Outbound Calling in Todays Contact Center
Illustration by John Melven

As a channel, outbound occupies a somewhat quiet place in our industry. Total volume is lower than inbound for most of us, and its long and somewhat storied telemarketing past makes it far less “sexy” than newer options like video, social media and chat. Based on the lack of attention, it is easy to view outbound as less significant than other channels.

Yet, in visit after visit to contact centers, I observe current (and plans for future) outbound activity that suggest a far different image. To get a better handle on just what is happening with outbound, Contact Center Pipeline polled some readers, and the 98 responses tell an interesting story.

Take volume, for instance. Yes, there are still some inbound-centric centers—22% of survey participants indicated that outbound is 5% or less of total phone-based traffic. Yet nearly as many—16%—indicated that outbound is at least half of total phone traffic, with fully one-third reporting that outbound is at least 25% of phone-based traffic. With these numbers, there is little doubt that the outbound channel is an important part of our industry.

Why We Call

Nearly every contact center does some outbound calling. At a minimum, the vast majority of us deal with callbacks resulting from complex case work. This has traditionally been viewed as “part” of an inbound transaction, and carries one distinction from other forms of outbound: The customer is expecting the call.

Other outbound calling falls into the proactive category. They are calls that are initiated by us without a customer’s prior knowledge. The reasons for these calls can vary, with three of the most popular being:

  • Event-based outbound calling: 39% of survey participants have at least one proactive outbound program that at least attempts to match a customer with a product or service that might be a good match based on a recent event in the customer’s life.
  • Welcome calls: 38% of the participants reach out to new customers with an outbound call to begin introducing services and building a stronger relationship.
  • Inbound avoidance: 35% of survey responders have implemented at least one outbound calling campaign designed to anticipate a need and eliminate a future inbound call.

These numbers—all from 35% to 40%—suggest that the popularity of these programs is strong, yet there is still room for continued growth.

Who Makes the Call?

Outbound calling was once viewed as a “specialty” that occupied an agent’s entire day, but that is less likely to be the case today. Just 3% of survey respondents reported that all outbound agents do no inbound, while 62% stated the majority (between 76% and 100%) of outbound trained agents also handle inbound calls. This validates our observations that most contact center agents today handle both inbound and outbound, though they may “specialize” in one over the other.

Of course, there are some fairly substantial skillset differences between inbound and outbound. That raises issues of compensation. Does adding the outbound skill change salary levels? Seventy-nine percent of our survey respondents said it does not.

Optimizing with Outbound

Proactive contacts continue to be one of the bright spots on the horizon for contact centers. Done properly, it offers two exceptionally important benefits:

  1. IT CAN REDEFINE the value equation in a contact center by connecting customers and prospects with the right product/service, at the right time, via the right message. Doing so can build revenue and loyalty at levels that reactive channels cannot possibly touch, even with the best upsell and cross-sell programs in place.
  2. AS A SUBSTANTIAL SOURCE of deferrable work, it is the perfect scheduling complement to the real-time demand of the inbound channel. During peaks, crosstrained staff can focus mainly (or exclusively) on inbound. When inbound traffic dies down, more resources can be shifted to outbound work.

Adding or substantially increasing the amount of outbound work can be disruptive to an organization unfamiliar with proactive contacts. Many of those reporting success with outbound calling programs can trace their impressive results back to the strategic planning that took place prior to implementation. The change will likely touch all areas, with some of the more important actions being:

  • Annual budgeting practices that project for outbound work and accurately determine all the staffing required to handle this channel.
  • Training programs that go beyond the technical input on who to call and why, providing staff with plenty of classroom and role-play time learning how to lead proactive conversations.
  • Research into the technology that automates dialing and calling list generation.
  • Defining objectives that clearly demonstrate the value of outbound calling.
  • Reporting that encourages the analysis necessary to optimize performance.
  • Consideration of how outbound calling will affect the agent job role, hiring profile, performance objectives and compensation.

Making an Easy Transition to a Proactive Contact Program

Adding more outbound to a contact center, especially when in the form of proactive programs, is a big change that should not be taken lightly. Fortunately, for those willing to prepare for it, the reward is commensurate with the risk.

If you have not yet explored the possibilities, a Welcome Call program is a great place to start. Those that have implemented these programs generally report a positive response from customers, along with an easy transition for staff that might be hesitant about making calls instead of taking them. That gives you a critical first success that can be the building block to a more expansive and value-driven outbound channel.