the targeted, personal message that best fits the customer may need to change on the fly.  But with the right technology, the script can be adapted as the call is going on.

At InfoCision, we’ve developed a proprietary solution called Inscription that delivers a customized script seamlessly in real-time as well as comprehensive customer profiles and screen pops. This technology, which has been in use since 2004, automatically tailors the script as the call is coming in, and can allow for real-time changes based on information gathered during the call.  Inscription is constantly updated based on customer call results so it provides the most recent data possible. This allows our Communicators to focus on building relationships with customers utilizing the most effective personalized offer.  It’s all about relationship management and looking beyond single transaction customer contacts toward long term ROI realization.

For more information on inscription, check out the case study I mentioned.

If you have thoughts on this post or other ways to leverage Big Data, please comment below.

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.

Opt-out confirmation text messages deemed legal by the FCC

text messagesLast week, the FCC issued a ruling stating that it is legal to send a one-time text message to confirm that someone has opted out of receiving future text messages from a specific organization.  This had been an issue of great interest within the direct marketing industry, as mobile marketing is becoming more and more popular as a meaningful way of contacting customers.

The issue stemmed from a case last year where a consumer sued a direct marketing organization that had sent a follow-up text to confirm his opt-out, and they settled out of court rather than fighting it, setting a bad precedent for the industry.

I applaud the FCC for a very reasonable and responsible decision in allowing follow-up messages to be utilized to confirm opt-out requests for consumers.  When considering that the consumers being contacted had expressly opted in to receiving the messages at some point in the recent past, and were receiving text messages from the organization in a completely legal way, it was a bit frightening that the direct marketer could face disciplinary measures for confirming opt-outs.  Frankly, opt-out confirmation messages are a valuable service that the direct marketing organization is providing to the consumer so that they can be 100% sure that their opt-out request has been received.  To penalize a direct marketer for providing this service would – simply put – be senseless.

To read more on this, there is a good article in AdWeek.

In addition, you can get more information on the ruling by visiting the blog of Michele Shuster of MacMurray, Peterson and Shuster, industry legal experts.

Rapid Response Routing – Customer Service for the NOW Generation

In the evolving world of direct interactive marketing, we are faced with great challenges and opportunities brought on by innovative digital communication technologies.  The combination of the internet and mobile devices has created a world where we have all become accustomed to having every bit of information we need right at the tip of our fingers.  And when – for some reason – we are unable to find the information we need right away, it is actually a bit unsettling.

So why is it that when making a request for information online, consumers wait on average 48-72 hours for a response?  This may have been appropriate ten, or even five years ago.  But today, we are committing a marketing sin if we allow a customer or potential customer to wait any length of time for information about our products and services.  The technology is out there that allows us to be able to reach out to those customers immediately – drastically improving customer service and maximizing our potential to make a sale, because we have contacted the consumer when their interest in the product or service is at its peak.

Technological innovation enables us to satisfy the NOW generation

At InfoCision, we have invested Rapid Response Routingin a proprietary service for our clients called Rapid Response Routing (R3), which increases response time by creating a continuous flow for the request, eliminating the time-consuming process of manually pulling customer information. So when a consumer on your website clicks to request more information, their contact information is sent directly to InfoCision’s system, which pings the self-reported  data  against our national consumer database to append additional demographic, psychographic and transactional information. If it’s part of the campaign strategy, the data can be scored to produce a customized offer. The information is sent to the most qualified InfoCision Communicator who calls them – and all within a minute or two of the consumer making the online request. The results have been tremendous – but don’t just take my word for it…

A recent case study on R3 shows how impressive the results have been for one of our valued clients.  Prior to InfoCision handling the program, the client’s average callback time for internet requests was several hours or longer. After Rapid Response Routing (R3) was implemented, 90 percent of online requests were responded to in less than 3 minutes – with an average callback time of 2.75 minutes. This surpassed the client’s goal of having 80 percent of their customers called back in 3-5 minutes. In addition to the remarkably fast average response time, R3 also increased efficiencies and sales by creating a positive customer experience that allowed for upsell and cross sell opportunities. These additional sales helped to reduce the cost per unit by 26 percent.

Click here to view a webinar on Rapid Response Routing (R3).

This is just one example of a service we’ve created to satisfy today’s NOW generation across vertical segments, including education, financial and other commercial markets. Companies that want to thrive into the future must find ways to reach their customers and potential customers in a fast and meaningful way.  I’d be interested to hear from any readers how you are finding ways to get people the information they need NOW.

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.

Satisfying the Customer Service Needs of the NOW Generation

People want things NOW!  I know I’m guilty of this myself.

With close to 79% of Americans online according to Internet World Stats, the need to engage customers and potential customers immediately is more important than ever, especially with the incredible growth of mobile devices and tablets.

The other day I was on various websites checking out different vacation packages. A couple of the sites gave you the option of submitting a request for additional information, which I did…If I would have gotten a phone call while I was on their site, the odds of me booking with them would have certainly increased!

InfoCision recently hosted a webinar on a service we offer that will do just what I needed when I was on those vacation sites – we can call people within seconds of them submitting their contact information online.

And because the customer’s needs are being met immediately, they feel positive about the interaction and are more open to hearing about and signing up for additional services and products. For one of our clients this has led to a 26 percent decrease in their cost per unit.

The Customer Service Message

At InfoCision, we strive to create the very best experience for our clients’ customers and our R3 service allows us to do just that. In researching for the webinar I ran across some interesting information I’d like to share with you. Did you know that within the first hour of someone submitting their information online, the odds of contacting them decreases by over 10 times? But, if you call them within five minutes the odds of getting a hold of them increases 100 times!

There’s more great info like this in the webinar so if you have about 45 minutes to check it out here. And please, feel free to stop back here and let me know what you think.