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Working the Phone as a CRM Tool; 7 Rules for Prospect and
Customer Relationship Management in a Call Center Environment
By Jim Wheaton (co-author)
Principal, Wheaton Group
Original version of an article that appeared in the January
2001 issue of "Target Marketing Magazine"
Successful Prospect and Customer Relationship Management (P/CRM)
requires the coordinated leveraging of multiple communications channels.
With this in mind, the following are seven guidelines for taking
maximum advantage of inbound and outbound call centers:
1. Even when prospecting, tailor the screen script
to the target audience
Generally, prospect universes are
comprised of distinct subsets. In many vertical industries,
one group will have a high propensity to respond but, having converted
to customer status, will generate modest long-term value.
Conversely, a second group will be less likely to respond but, once
customers, will prove to be very valuable. Fortunately sophisticated
data mining techniques are available to make such distinctions with
reasonable accuracy, although they are outside the scope of this
The psychology of these two typical prospect subsets can be very
different. The high responder/low-value group is often more
price sensitive, less likely to display deep loyalty, and less heavily
swayed by non-monetary issues such as quality and support.
For this deal-prone segment, the prospecting strategy generally
should be brief and to-the-point. Such campaigns can be executed
in a formulaic way, with the Telephone Service Representatives (TSR's)
working almost entirely off standard screen scripts. Price
advantages should be hammered hard, with the goal of closing the
sale quickly and moving on to the next prospect. Time is money
in a call center environment and, because of unremarkable long-term
customer value, a prolonged conversational approach is simply not
This is the antithesis of the method that is often effective with
the low-response/high-value prospect subset. Such individuals
tend to be less swayed by modest price differentials and more focused
on quality and support. Often, these people display significant
loyalty to the incumbent company's products and services.
A swift, highly promotional, price-focused prospecting message is
not going to be effective.
Instead, a prolonged, conversational approach is more appropriate. With
significant psychological barriers standing in the way of the sale,
a human-to-human bond must be established. Because such efforts
are time-consuming, they are also relatively expensive. However,
the ultimate reward of high long-term value often makes them cost
2. Match the skills, capabilities, cultures and
"styles" of TSR's to the target audience and "tone" of the screen
The two very different types of prospecting efforts
described in the previous section have significant ramifications
concerning the profiles of the TSR's who will be executing the campaigns.
The "dialing-for-dollars" method that is targeted to the deal-prone
segment can be executed by less experienced TSR's. Their mission
is to closely follow a concise and focused script so that large
numbers of prospects can be contacted as rapidly as possible.
The prolonged, conversational, interactive approach that is often
so effective with high-value prospects requires a different type
of TSR. Besides being more experienced, this individual must
be able to "think on his or her feet." After all, the script
is merely the outline for a true dialogue, where the TSR must be
able to quickly establish a psychological "connection" with a total
stranger. This is something that is difficult to do face-to-face,
much less over the phone. It is an art that many people cannot
master, no matter how much practice they have had.
Likewise, it is important to match the cultures and styles of the TSR's
with their target audiences. Performance cannot be optimized
if the tone of the presentation interferes with the content of the
message. Some of this is obvious, such as matching Spanish-speaking
TSR's with Spanish-speaking prospects. However, this
also carries over to regional differences. What is thought
to be acceptably assertive in some parts of the country is considered
downright rude in others. Also, be mindful of the cultural
baggage that is inherent in strong accents.
3. Adjust auto-dialer and script screen speeds to
reflect the desired tone of the presentation
As with all
aspects of P/CRM, success comes to those who attend to detail.
The prolonged, conversational, interactive approach that is often
so effective for low-response/high value prospects will be undermined
if the auto-dialers and script screens remain on a rapid cycle.
A relaxed ambience cannot be created unless the technical infrastructure
is tuned accordingly.
4. Adjust compensation structures
a call center environment where compensation is based on the number
of sales generated per hour. Under these circumstances, it
is in the financial interest of the TSR's to be assigned to the
high-response/low-value group. Those who are not will quickly
become disenchanted. Only by developing multiple compensation
structures, each tailored to the specific objective, can such tensions
5. Understand the respective roles of strategies
that are reactive/rules-based versus anticipatory/predictive
call center P/CRM requires statistics-based predictive models to
drive contact strategies. However, it is important to recognize
the limitations of such models. Despite the claims of some
practitioners, they are not the solution to every problem.
Consider the challenge of predicting who is going to voluntarily
cancel his or her participation in an ongoing service. This
is called "attrition" in the financial services world and "churn"
in the telecommunications realm. Much effort has been focused
on identifying those customers who are on the verge of voluntary
The unfortunate truth, however, is that many of these efforts
have met with ö at best ö limited success. This
is because, while behavior that is driven by interactions between
customers and service providers generally is conducive to predictive
methodologies, the same cannot be said for behavior that is the
result of aggressive competitive thrusts. This is particularly
true for commodity or near-commodity services.
Data mining techniques, for example, generally can identify and
quantify a rise in cancellations in the wake of a decline in usage,
or an increase in defection subsequent to the onset of service problems.
However, they can be essentially useless in the face of sudden and
bold competitive attacks. Often, such external influences
are so strong that they create a tsunami of sorts that overwhelms
all existing predictive models.
Residential long-distance telephone service provides an excellent
example of the latter phenomenon; and one that ö by the way
ö is likely to be repeated by the utility industry in the wake
of deregulation. Much of the churn within the near-commodity
long-distance business is generated by relentless competitive thrusts.
These thrusts, in turn, require countermeasures that are reactive
and rules-based, and that supplement existing statistics-based models
that are anticipatory and predictive.
The call center, which is much better suited than direct mail for quick mobilization,
is an effective way to implement countermeasures such as "winback"
programs. This is where the P/CRM call center strategies discussed
earlier come into play. It is critical for the TSR's
to have access to key customer information in an easy-to-digest
format, and for the personalities, screen scripts and tone of the
TSR presentations to be tailored to the characteristics of the human
being on the other end of the phone.
6. Pursue ongoing, universal techniques for enhancing
Although it can be difficult to predict
the specific customers who will defect, this does not mean that
preventive measures should not be attempted. Generally, for
issues that are likely to erode loyalty, it is prudent to institute
an ongoing program of detection and correction. Besides the
obvious strategy of responding assertively and positively to the
ill will that is engendered by specific service problems, it is
important to constantly review individual usage patterns and determine
if they are appropriately matched to existing service plans.
These efforts generally preserve the long-term value inherent in
sustained loyalty, which ö in turn ö more than offsets
any short-term revenue loss.
Direct mail and/or e-mail promotions can be targeted to customers
with mismatched plans, with an invitation to call an inbound TSR
for rectification. The TSR, supported by rules-driven, differentiating
screen scripts, can work intelligently with the customer to identify
a more appropriate service plan.
7. Institute a two-way flow of information between
the call center and data mining department
call center statistics should be routed back to data mining professionals
for incorporation into predictive models and rules-based segmentation.
Although it is often difficult to anticipate which customers are
about to cancel voluntarily, the best chance of doing so is to employ
all available touch-point information.
Even when prospecting, tailor the screen
script to the target audience. Likewise, match the skills,
capabilities, cultures and styles of TSR's with the target audience
and tone of the script.
Similarly, adjust auto-dialer and script screen speeds to reflect
the desired ambience of the presentation. Also, alter compensation
structures so that the incomes of TSR's are not be adversely
affected by the prospect subsets to which they are assigned.
Be mindful of the respective roles of strategies that are reactive/rules-based
versus anticipatory/predictive. Likewise, recognize that predictive
models will be of limited assistance when behavior is influenced
largely by aggressive competitive initiatives. Understand
that, in such circumstances, approaches that are reactive and rules-based
must be implemented to offset these initiatives.
And finally, institute an ongoing program of detection and correction of issues
that are likely to erode loyalty, and implement a two-way flow of
information between the call center and data mining professionals.
Jim Wheaton is a Principal at Wheaton Group, and can be reached
at 919-969-8859 or email@example.com. The firm
specializes in direct marketing consulting and data mining, data
quality assessment and assurance, and the delivery of cost-effective
data warehouses and marts. Jim is also a Co-Founder of Data