TMC this year celebrates 30 years of covering customer interaction, which means it couldn’t be a better time to look at where we’ve been with customer service and where we’re going. We’re also rebranding and retooling our customer experience effort. In this installment of our CUSTOMER coverage, we talk with Steve Brubaker, chief of staff at InfoCision (News - Alert). The company helps establish brand, build customers, create marketing strategies and integrate call center services into the marketing mix. Its customized core solutions can be deployed individually or combined to create a multichannel strategy that includes inbound and outbound, direct mail, fulfillment, e-mail, e-commerce, and business intelligence. (Brubaker also is on the advisory board of TMC’s (News - Alert) new CUSTOMER magazine, which launches in September).
How and when was InfoCision established?
Brubaker:1982 – We’re celebrating 30 years this year. In 1982, Gary and Karen Taylor started InfoCision Management Corp. as a marketing consulting company operating out of their home in Akron, Ohio. The name InfoCision came about by combining the words information and decision. Taylor chose the name because, from day one, InfoCision’s goal was to use information to help our clients make the best decision. Today, InfoCision employs more than 4,200 people in 42 call centers throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ontario, Canada. InfoCision raises more money for non-profit organizations over the phone than any other company in the world, and is a leading call center provider for Fortune 100 companies. Driven by our success on the phones, InfoCision continues to expand its direct marketing capabilities – helping clients identify target audiences, develop effective messages and optimize message delivery across channels.
We’re celebrating the 30-year anniversary of TMC’s Customer Interaction Solutions magazine. What has been the most important development in the past 30 years related to customer interactions?
Brubaker: Customer interaction developments over the past 30 years, decade and recent past have been all about technology. Although technology continues to provide new and exciting ways for customers to communicate, successful customer interactions depend on personal communications to create that strong relationship and to build a brand. Good customer service is based on positive human interactions, which technology supports but doesn’t replace.
When and why did the trend toward call center offshoring take off?
Brubaker: There was a pretty big migration to offshore call centers in 2004 primarily due to cost pressures. Companies were looking to quickly slash costs of providing customer support and decided to offshore their customer service organizations to countries where wages were low but education levels were relatively high.
Is the tide turning on call center offshoring?
Brubaker: Some off-shore contact center businesses are returning to the U.S., no question about it. There has and will continue to be a real shake-up of the offshore market. A call center is the voice of your company, so it's crucial to have mature, experienced professionals on the phones who can truly understand the regional and cultural nuances of your customers and donors.
How has the rise of IP-based networks impacted the call center?
Brubaker: We have 42 call centers and IP-based networks have allowed us to manage our call centers from a central location, to scale quickly, deliver continuous service and meet customer service needs.
How is CRM changing?
Brubaker: At the heart of any CRM strategy is the telephone channel, which provides a higher level of personalized communication. The Internet gives customer’s more options to contact you – e-mail, chat, social media, which have given way to increasingly higher expectations when it comes to customer service. And no matter which communication vehicle, they still expect the same high level of service.
How is WFM changing?
Brubaker: Companies are always looking to do more with less, especially given the economy’s sluggish recovery. WFM solutions help us to improve efficiency, streamline processes, boost productivity and ultimately do more with less. I think the biggest change is that the new WFM tools allow us to simultaneously monitor and analyze performance metrics across all call center locations dynamically, in real-time.
How is marketing changing?
Brubaker: We’re in an age where technology is bringing businesses and customers closer together through the many personalized CRM solutions – business intelligence, PURLs, on-demand variable printing, chat, social media. All these components can be used as part of a multichannel effort to meet the diverse needs of customers. By investing in the quality of the customer experience, customers form a stronger bond with our clients’ organization and, as a result, long-term profit realization is improved.
How is the rise of cloud computing impacting how businesses target, engage with, and deliver product/service/support to the customer?
Brubaker: Cloud and IP networks are the key to providing seamless dedicated services for our clients and ultimately allowing us to provide superior results for our clients.
How is the increased use and comfort level with video impacting how businesses target, engage, and deliver to the customer?
Brubaker: I believe that there is definite growth potential for the use of face-to-face video communications in the call center. We’re all looking to enhance customer accessibility and connectivity, and this is one way to do it. It has the ability to provide the customer with a more personal experience; however I feel we’re several technology generations away from providing a good quality experience. In an ideal world, face-to-face communications would improve interactions by being able to incorporate the individual’s charisma, body language and eye contact in the customer service process. The limiting factor right now is that both parties need to have upgraded equipment and technology to provide the clarity that video requires.
What new tools and practices are businesses using to better leverage their own and/or outside data to target, engage, and deliver to the customer?
Brubaker: Business intelligence is one of our priority projects. One-to-one marketing is the key and the ability to augment a calling program with data overlays, best-time-to-call technology, predictive modeling, data enhancement and customer profiles is a clear differentiator. On the telephone, you can use technology to determine service level differentiations to boost conversion rates, improve customer service, customize call center scripts and sales scripts to ultimately increase customer value and drive long-term growth. Real-time analytics can also be a real cost saver by driving target routing strategies (matching the appropriate agent with the sales lead), intelligent queue (prioritizing higher converting leads for quicker answer times), etc.
How is the mobile boom impacting how businesses target, engage, and deliver to the customer?
Brubaker: Texting is the new demographic. The age gap for people that use texting to communicate is closing. 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. I’ve seen statistics that show 90 percent of texts get opened and read within 15 minutes of being sent. And with texting, the response time is usually measured in seconds or minutes. Corresponding lag time for e-mail and voicemail messages average several hours. As we see mobile and traditional phone lines converging, and customers using their smartphone devices as their single point of communication, as a call center vendor, we need to be able to communicate with our customers using their chosen experience level.
What other key trends are you seeing relating to how businesses target, engage, and deliver to the customer?
Brubaker: Trends come and go but one constant that has always risen to the top is cultivating relationships. Even though the way marketers are forming and maintaining relationships is continually evolving, delivering an extraordinary customer experience is still the goal. Technology, coupled with the struggling economy, has really pushed companies to new levels of efficiency – looking for new ways to produce ROI. Staying one step ahead or even just neck and neck with the latest and greatest trend can be a challenge faced by marketers especially when it comes to being able to integrate it with more traditional channels. A trend is a trend, but when trends become the new normal, that’s when we put our horse in the race. Testing is the real key. We believe that to be an effective marketing partner it is important to foster a test environment within your business. We don’t jump head first into an idea until we can prove it works and guarantee results.
Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO West 2012, taking place Oct. 2-5, in Austin, TX. ITEXPO (News - Alert) offers an educational program to help corporate decision makers select the right IP-based voice, video, fax and unified communications solutions to improve their operations. It's also where service providers learn how to profitably roll out the services their subscribers are clamoring for – and where resellers can learn about new growth opportunities. For more information on registering for ITEXPO click here.
Stay in touch with everything happening at ITEXPO. Follow us on Twitter.