Remember Folks, “The Best Time To Call” Doesn’t Mean “The Only Good Time To Call”

callcenter2Inside sales isn’t easy. It’s an exercise in repetitive unsuccessful contacts and frustrating rejections. With that said, you would think that if a potential customer was to say “I’m interested in buying from you, but can you call me tonight at 6 o’clock?”, the sales person would call them back at 6 o’clock. Surprisingly there are many call center shops out there where that isn’t the case.

We recently worked with a medical supply company that engages in direct to consumer sales through telephonic outreach. The majority of its sales are for reorders, where the attempted parties have an existing relationship with the organization. As part of our Campaign Checkup service we analyzed the dialer logs from four of the company’s revenue generating campaigns. The analysis showed that a large amount of calls resulted in the contacted party requesting a return call at a more convenient time for them. A date and time for the follow up call was almost always provided to the inside sales agent during the conversation. Further analysis revealed that a significant number of the follow up calls were not made on the time and date requested by the customer. There were several reasons for this, including the issue that many customers requested similar times (weekdays between 6 and 8 PM, client time zone). When a call could not be made during the customer’s requested date and time, the dialer technology would choose a random time in the future for the follow up call. Simply put, the strategy was to try to call customers when they wanted and if they couldn’t, roll the dice and hope for the best.

Our Campaign Checkup algorithms discovered that a second call on a later date than requested, but within a two hour window of the time requested was as effective in reaching the customer and converting the sale as calling on the exact date and time requested.

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Optimizing the outbound call campaigns to reflect this finding resulted in improving the campaign engagement rates by 9%. This engagement uplift translated to an increase in annual sales of over $3M. Not too shabby.

So remember folks “Best time to call doesn’t mean the only good time to call”.

Our “Campaign Checkup” service is our most popular offering and is performed solely off a call center’s dialer logs. It’s fast, it involves almost no effort on a call center’s part and we get paid nothing unless we find opportunities for improvement. We charge a fixed price per campaign analyzed, regardless of the resulting uplift to your revenue. The fee also includes five hours of post-discovery consulting to help you implement our recommendations.

If you are interested in our Campaign Checkup service, please contact us.

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Better Than an Automated Direct Message – Tweet Your Way to More Website Traffic and a Better Conversion Rate

twitter-logoIn our last blog post I wrote about a study we did that looked into the efficacy of using an automated Twitter direct message to draw new followers to a website. Our study showed that the use of such a message did not improve website traffic. In this post I will discuss two better options available to draw Twitter followers to your website. These tips came to us from both our study participants as well as our own experience.

Use a tweet to thank for the follow: Everybody loves their ego scratched once in a while and nothing does it better than a quick tweet to your audience welcoming a new follower. A quick read of their profile can make it that much more special. Something like:

Welcome new follower @Susan_Smith! A big fan of cats and BBQs! Who isn’t?

Follow this up with a call to action soon afterwards while they are still feeling “warm and fuzzy” about you.

Hey @Susan_Smith, did you get a chance to sign up for our free newsletter? We got new info coming soon!

Use your new followers to drive old followers to your site: One thing we’ve learned is that nobody likes to feel like they are being left out of a party. Take for instance that subscriber who signs up for your newsletter over and over and over again every time you post some valuable information on your Twitter feed. Whether they are concerned that they got dropped from the mailing list or that they think there is a new special letter out, the repeated signups are driven by an irrational worry that they are missing useful insights or information.

One piece of advice we give our clients is that on their landing page they should give a visitor the option to supply their Twitter ID during the signup process. If the visitor does, we use some web magic to have our client automatically follow them. We also recommend that at some point they throw in a public tweet (as opposed to a message, since you can’t count on the return follow) that says something along the lines of:

Hey @Trader88, thanks for signing up for our newsletter! Nice timing, we got a big announcement on Tuesday!

or even better, after a you send out some valuable information:

Hey @Trader88, thanks for signing up for our newsletter! See our fantasy football tips for last Sunday? Sure you won this week with that info!

You will be surprised how many visits this will drive to your site. Some may be those Nervous Nellies like I discussed before, but most will be folks who don’t like being out of the know.

Does implementing these two tips involve more time and effort than slapping together an automated DM? Absolutely. Nothing comes easy. These two tips will not only provide more traffic to your site than your automated DM, they will also get more folks subscribed to your letters.

Happy Tweeting!

-Russ

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Does a Twitter Auto Response Direct Message provide any Business Value?

twitter1Exceptional Outcomes provides business services to many different industries, including those that use email lists as part of their business model. One of the best tools a company has to build their email lists is Twitter. When used right, it allows a company to market themselves, build relationships with potential customers and enhance their credibility all at the same time. We can guess that many social media managers ask themselves if they are doing things “right”. Questions about who should they follow, who should they unfollow and who should they direct message and when.

A common practice of social media managers is setting up an auto response direct message when someone follows their Twitter account. The premise behind its use is to direct the new follower to their email sign up page and bump up both site traffic and email lists. This auto response direct message may be your company’s first impression to the follower from a digital standpoint and in most cases the only direct message that you will ever have with the majority of your followers. If you have been questioning if setting up an auto response DM is worth the time and effort, you aren’t the only one. Take a look around the internet and you will hear folks arguing both sides of the coin. While proponents say that a direct message helps a twitter user stand out from the tens or hundreds of connections a follower may make each day, critics of the practice say that an auto response is not only impersonal but also unappealing.

So for company trying to drive traffic to their websites, what is the definitive answer to the auto responder question? We performed a study to get to the bottom of the matter and we think we have it.

With the help of some of our clients and our own Twitter accounts we monitored the change in both website traffic volume and email acquisitions as auto responder messages were added and removed. We did not account for different verbiage across account messages, nor did we account for other external factors which may affect web traffic – such as changes in SEO strategies, for example. We simply looked the correlation between the number of followers gained in a given day compared to daily web traffic and acquired emails. The study assumed that an auto response would drive traffic on the same day the message went out.

The study concluded that for the participants in this study there was no statistically significant improvement or detriment to web traffic or emails acquired due to using an auto responder message.

The fact that auto responders don’t drive business value in Twitter wasn’t too much of a surprise to any of the social media managers who helped with the study. A few of them cited that they used the DM as a courtesy. In their minds there was no question why someone would follow their accounts. They thought it would be polite to point them to the most effective way of learning more about their company. We beg to differ based on the premise that some social media managers intertwine their feed with newsworthy or entertaining tweets. Also we believe that it is the predefined utility of a company’s twitter feed that makes the follower indifferent to receiving a DM, regardless of how self-promoting or obnoxious it may be perceived.

If you work in the social media space you now know that using an auto response direct message in Twitter doesn’t provide any significant business value. You may be asking yourself what does? What actions can you take in order to make your Twitter feed stand out against the thousands of other businesses in the Twitter universe. We will tackle that in our next blog post on the subject.

-Russ

Exceptional Outcomes is a business analytics and optimization consulting company that provides analytics services to many different industries. Does your business leverage social media marketing to improve its presence and are interested in helping us with further studies? We compensate our participants though monetary compensation and/or complimentary services. Please send an email to info@exceptional-outcomes.com if you would like to be added to our participant list. We always respect the privacy of our clients and study participants.

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Think Like a Black Belt, Act Like a Ninja. Part III – Backwards is the New Forwards

ninja1My first job out of graduate school was working for an environmental engineering company located in Lester, Pennsylvania.  Lester is south of Philadelphia and is the home of that city’s airport.  Although Lester doesn’t provide much to write home about, it does have some of the best cheesesteak places around. I was never much a cheesesteak guy but there was one particular place (for this story I will call it Joe’s) that had hands down the best tuna fish I ever had. They would mix in melted provolone and heat it on the greasy grill for just the right amount of time to make a hoagie I would end up eating for lunch every work day until I left that job.  I became such a regular that just by walking into the place would result in a smile by the owner (let’s call him Joe) and a hoagie and a Coke waiting for me on the counter.

One day the crew had a very early morning job to do. We had to be in northern New Jersey by 8AM to drill some monitoring wells. We needed to meet at the office at 6AM so we could group and get to the site on time. Since I rushed out of my place before eating breakfast, I was happy to see that the “open” sign was shining in the window at Joe’s. I knew that a bagel and a coffee would hit the spot.

As soon as I walked in I was greeted by Joe along with his usual smile and customary “Hey Chief!” greeting.  Joe hopped right on the grill, got the tuna and cheese going and would not stop talking at me (not with me…at me) for a good five minutes. I could not get a word in between his sentences. Whether it was about his Flyers tickets right on the glass or his kid’s antics at Villanova, he didn’t give me a moment to tell him I just wanted a bagel. It wasn’t until the hoagie was wrapped and on the counter that he even thought to acknowledge that I may want to say something.  At that point I just paid for the sandwich and left. When I tell this story to others I am often asked why I didn’t ask for the bagel and the coffee also. The answer is I just didn’t. I guess I was just thrown off by the whole experience.  I ended up eating the sandwich at 6AM on the ride to the site. It didn’t taste as special as it would have six hours later.

Let me ask you. Has the same thing ever happened to you? Maybe not inside of a deli, but possibly when engaging one of your company’s Black Belts? Maybe it was you in the role of the offending Black Belt? I can’t count the number of times I would see a business owner engage a Black Belt with a problem and before a full sentence can be spoken the Black Belt would start going into their customary shtick. “First we need a Charter! Then we need a process map! Give me a D! Give me an M! Give me an A-I-C!”. When you start talking charter before you even understand the problem you aren’t a “Joe”,  you ‘re a jackass. While a Black Belt puts the improvement process before the problem, a ninja is much smarter than that.

Too many times I see a Black Belt taking a team’s valuable time to fill out a CTQ tree when a CTQ tree provides absolutely no value in solving the problem at hand.  SIPOCs too. The same can be said for many other Six Sigma tools. Why does this happen? It’s because some Black Belts are so ridiculously focused on the DMAIC process, since they are taught that every problem can be solved using Six Sigma if you do it correctly. In the mind of some Black Belts, “do it correctly” translates to “use every tool”.

A Six Sigma Ninja on the other hand knows that “Backwards is the new Forwards”.   What does that mean exactly? It means that a ninja starts with the solution and works backwards. Here’s how:

  • Step 1: Listen and understand what is ailing your stakeholder. Completely understand what their desired end game is. Ask questions, but outside of that, shut up.
  • Step 2: Ask yourself one simple question:  “In order to deliver the end game the business owner is looking for, what would I need to do or what question would I need to answer right before I deliver it?”
  • Step 3: Ask yourself the next question: “That one thing I need to do or question I need to answer right before I deliver the end game? What do I have to do or answer so I can deliver that?”
  • Step 4: Repeat Step 3 as many times as you need until you know what you need to do first.

I hear CI folks talk about “Lean Six Sigma” all day long, but never do I hear them talk about “making Six Sigma Lean”.  This four step process will do just that. No more delivering tuna hoagies when your business partners want a bagel. No more wasting time praying to the Six Sigma Gods on your business owner’s precious time. No more jumping through hoops because the DMAIC way says so.

True ninjas travel light. They can because they only carry what they need. All those magic tools you got in your Black Belt handbook?  When they don’t provide you any value, they really don’t amount to more than a tuna hoagie.

You have a Six Sigma Ninja tip? Let me know! I would love to hear about it.

-Russ

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Think Like a Black Belt, Act Like a Ninja. Part II – The Mind Trick

ninja3A few years ago we worked on a project for a company that operated a group of call centers. The company was paid based on the number of folks they could reach on the phone and enroll into a program, so improving the percentage of people who would pick up the phone on the first or second try was a critical factor in improving profit margins. We had some pretty nice successes in this area and came up with a low cost, elegant solution for this client. We tested the premise using simulation and a small pilot and it looked like we would improve revenue by well over a million dollars a year. When it was time to implement the initiative the project came to a standstill. The business owner decided not to pull the trigger and the client went dark.

As a consultant it can be difficult to understand the “whys” behind some business decisions. Did the business model change? Did a new senior hire want to assess things for themselves before making changes on their new watch? For a few weeks I allowed my mind to come up with more and more creative reasons but I knew that I would never really know the answer unless I had a candid discussion with the business owner.

As luck would have it I did get a chance to speak the business owner a few weeks later. Let’s call him “Steve”.  I asked Steve why he decided not to move on with the project even though the pilot showed some fantastic results. Steve looked at me and said “Quite frankly, I didn’t pursue it because I didn’t come up with the idea”. Steve then disengaged himself from the conversation and walked away. This is an absolutely true story.

I originally took the easy route and chalked this up to both working for a jerk and the life of a consultant.  I kept validating my efforts with the question “As long as the check cleared, right?”. This wasn’t enough for me, though.  I asked myself what else I could have done to allow Steve to embrace my solution. It wasn’t soon after that I did a face palm and realized that I didn’t appreciate the simple premise that regardless of a project’s expected outcome there will always be resistance to change.  It’s human nature. While a Black Belt says to themselves “Boy, only a fool would not buy in to a project with such a great upside”, the Ninja says “Boy, I sure will look like a fool if I can’t sell this project with such a great upside”. That’s the difference.

There are scores and scores of change management papers and books and such on the internet and a whole bunch are indeed insightful. A Six Sigma Ninja however condenses all the theory and rules into one simple mind trick:

“If you want project buy-in, be sure your stakeholders understand the whys and own the hows –and in that order.”

First off, you can never expect someone to get behind a solution they can’t understand. Would you? It could be pretty embarrassing if you were asked a question by your boss about a solution you implemented but didn’t truly understand. What about when the solution’s author has ridden into the sunset, you are now in charge of maintaining the course and you still don’t understand what is really going on? The ninja knows that  most folks don’t feel the need to be the smartest person in the  room, but they don’t want to be the dumbest. Make sure that your stakeholders understand every nuance of the problem and the solution. Even if it involves using sock puppets. When the business owner says “That’s such a good idea it would be silly NOT to do it!” You are halfway home.

Everyone wants to fell empowered. Continuous improvement in the truest sense is all about empowerment. Make sure that at every step of the way, from concept to implementation, that your business owner is empowered to make the decisions they want to make. If you don’t agree with some of them, then pick your battles wisely. If you truly have them understanding the “whys”,  there shouldn’t be too many major issues. You know what happens when as you implement your business owner’s decisions? They become more and more invested into the solution. They have put their time into it, their thought into it and themselves into it.  The more you involve them in the day-to-day decisions, no matter how trivial they are, the stronger of an alliance you are forging.

It’s a simple mantra – make them understand the whys and own the hows. Ninjas keep it simple. That’s why they can get away with wearing only one outfit.

Have you ever eaten a tuna hoagie at six in the morning? I have and I vowed afterwards to never do it again. We’ll talk about that more in the next posting.

-Russ

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Think like a Black Belt, Act like a Ninja. Part I – Talk Without Speaking

ninja1Think outside of the Lean Six Sigma vernacular for a moment and name some of the connotations of the term “Black Belt”. I think of the screaming of words that for all I know could be gibberish. I think of  purveyors of a discipline that is somewhat unknown to me, and I think they like that. I also think of a lot of things being smashed because they could.  Most of all I see actions that scream “Look at me! Look at what I can do!”.  If all eyes weren’t suppose to be on the Black Belt, I don’t think movies would portray the Black Belt’s antagonists as folks who all look alike.

Unfortunately for the folks who pay their bills by practicing continuous improvement, there are a good number of “Black Belts” out there who act more like Bruce Lee than they should. In some cases it’s an issue of ego and in some cases it’s due to company culture. Many shops use the Black Belt role to show senior management how many bricks and boards a promising talent can toss around without getting hurt.

Don’t you love the fact that Lean Six Sigma is all about making processes effective and efficient, yet the actions of the “Black Belt” are far from effective and efficient?  A ninja, on the other hand is a different story. Brush a man’s teeth without waking him?  That’s elegance. Elegance is a word that is rarely spoken in LSS circles. Act like a ninja and that will change.

This is my first posting in a series I would like to call “Think like a Black Belt, Act like a Ninja”.  In these postings I would like to speak to how you can help your team get out of their “Kicking and Screaming” mode and begin to do the cool things ninjas get done. In the end I think your team will thank you for it and most of all, your company will thank your team for it. Because truth be told, if you are continuously acting in true “Heee-yah!” form, then the folks in your company are sick of your nonsense. They really are.

This introductory posting speaks of the 1st cardinal rule of being a Lean Six Sigma Ninja: Always talk without speaking.

As an avid sports fan I have listened to a lot of sports radio broadcasts over the years. One particular broadcast still sticks with me after several years solely because of the announcer’s stupidity.  In this broadcast Colorado Rockies broadcaster Wayne Hagin speculated on Todd Helton’s use of performance enhancement drugs.  Hagin said “I’m going to say something that is the absolute truth, and he will be mad at me for saying it if it gets out, but Todd Helton, a tremendously gifted baseball player, he tried it.”.  The questions if Wayne Hagin had the right to call Todd Helton out on the air and if the statement was justified have been vetted on the internet to exhaustion, and at the time that wasn’t even what I found ridiculous.  When I first heard the statement I thought “He will be mad at me for saying it if it gets out? You are on public radio, you idiot.”.

What was Wayne Hagin’s ‘Black Belt’ offenses?

Saying anything about anyone to anyone and think it’s staying in the room. It just doesn’t.  No one wants to hear comments about them, their team or their project second hand.  A ninja speaks only to those who should be spoken to.  Act like a ninja in this regard and you come across as a person who is above politics, has a bee-line focus and is also someone who can be trusted. Once that trust is gained a ninja begins to descend more “into the know” and as I will discuss in a later post, leverages that to a significant advantage.

Speaking ill of others in order to try to improve your perceived value.  I can’t count the number of times I have heard a Black Belt say something along the lines of “I (yes…”I”) just finished a project that saved two million in accounts receivable. Boy, they were a mess over there”. Why? If you (yes….”you”) really saved a department two million dollars, you really need to be shouting about it? Really? If you really had such a knockout success on a project you must have had some incredible business owner support. Support from the same folks who just called out as “a mess”.  A true ninja never sounds their own trumpet. Why?  Because a ninja knows there is always someone else with a much bigger one. You mess with the trumpet player that plays for the “house band” and you just may hear a tune that isn’t to your liking.  In the case of Lean Six Sigma, it is the stakeholder’s. On the flip side, nothing speaks louder than praise from a business owner. If you really help rope in a multi-million dollar savings I guarantee words will be spoken.  When the same words come out of the mouth of a stakeholder you have a combined internal reference, you have verification and validation.  That’s a three for one. Ninjas know that.

I haven’t seen too many martial arts movies where a ninja’s mouth is running a mile-a-minute, let alone uncovered. Now you know why.

In my next posting I’ll speak of the ninja trick that in too many cases gets associated with those poser Jedis – the mind trick.

-Russ

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Optimizing Your Agents’ Breaking Schedules – A No Cost Way to Improve your Outbound Center’s Productivity.

callcenter2We have received some great feedback on our free, online predictive dialer. For those of you that haven’t looked at it yet, you can find in on our website at www.exceptional-outcomes.com/dialer.html.  As I discussed in my last blog post, we will be sharing some of the productivity improvements our clients have discovered using dialing simulation and I hope that you try to take advantage of these improvements at your call center as well. They don’t require any additional staff or technology and are actually pretty easy to put in play.

In this post we will be discussing how break scheduling can be optimized in order to increase the number of outbound attempts made by a campaign. One of our clients was an outbound call center that was occasionally missing its monthly service level guarantees around outbound attempts and successful calls. The center wanted to investigate if there was a protocol it could put in place that could be used in months where it appeared that the center would miss its service level agreements. The protocol could not involve hiring more staff and it could not negatively impact the center’s drop rate.

One idea we suggested was to investigate optimizing the agents’ scheduling of scheduled breaks.  Our hypothesis was that we could improve a campaign’s productivity by ensuring that all agents working the same campaign scheduled their two 15-minute breaks and 30-minute meal break during the same hours  and remained on the dialer for the remainder of the shift. The client wasn’t immediately sold, but thanks to predictive dialing simulation we could test this theory without impacting productivity on the floor.

Using a simulator specific to the client’s dialer make, we tested the scenario. The dialer simulator model showed an increase in attempts by as much as 6.5% compared to random break assignment – the greater the number of agents in the campaign, the greater the benefit.

Of course it should be noted that there are cases where breaks may not be readily scheduled –such as in the case of needing to use the restroom. It should also be noted that this recommendation is different than scheduling breaks at the same exact time, which is not readily achievable using a predictive dialer. Asking the agents to take their scheduled breaks anytime during a given set of hours did not raise any issues or concerns with the agents and did not negatively impact their attitude or on-call performance.

After putting the protocol in place, the center realized improvements in outbound attempts by as much as 6.0%. No additional staffing, hours or technology were required. The improvement varied by the number of agents in each campaign.

Not sold? Visit our predictive dialer simulator and see for yourself.

Happy Dialing!

-Russ

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