With Hong Kong today on the crest of surging prosperity, businesses are always looking for cost-effective ways to market new products to prospective clients. This in turn has seen the gradual emergence of a what has become a powerful new force in salesmanship — telemarketing.
The telemarketing industry uses a variety of channels including the telephone, fax, email and the Internet to communicate what it believes is the right information at the right time to a customer or prospective customer.
One of the leading companies in the field is Teledirect, which started in Singapore in 1995, branched out to Hong Kong two years later, and now has a presence in more than seven countries across Asia.
Milton Kung, business director of Teledirect Hong Kong Limited, says many of its clients are banking and insurance companies which use its services to sell credit card products, loan services and investment-linked insurance products to existing and prospective clients. Reviewing the current market situation, he anticipates that the future development of telemarketing in Hong Kong will be predominated by two trends.
One is that banks and insurance companies will gradually shift their business models and approach their customers with new products and services when the customer contacts them for other matters.
The second trend involves greater recognition of Hong Kong as a regional hub of telemarketing in North Asia.
Hong Kong is an ideal location for a vibrant telemarketing industry because it is an international city populated by people from a wide range of nationalities and language sets, says Mr Kung.
"This makes it easier to centralise the impact of telesales by employing a specific team of people to concentrate on speaking with a particular group of nationals," he explains. "Furthermore, to save costs, regional companies like to outsource their small-and-medium-size call centre services to a single outsource provider to manage calls for their North Asia markets. This is a growing trend that is benefiting Hong Kong."
Vacancies for 100
Teledirect recently set up of a new centre in North Point, a strategic move that requires 100 additional staff. However, as Mr Kung points out, not many people possess a thorough understanding of the nature of the work involved in telemarketing, and it is therefore a challenge to hire capable newcomers.
As a result, the company is now organising career seminars at re-training centres and non-profit organisations to introduce the telemarketing industry to jobseekers, explaining to them the specialist nature of the job and outlining the career development prospects that will be offered to the best achievers.
Compared with other industries, call centre careers can provide good remuneration, says Mr Kung. No specific entry requirements or academic qualifications are required but preferred candidates should have completed their secondary education and be fluent Cantonese speakers.
All successful recruits will receive training in polishing such soft skills as telephone manner and interpersonal communications. In addition, they will get a thorough briefing on the value of the products they will be marketing, and related training in the relevant technology.
"When trying to persuade a customer to buy products over the phone, it is essential that the salesperson speak very fluent Cantonese," says Mr Kung. "Customers are very sensitive to the accent of a salesperson. Since they can't see each other, the marketers must lead the potential customers in their conversations, and emphasise the features and benefits of the product they are selling."
Call centre marketers are not required to make "cold calls". They work from contact lists provided by Teledirect's business partners, and so are already talking to a likely prospect interested in knowing which particular product or service best fits their situation.
New telemarketers can expect a basic salary plus commission based on the number of deals they close with clients. In general, they earn an average of HK$13,000 a month, though top performers can reach HK$20,000 to HK$30,000. Teledirect also provides staff benefits such as catering and shopping discounts, as well as outdoor activities such as sports events and mahjong competitions. Supervisors meet staff regularly to discuss any difficulties, and provide guidance based on their own experiences. Working hours are regular except that once a week they may need to do a night shift to contact clients.
However, the company tries to make things easier by analysing the demographic profiles and living habits of would-be customers, so that contact is established at the most appropriate time of the day or evening.
"The prime time for telesales is in the evening or on Saturday mornings, when customers are generally free," says Mr Kung. "To respect customers' privacy and protect our corporate image, we do not contact them late at night or bombard them with phone calls," he stresses.
Telemarketers consistently returning outstanding performance over a year are likely to be promoted to a senior position, becoming a QC officer or a training supervisor. The next steps for those demonstrating continued good leadership and superior sales performance are elevation to assistant call centre manager, call centre manager, operations manager and finally operations director.