For Thompson, Outsourcing Is the Call Center Answer

Four years ago, Tampa, FL-based multititle mailer Thompson Group needed more seasonal staff than could fit in its 150-seat call center. But the company, which mails the cigar catalog Thompson & Co., bedding catalog The Linen Source, and home decor and gifts book Casual Living, was not interested in seasonal staffing, says director of sales Joyce Renneke.

“We have a tight job market in Tampa, with 220 call centers competing for the same personnel, so we were worried about our ability to staff up to the level we needed,” Renneke explains. “And we were looking for staff that had experience with sales, with a lot of upselling and cross-selling.”

So Thompson hired Boca Raton, FL-based Global Response, a third-party provider of call center services, for a trial run for holiday 2000. During that time, overflow calls from the automatic call distribution (ACD) system at Thompson’s call center were transferred to Global Response’s team of 130 customer service reps. Ninety seconds was Thompson’s wait-time limit; if the cataloger’s call center couldn’t answer the call within that time, it was automatically transferred down to Global Response. If Global Response couldn’t take the call within 90 seconds, it was transferred back to Thompson.

Few, if any, calls were tranferred back, however. Thompson was pleased enough with Global Response’s performance to contract with the provider on a year-round basis. Now Global Response not only handles overflow for Thompson’s three titles but it also conducts outbound telemarketing for Linen Source and Thompson & Co. Global’s outbound telemarketers call customers who purchased linens or cigars within the past six months to sell complementary products, such as coordinating pillow shams or humidors. Using 15 CSRs for the Linen Source telemarketing program, and 20 for Thompson & Co., Global achieved a telemarketing conversion rate comparable to the 2%-3% achieved by the company’s inhouse team. “They were well experienced in doing more-assertive sales,” Renneke says of Global’s CSRs.

Once or twice a month, says Renneke, Thompson sends a few inhouse sales coaches to Global’s headquarters to lead “cheerleading sessions” with the CSRs. These sessions, intended to boost morale as well as provide product education, include a hands-on demonstration of about 25 products.

Global charges $26-$32 an hour for what it calls a “dedicated environment,” meaning a call center staff of about 30 off-season and 50-150 holiday-season CSRs. The price within that range is determined by a formula that includes volume of calls taken, the complexity of the calls (how much upselling and cross-selling is expected, for instance), and whether the cataloger is a year-round or seasonal Global customer. Catalogers that don’t mind sharing call center staff with up to four other companies might opt for the less expensive “shared environment,” which costs $0.70-$0.80 a minute.

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