Outbound Call Centers: Finding the Right Mix of Tools, Processes and People


Selling a product or service over the phone isn’t easy—ask anyone who’s ever done it for a living. But businesses of all types and sizes rely on outbound calling to generate sales and drive revenue. In many cases, they turn to third-party call center outsourcers for the necessary resources and expertise.

While today’s providers offer technology with the capabilities to optimize productivity and ensure accuracy, it takes more than the latest tools to deliver an effective outbound calling program. A strategic approach that identifies viable offerings, targets relevant audiences and continually analyzes results is essential. The third key ingredient—recruitment, hiring and training programs that put properly prepared and highly motivated agents on the front lines.

Technology for Efficiency and Effectiveness

An effective outbound calling program requires a foundation of technology capabilities that enhance efficiency and effectiveness along multiple fronts. Key capabilities include:

  • Progressive dialers that automatically call numbers from a target list, but only when an agent is available. By reducing downtime and maximizing agent utilization, an operation can triple its hourly rate of contacts. From a buyer’s perspective, meanwhile, optimizing efficiency is essential to a provider’s ability to achieve sustainable margins and offer competitive rates.
  • Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that integrate agent applications to CRM systems and other platforms. By streamlining the task of accessing different systems and moving data from one application to another, APIs can increase efficiency, reduce user error and maintain consistent customer account information.
  • Dynamic scripting that automatically prompts agents with appropriate scripts to respond to objections or questions. In addition to enhancing agent efficiency and call volume, this feature supports the call tracking and documentation needed for analytics.
  • Real-time reporting on sales similarly supports analytics by enabling insight into factors that hinder or facilitate sales.
  • Data management capabilities that scrub call lists against do-not-call registrants are increasingly important to regulatory compliance and avoiding violations and potential liabilities.

Sales Strategy and Methodology: Continuous Improvement

When assessing outbound calling capabilities, a provider’s approach to helping clients develop, implement and manage a sales strategy is an essential consideration. While the specifics vary, in most instances, the process involves collaboration. During the discovery phase at the outset of a relationship, a provider should carefully assess the viability of a client’s proposed program. If the business model or the product/service isn’t viable, the provider should push back and, if necessary, decline the business rather than take on a losing proposition. This step isn’t necessarily altruistic—investing time in training agents to staff an unsuccessful program has a negative impact on the provider’s bottom line, since before long, the resources will have to be retrained for another program.

While the client typically develops a baseline narrative for selling a product/service, the outsourcer should provide direction, feedback and recommendations for tweaking the script, particularly in defining responses to specific objections. In this context, customers should aim to leverage the provider’s expertise. Once the program commences, the service provider plays a critical role in providing ongoing analysis of calls—what works, what doesn’t and why. Based on that analysis, the provider can continually refine the overall strategy as well as make specific adjustments to scripts.

Cost is obviously a key factor in developing an outbound calling strategy. Sophisticated buyers recognize the value of technology, efficient processes and well-trained agents in delivering ROI in terms of sales. Customers, moreover, are willing to invest in a provider that can professionally represent their brand. For these reasons, many businesses are becoming reluctant to source outbound calling programs to low-cost nearshore or offshore providers. That said, in a highly competitive services market, the ability to leverage tools, processes and people to drive efficiency is critical.

Compensation models are another im­portant consideration. At one end of the spectrum, agents are paid an hourly rate with limited incentives. This model tends to work for new companies seeking to establish their brand. At the other extreme, some programs are based entirely on a pay-for-performance model, which gives top performers an opportunity to maximize their income. Most clients, meanwhile, work with multiple vendors and deploy a mix of models to align with the characteristics of different product offerings.

The Right People in the Right Roles

Achieving the third component of an effective outbound calling program—engaged, well-trained agents on the phone—begins during the recruitment process. Given the investment required to prepare agents for the front lines, finding and hiring the right people to start with is critical, as high levels of employee churn will shatter a provider’s profit margin.

Service provider investment in training—up to four weeks for most new-hires—is essential to effective outbound calling. The training process should comprise basic orientation and fundamental sales skills, followed by focused product- and service-oriented training and reviews of calling scripts. Intensive role-plays are a valuable learning tool and should be included to certify competency before placing agents on live calls. Quicker agents graduate training first, allowing the trainer to focus on an increasingly smaller group and ensure that all have demonstrated the skills necessary to be successful. Once on a program, agents should receive ongoing coaching on a daily basis to refine their skills. Over time, agents can be cross-trained to take on new accounts.

While structured training is important, a provider’s talent strategy should be flexible and account for differences in individual abilities and objectives. Some talented agents, for example, aspire to advance to management roles; others are happy—and successful—staying in customer-facing roles. As such, talent strategies should accommodate different skill sets and talents, and aim to optimize each individual’s potential. Similarly, an ideal level of specialization and time spent on a specific program will vary. Some agents are adept at working multiple accounts or taking on new challenges, while others are content developing expertise on a particular offering.

From a business standpoint, a talent strategy’s underlying goal is to retain customers over the long term. This enables a provider to drive continuous improvement and refinement of skill sets to deliver more cost-effective service and better results.

Steven Ashley is VP of Strategic Accounts at Telvista, a provider of contact center outsourcing services. His areas of expertise include developing and integrating outsourcing solutions for client partners in retail, eCommerce, travel, hospitality, tourism and reservations.