Why cold calling ought to be shown the door, for good

In recent years, the customer experience industry has been in the throes of change with significant advancements made when it comes to outbound sales. Dave Pattman, customer solutions director at Webhelp, looks at the new trends and subsequent methodologies that have come to light as the business world in general moves towards a more qualitative, customer centric way of operating.

Today, organisations driving for continuous improvement are purposefully aligning outbound sales strategies with a data driven approach designed to deliver respectful customer experiences – striking conversations which result in offering something that is wanted and/or needed.

This said, there are still some who are significantly falling short and holding on to bad practice, which presents a huge challenge for the sector. Such behaviour – which has recently been highlighted and scrutinised by the media – leaves consumers with a negative perception of businesses using outbound calls as a viable sales channel, potentially marring all progress made to date.

It is, therefore, more important than ever to approach outbound sales intelligently and develop practices and procedures that enable businesses to treat every customer as an individual rather than a number. The days of hit-and-miss cold calling really do need to be left behind for good.

Best practice now has to be guided by a scientific approach based on knowing what to offer the customer and when, with the aim of transforming a beneficial sales method from a nuisance to a productive use of time – in the eyes of the customer.

Providing an exceptional customer journey means being acutely aware of the main themes in play, which include:

Brand Integrity

Customers today value brand integrity and are more likely to remain loyal to a provider who acknowledges them with a tailored and personalised service. It is vital to successfully maintain the reputation of the business in question at every stage of the customer journey.

Gathering feedback is paramount to building on brand loyalty. The more valued a customer feels, the happier they will be to talk to you. It is important to gather feedback from across your customer base, enabling you to map out learning’s that will improve processes and deliver a better customer experience. Net Promoter Score should also be measured on both sales and non-sales calls.

A scientific and rigorous approach

Data driven analytics are hugely beneficial to building successful customer relationships. You need to know what offer to make to each customer and develop the ability to predict who will buy today, and more importantly, who will buy the most. This is only achievable through enhanced data, predictive analytics and personal engagement.

These three tactics work well together to inform a single strategy. Enhanced data sets the scene by gathering all the need-to-know information with predictive analytics taking on the baton by drilling down into customer preferences – when best to call, maximising the ability to have a positive discussion and offer the right products. The final step in the journey is personal engagement which means ensuring all employees are empowered to do things right first time with rapid resolutions to any customer queries posed.

A can-do attitude is required by everyone in the team to achieve such a streamlined process. Regular reviews and updates on current performance levels across campaigns are a must to perfect a successful outbound sales model.

Establishing outbound sales as a culture, not just a process

Effective outbound sales is driven, at the final stages, by those on the front line in direct contact with customers. This means taking time to spot and nurture talent into the right roles and invest in their future development. Some businesses believe it’s only about employing people with extensive sales experience in the contact centre environment – it’s not. It’s about developing the right people through effective coaching and performance management.

Alongside this, innovative and transparent commission structures will not only incentivise talent but equate to a drive in both customer experience and sales volume. This said, it is important to have the right people working on the right campaigns. This involves designing a campaign matrix based on level of difficulty to inform the placement of individuals, allowing for a flexible and multi-skilled workforce.

Final Thoughts

For progressive businesses conscious of the customer experience challenges ahead, it is imperative to act now and bring in processes which positively gel with the customer base as well as being compliant with Ofcom standards. Most crucially, businesses need to understand and capture what a good sales experience looks like to the customer.

The alternative could see you fast-track to losing your customers respect and damage your brand integrity – something that as others have shown could be very hard to recover from.

Why Telcos Are Often At The Vanguard of Change

One of the best stories I ever heard about the birth of what we now call the omnichannel was at a conference where a representative of BT was speaking about their entry into multichannel customer service. It all came about because a customer was unhappy about their broadband service.

In this case, the problem was that the official channels for customer service were voice calls and email. There was nothing else, but the customer was tweeting that BT was the worst possible telco and all customers should avoid them. It was an endless stream of negative comments on Twitter.

This was in the early days of Twitter, so there was no official policy of monitoring social media at the time, but the person tweeting was the famous singer Mike Skinner of The Streets. Skinner had fans in the BT customer service call centre that saw what he was saying about their company. An agent informed their manager and the manager – to their credit – gave the agent authority to try fixing the issue using this new channel.

The issue was fixed, and quickly a famous person with a significant following was tweeting about how BT offered the best and most flexible customer service in the country. It was an early case study in what everyone learned later on about how to manage customers transparently on social networks and how a satisfied customer could become an advocate who effectively advertises the brand.

But I’m mentioning this case merely to indicate that telcos are often in the vanguard of change. By default their customers are connected, usually mobile, and these days very used to accessing information and comparing services 24/7. Telcos often see the market shift before other sectors.

The past half-decade has seen a significant change in the business model for telcos, with both challenge and opportunity being created. On the downside, for most telcos, is that they are trying to work out how to make the mobile business work. Most customers today are only interested in data plans. Nobody wants to pay for voice minutes and texts when all these processes now take place across the Internet on apps such as Skype or Whatsapp.

More positively, customers have become much more interested in service bundles. The quad-play that became common in the USA a while ago has really taken off in the UK, leading to telcos offering broadband, home phone, mobile phone, and TV all with a single bill. By combining services, the telco locks in the customer and the customer feels they get better value by consolidating the services.

But the real change that is taking place now is that telcos are moving away from being about telecoms. Customers of these packages are no longer interested in broadband speed, so long as it works well enough. What the customer is looking for is great content and now the telcos are competing to try providing it.

This will usually be through exclusive partnerships, such as Vodafone working with Netflix. The recent sale of BBC show Top Gear to Amazon Prime has shown that online content producers are now able to create some of the most sought-after content in the world. The telcos are finding that they need to partner up and offer this content.

The telcos that just offer a TV service and connection to the Internet are going to struggle. Imagine telling your kids that your service provider doesn’t offer the new Top Gear – they will have to go to the house of a friend to watch it.

It may seem counterintuitive to suggest that the next big thing for telcos actually has nothing to do with the network, but this is certainly the case today and should sound some warning bells for other sectors. The omnichannel approach to business is changing the way that customers communicate and what they expect from service providers. This may well completely change what they expect from you as a business.

Creating content might have very little to do with providing a broadband service to customers, but it now has everything to do with successfully providing a broadband service to customers.

I'm interested to har if you agree that Telcos are leading the charge towards omnichannel or if there's another industry doing better. Let me know in the comments below, or connect with me on LinkedIn.

Outbound cold calling is becoming obsolete. Intelligent outbound calling is the future.

Untargeted outbound calling as a tool for generating new business and growing existing business has dramatically declined in popularity as customers begin to see them as intrusive and irrelevant. Often there’s no value to the recipient of the call.

But the way that customers communicate their preferences about brands and products has changed. As social networking has demonstrated, it is possible to learn about customer preferences using data that they have openly shared. Customers can be targeted with information and propositions in a way that is helpful.

Webhelp believe that we should be able to predict key indicators related to customer preferences and behaviours, and by applying an intelligent use of analytics to the humble outbound call, customer acquisition and retention becomes far more successful.

This requires a rigorous scientific approach so prospective customers are called only if they are likely to be receptive to the offer. However, with the right data and analysis techniques it should usually be possible to predict not only who is the most likely to buy today, but also who might buy the most in future.

By taking a data-led approach to profiling customers it should be possible to predict key indicators such as the potential value from each customer, the type of offer they will buy and the best time they will be receptive – this creates the possibility for a keen focus on offering customers a product they will find useful, rather than being a source of irritation.

Offering an interesting proposition at a convenient time of day is in complete contrast to the traditional outbound call strategy where the sheer volume of calls is the only variable that can affect sales success.

But approaching customers with an interesting offer at a convenient time of day does not just increase sales; it should improve the customer experience and their attitude to the brand. If a brand can use their knowledge of a customer to call and offer a product or service that is perceived as useful then this type of engagement reflects positively on the brand. The company is seen as helpful, rather than just attempting to sell more products, which is again quite a contrast to the typical response customers feel after receiving an outbound call.

To make this strategy work will require a sales intelligence centre that crunches data on customer demographics, personal purchasing history, preferred contact times, preferred channels, and the activity of competitors. Once this data is collected together it could be used to build predictive scenarios where products are mapped to customers that should be receptive. Modelling this data not only allows existing customers to be approached, but prospective customers similar to existing ones can also be approached based on the model – which is always improving as more data is added. The intelligence of the system gets increasingly able to predict customer preferences with experience.

But making an intelligent outbound calling strategy work will not just require analysts crunching numbers.

The agents making the calls need to work in an entirely different way to those on a traditional outbound campaign. Agents working on outbound campaigns usually face a relentless task where they are trying to interest a long list of customers in products the customer has not asked about. The customer is almost always not interested and it is therefore difficult for agents to remain motivated.

Hours of cold connections quickly lead to boredom for the agents faced with hours of rejection. A new approach should give agents a great working environment and all the information they need about each client – profiling data, individual offers that might work, competitors the customer is using, and proposed options for cross selling. The agent hunting for new business has every piece of information about what the customer likes making the engagement more interesting and with a far higher potential for success. Combine this with the opportunities that could be given to agents - in their location and how they engage – and suddenly outbound calls can be exciting and full of sales potential for the team making the calls.

The true value of outbound calls to both existing and prospective customers can be seen when most customers do not see the calls as a part of the sales process. Instead, customers appreciate a brand that engages them with relevant information and helpful offers at convenient times.

This holistic approach to outbound calls is an entirely new way of managing the process. Creating a new working environment for the agents and offering them a comprehensive package of information support, so they know client preferences before ever making a call and dramatically increasing the chances for sales success.

At Webhelp, we believe that this amounts to nothing less than a complete transformation of the outbound calling market.


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Webhelp has acquired Callpex in Turkey and CSM in Switzerland

The Webhelp Group, specialist in Customer Relationship Management solutions and services, has made its first acquisition outside of Europe with Callpex in Turkey.

The acquisition of the Swiss company CSM again confirms the Group’s ambition to become the European leader in its sector.

These acquisitions allow Webhelp to take a breakthrough step in its international development. The company is set to reach a turnover of 725 million euros in 2015 and aims to deliver a revenue of 1 billion euros in the EMEA region as quickly as possible.

Webhelp becomes the number 4 in the Turkish market, with a growth of 10% per year.

Webhelp has reinforced its position in continental Europe (Germany, the Czech Republic, Italy, Austria, Switzerland and Poland) following the acquisitions of Perry & Knorr, Walter Services International and Online in June 2015, and now crosses the Bosporus with its expansion into Turkey.

"With only 70 000 call center seats for the population of 75 million people, against 350 000 seats in France, Turkey is a market with a very strong client relationship management potential, supported by the dynamism of its economic and demographic growth" considers Frédéric Jousset, founder and co-Chairman of Webhelp.

With Callpex, Webhelp’s turnover increases by 20 million euros and further strengthens its portfolio of large accounts by adding strategic contracts such as Pegasus Airlines, Avea, TTNet, Garanti Bank and Borusan.

A break-through acquisition for the international development of the Webhelp Group.

The acquisition of Callpex allows Webhelp to make its first acquisition outside Europe and is positioned in a country in full economic growth.

Olivier Duha, founder and co-Chairman of the Webhelp group, said: "With Callpex, Webhelp is continuing its international expansion strategy targeting companies in the Top 5 in their respective markets, with an original model that relies on a strong association of local managers with the capital of Webhelp to create a real entrepreneurial élan".

Webhelp enhances its European offer with the acquisition of the Swiss company CSM

Today, Webhelp also announces the acquisition of CSM, a company specialized in acquisition and retention services. The Geneva-based company operates mainly in French-speaking Switzerland for clients including principal Swiss media and press groups.

This operation forms a great combination with the acquisition of Walter Services, one of the leaders in Switzerland and propels Webhelp to the 2nd position in the domain of outsourced Customer Relationship management in the Swiss confederation.

"I am pleased for my clients as well as my colleagues that CSM, which I founded 25 years ago, is joining the Webhelp Group, a main actor in Customer Relationship Management in Europe, which shares my vision of qualitative and tailored delivery for demanding clients" says Claude Hertzschuch, founder of CSM.

Currently, the Webhelp Group is present in 21 countries with, counting Callpex and CSM, over 30 000 employees across the world.


Webhelp Celebrate Success with Star Awards

Webhelp UK hosted its fifth annual Star awards at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum on Thursday 24 September, designed to recognise the wealth of talent across its UK teams.

The business rolled out the red carpet to its largest internal awards to date and celebrated the considerable successes of its customer service professionals with a glittering masquerade ball.

A record attendance of more than 250 colleagues across the UK, India and South Africa turned out for the event which honours the hard work and commitment from its people and teams across the 12 UK sites.

A total of 12 awards were handed out, its most to date, with notable titles including ‘Rising Star of the Year’, ‘People Manager of the Year’, ‘Webhelp UK Team of the year’ – and the prestigious ‘Making a Difference’ award which honours charitable support provided within the local community.

Webhelp Chief Executive, David Turner, has acknowledged another incredible year of hard work and success within the company.

He considers the awards a vital way to recognise the exceptional levels of expertise that exists within the company, by shining a spotlight on both teams and individuals.

David said: “People are at the heart of our business and that extends from our customers across to our employees.

“It is vitally important to us that we highlight talent and success within the business – which is why we established the Star Awards five years ago.

“Thanks to the hard work and dedication of our people across the country we are continuing to grow as an innovative and forward thinking customer experience provider – and are striving for even greater things in the months and years to come.”

Key winners from the night include Bob Paul (pictured with CEO David Turner) who took home the ‘Making a Difference’ award for his commitment to working tirelessly and selflessly for chosen charity Diabetes Scotland. The organisation also received a £1,000 donation on behalf of Bob’s win.

Runners up were Grace Gillies for her work with Cancer Research UK and Chris Stead for his work with the National Autistic Society and also the Little Princess Trust, who all received a cheque for £500 for each of their charities.

Other notable winners include Louis Markham from Kilmarnock for ‘Rising Star of the Year’, who was praised for her ambition and commitment to the job while Douglas Wernham took home the award for Shining Star of the Year, pinpointed as a top performer within the Glasgow team.

Webhelp UK is part of the Webhelp Group; a global business process outsourcing provider that employs 30,000 people in 79 locations worldwide.

With 12 locations across the UK, its operational headquarters in Falkirk, Webhelp UK has grown its revenues by 112% in the last four years.

The full list of winners, as follows:

  • Rising Star of the Year - Louis Markham, Kilmarnock.
  • Shining Star of the Year - Douglas Wernham, Glasgow.
  • The Brightest Star of the Year – Anna Collins, Human Resources, Derby.
  • People Manager of the Year – Team Leader category, Dionne Woods, Kilmarnock.
  • Role Model of the Year in a support role - Neil McCurrie, Management Development, Derby.
  • People Manager of the Year - Laura Hughes, Derby.
  • The Wow Factor – Kenny Gouldson, Compliance & Quality Service Assurance, Falkirk.
  • Role Model of the Year in an operational role - Chris Park, Rothesay.
  • I.C.U.R.Wow Award - James Hamilton, Business Insight, Falkirk.
  • Webhelp UK Team of the Year - IT and Facilities Team leading Glasgow move (multiple locations).
  • CEO Special Recognition Award - Dearne Valley site
  • The Making a Difference Award - Bob Paul for Diabetes Scotland.

What’s next for Customer Experience Enabling technology?

The Guardian recently featured a story where they examined the 2002 Tom Cruise sci-fi movie Minority Report to see which of the technologies had become a reality. This is a favourite topic of technology journalists who often remind people that just about every technology you see in Star Trek, except the Warp Drive, has become a reality.

The Guardian story focuses on the user interface. In the movie Tom Cruise would wave his arms around wildly throwing files and data around on a wall-sized screen. That certainly hasn’t happened, we are all still curled up over small devices, but there is an element of the tech in this movie that has worked out and it relates to the customer experience.

Billboard posters use remote retinal scans so the poster in the street knows who is approaching and the ad can be changed appropriately. So a poster for cars can be changed to a beer, based on the preferences of the film character that passes by.

This almost exactly reflects how Facebook has been experimenting with Place Tips for most of this year. Many people use location-based tips and review services such as FourSquare or TripAdvisor, but it’s generally up to the customer to go to their phone and check out what’s in their immediate vicinity. What Facebook is doing is making the process seamless – pushing the information to people who are nearby, and they have a much bigger mobile audience.

This has a number of applications for customers. If you are outside a restaurant and your phone buzzes, it could be tips on the best place to ask for a table, or how to ask for an off-menu special. If you are inside a national park, it could be tips on where to find the best views. If you are inside a department store, it could be advice on where to find the customer service team.

However, it could also be time-limited offers. Retailers know if customers ‘like’ their brand via social channels. If they can also spot when you are physically close to a store and use your purchasing history to send a one-time one-hour-only offer direct to your Facebook then that is a bonus for the customer.

There are two issues I foresee, although this is already a reality. First is that some customers may be offended. Many are not aware of how to easily adjust their Facebook security and privacy settings and will blame retailers for “spam” rather than Facebook for facilitating it. Second, this is a communication process that operates completely outside the network of the corporate. The entire strategy depends on the ongoing success of Facebook. They have such market dominance now that it looks OK to assume that will not change in the short term, but I wouldn’t expect any company to build a long-term strategy based on services they cannot control.

I think this is a great example of a technology from Minority Report that has become a reality, and in a much more sophisticated way that the clunky billboard in the street featured in the movie. The Guardian really should have use the customer experience example in their feature!

I’m going to be exploring some other future-looking technologies that are affecting the omnichannel and influencing the customer experience. If you have any suggestions for the future or want to comment on this, please leave a comment here or connect with me on LinkedIn.