Traditionally, when a company sets up a call centre to handle customer enquiries and offer support services, that department is also seen as a cost centre. Now, though, a trend is emerging whereby major companies are not only starting to outsource call centre operations but are also expecting them to take a far more proactive role in driving sales and contributing to overall business development. As a result, they are being transformed into profit centres intended to generate an increasing share of corporate income by performing an expanding range of activities.
These developments are being closely monitored by Valent Ma, senior human resources and administration manager of Teledirect HK, a company offering all types of telecommerce services from business profiling surveys to customer service, IT support and financial services. He believes that the outsourcing solution can help companies save costs while improving performance and increasing sales.
"As a regional call centre services provider, we have the expertise in telemarketing, account servicing and project management," says Mr Ma. "We can give professional advice and guidance to clients on their specific programmes and suggest the most effective ways to make customer contacts. This advice may be about the overall approach to use, when and how to make a follow-up call, or how to prepare a good script before making a sales pitch."
Third-party call centres are generally seen as being result-oriented and effective when it comes to conducting telemarketing campaigns and achieving targets for cross-selling. Therefore, it should be no surprise that major Fortune 500 companies in sectors such as banking, insurance, telecommunications and information technology are turning to them for assistance. Mr Ma is also seeing a growth in clients within the international logistics industry and predicts further rapid expansion in that sector.
In order to support the call centre operations of a variety of clients, service providers have to invest heavily in technology and human resources. Teledirect HK has developed an in-house database management system and employed the very latest customer relationship management technology which includes an instant voice log system, IP phones and a predictive dialling system. Within the company, around 80 percent of employees are customer service agents with the rest handling support operations such as project management, IT and human resources.
New projects mean that the company is looking to increase headcount by over 50 percent in the coming months. "We will be taking on around 60 new recruits, ranging from agents and supervisors to software development and HR specialists," says Mr Ma.
Two distinct categories of frontline agent are being sought: those for general telesales and qualified insurance agents. Candidates for the first category are mainly expected to be Form 5 or Form 7 graduates and need not necessarily have previous work experience. For the insurance related positions, applicants should have relevant experience in sales in the banking or insurance industries.
"In general, people going into telesales must be quick-thinking and completely fluent in one, but preferably two, languages," says Mr Ma. Tone of voice, a positive attitude and good presentation skills are also important. "When recruiting, I usually close my eyes and just listen to what the applicants say to see how good they are at introducing themselves," he adds.
Mr Ma points out that most current business is conducted in Cantonese. If there are future requirements for regional call centre services, native speakers of Japanese, Korean, Putonghua and English may be employed.
To ensure quality services, all telesales recruits undertake five days' training before they start work. They are taught the basic soft skills which focus on telephone manner and sales techniques. This is backed up with product information and industry-specific knowledge for individual projects, and technical training about the IT system.
Ongoing attention is given to implementing quality control measures, so every conversation with a customer is recorded. This allows agents and supervisors to review performance and identify areas for improvement. "Supervisors are not directly involved in any calls, but are required to coach and train team members," explains Mr Ma. "They will monitor calls closely and evaluate conversations according to criteria set by the company and the clients we are representing." In addition, supervisors provide career counselling for team members and help them to overcome the pressures that can build up in day-to-day work.
The policy of Teledirect HK is to promote from within whenever possible. According to Mr Ma, a telesales representative can usually expect to become a team leader within a year of joining. An additional year's experience qualifies someone to be a supervisor after which some telemarketers may choose to switch from frontline operations to account servicing, which still allows them to have direct interaction with clients.
"Since we specialise in the financial services industry, there are opportunities for advancement in that field," notes Mr Ma. "We may also develop some telemarketers with potential as licensed agents to support our insurance sales business." Logically, for anyone who already has insurance qualifications, the company will provide internal training and subsidise external courses to make sure they can fulfill the industry's continuous training requirements.
Calling all telemarketers
- Staff recruitment to cope with the expansion of third-party
- Many major companies now outsourcing their telesales and
- Demand for candidates for general sales and specialists
with an insurance background
- Likelihood that the rapid growth of both local and regional
call centres in Hong Kong will continue