Customer service critical to brand identity and customer loyalty

It seems every day there’s a new, exciting technology emerging that aims to make our frenetic lives a little easier. While many of these new conveniences are fantastic, most of us have, at one time or the other, experienced the bumps along the learning curve regarding setup, troubleshooting and the like. And when we need it, that’s when great customer support serves to strengthen that brand. I found Dan Pallotta’s recent Harvard Business Review blog post, Nest and Google’s Customer Service Problem quite insightful. Companies that have grown tremendously because they are incredibly innovative when it comes to technology, are now branching out into service industries. Providing a customer service option that is in tune with their customers is not necessarily in their wheelhouse. As they begin to hear more and more complaints they will begin to realize how critical the customer experience is to brand identity, as well as long term growth and customer loyalty.

Dan’s customer service blog post is timely in that our winter Marketing Solutions magazine just published and is focused on providing an exceptional customer experience. The cover story features our longtime client, Little Tikes, who has built a highly successful culture of customer service. It’s a great story and I encourage you to check it out.

Like Little Tikes, customer service is in InfoCision’s DNA. What about your company? What are you doing to move the needle? Leave a comment and let’s start the conversation.

Customer satisfaction key to enhancing your brand

Chief of Staff Steve Brubaker to join customer service panel at ITEXPO

Taylor SCORE event 005Customer satisfaction is crucial to a company’s bottom line. We live in a competitive marketplace where one customer service experience can shape the perception of your brand considerably. As many companies have discovered, the contact center is an important step in the customer’s journey and our role is to ensure our client’s customers always receive excellent customer care and we take that role seriously.

Here at InfoCision we know our Communicators making and taking calls for our clients are representing their company in front of their most valuable assets— their customers. Our knowledgeable Communicators are brand ambassadors for our client companies’ products, and are focused as much on brand reinforcement as on task resolution.

Brand ambassadors deliver higher customer satisfaction and ROI for clients

While our brand ambassadors require more upfront training time, they generate results that ultimately deliver higher ROI for our clients. Their expansive knowledge enables them to upsell and cross-sell, answer questions more quickly and satisfactorily, streamline calls, and—because they make sure customers are educated about the product or service—cut down on returns and cancellations.

There are no shortcuts to delivering a good call-center experience. Customers who experience good service buy more, are more loyal, and are more likely to recommend your product to others. Competition for customers is fierce, and the strategic use of call centers can provide marketers with far-reaching benefits.

InfoCision to be featured at ITEXPO on the topic of customer satisfaction

Customer satisfaction is more important now than ever before which is why I am excited to announce that I will be participating in a panel discussion at ITEXPO Las Vegas with other industry experts on the topic of customer satisfaction and creating a positive customer experience. The panel discussion, titled “Solving the Customer Experience Equation,” will be on Tuesday, August 27, 2013, 10 a.m. at Mandalay Bay. We will discuss topics such as the impact offshoring has on customer care, the importance that training and role-playing has on building deep relationships with customers and how technology can bring call centers and customers closer together. ITEXPO Las Vegas is the world’s largest and best-attended communications and technology trade show.

To read more about how InfoCision enhances clients’ brands through customer satisfaction check out my article in Electronic Retailer Magazine. I am looking forward to participating in this panel to shed some light on this important topic. If you have any questions about customer satisfaction, please leave me a comment and I’d be glad to answer.

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.

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.

 

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.

How nonprofits and professional fundraisers partner to make a difference

I’ve been working in the call center industry for nearly 30 years.  Oftentimes when I meet someone – either socially or professionally – and tell them that what I do involves fundraising for nonprofits, I inevitably get asked questions about how it all works.  Several questions come up routinely, and after having one such conversation last week, I decided that I should use The Right Call as a forum to provide much needed information on how professional fundraising works.  Fundraising is multifaceted and over the next few weeks I hope to impart additional knowledge and answer some common questions.

Do professional fundraisers keep a percentage of the money that is raised?

One of the most common questions I get is people wondering if professional fundraisers keep a percentage of money they raise before it goes to the nonprofit organization.  The answer is generally no.  Reputable teleservices  companies like InfoCision are not actually paid in terms of the percentage of funds they raise.  InfoCision is paid per completed call based on a set rate as detailed in our contract with the nonprofit client.  The client pays InfoCision according to their fundraising budget.

Many times, folks will say they’ve read about a nonprofit organization generating just a small net gain from a specific tele-fundraising program.  Some campaigns are designed as “acquisition campaigns.”  In these campaigns, finding and engaging new donors is the primary goal.  It is common and expected for an acquisition campaign – when looked at in a nutshell – to breakeven or be only slightly profitable.  But when you look at the big picture, these acquisition campaigns identify new donors who are likely to begin a strong, life-long relationship with the nonprofit. The long-term opportunities these new relationships provide the organization are incredibly valuable.

Here’s a similar example: A national health-based nonprofit, through direct mail acquisition programs, recently was able to increase its donor base by more than ten times over a five year period.  It’s likely that when you consider the cost of creating, printing and mailing the direct mail piece, the campaign may not have generated enough funds to cover those initial costs.  But what it did do was bring in many new donors to the organization, who will give again and again over a period of time. This is what is called Long-term Donor Value. It works the same way with tele-fundraising.

Check back next week for when I will break down the importance of long-term donors for nonprofits, and how tele-fundraisers help to build and cultivate these long-lasting relationships.  I hope you have found this information helpful.

Click here for Fundraising Part 2: The Professional Fundraiser and Nonprofit Relationship

Click here for Fundraising Part 3: Compliance and Nonprofit Fundraising

Click here for Fundraising Part 4: Using Information to Make an Informed Choice as a Donor

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.

Turning Customer Care Calls into Cross-Selling Opportunities

All companies want to keep their customers happy. Finding the right balance of effective customer care while trying to keep costs low can be a challenging for any organization. The numbers that show customer loyalty and brand image being boosted by customer care are not always clearly visible and easy to measure.

With that in mind, there are ways to change customer care into easily measurable, profit-generating activities that make it easier for companies to justify customer care expenditures.

That’s where the InfoCision attitude comes into play. It’s simple really; it’s all about philosophy and opportunity.

Recently an article featuring one of our staff members, Paul Derbyshire, director of operations strategy, was published through the prestigious media outlet TMCnet. Paul talked all about how if the situation is handled correctly, you can turn a customer care call into an opportunity to increase your sales.

In fact, we’ve seen examples where after adding a series of cross-sell opportunities, the client’s customer care was essentially free. When a client receives profit for a call that used to be an expense, everyone wins.

What are your opinions on cross-selling? Can cross-selling truly generate profit? Leave a comment below and tell me how you or your organization views the cross-selling process!

Paul Derbyshire is director of operations strategy at InfoCision Management Corporation. Reach him at paul.derbyshire@infocision.com.