Gary Taylor: Remembering a Direct Marketing Pioneer

InfoCision founder Gary Taylor will be remembered as a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist; but he also played a pioneering role in building the direct marketing industry into the huge, global and enormously effective force it has become.

Last weekend, the direct marketing industry lost a great innovator and champion.  Gary Taylor, founder of InfoCision Management Corporation, passed away. Everyone at InfoCision is going to miss our beloved founder and friend, and my heart goes out to the Taylor family at this time.  Click here to read the press release.

Gary will be remembered for many things, from founding InfoCision and building it into a marketing force to his tremendous philanthropy – especially in the Akron, Ohio area. But it is really important for those of us in the direct marketing industry to recognize the pioneering role Gary played in building the direct marketing – and specifically teleservices – industry into the huge, global and enormously effective force that it has become today.

Groundbreaking Industry Innovations

Beginning his career with Rex Humbard Ministries, Gary came to understand the power of personal touch in marketing. He left Humbard’s ministry in 1982, taking on the risky endeavor of starting his own marketing consulting firm with his wife Karen out of their home; and they called it InfoCision Management Corporation.  At the beginning, it was only he and his wife, Karen.  Today, just over 30 years later, InfoCision employs more than 4,000.

In 1985, dissatisfied with the results being generated by an outside call center for one of his clients, he started InfoCision’s first call center with just four Communicators on the phones.  Gary recognized that high quality people with a particular affinity for a cause would do a better job connecting with potential donors and customers. The result was a new level of excellence in teleservices that was often emulated and that propelled InfoCision to exponential growth over the next 25+ years.

It’s about the customer

Gary Taylor understood before almost anyone else in the industry that good marketing is about more than sheer volume.  It’s about providing an exceptional customer experience.  It’s about getting to know and understand the customer so you can meet their needs while also meeting the needs of your clients. This is evident in Gary’s personal business philosophy that is still in InfoCision’s mission statement to this day: A good business deal is one that is good for everyone involved.

Today we’re seeing a lot of industry focus on providing the customer with a first class experience, but here at InfoCision, we’ve known it all along thanks to Gary’s vision and leadership; and that’s why our focus on quality has never wavered, even when so many other companies were scrambling to take call center jobs overseas to cut cost. That’s also why InfoCision is the only company to win the prestigious MVP Quality Award from CUSTOMER magazine every year since the award’s inception in 1993.

Moving forward

As we move forward, the core values upon which Gary Taylor founded InfoCision will remain at the heart of everything we do as a company.  I am proud that we have a champion for those values in Gary’s son Craig, our new CEO.  Craig has already showed that his vision, instincts and dedication to ethics and quality mirror those of his father; and I am excited to see where he will lead InfoCision into the future.

We’ve been comforted by the many memories of Gary people have been sharing. If you have a positive memory you’d like to share, we’d love to hear it.

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.

Domestic Call Centers: Consumers Prefer Calls “Made in America”

Domestic call centers can provide agents that not only speak the same language as consumers, but also understand the cultural nuances of being an American. This allows agents to better connect with the caller, have empathy for their situation, create better customer experiences, solve a problem and ultimately build stronger relationships that will last well beyond that phone call and lead to additional sales, donations, volunteerism, etc. in the future.

A colleague sent me an article this week that I just had to share.  It’s from Advertising Age, and titled “It’s Cool Again to be Made in America.” I found it very interesting to read that the cost competitiveness of places like China is quickly shrinking while American consumers are increasingly preferring to see an “American Made” sticker on the products they buy – because they know it will be higher quality. Even if the cost is slightly higher, they know “Made in America” means it will provide better satisfaction, a better return on their investment.

Domestic call center advantage

It has always been my thought that these same principles hold true in the ultra-competitive call center industry. Off-shore call centers – while costing less up-front – are simply unable to provide the same quality of service that domestic call centers provide. As the internet and automation has replaced much of the need for level I technical support such as password changes, more and more customer service calls deal with complex issues that require the representative to have a high degree of product knowledge and the ability to understand what the customer is saying.  Yes, there is a language barrier that exists with off-shore centers that many consumers find frustrating, but it goes beyond that. Domestic call centers can provide agents that not only speak the same language as consumers, but also understand the cultural nuances of being an American. This allows agents to better connect with the caller, have empathy for their situation, create better customer experiences, solve a problem and ultimately build stronger relationships that will last well beyond that phone call and lead to additional sales, donations, volunteerism, etc. in the future.

But don’t just take my word for it.  According to a 2008 study by CFI Group “when customer service representatives are perceived to speak clearly, they resolve customer issues 88 percent of the time.” When they do not speak clearly, “they resolve customer issues only 45 percent of the time.” The industry has come to realize this truth over the last few years, as reports of jobs coming back from overseas have become more and more prevalent.  We also have seen the rise of Jobs4America, an initiative of call center organizations pledging to create jobs in the U.S. in the coming years.  It would certainly be difficult for companies to make those pledges if there was a high demand for more inexpensive off-shore call center work from clients.

For tips on what to consider when selecting a call center partner, please click here.

I also think it’s important to note that there is nothing magic about domestic centers. To maximize their benefits, you always need to have outstanding people on the phones, comprehensive training and a commitment to IT and infrastructure, among other things.  However, domestic call centers that have that commitment can provide the best return on investment for your call center dollar – just like consumers who buy American goods.

What does “Made in America” mean to you?

Customer Experience: Contact center a vital stop in the customer journey as the voice of your brand

We’ve all had that one experience with a company that left such a bad taste in our mouth that we vow we’ll never go back; and most of the time we never do. That’s what makes creating an outstanding customer experience so vitally important for today’s marketers… But are you doing it right?

We’ve all had that one experience with a company that left such a bad taste in our mouth that we vow we’ll never go back; and most of the time we never do. That’s what makes creating an outstanding customer experience so vitally important for today’s marketers… But are you doing it right?

I recently stumbled upon an article published last month by MediaPost’s Marketing Daily in regards to a Forrester report saying that many companies don’t effectively translate their customer data into customer experience improvements. Forrester also predicts that customer journey maps will continue to be stressed and will become even more in-depth.  “In 2013, companies will need tools that connect customer journeys to the people, processes and technologies that lay beneath the surface,” according to Forrester.

It’s important to consider what an important tool the contact center is within the customer journey, because it is the most direct, personal connection the customer has with your organization.  The people you have on the phone are much more than just order takers; those people are the voice of your brand to that customer. You can’t just have anyone handling your calls, but rather you should have highly trained brand ambassadors who can speak knowledgeably about your products and services, and your company as a whole.  These brand ambassadors should also utilize custom scripting based on the customer’s demographic info, buying history, preferences, etc. to create a message that is tailored to fit the customer’s needs.  This is where effective data analytics can make a big impact, because it allows you to put customer information in the hands of your agents right as the call comes in.  InfoCision recently released a case study on our Inscription technology and the positive result personalization has on ROI and customer experience.

To do these things you must work with a teleservices company that will be able to build a program to your specific needs and not just use a “one size fits all approach”. In this rapidly changing business environment, you can no longer afford to partner with a call center that only handles calls; you need to be looking for a strategic partner that is focused on and has the means to help you increase net profit and build lasting relationships with your customers.

The final paragraph in the article talks about the importance of employee engagement for customer experience professionals.  I couldn’t agree more.  A happier employee is going to be a better employee; because that happiness comes across over the phone in terms of creating satisfaction and excitement with regard to the brand they represent.  A more engaged employee will create more engagement with customers which will increase sales, create more up-sell and cross-sell opportunities and help to ensure they become a repeat customer.

I encourage you to read the article, and let me know if you have any thoughts of your own on the importance of creating a better customer experience.

Employee Feedback helps InfoCision Become a National Top Workplace

Do employee benefit and amenity programs really make a difference in workforce morale? Oftentimes we hear corporate leaders talk about finding meaningful programs to show employees that the company cares about them. But do employees reciprocate those feelings?  It can be hard to know.

Here at InfoCision, we know.

Last week, we let you know that InfoCision received word from Workplace Dynamics that our company is ranked in the 150 top workplaces nationally, based on the results of the Plain Dealer’s regional Top Workplaces survey program conducted in 2012. In short, we are on this list because our employees think we’re getting it right.

Of course this ranking is a tremendous honor for InfoCision, and something we are all very proud of!  But more than that – it is a great validation for all the benefit and amenity programs InfoCision has launched in recent years to help employees achieve a healthy work/life balance and to succeed both at work and in their personal lives. The programs REALLY DO make a difference to them.

Feedback from employees should be the key to your benefit programs

InfoCision’s benefit programs have worked well largely because we do two things on a regular basis:

1)      We constantly evaluate our employee amenity programs.  The things that are working we try to do better.  The things that aren’t working, we try to fix them.  If they can’t be fixed, we are willing cut our losses and move on to the next good idea. And we always solicit employee feedback so their feelings are at the center of those decisions.

2)      We ask employees what they want.  It seems so simple, and yet I’ve found that many companies try to find solutions in a cookie-cutter approach rather than basing programs around their specific workforce. In direct marketing, we know how valuable personalization is to our product and services offerings.  It should be the same with our employee benefits and amenities.

At InfoCision, we offer things like on-site fitness centers and wellness clinics, annual health fairs, access to flu shots, paid smoking cessation, subsidized weight loss programs, a free employee assistance program and many more things that we have found work well for our employees.  Those things might not work for every company, but they work for our terrific employees.  How do we know?  Because they have told us.

Congratulations to InfoCision for being named one of the National 150 Top Workplaces by Workplace Dynamics, and thanks to all the people who help to make InfoCision such a great company! But you don’t need your employees to rank you among the best companies to know if your employee benefit programs are working.  You can just ask.

For a quick look at life at InfoCision, please click here, (InfoCision Top Workplace video).  If you have any comments or questions about building a top workplace, please comment below.

InfoCision Named a National Top Workplace

Quality, Integrity and Family Atmosphere a Winning Formula for Employees

Typically when you see companies ranked as a top workplace you rarely, if ever, see a call center company listed. Well we just found out that InfoCision has been named one of the top 150 workplaces in the nation! Right off the bat that should tell you InfoCision isn’t like any ordinary call center company. We’ve always worked to break the perception people have of our industry and chart our own workplace course by creating a place where people enjoy coming to work.

Yesterday, Workplace Dynamics LLC, released its National Top 150 Workplaces List based on employee survey results from companies in more than 30 major markets around the country, and InfoCision was on the list. Obviously to be named to something like this for any reason would be a tremendous honor, but what makes me most proud of InfoCision’s ranking on this list is that it was based on responses to surveys taken by our employees as part of the Plain Dealer’s regional Top Workplaces program. And when those results were compared to other participating companies with more than 1,000 employees from all over the country, our employees feel InfoCision is one of the best.

A corporate culture employees want to be part of makes a top workplace

For me, it goes to show that making a real focus on the well-being of your employees makes a huge difference in their lives. Plus when you are committed to quality and integrity, committed to the quality and integrity of the people you hire, the way you operate, and the services you provide you can’t help but succeed. Gary and Karen Taylor founded InfoCision on many core values, and one of them is that InfoCision would be a place where employees truly cared about each other, a real family atmosphere. In fact, our new CEO Craig Taylor has been focusing his efforts on putting those core values back at the forefront of everything we do.

Although InfoCision has a diverse client base, knowing that we’re a trusted partner of some of the nation’s most respected corporations and nonprofits makes our job even more meaningful.  When you work in a family atmosphere and know that the work you do is making a real difference in the world – whether for our nonprofit clients or helping the customers of a commercial client – it makes a job more than a job. That’s really what we have always strived to make InfoCision: a place where people enjoy coming to work.

For a flavor of what life at InfoCision is like, please check out this short video.

Client Feedback Defines our Effectiveness

Yesterday, one our talented employees sent me a word cloud that was generated based off client feedback.  I found it so interesting to see all of our clients’ words expressed in this creative way, and so I wanted to share it with all of you.

For me, it serves as a good reminder that no matter how great you think the products and services you provide are, at the end of the day all that matters is what your clients or customers think. Everything we do as a business revolves around their satisfaction – And in fact, we want them to be more than satisfied! We want them to be thrilled with and excited about whatever we are providing them so they continue to do business with us.  After all, a good business relationship is one that is beneficial for everyone involved.

Here’s our client feedback word cloud.  What does yours look like?client feedback

Complex professional fundraising topics explained in January’s FundRaising Success

Professional fundraising has been a hot topic in the media over the past several months, as nonprofit organizations and their fundraising partners  have come under scrutiny based on erroneous news reports.  There is a terrible lack of understanding among the media and the general public about what fundraising is and how it works.  Couple this with gross inaccuracies by some reporters and you have people questioning what’s really going on.  Fundraising is a complicated and emotional subject.  InfoCision has been working to provide educational information.  We have been using our blog to do this and I can refer to our fundraising series and our website for more information.

professional fundraisingIn the January issue of FundRaising Success magazine, Tom Harrison, CEO of Russ Reid, does an outstanding job of succinctly explaining why professional fundraising is so important for charitable organizations in achieving their mission.  I highly encourage anyone who has questions about fundraising to read this article.  Mr. Harrison puts this issue into terms that are very easy to understand.  I applaud him for writing it.

If you have any thoughts on the article or questions about professional fundraising, please let me know.

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.

Employee Health is a Key Factor in Performance

employee health“Eat your fruits and vegetables” was something most of us heard from our mothers growing up.  But would you believe that same suggestion could actually help your employees to produce better results in their jobs?  It’s true, according to a recent study from the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO) published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The study found that improved job performance and reduced absenteeism were present in employees who led healthy lifestyles.  Specifically, their data showed that employees who were healthy eaters, regular exercisers, non-obese – and yes, even those who regularly ate their fruits and vegetables – performed better on the job and missed less workdays compared to other employees.

The Time to Start Impacting Employee Health is NOW

At InfoCision, we have long said that a healthier employee is a happier employee, who is going to perform better for the company and our clients.  That’s why we implemented a comprehensive employee health and wellness program in 2006 that includes on-site fitness and wellness centers, fitness contests, health fairs, regular health information dissemination, and free smoking cessation programs among other things.

I’m sharing this report because I hope more companies will give serious thought to employee health’s effect on a business. Increasingly we have seen reports such as this come out, and it is becoming more and more evident that helping your employees be healthy is more than just the right thing to do; it’s a sound business decision that can boost your company’s performance and actually curb the rising cost of your health insurance premiums – as it has here at InfoCision.

If you have any observations on the study or suggestions for employers to help their workers be healthier, please leave a comment below.  I’d enjoy reading your thoughts.