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How to Make Allowed Automated Calls Successful: Varolii

September 10, 2009

Sept. 1, 2009 marked the end for most automated voice message-delivered marketing calls (i.e. “robocalls”), thanks to a new Federal Trade Commission (FTC (News - Alert)) ban that went into effect that date. Businesses that now try to market new products and services to consumers with automated and unsolicited calls will face fines of up to $16,000 per call – a pretty hefty sum, considering the number of these calls that go out every day.

“American consumers have made it crystal clear that few things annoy them more than the billions of commercial telemarketing robocalls they receive every year,” said FTC chair Jon Leibowitz (News - Alert) in a press release announcing the ban.

He’s not mistaken. At the end of FY 2007, the FTC’s “do not call” list contained more than 145 million phone numbers. Clearly, many consumers dismiss pre-recorded communications as irritating and an invasion of privacy.

Unfortunately, this means that the other, and allowed, type of automated communications – informative and relevant information from companies consumers trust – has been given a bad rap, points out Robin Rees, director, customer programs at Varolii, a leading hosted outbound voice messaging supplier.

Many Fortune 500 companies have turned to automated communications to relay important information to consumers, such as a flight cancellation notification or a call alerting consumers of suspicious activity on their credit card account, reports Rees. Not only are these types of notifications cost-effective (especially when the volume is beyond what a manual process could handle), but they get information out fast when time is of the essence. For example, utilities companies use automated communications to quickly update customers during a power outage about when to expect power to return.

“Contrary to popular wisdom, anecdotal feedback has shown that customers truly appreciate getting calls such as these,” Rees points out. “However, due to overall negative perceptions of automated calls and the sheer number of messages bombarding consumers today, some recipients hang up before listening to the critical information. And that’s a problem.”

Increasingly, companies are finding that the best way to cut through the message clutter and keep consumers on the line is to provide 1-to-1 automated messages on a large scale. More than just including the consumer’s name, mass personalization involves remembering past message results and consumer preferences to tailor message content and delivery. How the notification communicates with each consumer should vary depending on circumstances, which may be affected by factors like age, location, socioeconomic status, and the media channel utilized.

Varolii, which sends more than 1 billion automated messages every year, offers these seven tips companies can use to help consumers tell the difference between vital, need-to-know communications and annoying robocalls. An automated call with vital information should always be:

--Relationship-based: Recipients will recognize the caller immediately as someone they already do business with, such as their bank, pharmacy, or employer
--Courteous: The calling organization will identify itself right away, using a natural-sounding voice in a conversational tone
--Personalized: The message will ask for the recipient by name, and that name is pronounced correctly
--Relevant: The information is specific and applicable only to the individual receiving the call
--Valuable: The information is something the recipient needs to know such as a fraud alert, flight delay, or prescription pick-up reminder
--Private: The recipient is asked to authenticate him/herself before receiving confidential information.
--Interactive: There is an opportunity to have a “conversation” by answering questions and confirming selections, such as booking a new flight or confirming a credit card purchase

“It’s all too easy to mistakenly dismiss an automated call as a nuisance,” says Rees. “But for the literally millions of customers and employees of organizations who are careful to follow these guidelines, it can be a valuable service that delivers a better experience for the consumer and creates better results for the company. “
  

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

Edited by Patrick Barnard

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