Historically outbound and inbound channels were viewed as being very distinct and separate– one inextricably linked with credit control and marketing, the other with sales, customer services and self-service. Whilst there has been blurring of the line between uses in sectors such as retail, for example using outbound email to upsell and inform customers of offers, or inbound and on-hold to upsell, on the whole, inbound and outbound customer contact has remained largely siloed and unconnected. Now, especially in the world of telecom, there are huge new opportunities.
It’s clear: Linking data and integrating outbound and inbound strategies benefits customers and organisations alike, providing a powerful source of revenue, insight and business intelligence. And telecom with its constant customer relationships, payment mechanisms and a device in every ones pocket has an advantage here over other sectors.
What makes integrated outbound-inbound strategies different?
What differentiates integrated outbound-inbound contact from ‘traditional’ outbound or broadcast messages are two key things: engagement and empowerment.
Engagement occurs because the consumer has an existing relationship with the organisation. Rather than receiving unsolicited and unwanted marketing message from a brand – whether it’s an SMS, email or voice message – the consumer has opted-in and is open to starting a dialogue. More importantly, the messages are highly targeted, highly valued and based on customer intelligence. For example, imagine receiving a SMS message from your mobile phone operator informing you that you’re about to reach your data limit and there’s a great offer available that perfectly matches your needs. Amazon does this well too, sending targeted messages with offers on items related to what the customer has purchased or expressed interest in previously. The personal nature of these messages immediately adds value and enhances brand reputation.
Arguably, the biggest difference though is empowerment. And this is where the telecom provider is better placed than most to take advantage of these opportunities. The integration of outbound messages with inbound functionality means customers can easily and immediately purchase or self-provision; in other words, customers can respond to calls-to-action and self-serve via the very same channel in which they were originally contacted. Again, Amazon sends me an offer via email and allows me to purchase right away on their website with one click. (Yet this still requires channel shift.) Of course most retailers are not Amazon. Telco companies however have even more advantages than they do – long-term on-going relationships with customers, regular customer outreach happens as standard, payment authorisation is already in place and added services are often required regardless of any upselling.
Besides email to web, most other forms of outbound marketing rely on consumers responding via another channel. For example, responding to an SMS may require going to a brand’s website, visiting a high-street store, or calling the contact centre, which in itself can act as a barrier to purchase. Ideally, mobile customers who receive a SMS or outbound call with the message “You’ve gone over your data plan, want to upgrade to 2GB?” should have the capability to opt-in immediately via the same channel. They shouldn’t be inconvenienced by having to make an inbound call to respond to the offer; it could also end up costing the company money if call centre agents are required to spend their time handling unnecessary calls to provision. In effect, the integration of outbound and inbound creates the perfect direct-response channel; it removes the ambiguity of ‘what happens next’, bridges the gap between message and action, and provides the ultimate in customer convenience.
The Business Case
From a customer perspective, there’s a strong argument for the integration of outbound and inbound contact, however when you examine the business case the potential becomes even more compelling. So how exactly can organisations benefit?
1. Increased revenues
The combination of granularly targeted messages combined with self-service, offers organisations a highly effective and efficient way of increasing revenue streams. The fact that up-sell offers can be targeted and personalised according to transactional, behavioural and geographical data, with some of the major barriers to purchase removed, means that response and opt-in rates are likely to be significantly higher than they would be via ‘traditional’ outbound-only contact. Plus it eliminates bombarding all customers with offers that really don’t apply to them.
2. Enhanced business intelligence
Arguably the most significant benefit it gives organisations is the capability to rapidly deploy and test commercial offerings and marketing messages. Through selective and restricted outbound contact, organisations can pilot and test both new service offerings and marketing messages. The feedback from the channel means you can immediately see how customers respond to offers and what they are engaging with, whether it’s about specific products/services or marketing messages. This intelligence can subsequently be used to tune offers, identify new opportunities and optimise communications, before being rolled out on a wider scale. In these fast moving times such flexibility and innovation can yield significant competitive advantage.
The integration of outbound and inbound channels marks the start of a new era for direct response and customer services. A self-service environment that supports innovative products, granular targeting, immediate uptake and instant feedback is an exciting proposition for any company and one that has the potential to revolutionise how organisations and in particular, telecom providers, communicate and build relationships with their customers.