Posted by: Malcolm Jarvis
Just like launching a mission to the moon, launching new call centre campaigns is invariably exciting and nerve-wracking in equal measures. At Greenlight we’ve wished hundreds of new campaigns well as we’ve seen them blast off over the years. Some head straight for the stars, others crash and burn, while others just keep going while never quite reaching the heights they seemed destined for.
Having spoken to many call centre managers and directors about their experiences as well as having first hand experience of launching campaigns that ended up in each of these categories myself, I’ve concluded that there are five systems checks you need to make prior to lift off in order to make a new outbound campaign a success. These are:
If any one of these checks doesn’t pass with flying colours, your campaign is not likely to go well. Even once you’re up and running, each area needs to be constantly monitored and improved to ensure that your early success can be maintained and your campaign goals achieved. Let’s take a look at each in more detail:
Check 1: People
Firstly, you need to decide on the roles you need to fill for your new campaign. This will usually be a combination of agents, team leaders, quality assurance (QA) and possibly administrative staff, and your choice of people that will be making your new campaign a reality needs careful thought. Will you be bringing in fresh recruits, moving employees from an existing campaign, or a mix of both? How many agents can each team leader be expected to manage (in my experience 10-12 seems about right), and what QA goals are you required/aiming to achieve? Can your agents or IT systems take care of the admin tasks required following a successful call, or will someone need to be employed to process each new customer? What roles will you be fulfilling in the first weeks and months of your new venture?
When choosing your team, as well as looking for the usual characteristics that make for successful outbound agents (resilience, optimism, drive, an excellent telephone manner, rapport building skills, and so on), have you thought about whether there are additional needs that are specific to your new campaign? For example, business to business calling requires a different set of skills to residential lead generation, while financial products usually require a more mature attitude and an ability to take on more product training than, say, a survey campaign.
You’ll also need to work out the optimal number of agents to kick off your new campaign. While your budget often dictates how many agents you can start with, if you have too few it can be difficult to draw conclusions from your early performance about what’s likely to happen as you scale up. Going for a large number of agents initially requires greater investment in wages, IT and data which can be risky if it’s an unproven campaign you’re launching, not to mention meaning you can’t be so picky when it comes to recruiting your initial team.
Check 2: Technology
For me, I’ve always felt that the purpose of technology in a call centre is to give everyone the tools that they need to do their job as efficiently as possible, then get out of the way and simply work. So with this in mind, first think about what tools you and your staff are going to need to make the campaign a success, and then ensure that you have the IT resources available to fulfil each need.
During this process, you’ll no doubt come up with some items that fall into the “need to have”, and others that fall into the “nice to have” categories. Just because you can make a campaign work without one or more of your “nice to haves”, don’t be too quick to compromise - the alternative of a machine doing the work is a person doing the work, and people are expensive and scale really badly as your campaign grows!
A good guideline is to look out for any situation where you’ve got staff members doing work that could be done by a computer. Activities like double-entry of data, customising and sending e-mails, pulling together reports from multiple sources, manual dialling (yikes!), and anything that involves entering information into a spreadsheet are all good candidates for saving time and expense via better use of technology.
For outbound campaigns, a predictive dialler that keeps you within the Ofcom guidelines is the obvious must-have, but every campaign has it’s own nuances that give you plenty opportunities for a well thought out IT plan to make your team more efficient. Lastly, remember that integration between multiple systems isn’t always going to be available and is rarely free, so working out these requirements early in the process can be well worthwhile later on.
Check 3: Data
When investing in the data that you’re going to use for your campaign, there are plenty suppliers and numerous payment plans to choose from, but you’ve broadly got two choices; profiled or unprofiled. If you’re calling profiled data, then the job of narrowing down your prospective clients is greatly reduced (hopefully), but you’re paying a premium as other call centres will already have done the job of removing unsuitable clients for you. Unprofiled data gives you a lot more numbers to work from and you can be a lot more precise with your qualification criteria, but you obviously have to pay the cost to find eligible/interested customers. There’s no reason that you can’t mix and match data to see where you get the best return on your investment, but make sure that your reporting systems can extract the stats later on that you need to evaluate performance per data source.
You’ll also need to make a decision as to whether you’d like to exclusively call mobile or landline data, or a mix of the two. Mobiles tend to get a better answer rate during the day, especially during the dry 12pm to 4pm period in the afternoon, but costs are considerably lower to call landlines, at least for the time being, so there are considerations both ways.
Once you’ve decided what type of data you want and where you’re sourcing it from, you’ll need to estimate how quickly you’re likely to burn through it, which will give you an idea as to how many thousands of records you’ll need to invest in to get the campaign through its first few months. The numbers can vary significantly depending on how experienced your agents are, how long it takes to qualify a potential client, and the quality of your data, but after a day or two you’ll have an idea of how many records each of your agents is “burning” during a shift as well as the ratio of records that you’re readily able to get in touch with versus those that are more difficult to get hold of.
This will give you an idea of how long you have until your initial data will run out and you need to top it up. Depending on your agreement with your data supplier, after a while you may be able to go back and revisit data that was previously exhausted (as in it’s been phoned multiple times on different days and times and you’ve been unable make contact, or you’ve successfully contacted the record but had a negative outcome) and give it another run through. This reduces the need to continuously purchase more records, but for all new campaigns you’ll find that the first two or three months are the most intense in terms of data purchases.
If it’s an option, don’t forget to leverage alternative sources such as affiliate hotkeys and online lead generation to augment your purchased data. A campaign website is also always a good idea, and it’s much easier to create a polished online presence than it used to be. With a little marketing effort and a small amount of extra investment, you can quickly turn your outbound campaign into a blended campaign, benefiting from self- and pre-qualified inbound calls mixed in with your outbound calls.
Check 4: Product
In order for your campaign to be a success, you obviously need to have something worth calling people about, not to mention a pitch that captures the interest of potential customers within the first few seconds of the call. A product doesn’t have to be a physical item, it can just as easily be a service or a policy of some kind, but either way you need to know how you’re going to gain customers’ interest, what questions and objections your agents are likely to be faced with, and how they’re going to close the deal.
This guides the training and reference materials that you’ll need to prepare for the staff involved with the campaign. Putting together training documentation is time consuming, and devising a pitch can feel like you’re constraining your agents when you’d like them to use the excellent communication skills you hired them for, but unless you’re happy for each agent to say whatever comes into their heads once they’ve a potential customer on the phone, you really can’t skip this step!
You also need to think about what the ultimate product that you’re selling is, in other words, where’s the money coming from? If you’re conducting business on behalf of another company, what is it that they need to receive in order to ensure you get paid on time? For example, it could be a daily spreadsheet of new customer details, a booked appointment, a call recording, or a signed document. If your campaign is for something you provide directly to the customer, then the same applies but there will hopefully be less room for error.
Whatever the end product is, it’s always worth double-checking that you fully understand what your client is looking for in order for them to pay you in full, without delay. As soon as you’ve got your first successful call complete, check that what you are providing to your client is exactly what they’re looking for, and there won’t be any unpleasant surprises when it comes to your first chunk of revenue arriving in your bank account.
Check 5: Capital
Speaking of money, this is the one check I needed pointed out to me (thanks Mike!), and unless you have really, really good payment terms from the client(s) you’re running your campaign on behalf of, you’ll need to ensure you have adequate cash in the bank to fund the launch of the campaign.
The formula is pretty straight forward. Forecast your wages (including commission and tax), add your overheads (with rent, IT and data being the usual big ones), give it a little padding for the unforeseeables, and then multiply by the number of wage cycles you need to see through until money starts coming in. This gives you the amount of cash you need in the bank on day one in order to launch the campaign. If your initial revenue isn’t enough to cover your monthly costs, you’ll need to account for additional funds to get your campaign to the point it’s breaking even. Some products produce revenue within a week, others can take six months or more, so the longer you need to finance your campaign, the more certain you need to be about the amounts you’ll eventually see in reward for your team’s labours.
A simple weekly cash flow spreadsheet can really help forecast how much investment you’ll need to survive long enough to make your campaign profitable, just remember that it will take time for agents to reach their full potential so your first few payments are likely to be lower than your eventual target. Once your campaign’s up and running, review your sales figures every day and compare them to your forecasts. If you’re below, then you have very limited time to increase sales or raise more cash, so act quickly. If you’re ahead, then you can relax a little, but not too much - you still need to check in with your client daily to ensure that what you’re doing covers all their requirements so you know that you’ll definitely be paid in full and on schedule.
Talking about commission, you’ll also need to work out an affordable but attractive commission scheme that will incentivise your staff to achieve your targets and ideally encourage them to achieve your compliance requirements at the same time. Personally, I’ve found most agents working on outbound campaigns respond disproportionately to what they receive in commission versus their basic pay. This works in everyone’s favour, so make sure that your commission structure is fair and isn’t capped so that your star players keep piling in the effort once they’ve hit their target.
That’s a pretty quick overview of each of the five systems checks that I think you need to make in order to ensure maximum chance of success when launching a new outbound campaign. If you can think of any other areas that are essential to the success of a new campaign that aren’t covered by people, technology, data, product or capital I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts.