Magazine article Marketing

Telephone Extension

Magazine article Marketing

Telephone Extension

Article excerpt

Customer carelines can not only help to deal with complainst, but they can also provide a valuable source of consumer feedback.

The way fmcg brands use their carelines is undergoing a dramatic strategic switch. When the pioneers first placed phone numbers on their packs it was to put them a step ahead of their competitors in demonstrating that they were a helpful, approachable brand. Then those competitors, anxious to be perceived as equally caring, followed suit.

Now, as well as being an arrow in the marketing quiver, the fmcg careline is itself being competitively marketed. Having invested in the equipment and staff-either in-house or through a telemarketing bureau - companies want to see value for money.

Redirecting traffic

More and more fmcg brands are promoting their carelines to drive traffic to them. Uses are being found beyond the generation of goodwill and having a cost-effective method of handling complaints.

Call data is analysed to profile customers. Feedback from consumers is used in product development, pack design and label information. The line may handle requests for literature, acceptance of special offers and competition entries. Opportunities for cross-selling and upselling are explored.

"When people are setting up carelines they are looking for some sort of payback and being able to measure it," observes Mark Osmond, managing director of InTelMark. "But you need clear objectives as to what the careline is about-otherwise it can run away with you."

There is a growing trend to drive traffic through carelines, he says. "Particularly in fmcg markets, companies are exploring different ways of building brands through direct marketing, using carelines to profile consumer types and feed a database for future activity."

But some call-centre operators and teleconsultants, to whom much of this activity is outsourced, warn against the core purpose and value of the careline being lost amid a welter of added functions.

Helen MacKenzie, managing director of Business Extension, says: "People want economies of scale by employing a careline facility for additional purposes, but the important thing is to meet customers' expectations. There may be a temptation to turn every call into a cross-selling opportunity. This has to be carefully judged.

"There is a big difference between the skills required for selling and for placating an irate customer. I doubt companies will find operators who have a schizophrenic ability to switch from being caring, listening customer-oriented types to being sharp super-salespeople. Such people don't work in call centres, they become captains of industry."

Subject matter

Maggie Evans, Telecom Potential's head of marketing, recommends that where a company's call centre is used for a variety of purposes, each service should have a different number so that calls can be directed to appropriately trained operators. Otherwise, there is the almost impossible task of training staff in a diversity of subjects. "One of our clients identified 149 different types of questions," she says.

Matthew Taylor, director of communications consultancy Calcorn Group, says: "If you start cluttering up your lines, using agents who are highly trained in handling specific types of queries to deal with lower-value calls, such as brochure requests, it gets messy and expensive.

"Carelines can be passive, with the numbers on-pack in small type, or positively promoted. Nowadays companies are recognising they have to be proactive, saying to customers, 'We want to talk to you'."

He says the marketing benefits include cost-effective relationship building, an understanding of the customer base, data capture, trend identification and feedback on how products are perceived.

Complaints should not be viewed as a necessary evil but welcomed for the insights they provide.

Familiar questions

Taylor has found that the same consumer queries keep cropping up. …

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