Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Executive Insights - November 2007

Is your outbound business focused enough?

By Michael Cowell

Executive Committee Member

Marketing and Membership Development

Hong Kong businesses dodged a bullet earlier this year when the Hong Kong Legislative Council decided not to include Person to Person (P2P) telemarketing within the Unsolicited Electronic Mail Bill. The Call Centre Association worked tirelessly to lobby legislative councilors and government officials on the negative impact this would have on very legitimate, consumer friendly businesses, large and small.

The key arguments used to win the support of the legislators dealt mostly with the negative impact on SMEs, the backbone of Hong Kong’s vibrant economy. The Call Centre Association estimated that as many as 33K jobs in Hong Kong are linked to the use of P2P telemarketing as a means of developing business. That’s a substantial figure and given that Hong Kong is a service economy, where would those affected individuals or businesses go in the event their main channel of acquisition were to close – the manufacturing sector? More importantly, P2P telemarketing forms a vital role in delivering products and services at prices consumers and businesses can afford.

However, as proponents of P2P telemarketing we cannot sit idly by, we need to do more to ensure the long-term viability of this important channel. Public concern is likely to resume as early as December 2007, when the government launches the opportunity for consumers to register their mobile and fax numbers along with email addresses, in an effort to stop unsolicited SMS, MMS, e-mail and faxes being sent. Media outlets are likely to query why consumers can’t register their mobile numbers so as not to receive unsolicited voice communication as well. This may well cause some resentment and reignite calls for legislation to also include P2P telemarketing.

What can we do about it?

There are two areas that you can help influence:

1. As an industry, we need to remain ahead of the curve.

For the most part, Hong Kong outbound telemarketing operations are very responsible, however, there’s a small minority (non CCA members) that put the rest of us in jeopardy. These organisations pay little or no attention to the wishes of consumers in terms of calling times, data privacy issues or acceptable business practices.

The HK Call Centre Association recognizes the need and will organise a sub-committee on which you can participate, to review best practice or self-regulating practices developed for P2P telemarketing by other national associations. The results of which will lead to:

  • *Development of a Code of Conduct that will be adhered to by members of the HK CCA.
  • *Education of the government, legislators, Consumer Council and public on the measures we have taken to further protect the rights of consumers.

2. Become the data specialist within your organisation.

Though declining, you are probably familiar with examples of Hong Kong businesses still using simplistic, high volume data approaches to acquiring new customers using voice, SMS, fax and email. The one product fits all, low cost, get’em in the door approach is dead. It’s dead because, as the famous adman David Ogilvy once noted, ‘the consumer isn't a moron; she is your wife.’ While the use of wife in isolation is no longer PC, it underscores a point that is as relevant today as it was 40 years ago, consumers are unwilling to accept products and services that are not relevant to them, their families or businesses.

Those businesses that subscribe to this approach will have noticed that response rates are declining. Maybe this isn’t a bad thing after all, as those that continue down this unproductive path will quickly run out of patience and resources. In any event, it must stop as it’s wasting consumer time and heightening the need by consumers to complain.

As responsible call centre users we need to further improve our approach to one that provides variable solutions to consumers, delivering products and services in a timely and relevant fashion rather than the one size fits all. Using analytics to be more selective about who we communicate with, understanding their profiles and knowing when and what to communicate will have a significant and positive impact.

In a P2P call centre environment, this means:

  • *Using analytics to reduce call volumes without impacting the required outcome.
  • *Be demanding of management in terms of product selection and list segments.
  • *Producing suites of products with variation and different price points to allow agents a more consultative approach to dealing with consumers.
  • *Testing and retesting these products against different customer segments in order to pinpoint those with a high propensity to accept.
  • *Respecting and advocating consumer rights both internally and externally.

Focusing attention on these matters will have numerous benefits including:

  • *Lower cost per acquisition.
  • *A workforce that moves from having little input to one where they feel empowered to provide solutions. This in turn will increase both rates of retention and job satisfaction.
  • *Market differentiation, improved customer satisfaction and loyalty towards the brand will follow from this approach and significantly enhance the bottom line.

In closing, response rates and research indicate that Hong Kong consumers are receptive to the use of P2P. Let us all do our part to keep it this way by treating consumers with the respect they deserve – remember, they’re not morons, they are your wives, husbands, family and friends.

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