Entering the new age of customer service

Faced with the challenge of competition (after deregulation of the industry in the 1980s), financial institutions have shed their conservative image.Forced to become more sensitive to customer needs - to introduce new products and services - they have marched purposefully into...

Faced with the challenge of competition (after deregulation of the industry in the 1980s), financial institutions have shed their conservative image.

Forced to become more sensitive to customer needs – to introduce new products and services – they have marched purposefully into the new age of customer service and personalization and chosen telemarketing, among other direct marketing methods, as their champion.

Resolve to compete

The financial industry had the resolve and the resources to compete in the new market environment, and telemarketing served their needs admirably.

Telemarketing offers the ability to provide service – from order-taking to direct selling, up-selling, cross-selling – to customers from coast to coast; while the financial institutions have the larger customer databases required for such targetted marketing.

At the same time, through instant communication responses, these databases may be updated and enhanced.

Having entered the fray, some financial institutions have built successful in-house operations; others have chosen the service bureau environment.

An in-house facility gives increased control over personnel and compensation, while the service bureau offers the availability of proven expertise, dedicated or shared quarters, and the ability to handle call load fluctuations.

In either case, the hiring and training of telephone sales and service representatives is crucial. Great care must be taken in interviewing and hiring. Hours of training must be given in telephone and system skills.

Tailored training

As well, training must be tailored to each campaign and, within a campaign, to each product.

In such a sophisticated environment, the personnel must be professional.

The attraction of inbound telemarketing for the financial sector is evident.

Time and convenience being of concern to the customer, it is important to provide them with alternate means to bricks and mortar for banking, seeking information in interest rates, mortgage rates, rrsps and other investments.

The use of 1-800 numbers overcomes demographic segregation and gives customers a choice; particularly those living in smaller communities that may have only one or two financial institutions.

For example, in 1987 the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce set up contact, a national telephone customer service operation to handle inquiries from customers and personnel.

In 1989, the bank introduced straight answers, a national complaint handling service, and also created cibc loanphone, to provide four-hour approval or pre-authorized credit services on car loans.

Similarly, the Royal Bank introduced mortgages in minutes, a phone-in mortgage service that sped up the application and acceptance process.

During the limited rrsp season, many financial institutions combine their advertising with 1-800 response numbers.

This approach is cost-effective, ensuring that only those who are interested are motivated to respond, and also provides immediate response and feedback.

Response number

Financial advisors such as Nesbitt Thompson, for example, advertised in financial publications with a 1-800 response number for those interested in receiving information on various rrsps.

Similarly, Fidelity Investments invited inquiries about several different rrsp mutual funds, identifying each with a separate extension number.

Insurance companies have used inbound telemarketing with huge success.

Anyone who watches tv has seen the Norwich Union advertising with a 1-800 response, which reaches out to the 50-75 age market.

North American Life uses tv to attract the viewer to call 1-800 and ask for the nearest dealer.

Such programs not only save the customer time, but avoid the necessity of operating an extensive sales force to open doors.

Outbound telemarketing is perhaps the most skilful and demanding application, reaching targetted audiences of consumers and businesses.

Although most test programs are conducted manually, it is sophisticated equipment such as the predictive dialer which has revolutionized productivity.

These automated dialers (not to be confused with autodialed recorded message players) combine the functions of list management, dialling, call distribution, data entry and file maintenance.

A predictive dialer can triple the output of a manual outbound operation by eliminating the time taken to look up numbers, and the need for repetitive dialling.

The dialer calls until it finds a human connection, storing busy signals, no answers and answering machines for recall.

Particular success

Outbound telemarketing has been used with particular success in marketing credit cards – from bank cards to department store cards to private label cards.

Reaching such a targetted consumer market presents an opportunity not only to promote the particular card, but to up-sell and cross-sell to the customer.

Many financial institutions have aggressively pursued affinity card marketing for Visa or MasterCard by means of outbound telemarketing.

Affinity cards involve a bank partnership with organizations/ groups, offering special benefits with an exclusive card.


dms operates a campaign for Citibank’s Diner’s Club, to generate sales appointments with restaurants and other establishments to honor the Diner’s Club and enRoute cards.

We also used telemarketing to sell a new electronic Diner’s Club payment system to clients still making manual deposits.

Technology has already progressed to the point where sophisticated systems and customized software can produce a true state-of-the-art facility. But does such a facility produce the optimum results?

The test is simply to measure the degree of knowledge at the telephone operator’s fingertips; the improvement in customer service; the increase in productivity; the ability to build and maintain customer databases; and, finally, to capture the masses of information which allow companies to know their customers as well as the corner variety store owner knew neighborhood children 20 years ago.

Even further

As financial institutions move towards seven-day, 24-hour services, telemarketing is ready and waiting to lead them even further into the new age of communication.

Dorothy Millman is president of Toronto-based DMS Market Services, a company that specializes in planning and executing telemarketing programs.