The Future of Outbound

There are some who will tell you that outbound has no future and that customer acquisition has moved on, they will point to growing numbers of people on TPS and the fact that the modern day multi-channel environment means a customer can instigate the sales approach should they be inclined to do so.

But before we condemn the thousands of people working on outbound projects in the UK, and even greater numbers around the globe, to a gloomy future first we should look a little closer at what has actually changed in the industry as a detailed inspection shows a number of thriving outbound operations who are growing their teams. Perhaps the people who say outbound has no future are the same people who said CDs and vinyl have no place on the high-street; you only have to look at the resurrection of HMV to show that those who reflect and react can prove to be resilient.

It is certainly true that the number of people registering with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) has increased significantly in the last few years but many of those people did so to avoid unsolicited calls from companies who they have no associated or affiliation with. People registered on TPS still receive outbound calls from those companies who they have given permission to and from companies who they are a customer of which means there are huge numbers of customers who would welcome an outbound call from a company they know and to talk about a product or service that will actually be beneficial to them.

Only last week I received a call from my credit card provider, they were calling to talk to me about an insurance product that protects my gadgets and personal belongings without affecting my house insurance and protecting me from premium rises should I need to make a claim.  As a family with 3 tablets, 2 mobile phones, and consoles to keep children entertained the product was ideal for me and after arranging for a call-back in a week’s time, to give me time to consult with my home insurance provider, I took the product and can say that I am pleased that my credit card provider invested the time to call me and make me aware that this product existed. I certainly would not have thought to look for it online, via their web-chat service or by looking through statement inserts and as such without the call I wouldn’t have found it!  After the call I was invited to take part in a customer satisfaction survey which showed me they cared about my experience and not just about chalking another sale on the white board!

The experience I describe is a perfect example of a company who had a genuine relationship with a customer, tailoring what they knew about the customer to offer a product that the customer might value, making a  skilled and friendly call and allowing the customer time to think before calling back when they said they would and allowing the customer to make the decision. They also had a brand to protect and existing value in the customer they were speaking to which influenced how they made the call and ultimately gave them more than one way to deem the call a success.

Those companies who have the right product and are willing to trust their customers to make an informed decision without having to apply tough sales techniques certainly have a future in the world of outbound and I would go so far as to say that their future grows rosier by the day as others who cold-call with abrasive, un-trained staff who have tunnel vision for their commission find it increasingly hard to make ends meet and eventually leave the market.

Looking to the future the outbound industry should reflect on the 3 Ps of performance; people, products and processes. If you can pull a call recording and listen to it in front of our clients without wincing then you have the right people. If you can generate sales through description rather than prescription then you have the right product.  If you can manage a team consistently with your customer at the heart of every decision you make then you have the right processes.  If you can tick those 3 boxes then have confidence that your customers will welcome your call and have confidence that you can grow your market share by operating a successful outbound team.

Why Didn't You Call Me?
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Are you ignoring those silent, dissatisfied customers?

The business magazine Forbes recently featured an article that suggests only 25% of dissatisfied customers let companies know that they are unhappy with a product or service received. The vast majority of customers stay silent and just never return to your business.

This is important to remember when planning a customer service strategy because it shows just how many customers can be influenced. If you are not receiving very many complaints, it does not mean that every customer is happy and satisfied, yet this is often the conclusion that is drawn.

So if you turn this around and make the quality of interactions a focus of what the company plans to do well, then what can be achieved? In short, your company is going to earn a lot more – a focus on improving customer interactions will almost certainly lead to an improvement in revenue.

This process can be kick-started in three ways:

  1. Make it easier for customers to complain – ask for comments. You don’t want customers to be silent if they are not happy. You want an opportunity to fix the problem so an initially upset customer goes away happy and loyal, rather than silent and never to return.
  2. Analyse what customers are saying, even if they are not saying it to you. At Teleperformance we have a Customer Experience Lab in Portugal that can analyse social networks, blogs, media, and forums to find out what customers think about a product even if they are not telling the brand directly. This is the kind of intelligence you should also be seeking out.
  3. Have an opinion. Create more content to help customers with your products. Use multimedia channels such as video and audio to publish your ideas. This not only helps customers, it can prevent many complaints, and it can solicit discussion to help generate improvements and future products.

How have you tried addressing silent customers? Leave a comment here or tweet me on @matt_sims1.

Gagged Beatles


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Ofgem warns UK energy companies to improve customer service – or else…

The UK energy regulator, Ofgem, has described the customer service offered by the Big Six energy companies in the UK as ‘frankly awful’. This verdict was reached as the results of a national survey of energy companies was concluded – a survey Ofgem undertakes every two years to gauge how customers feel about their energy providers.

The results this year are so bad that Ofgem has vowed to repeat the research in 2015 rather than waiting for 2016. The regulator has powers to issue penalties and has threatened that companies not making a serious effort to improve their customer service will be fined or face other measures.

The UK energy market is one of the most flexible in the world allowing customers the easy ability to switch provider and many of the smaller companies – outside the Big Six – are using customer service as a key differentiator now.

This competition should naturally make the larger providers want to improve, but the present level of service as documented by Ofgem is shocking. Each customer complaint required the customer to contact their provider an average of six times before resolution – so much for measuring those issues resolved on an initial call.

It will be fascinating to see the Ofgem research when published in 2015. Will the competition from smaller companies be more of a push than censure from Ofgem and will the entire industry manage to improve considerably within just a year?

What are your views on customer service in the UK energy industry? Do you have any ideas on what needs to be improved first? Leave a comment here or tweet me on @matt_sims1.


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Getting proactive with customers

If you had to think of a single industry where customer service matters less than any other then football clubs might be high up on the list. Fans choose their football clubs when they are young and tend to stick with the club throughout their life. It’s more likely that a fan will get divorced or change their current account than switch the club they support, but can clubs really just expect the fans to remain loyal forever?

Of course they can’t. Fans may continue to support a club without ever buying a ticket to a game or replica shirt. They can watch games on TV or at a local pub. So if the clubs really want fans to engage with them and to be more active supporters – which also means spending some cash – then they cannot just be taken for granted.

Aston Villa is setting a great example as this feature in the Evening Standard shows. They are keeping track of customer enquiries to the club. This allows them to call or email fans with information they feel may be relevant to fans based on what they have been in touch about before.

For example, if they know that a fan has called to ask about purchasing child tickets for a game and a special family-day is approaching at the club then they will pick up the phone and ask the fan if they know about the family-day – it’s highly proactive customer service underpinned by a CRM system that can determine what the fans are interested in.

This type of customer service has the added advantage of making the customer feel great. Imagine if someone from the football club you support calls with some really interesting information about a forthcoming game. Your own club is thinking about you and treating you as a valued fan – not just a punter. 

This is a great example of when CRM can be applied effectively in a way that supports the customer service team. What other examples can you think of that might work just as well? Leave a comment here or tweet me on @aniederer.

Villa Park deserted


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Channels may change, but customers just want to be served

I spoke at a TEN event recently and one of the recurring themes together with customer service bloggers and commentators over the past couple of years has been multichannel and in particular the ambition for companies to move to an omnichannel platform. It’s is an important topic and is clearly something we are facing in the customer service business – channels are proliferating and they need to be accommodated.

But the focus should not be on specific channels or technologies. This misses the point. A company like ours is actually focused on ‘this generation customer service’, not just what the media is saying is cool at present or in the near future.

Think about how customer service has developed over the past decade. There has been a shift in emphasis from customers coming to the brand through established channels – a phone number or email address – to companies needing to catch up and find the channels that customers prefer using.

So the ability to analyse data and locate channels has become a critical part of the process today. This is worth remembering because serving customers on multiple channels is not just a case of asking a few of your contact centre agents to respond to Twitter messages.

What is needed is an entirely new approach, hence my preference of calling it ‘this generation cutomer service.’ Companies need to be ready to adapt, to integrate new channels, and to change the way they interact with customers depending on what becomes popular and useful.

Today we are seeing Near-Field Communication (NFC) and WhatsApp becoming important to companies, but what will it be in future? Perhaps augmented reality and virtual systems like Oculus Rift will become important, but regardless of the channels themselves, it is the approach to customer service that needs to change, not just the channels used. The emotional signature left behind by a great customer experience will resonate perpetually no matter in what mix of channels the brand interaction was transacted.

What do you think about the changing nature of customer service? Have you seen a strategic change in how new channels are approached and a flexibility about where service is offered? Leave a comment here or tweet me on @aniederer.

Anna Bashmakova and Oculus Rift

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23 years of great customer service  – and then there’s everyone else. Why?

The Daily Telegraph recently published their list of the top 100 companies for customer service in the UK. It’s an interesting mix of banks, retailers, airlines, and utilities with no obvious connecting theme except possibly the most important one, that regardless of the business you are in today, if you are interacting with customers then the quality of service offered is critical.

The number one company on this list is First Direct. I joined First Direct in September 1991, that’s 23 years ago. It was (and is) so impressive. After joining I would sit in a pub on a Sunday night with friends and tell them they could go to the pay phone at the bar, dial 0345 100 100 and join that very evening – yes even at 10pm! The HSBC-owned telephone and online bank has long been championed for their great approach to customer service so this is no surprise. Other winners in the top ten include John Lewis, Waterstones, Amazon, and the roadside assistance group Green Flag.

The bottom of the list features several energy and telecoms companies. TalkTalk, EE, and BT are listed along with Npower and Scottish Power all around the wrong end of the list. The Irish budget airline Ryanair is almost at the bottom, in place 98.

Ryanair is something of a surprise. In the past they were famed for putting prices before service, but they have been applauded in the past year for the way they have started treating service as a more important factor in their business. But is that just lip service or have they so trashed their customer service credentials over many years of poor customer experience across the entire customer journey that short of a rebrand, they will always be known for the worst examples of poor service?

This data was collected by Which? the Consumer’s Association publication and is therefore more reliable than your average survey of 50 consumers, but it seems that recent changes in company behaviour like Ryanair have not been captured in the survey and therefore it may be more about attitude to brands rather than actual experience. The long tail of consumer memory, especially for bad customer experiences,  is not to be underestimated!

The energy companies are a good example. It is very easy for British consumers to switch energy supplier now. The energy companies all know this and most of them are improving their customer service and attempting to make this as important a differentiator as price – especially the smaller suppliers. However a recent call to Scottish Power proved them wholly ‘worthy’ of their poor position in the league table. I called them a few weeks ago and was on hold for 13 minutes! When I was put through there was no acknowledgement of the long queue time. Worse still I was asking all the questions you might expect from a customer considering switching but not once did the advisor engage with me on this. Very shoddy after many years loyalty and perhaps why the new and smaller suppliers are going to benefit.

It would be useful to see a similar study performed on British consumers where they are not aware their actions are being observed, so prejudice and stereotypes can be removed from the responses. I’m sure the top 10 might remain similar but what would be more interesting is what happens to everyone else. After almost a quarter of a century of First Direct, I do wonder, isn’t anyone paying attention?

first direct Banking 'on the go' iPhone App - front


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The Contact Centre of the Future – Part 3

In this third of three articles, Simon Dillsworth from Teleperformance outlines his own views on how contact centres might look in future…

In the previous two articles about the future of the contact centre I have explored how multichannel customer support is creating many new career opportunities for people working in customer service. The market is changing and we will start seeing a need for people with product and channels skills – so agents will be better skilled and more valuable to the brands they work with.

But how will customer contact start changing a few years into the future? We can already see how social media is changing the interaction with customers and though many brands are struggling to achieve the perfect omnichannel, where every contact channel is seamlessly integrated, at least we know this is the objective.

I believe that the next few years will see an important improvement in the way all these new channels are supported, particularly in connecting them together so that a customer who has emailed earlier will find that an agent knows about the email when they call.

But I also believe that there are going to be some shifts in how customers are supported, particularly in industries such as retail where customers have a need for information before purchase.

Two technologies that I think are worth watching are augmented reality (AR) and wearable technology. They might sound new and unusual, but many people are already engaging with these types of technologies already.

If you have used the Google SkyMap on your phone to find where Mars can be found in the night sky then you have already experienced augmented reality. It’s when additional information is overlaid on live video images, such as indicating planet names and locations.

If you take a run and record the distance using a device clipped to your clothes or shoes then you are already engaging with wearable technologies. However, this market will increase dramatically this year now that Google Glass is available to the general public.

Just imagine a scenario where a brand combines these technologies. As you enter an unfamiliar supermarket, you can ask Glass (or a rival system) where the eggs are located and inside your glasses will be visual guides pointing you the right way.

This might be applied in a clothes store, where you can immediately see how you might look in an outfit without even needing to get changed.

These technologies are going to dramatically increase the number of enquiries made on brands because they will no longer require the use of a phone or website – the customer will be seamlessly connected all the time. However, many of the responses to these queries will be automated and the contact centre of the future will need to be redesigned with this automated information buffer preceding any actual contact with a person.

The grit that might prevent this future vision becoming a reality will be ensuring that privacy can be protected. Customers asking for help using a wearable device will need to be comfortable sharing their exact location with a brand. Sharing this kind of data in real time may lead to the obvious desire to advertise to individuals – such as pushing time-limited offers to customers walking past a shop because they have indicated that they like the brand.

Will brands balance the need for a new type of customer service with the development of new ways for customers to ask for service? Only time can tell, but at least we can foresee some of these issues in advance.

How do you think the contact centre of the future will look? Leave a comment here or tweet me on @simondillsworth.

Augmented Reality
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