Monday, 17 December 2012 11:10

What’s the value of first impressions?

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.

But creating the kind of brand relationships that drive customers back again and again isn’t easy, especially for businesses that outsource their marketing and sales efforts to third-party call centers.

Smart Business spoke with Monica Ross, the vice president of training and development at InfoCision, on the value of first impressions and how to enhance customer relationships.

It’s about more than just taking orders

You don’t want your brand to get lost by having representatives who might treat a call with your customer as just another interaction. While they can help your customers make their purchases and answer their questions, it’s not creating a customer experience that is going to convert into future sales.

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. The order taker will process an order and get it done, but brand ambassadors will take it to a higher level to ensure the person feels good after the call.

You need to leverage the people on the phones if you’re looking to create outstanding customer interactions. 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.

Separate yourself from the crowd

With the trend toward multiple communication channels and a brand ambassador approach, an extensive training curriculum is essential. 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 do a better job connecting with the customer from the first phone call. Brand ambassadors convey the feelings and voice of a brand. They are also comfortable enough with product and service lines to present other opportunities and upsell the customer and boost conversion rates.

Often, people are not 100 percent sold when they call in initially, and it’s going to translate into lost revenue. The phone call should be looked at as an opportunity to pin-point customer wants, answer questions and create need. Because of their training, a brand ambassador is going to know what questions to ask and what benefits their product or service offers. They will take this information and build on it to create that need for the customer.

Creating stronger brand ties

By enhancing brand value, brand ambassadors also add future value in customer retention. The real value of the brand ambassador comes after the phone call is completed: The prospect will have a stronger tie to the particular brand as well as a clearer feeling 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.

The success of brand ambassadors really comes down to the investment a company is willing to make upfront with time and training. The more involved they are in developing training materials and programs, the more ammunition they can provide to brand ambassadors. When those on the phone know the product and client, it’s going to positively impact the bottom line on that initial call. It’s about creating a better impression of who we represent. And, in this economy, where competition for customers is extremely fierce, strategic use of call centers can provide a company with far-reaching benefits that will help them to achieve goals, to enhance market position and to maintain their good reputation.

We’ve reached an age where technology is bringing businesses and customers closer together. Communication channels like teleservices, direct mail, Web allow for a customer’s diverse needs to be met. But it’s only as good as the person on the other end. By improving the quality of a customer’s experience, they will form a stronger bond with your organization and, as a result, increase your profit potential.

Monica Ross is the vice president of training and development at InfoCision. Reach her at (330-) 668-1400 or Monica.ross@infocision.com.

Published in Cleveland
Thursday, 18 October 2012 17:44

People first

When visiting one of InfoCision’s offices, you’ll notice more than the tables, chairs and water cooler found in a typical workplace. It is not out of the ordinary to pass a yoga class practicing downward dog, a physician scribbling a prescription or a preschool class reciting the alphabet.

While these scenes may be out of place in many employers’ offices, InfoCision has worked hard to make them a staple. The company recognizes its employees are the heart of its business, so it focuses on recruiting and retaining them with a variety of amenities and benefits, says Kim Murphy, vice president of employee benefits at InfoCision.

"We strive to give our employees a work-life balance," Murphy says. "We want to provide opportunities for employees to handle things like exercising at work so when they go home, they can focus on their families. And we believe that contributes to a happier, healthier employee."

Amenities include:

  • InfoFitness centers: These 1,500- to 2,000-square-foot gyms include top-of-the-line equipment such as treadmills, elliptical machines and recumbent bicycles. The centers also offer classes such as aerobics or yoga, and are open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. They are free for InfoCision employees and family members covered under the company’s health plans. Many InfoCision employees and even entire departments attend classes together. "My department works through lunch, then at 4 p.m. we all go down as a group," Murphy says. "It's nice to have that support — on the days when you don't want to go, you have your coworkers pushing you, and it makes it a lot easier."

  • InfoWellness clinics and programs: InfoCision provides on-site doctors for both employees and family members regardless if they participate in its health plans. The company also has a prescription concierge service so employees don't need to run out to pick up their medications. Other wellness programs include free smoking-cessation programs and subsidized weight-loss programs.

  • InfoKids Early Learning Center: This fully licensed child care center at InfoCision's corporate headquarters in Akron can care for more than 90 children ages 6 weeks to 14 years. The center offers summer programs, two infant rooms and toddler and preschool rooms, play areas, educational toys and computers. It provides a creative curriculum education model. InfoCision's satellite call centers offer subsidized child care options.

  • InfoCision Management Corporate University: Geared toward salaried staff who have a clear path of advancement within the company, IMCU offers free or discounted workforce development through on-site programs as well as outside classes and workshops through the University of Akron and other local institutions.

  • Employee assistance program: InfoCision provides employees with a toll-free number to call for financial advice or free counseling sessions for anything from a death in the family to a divorce. The employee receives recommended local counseling services, and he or she can use the services as much as he or she needs.

  • On-site delis: InfoCision's Café 5 on-site delis offer healthy hot and cold meals, snacks and gourmet coffee. In addition, InfoCision's vending machines now offer healthy choices.

InfoCision also offers a comprehensive benefits package for both salaried and hourly employees, Murphy says. These benefits are available upon hire and include health care, vision and dental plans, paid holidays, free life and disability insurance, paid personal and vacation time, quarterly bonuses, paid training and tuition reimbursement. InfoCision also offers 401(k) participation after 90 days of employment.

Aside from amenities and benefits, InfoCision also strives to create a work environment in which employees can excel. "For as big as we’ve gotten, we still have a family feel," Murphy says.

"It starts when you enter the front doors and the receptionist greets you like you're family even if you've never been here before. We also have a newsletter for employees every month, and our executives speak regularly to our employees and are open for questions or available to talk afterwards. That open communication really makes a big difference."

InfoCision also has a group that travels to its facilities and speaks with employees about what's happening at the company and in the workplace. This program, in conjunction with an employee suggestion box, is meant to provide an open forum for employees to voice ideas or concern.

"We have an open-door policy," Murphy says. "Our employees have the opportunity to speak to not only to their supervisors and team leaders — as our supervisor to communicator ratio is one to nine — but our executives as well. That's not something that's typically found at other companies, but we believe it is a key part of recruitment and retention."

For more information on employee benefits and amenities, contact Kim Murphy at kim.murphy@infocision.com or visit www.InfoCision.com.

Published in Cleveland
Thursday, 20 September 2012 16:19

Finding customers on the move

More marketers see mobile texts growing as an effective campaign tool especially for local efforts. A couple numbers illuminate the reality and the potential for success:

  • 6.1 trillion text messages sent annually — an average of 200,000 per second — according to The International Telecommunication Union, the United Nations agency for information and communication technology.
  • Response time is usually measured in seconds or minutes. Corresponding lag time for email and voicemail messages average several hours.

Smart Business spoke with Michael White, chief technology officer at InfoCision, about the rise of mobile text marketing and how it is changing the call center business.

What factors drive the growth in text marketing?

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 group for people who text 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. So it’s becoming very commonplace out there.

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 our traditional channels, people also want to be contacted via other methods.

As the types of communication channels change and options expand, we’re also finding people respond to texts a lot more readily than they respond to other forms of communication. I’ve seen statistics that show 90 percent of texts get opened and read within 15 minutes of being sent.

Texting is becoming a type of marketing that is exploding in popularity because of the growing percent of the population who have cell phones or mobile devices. 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 or donors.

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, where we’re finding significantly higher response rates.

Michael White is the Chief Technology Officer at InfoCision. Reach him at (330) 668-1400 or mike.white@infocision.com.

Published in Cleveland

The ability to analyze and use data, often in real-time, is a growing and important driver behind providing a superior customer experience on the phone. Your contact center is a priceless resource that sustains and cultivates loyal customers.

"With our demographic and psychographic information, we can deliver superior customer service and a very strong ROI without seeing degradation in the audience size or the results," says Mike Herston, vice president of IT client services at InfoCision. "It's simple in our business to say, 'This person looks like my best donor or my best customer so we should always call or mail them.' Eventually they will fatigue. What we can do is expand that list with like-kind prospects so you don't call the same people over and over again."

Herston and InfoCision's Business Intelligence Group, a marriage of the marketing and IT departments, utilize data analytics, the process of reviewing raw data to draw conclusions from it. In addition to highlighting opportunities for greater ROI, this process provides the ability to efficiently connect with customers on the for-profit side, or donors on the nonprofit side.

"Budgets are tight for a lot of companies right now, given the economy," Herston says. "So they need to look for more effective ways to reach their customers, and they're looking to analytics to be able to do that. It's really about getting down and peeling the layers of the onion away so we can tailor a message to a particular customer. It's all about building that customer relationship and being able to anticipate the customer's needs."

In the last few years, the data analytics industry has become more procedure-driven rather than data-driven, Herston says. This is tied to the vast amounts of information available and decreasing timelines for deliverables. There's also a greater reliance on software to be the decision-maker on final outputs or results.

"Where InfoCision differentiates itself is that we're able to integrate sound business understanding with statistical modeling," Herston explains. "We certainly use up-to-date statistical analytics. But at the same time, we have an understanding of the day-to-day business of our clients and the audiences that they are trying to reach so we know what we're actually profiling or modeling. It also means we're not totally reliant on statistical software."

Equally important to obtaining data, is using it. For example, script-on-screen technology can take the data and tailor a message in real-time to the individual being called allowing for a very personalized conversation.

"What we're able to do is enhance the calling experience for that donor or that customer," Herston says. "We have the ability to model people and predict their propensity to say yes by scoring them in real-time. We can actually tailor a call treatment based on that person's information. We can 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."

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," Herston explains. "We can model internal data specific to a client, and break it down further to the specific audience 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."

Mike Herston is the vice president of IT client services at InfoCision. Reach him at Mike.herston@infocision.com or (330) 668-1400.

Published in Cleveland