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The Telephone's Enduring Value - Mark Fichera - ContactCenterWorld.com Blog

The Telephone's Enduring Value

Many followers of our web site fondly remember the graphic that used to be on our home page: an old black-and-white photograph of a group of telephone operators – women in hoop-skirts – in front of a large switchboard covered with wires for connecting phone calls. The ironic message we hoped to convey is that OnBrand24 is at the cutting edge of call center services – worlds away from the old-tech scene depicted in the photo. But we pulled the photo because we found that the irony was lost on most people. The photo just made us look old. I was reminded of this by an excellent article from Samantha Coren, a Boston-area marketing specialist, called “Why a Pure Inbound Marketing Strategy Isn't Right for Every Business” (see www.pullnotpush.com) By this Coren means that it can be a mistake to adopt an internet-only marketing strategy (SEO, email, social media) to create inbound market demand. “Going completely inbound with your marketing efforts,” she writes, “isn't an effective solution for all businesses.” There’s a strong temptation for companies to aggressively adopt web-based strategies and technologies. They make you look new, cool and cutting edge, and they offer huge potential cost savings. But Coren’s point is that an online-only strategy can hurt companies with customers who still make purchasing decisions via traditional marketing tactics, such as print/television/radio advertising, direct mail -- and the telephone. Call it “off-line marketing.” Coren expands on her theme by identifying the kind of company whose demand-creation strategy should go beyond the Internet: “B2C business with low price points, high sales volume, and geographically bound to a specific area of the country where people were just not looking for these types of businesses through inbound means.” This is where Coren and I part ways. While I agree with her overall point that online-only can be bad, I disagree with her definition of companies that should use traditional off-line strategies in their marketing mix – it's too narrow. I say this because many of our clients that use our off-line phone-based services lack the characteristics identified by Coren. Let’s take Mettler-Toledo, a global manufacturer of laboratory devices that measure the purity and contents of water and other materials used in chemicals, pharmaceuticals and other products. Mettler is not B2C, it’s not low price/high volume, and it isn’t bound to a geographical area – other than North America, Europe, Asia and South America. OnBrand24 is Mettler’s “eyes and ears.” We conduct phone-based surveys of their customers and users of competitors’ products to gain market insight, purchasing plans and competitive research. Mettler could try to conduct online market research by emailing surveys and asking customers to fill out a questionnaire, or putting a link on their site and hoping people would fill out an online survey. But Mettler understands that the telephone is the best way to get information out of people. We have surveyed thousands of people in their markets, generating a high volume of data and invaluable insights. In the process, we have scrubbed their customer database. Our off-line market research program has been extremely effective. Or let’s take the Southwest Indian Foundation, a non-profit organization that sells apparel and gift items, the proceeds from which help Native American in need. We provide SWIF with outsourced call center customer service and order taking services. This time of year, incoming call volume is extremely high from SWIF customers ordering gifts or checking on the status of their orders. SWIF also lacks some of Coren’s characteristics of the off-line marketer because it has a nationwide customer base, not “geographically bound to a specific area of the country.” Being smart marketers, SWIF sells the way their customers buy. Some search and buy products over the internet via SWIF's e-commerce capability. Others prefer to look through a SWIF catalog that arrived in the mail and call the customer service number. If SWIF limited customers to the internet, they would miss out on the large market that would rather buy off-line over the phone with the assistance of a friendly and helpful OnBrand24 brand ambassador. To be fair, I would assume Coren agrees that a mix of off- and online marketing programs is right for SWIF. And I wholeheartedly agree with her fundamental point: An on-line only marketing strategy can be a mistake. Where we differ: I think off-line marketing still has great value for more companies than she does.

Publish Date: December 17, 2010 7:44 PM

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