Why Marketers are Turning Call Centers Into Profit Centers

As Consumers Become 'Unreachable,' Every Contact Counts

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Next time you're on the line with a call center complaining about a product not working properly, don't be surprised if you're not rushed off the phone in record speed. The interactions between consumers and call center reps are evolving from hurried griping sessions to extended sales pitches and consultation meetings.

In fact, more and more marketers are looking to turn their call centers into revenue generating centers, according to a new study by Portrait Software, a provider of customer interaction optimization software. A number of factors are driving this shift but none more significant than the challenge of reaching consumers when a growing number of them are opting out of direct mail and email and opting into do-not-call lists. The study shows that 69% of large business-to-consumer marketers view their call centers as "business critical revenue generators."

Jeff Nicholson, VP of product marketing at Portrait Software, said the recession also caused marketers to alter their focus from new customer acquisition activities to more CRM-focused efforts. But even cross- or up-selling existing clients can be a challenge for marketers.

Reaching the 'unreachables'
"If you take a deep look into the existing customer bases of many marketers one of the largest segments they have are the unreachables," Mr. Nicholson said. "These customers have opted out of email, unsubscribed or added their name to a do-not-call list. Considering what that does to the potential for increasing the customer lifetime value and the potential to reach out and retain customers it's dramatic. But when you have people calling into your call centers, in some cases this can be your only opportunity to service that customer, cross-sell them or get them to un-opt out."

An executive at one of the world's largest financial advisers. who asked not to be identified, said his company has been altering the way its call center, which gets over two million calls a year, operates for the past two years. But it's not always about the up-sell for his company. He said it's about the best next action the rep can take for the customer.

"It's about what's right for the client and not what's right for the company and in the long term that is what's going to be able to drive our success and our differentiation in the marketplace," the executive said. "Every single call we take starts off with a question and it's about our ability to deliver something that enhances our value. Making sure the client feels like they are going into a planning session with an adviser and that they get something out of it is the way we win. They have to get something out of that meeting. It's about being able to deliver a value add to your client that's in line with your own value add."

Mental shift
The challenge for a company looking to transform its call center into a profit center is twofold. First there's a major cultural shift that has to take place amongst employees.

Mr. Nicholson said organizations have to make a mental shift in terms of how they measure call center success. "For a long time they were measured how quickly they can hang up on a person," Mr. Nicholson said. "The dynamics of the market will no longer tolerate that."

The study found that 86% of respondents said their call center staff needed a broader range of skills to deliver these types revenue. Marketers are also looking for call center employees to play the role of brand ambassador, with 85% claiming that call center interactions with customers are drivers for conveying their organization's brand values, making the role of call center staff even more critical in developing profitable relationships with customers.

Integration challenge
The second challenge is the integration of inter-departmental customer data, in particular call center data with online customer service data, to be used by call center reps. A majority of respondents (60%) said they have a great need for better integration of data and that it will be a key focus for them over the next 12 months.

"Data integration is always the challenge and the opportunity," said Mr. Nicholson, whose company's software specializes in combing the various streams of data. "In most big companies you are going to find that data is in many different locations."

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