Outbound Call Center Featured Article

Telemessaging As a CRM Strategy

March 06, 2009

Businesses, non-profits, and institutions looking for productive and cost-effective ways to implement and enhance customer relationship management (CRM) strategies may want to take a second look at telemessaging a.k.a. telephone answering, with live agents assisted by technology.
 
In its simplest form telemessaging/telephone answering is the taking down and forwarding of messages, whether on slips of paper, recital by phone to message recipients, recording and retrieval of voicemails, and more recently, transmitting voicemails as e-mails in .wav files. Telemessaging also entails paging on-call staff whether by radio or pagers or more commonly today by calling, texting, and IMing.
 
Telemessaging often includes appointment setting and reminder calls. Pen-and-paper appointment books have displaced by software that can also send out confirmation and reminder e-mails. It can involve call and e-mail screening; urgent calls and e-mails can be warm-transferred to recipients. Given the barrage of calls and e-mails firms and their staff are inundated with these days, this function can help them become more productive.
 
In all of these instances the CRM functions are the same: identifying callers, their needs, and handling them based on their importance. The reminder functionality keeps firms in touch with their customers on important matters.
 
Telemessaging is a little different, though, from standard contact center call handling in that these agents (often still called ‘operators’) receive and transmit information for others to provide customer care and service or handle sales rather than taking on those tasks themselves. The agents/operators record, screen, and manage contacts but do not usually involve themselves with the content of those contacts. The calls are therefore shorter: 45 to 60 seconds as compared with the typical 3 minute inbound contact center interaction.
 
Telemessaging has traditionally been deployed to provide after-hours customer contact for professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, mortuaries, veterinarians, contractors, and vital services such as fuel oil delivery and roadside assistance. The method is also used to cover daytime reception staff when they are busy or away, and to gatekeep corporate or institutional individual campus buildings with phones at entrances that avoids having personnel there.
 
Yet telemessaging can be used to help on-call account representatives, subject matter experts, and tech support leaders stay in touch with customers by alerting them of important calls and contacts, and handling matters like appointment setting. In that sense telemessaging can be regarded as ‘live presence’.
 
Answering services have been and continue to be best means to handle telemessaging calls. They can affordably handle calls and contacts 24/7 with well trained and experienced staff. They typically use specialized switches that manage voicemail, multiple-message handling, and paging/dispatch along with ACD, IVR, e-mail, chat, reporting and unified communications; some now support VoIP.
 
These answering-service-targeted solutions provide a wide array of capabilities. Startel’s Call Management Center offers IntelliSpeller, a comprehensive spell-check solution that automatically that spell checks individual lines of messages for agent entries.
 
Professional Teledata’s Pinnacle system combines scripting, order taking, messaging and dispatching applications with eON’s digital including IP-enabled routing for a single-platform turnkey product. Alston Tascom, which makes the Tascom Evolution solution, also offers AppointmentsOnCall.com, a hosted application that manages appointment scheduling.
 
Answering services can also often provide basic inbound contact center customer service, order entry, and first level help desk. There is often very little difference in that respect between today’s answering services and ‘traditional’ teleservices companies. Their contact centers tend though to be smaller, with typically less than 25 seats; some firms have multiple networked sites to deliver scalability. They do bring to the table is an ability to affordably manage low-volume and short-duration programs that their other larger brethren cannot profitably or will not want to take on.
 
Answering services are either locally managed or owned which enables them to provide high degree of personal commitment to clients. Their employees tend to be very loyal, with tenure measured in years, not months; it is not uncommon to see multiple generations working at the same firm.
 
Part of the reason is that answering services themselves predate today’s contact centers—the first ones were first formed in the 1920s—and those that have prospered have become part of their communities. Many of today’s companies have their roots in those pioneering outfits.
 
Teleservices firms that offer telephone answering/telemessaging can be found via TMC’s (News - Alert) Buyer’s Guide. Check them out by visiting their websites. There are also professional trade associations that represent these companies and others and which fosters quality service through testing/certification and awards and through conferences/trade shows and seminars. These organizations include the Association of TeleServices International (ATSI) and the Canadian Call Management Association (CAMX).
 
Don’t forget to check out TMCnet’s White Paper Library, which provides a selection of in-depth information on relevant topics affecting the IP Communications industry. The library offers white papers, case studies and other documents which are free to registered users. Today’s featured white paper is Fixed Service Strategies for Mobile Network Operators, brought to you by Comverse (News - Alert).

Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Michelle Robart

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