Using Email to Reach Out the Right Way

By Peter DeHaan, Ph.D.

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of AnswerStatEmail is a cost-effective way to reach customers and patients. But just because it’s cheap and easy doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea. When done incorrectly, email messages can alienate the very audience we’re trying to cultivate.

Send Only Useful Messages: I once had the grand idea of using an email-marketing program to keep advertisers (those folks who make this magazine possible) and potential advertisers informed and engaged. When I began working on each issue, I emailed them with the theme and deadlines. A week before the due date, I sent a reminder. When the magazine went to print, I dashed off an update. When it mailed, I let them know.

This lasted for one issue. Although sending the messages seemed free, it cost time. I also worried about annoying the recipients. This was in the early days of email marketing, and I couldn’t tell who was reading what I sent.

I scaled back my messages to one per issue. I stopped sending all but that first email, informing advertisers of the theme and deadlines; that one mattered most. Besides, I hoped if I emailed less often, my recipients would be more apt to read what I did send.

What messages matter most to your audience?

Segment Your Audience: I quickly developed a rhythm of sending out one mass email per issue about advertising, but it wasn’t as smooth as I hoped. No matter how carefully I worded my message, I always seemed to confuse someone. This resulted in follow-up communication to clear up my miscommunication.

I realized that I was trying to make one message work for everyone: regular advertisers, occasional advertisers, and potential advertisers. A message for regular advertisers might confuse the occasional ones. Alternately, a message encouraging potential advertisers to run an ad might irritate existing customers. To solve this, I divided my list into three groups, sending a different message tailored to each segment.

Your biggest customer is different than your smallest, and both are different from your patients. How should you segment your list?

Send Only Wanted Messages: About a fifth of AnswerStat readers receive their copy electronically. I email them each time a new issue is available. As part of their subscription, I send occasional, relevant messages that have a high likelihood of interest. So I don’t irritate readers, I send no more than one extra email per month. If you’re like me, you’ve unsubscribed from organizations you liked simply because they emailed too often.

How frequently should you email your audience? How often is too often?

Allow for Unsubscribes: Even though it’s a legal requirement to provide a way to unsubscribe, I’m shocked at how many organizations don’t. Plus there are unethical ones who let you click unsubscribe but don’t actually remove you.

Allow for and honor unsubscribes.

Maintain List Integrity: Though I’ve never done it, email databases are easy to buy. It’s also common for companies to harvest contact information from websites and directories. The result is sending messages to folks who didn’t opt in. These messages are illegal and constitute spam.

In your zeal to communicate with as many individuals as possible, make sure you don’t add people who didn’t expressly opt in to your list.

When you send useful and wanted messages to your segmented list, allowing for unsubscribes and avoiding spam, you are on the right path to effective communication.

Peter DeHaan is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from peterdehaan.com.

[From the October/November 2013 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Your Staff Is Your Best Publicity Asset

By Russell Trahan

Throughout the business landscape, countless days and hours are spent on the hiring process – rifling through resumes, conducting phone and in-person interviews, and vetting potential hires – and for good reason. Payroll budgets only contain so much flexibility for hiring new employees, and selecting the correct individual to fill an open position involves much more than just ensuring their competence in the role. Your new employee is also joining the best weapon in your company-wide publicity arsenal: your staff.

Selecting your staff should go beyond just the tangible skills they bring to the call center or office and their ability to complete projects and achieve goals during the workday; it should also include their talent for recruiting and driving business when the day is done. Employees – present and future – should be trained to recognize the value of out-of-office networking skills and practices, because even simple interactions after-hours or on the weekends could potentially engage new customers or patients.

This is the reason that you, as a manager, should consider the people you employ an essential component to any of your publicity efforts. They are often your establishment’s first impression and top recruiting asset within the call center as well as once they stop working.

There are multiple best practices for instilling a sense of off-the-clock commitment in employees, and utilizing them to foster a sense of organizational pride will enhance your efforts to bolster your organization’s image. Online, in-person, and over-the-phone, your staff should recognize their value both at work and away from the office.

The Social Ovation: Incalculable business relationships are now created and nurtured in the social media stratosphere, and acuity in this area can be an accurate barometer for real-world success. Along with your organization’s online presence and activity, your staff can boost your impact in the social media arena by broadcasting companywide or individual accomplishments from their personal profiles. This can be as simple as a sharing a blog post a staff member is particularly proud of or garnered an extensive degree of attention, or that promotes any sponsored events or appearances.

Client or customer bases can be developed through your employees’ relationships, especially if they are pleased with their individual contributions and the level of work coming out of your offices. Regularly recognize and applaud your employees’ performance in the office, and they may be encouraged to share it out of the office, chiefly on their social media platforms. A fulfilled employee is an employee that enthusiastically wants to share both his or her own achievements – and yours.

Word-of-mouth is often the most powerful form of promotion or advertising, and your staff can be the premier vehicle for this type of reputation advancement.

The Business Card Is Timeless: There is no action in the business world more common than the time-honored tradition of exchanging business cards. Even with a shift toward Internet-centricity and networking, every executive, director, and manager still carries business cards, and these should also contain their array of online links and contact information. Consider providing business cards to call center supervisors and agents, too.

Employers should encourage staff to keep a few cards on hand at all times. Any chance interaction outside of the workplace can quickly shift into a professional conversation, and a casual swap of business cards Saturday night may result in a new connection Monday morning. Many things change in the business environment, but the business card is a timeless object that remains a fundamental networking component.

Maintaining a Convention Game Face: Regardless of your organization’s focus, chances are you will, at some point, have staff representatives attend a conference or convention on your organization or call center’s behalf. Effectively working a booth is an imperative skill employees need to possess to ensure that you receive a tangible return on your sponsorship investment.

Part of making attendance at a corporate convention a fruitful experience is the overall demeanor exhibited inside the booth, as well as at conference events. Your employees should understand the value of simple, conversational engagement with those who stop by the booth; not everyone will want to secure your services, but they should all be treated as valuable contacts. A smile and a simple acknowledgement of passersby can be the easiest route to increased booth traffic and solid sales leads at the events’ conclusion.

Email Etiquette Has No Day Off: With the culture of connectedness ushered in by the widespread adoption of laptops, tablets, and smartphones, employees are now within reach at all hours of the day and every day of the week.

When receiving work-related emails or text correspondence while away from the office, staff should be remain aware that in-house etiquette still applies; they should not allow themselves to slip into casual text-speak or tone as they might on their day off. Improper email decorum is an immediate strike against company credibility, so make sure you instill in your workforce the importance of proper electronic communication.

Your service is only as good as the people you employ. When your staff realize and appreciate their value to your operation and the role they play in actively promoting it, the more cognizant they become of their actions when they leave the workplace. When you impress upon your staff their influence on overall accomplishments, you create a workplace culture of collective input and shared success.

When employees realize their fundamental position in your organization, they ardently become an extension of your publicity undertakings, and they will make a point to contribute even when they are away from the workplace.

Russell Trahan is president of PR/PR, a boutique public relations agency specializing in positioning clients in front of their target audience in print and online. PR/PR represents experts of all kinds who are seeking national exposure for their business or organization. Russell and PR/PR will raise your business’ awareness in the eyes of your clients and customers. For more information, email mail@prpr.net for a free consultation.

[From the June/July 2014 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

The Importance of Brand Cohesiveness across Social Media

By Ben Laube

Developing and representing your brand effectively via social media is one of the most important tasks to consider when jumping into social media marketing. By doing so, you bring brand awareness and cohesiveness to your audience to build familiarity and trust.

Representing your brand through social media is fairly simple as long as your organization has its ideals and image secured. On multiple platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, you’re able to upload cover photos. It’s important to use the same design concept in each cover photo for visual brand cohesiveness. Though some dimension variations of the photos must be taken into consideration due to the sizing limitations of each network, having the same graphic concept will help people remember your brand. This is known as social branding. Make sure your logos also are consistent across these profiles.

The next step is ensuring that your brand’s voice is heard throughout the text of the page, as well as in the posts. Healthcare brands should avoid using slang terms and Internet abbreviations. Establish a voice that clearly defines who you are and the culture of your organization. Remember, social media is your online persona and face; make sure it accurately represents who you are.

Having a cohesive social content strategy is another facet to consider. What are you posting? How often are you posting? Are you posting the same content to specific profiles? Take a step back to decide how and what you want to post. Social media is about being social. You never want to bombard followers with promotion after promotion. Ask them questions; find out their opinions. Engagement is key; talking at your followers rather than talking to them is the quickest way to lose your following.

With the vast array of social networks available today, it can be confusing to figure out which ones your brand should be on. You have to think strategically and find the best fit to represent your brand. Many companies believe they have to be on every single platform, but not every platform is right for every organization. Here’s a quick rundown of the top platforms, what they do, and how they can be utilized by all brands:

Facebook: Facebook is basically the home base of all social media today. No matter the industry, your business needs a Facebook page to interact with your customers and build a relationship with them.

Twitter: Twitter is the popular microblogging (140 characters or less) platform that allows users to reach out to others and find people with the same interests easily. It’s also a fantastic news outlet to syndicate your brand’s press, ideas, and thoughts to the world.

Google+: Google+ is essentially the Google version of Facebook, but it does have great collaborative abilities, such as Google Hangouts. Google Hangouts is a new messaging, video, chat, file-sharing platform created by Google; it is great for collaboration. In addition to being free, unlike other services, Google Hangouts integrates well within other Google apps and allows you to easily share information. Also, all Google+ posts are indexed by Google and show up in its search results.

LinkedIn: LinkedIn is the professional social media hotspot. This is where you can represent yourself and your organization in a professional manner, building connections and further expanding your online outreach.

These four main social networks are being utilized by all brands, but other popular platforms exist that many not be suitable for every brand.

Pinterest: Pinterest is a fantastic way to share and explore creative ideas and visuals. However, if your brand isn’t a visually heavy concept, Pinterest may not work for you.

Instagram and Vine: Instagram and Vine are mobile social network sensations that rely strictly on pictures and videos. If your brand doesn’t produce images or products, these networks may leave you with lackluster results.

Now that you’ve chosen your networks, your social strategy, and how to represent your brand online, here are few tips to ensure a positive social environment for your audience.

Do:

  • Engage your followers with contests, questions, comments, or provoking thoughts.
  • Post on a regular basis.
  • Choose what type of content is most appropriate for your brand, and limit the confusion of posting anything and everything.

Don’t:

  • Over-promote yourself. Remember, if you were talking to someone face-to-face and all he or she did was self-promotion, it wouldn’t go over well. The same goes for social media. There is a healthy ratio we like to follow: 60 percent conversation/engagement and 40 percent promotion. This balance will keep your followers interested.
  • Over-post. It’s great to share quality content on a regular basis, but don’t post every hour. Remember, these posts show up in people’s news feeds and might be viewed as spam.
  • Trash or criticize other brands on social media. It’s important that your brand’s online reputation and image is seen in a positive light. Trash talking about your competitors will only hurt you and turn your followers away.

Now, go ahead and socialize with social media!

Ben Laube is president and founder of POLR Marketing, a growth marketing technology company. Through the use of content writing, pay-per-click, ethical SEO practices, Web and development graphic design, and strategic planning, POLR Marketing offers the services you need to help grow your organization to the next level. Learn more at 407-712-4836.

[From the June/July 2014 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Call Center Opportunities in Affordable Care Act Enrollment

By Robert Porter

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) will bring big changes for all Americans. During this transitional period and into the foreseeable future, people in the United States will need help to understand and interpret the new laws and regulations, as well as to obtain additional information about their healthcare options. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is charged with overseeing the administration of the Affordable Care Act. As a result, the healthcare call center industry is poised to help Americans to gain an understanding of its real-life impact on their insurance, costs, and level of care.

The ACA requires Medicaid agencies and health insurance exchanges (HIE) to impart information by conducting outreach and assistance initiatives for the public, business owners, and corporate human resource departments. This is a huge undertaking. As expected, there has already been a surge of demand for knowledgeable, interactive live agents from healthcare call centers to handle the influx of overflow and high call volumes twenty-four hours a day. This will only increase over time. Many Medicaid and HIE offices will continue to outsource to telehealth call centers with customer service agents trained in healthcare. These agents, in addition to being apprised of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations, are also knowledgeable on the broad topic of the ACA. This makes them indispensable during this major shift in healthcare coverage in the United States of America.

As the ACA is implemented, many people will have questions and concerns about how it affects their insurance policies. The healthcare exchanges, and the call centers they utilize, will assist those individuals in sorting through and navigating the enrollment process. In addition, bilingual live agents are poised to address consumer questions and facilitate prompt enrollment for many thousands of non-English speakers.

Many states now have a call center in place with a dedicated toll-free phone number to aid those seeking to unravel the complexities of the ACA program. Multiple call center facilities have garnered government contracts to route 800 number calls and field caller inquiries.

The ACA allows for a health insurance exchange – essentially a clearinghouse of medical insurance information – to provide its enrollees and prospects with competitive rates. Americans can shop for the best price and service under the HIE umbrella.

Alongside the efforts of the DHHS, non-profit organizations like Enroll America and leading call centers continue to ramp up their agent training programs to include extensive knowledge of the ACA. This will enable virtual receptionists from qualified call centers to communicate a clear, simple breakdown of important information that will affect each caller’s decision-making process.

Every American, from self-employed individuals to private industry business leaders, is wondering how the ACA will affect their lives and business dealings. Call center services with live staff will help the public comprehend their ACA options and choose wisely.

[From the October/November 2013 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Business Lessons from Nonprofit Organizations About Inspiring Customers

By Terry Barber

Inspirational taglines can be misleading. Judging by many of today’s corporate taglines and promises, you would assume many inspiring sound bites belong to nonprofit organizations. Listen to just a few of my favorites from some of the world’s most recognized brands:

  • “To inspire and nurture the human spirit”
  • “Your potential, our passion”
  • “To improve the lives of the world’s consumers — now and for generations to come”
  • “To contribute to the overall health and wellness of our world”

These are not statements associated with just a social responsibility policy. These are core parts of mission and purpose statements proudly displayed on corporate websites. As today’s brands attempt to differentiate themselves from their many competitors, more and more will attempt to be truly inspiring brands.

And why not? Companies who genuinely converted from old-line commercialism to do-good capitalism are likely to find a powerful connection to the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual aspects of the customer. This is exactly the kind of connection businesses need in order to acquire and sustain a loyal and passionate following these days.

Following this trend, we can anticipate more and more businesses will be using inspiration as an advertising technique. This can confuse even the savviest of companies and consumers, further blurring the lines between for-profit and not-for-profit. In order to help your business get your message across clearly and effectively, I’d like to provide some guiding principles that I have used with nonprofits for years for those in business who aspire to inspire.

To inspire the consumer, you must help him believe in something that he once thought was impossible. This is where innovators will thrive and institutions will die. Innovators will think in quantum leap fashion. “Institutions” will think incrementally. If you have to describe your company’s dreams and ambitions only in the context of a percentage of growth, you are not inspiring anyone. A key indicator is how you are communicating your promise in your tagline. Here are a few inspiration busters to avoid:

  • “We want to be the best.”
  • “We want to sell the most.”
  • “We just want to make a fair profit.”
  • “We promise the best value for the dollar.”

All are noble. None are inspiring. Making me believe in something that I once thought was impossible begins with words like imagine, dream, accelerate, change, empower, or energize.

Some of the most dynamic meetings I have ever been involved in were those in which I asked my clients, who are nonprofit organizations, “What would the world look like if you were to fulfill your mission tomorrow?”  Try that for your next team meeting and you will quickly uncover whether you have the capacity to be inspiring or not.

To inspire the consumer, you must show genuine appreciation for his or her business. Nonprofit organizations are by and large exceptional at making their donors feel special. Even the average donor receives a thank you note.  At some level, usually at the $100 giving level, they may even receive a thank you phone call.  By those standards, how many companies should you have received a thank you call from? Hey, by those standards, I should most certainly receive thank you calls from Whole Foods, Starbucks, and American Express!

Loyalty programs are effective in retaining customers– until a better loyalty program comes along. That’s because so-called customer appreciation days are typically traps for more up-selling, and people know that. So their “loyalty” is, understandably, short-term.

Conversely, expressing genuine appreciation creates a lifelong relationship. Imagine how a customer would feel if he received a message simply saying, “Thank you for being such a great customer [or client]. We are not calling to sell you anything else, only to say thank you.”

To inspire the consumer, you must help him see that he is a part of a bigger community of world changers. One of the most powerful fundraising terms is the word join. “Join the fight.”  “Join the cause.”  “Join me.”  All these statements indicate that you can be a part of something much bigger than yourself. More than ever before, our identity is being defined by the communities we are a part of, even if those communities are virtual.

If businesses can follow the lead of nonprofit organizations, its leaders will participate in social media for the sake of connecting customers to other customers. In so doing, customers, just like donors, will lead the way into new relationships and new markets. Create or tap into platforms for connecting people in and around your mission.

To inspire the consumer, you must communicate how you are making the world a better place. I recently had the privilege of traveling to Guatemala with a child sponsorship organization. This is an organization I had supported in a modest way for years. But after that firsthand look at how my dollars were being used to help children who were truly impoverished, my giving level will never be the same.

I recently met with a CEO of a Fortune 500 Company and saw this principle illustrated in the most dramatic fashion.  There I noticed maps throughout the building with pushpins marking various towns, cities, and villages around the world where this company and its employees were providing clean drinking water for indigent people. There was an underlying message there that said, “What we are doing as a company is helping to make the world a better place.”

No matter what kind of business you are in, learn from the nonprofit sector that you can inspire your customers by illustrating how you are making the world a better place.

Do you aspire to inspire your customers? Give them something to believe in that they once thought was impossible. Demonstrate genuine appreciation for their business. Help your customers connect with other customers to illustrate that they are part of a bigger community and communicate how you as a business are making the world a better place.

Lead and they may follow. Teach and they may learn. Inspire and they will never be the same.

Terry Barber is the chief inspirator for Grizzard Communication Group. He primarily serves the nonprofit healthcare segment, as well as colleges and universities in the subject area of philanthropic branding.

[From the June/July 2009 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Call Centers Should Work with Marketing and Physician Relations

By Brenda Beukelman and Christine Rhodes

Do you know the marketing team? These are the people who live in those interestingly decorated offices, most likely accessorized with a Macintosh computer. What about the physician relations team? Have you seen them lately, or do you believe they are always out on sales calls? In many organizations, the call center, marketing team, and physician relations staff don’t report to the same person or even work in the same location. This can make collaboration difficult and result in missed opportunities to improve consumer and physician relations. Yet, all three areas share a common goal of increasing the revenue of the organization and maintaining customer satisfaction.

Collaboration between these functions can have a significant positive impact on consumer and physician satisfaction. Each occupies a unique niche in building the organization’s reputation. The collaboration between the three teams can help elevate the call center, transforming it into a more strategic partner in the organization.

Call center staff should not assume that the marketing and physician relations teams understand the many services they provide to the hospital, physicians, and consumers. By increasing their working knowledge of the call center services, physician relations and marketing can integrate the call center into planning processes that the call center may not have been involved in. This will also allow call center leadership to be at the table when ideas are generated that require collaboration, thus avoiding the last minute project that falls in the call center’s lap.

When the call center’s diverse services are not known, efforts and resources can be wasted or duplicated when responding to a physician request or need by a department less equipped than the call center. Collaboration and communication can save everyone time, money, and possibly a few turf wars. Call centers usually don’t have the time or resources to market themselves but with the help of the marketing and physician relations teams, they can get the visibility to grow and generate some recognition for their services.

If the call center offers a service for physicians, marketing can package the call center’s key message into a flyer, brochure, or presentation for the physician relations representative to take out to the target physicians. They can also become champions within the organization by helping to raise awareness of the wide variety of skills and services of the call center.

The data collection tools within the call center are valuable to the physician relations and marketing teams. Reports such as call volume, consumer requests, and provider referrals link strategically to their efforts. As the eyes and ears to the community, the call center holds a valuable position for the marketing team. Consumer preferences and trends are key to planning and implementing new services.

Call centers should also consider using their data to work with the hospital finance team to demonstrate revenue generation. This is done via a process of revenue reconciliation that identifies the revenue associated with call center callers that converted to patients. This process benefits the call center, as well as marketing and physicians relations, by demonstrating value and contribution to the organization.

Connecting the three teams is vital. Be intentional in building a relationship with marketing and physician relations. Include them in an occasional staff meeting to build a shared understanding of your team’s challenges and establish a connection. Invite the marketing team to shadow call center representatives during the launch of a new campaign. Let them see firsthand how the campaign impacts call volume, the typical questions the campaign generates, and how the representatives are handling calls. Offer to review the results of a patient’s referred report with the physician relations representative before they have to share with the medical staff physicians.

A good time to connect is at the beginning of the annual strategic planning and budgeting process. Find out what new goals and initiatives will go into their departmental plans and how your team can support or supplement those efforts. The incremental energy spent on increased face time and the extra effort will be worth it when consumers and physicians experience seamless service from all three teams.

Ways the call center can collaborate:

  • Share reports on referrals and appointments made.
  • Share physician complaints or concerns with physician relations team.
  • Track response to ad campaigns and report to marketing.
  • Outbound survey calling for patient satisfaction.

Ways marketing can collaborate:

  • Send samples of ads and decide where they will be running before the campaign begins.
  • Meet with the call center staff to provide information and answer questions on large campaigns that involve fulfillment through the call center. Don’t assume they understand the significance and scope of the campaign with an email or interoffice mailing of the samples.
  • Be selective about the number of vanity phone numbers you set up and ask the call center to maintain. Establish a time to review call rate and determine a minimum call volume to maintain separate number.

Ways physician relations can collaborate:

  • Provide feedback from the physicians to the call center in a timely fashion.
  • Tell physicians about the wonderful service the call center provides and how it can increase their business.
  • Consider call center software packages that have an integrated physician relations module.
  • Provide updated profile information for newly enrolled doctors as part of the on boarding process.

The call center is a vital, valuable hub of information and activity. Call center staff members have access to the very people marketing and physician relations reach out to on a daily basis. Marketing has the ability to provide great content, creating engaging messages and campaigns. The physician relations team has face-to-face interaction with physicians and the ability to understand the needs of the individual practices. Bringing the talent and resources of these three areas together can create a significant market differentiating service. Plus, you may just find you have more in common than you previously thought, with the possible exception of the marketing team’s loyalty to those Mac computers!

Brenda Beukelman and Chris Rhodes are consultants with the firm Barlow/McCarthy and specialize in physician relations, marketing, and internal strategy development. They can be reached at bbeukelman@barlowmccarthy.com and crhodes@barlowmccarthy.com.

[From the October/November 2008 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Successfully Navigating the RFP

By Lee B. Salz

Superman, as strong he is, is paralyzed by kryptonite. It brings him to his knees, despite his superhuman strength. Sales people have their own kryptonite; it’s called RFPs, the dreaded Request for Proposal. However, an RFP doesn’t have to be like kryptonite to you. Superman has no choice but to fight this nemesis to survive; sales people do have a choice. Before that next RFP threatens to leave you feeling powerless, read this article and regain your strength!

First, there is no law that says you have to respond to every RFP that crosses your desk. You have the right to say no. Some of you may be thinking that I’m insane, but it’s true. Let me turn the tables on you for a moment. The definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. If you aren’t the low price provider and you have no relationship with the prospect, how can you possibly win the business?  You can’t and won’t. Therefore, sending in countless RFP responses under these conditions will yield nothing but losses. So, who’s crazy now?

Sure, when the pipeline isn’t as full as it should be, it is a natural reflex to want to pursue every RFP you can get your hands on. Yet, filling out an RFP is work. It also has a cost to both you and your organization. While you are working on an RFP which you have little chance of winning, you aren’t prospecting for business that has a much higher chance of award. We all have the same number of hours in our day. What you elect to do with yours determines whether or not you are successful.

There are a couple of things you should know about RFPs. First, there is a disconnect between procurement and their customers (called users). Often times, procurement authors the RFP and establishes the measurement criteria for evaluating the submissions. However, when you speak to the actual user, they say that the criteria developed by procurement are inconsistent with their needs. Thus, a supplier is selected for a user based on flawed conditions.

Another thing you should know is that an RFP is not necessarily a commitment to make a change in provider. Some companies require that they source the business periodically. Ever wonder how that RFP got in your inbox?  Procurement will surf the Web and pick a handful of providers to whom they will send the RFP and off it goes. It helps to know that procurement folks are measured on their ability to reduce cost to the company. Just like a sales person’s scorecard is based on achievement of their sales quota, procurement’s quota is based on cost reduction. The RFP that arrived in your inbox could very well be their attempt to put the squeeze on the current provider so they can show a ten percent savings. Don’t kid yourself. This happens a lot!

One final thing you should know about RFPs is that they are sometimes used as a management tactic. For example, some people are too nice to tell you “no.”  Instead, they hide behind the statement that their company only buys through the RFP process. Don’t buy that for a second. No company exclusively buys this way. Even the federal government, who is the most formal buyer, does not limit their purchasing to this means. Sales people, present company included, sell products and services to the Feds without an RFP being issued. It can be done!

There is also a safety net for managers when they buy through RFPs as multiple people are involved in the selection process. If the supplier fails to perform, the finger can’t just be pointed at one person. During your needs analysis discussions, you can often get a feel for who really wants the RFP; the company or the person with whom you are meeting. Don’t underestimate the fear of blame. Many managers try to stay off the radar screen so they don’t want to create risk for themselves.

Dealing with an RFP where you have a relationship with the prospect is a subject for another time. Keeping us focused on the blind ones, as I said before, you have choices. You could just respond to every RFP. Or, you could just chuck it in the trash. Care for a third option?  What if you called the procurement person and had a conversation that sounded like this,

“Hi, I’m Lee Salz with XYZ Services. I just received your RFP in the mail and wanted to ask you a few questions so I can determine if it makes sense for us to respond. As you can imagine, we receive many RFPs and are very selective when determining which we will act upon.”

With that said, one of a few things can happen. She could give you permission to ask your questions, or she could say, “Fill out the RFP or not. It’s up to you.” My vote is to decline any RFP where the procurement person won’t allow you to ask questions of them. How can you have a fighting chance to win if they won’t speak with you?

With permission granted to ask questions, what is it you need to know to decide if it makes sense to participate in this process?

  • How did they get your name for inclusion in this process?
  • Why is this RFP out now?
  • Have they definitively decided to change providers?
  • What criteria will be used to score the RFPs?
  • What are the steps of the process after the RFP is submitted?

Sure, there are a ton of other questions you could ask, but this information will best help you to determine if you have a chance at winning this account. The rule of thumb is that the less information procurement shares, the lower the chance you have of winning.

Yes, walking away from the mega-deal is hard and painful. But is this deal real or simply a mirage? Watch any Superman movie and you will see that he overcomes his kryptonite peril. Will you overcome yours?

Lee B. Salz is president of Sales Dodo, LLC and author of “Soar despite Your Dodo Sales Manager. He specializes in helping companies and their sales organizations adapt and thrive in the ever-changing world of business. Lee is available for keynote speaking, business consulting, and sales training. He can be reached at lsalz@salesdodo.com or 763-416-4321.

[From the February/March 2008 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Call Center Credentials

By Peter DeHaan, Ph.D.

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of AnswerStatYou say and believe that your call center is good, but can you prove it? What you need is a credential. A credential is the verifiable recognition from an independent third party that you have earned and met a standard level of performance. Credentials fall under three, sometimes overlapping, classifications: agent testing, certification, and benchmarking. The following organizations provide one or more of these services:

BenchmarkPortal manages the call center database originated at Purdue University’s Center for Customer-Driven Quality. This data warehouse of call center best practice statistics includes thousands of call centers in 24 industry segments. These performance data are used to establish best practice call center goals.

With this information, BenchmarkPortal is able to offer a call center certification program. It is based on a quantitative approach, rather than a qualitative approach (where performance issues depend upon the judgment of a trained auditor). It begins with a thorough statistical comparison between the call center seeking certification and a peer group of similar call centers in the same industry sector.

The certification is based on a balanced scorecard approach, which assumes that certified call centers are able to manage calls at a high level of both efficiency and effectiveness. Specifically, it means that they deliver high quality in terms of results and do so at a low cost. Using established scientific methods to measure the achievement of certifiable best practices standards, the results pinpoint areas of high performance and quantifies gaps in areas of low performance.

For more information, contact Michael Feinberg, Director of Business Development at BenchmarkPortal at 443-394-2500 or MichaelFeinberg@BenchmarkPortal.com.


The Call Center School supports industry testing and certification in several ways. Students may attend an entire track of Masters Series programs or one of their two-day classroom programs to earn certification in a given topic area from The Call Center School. Upon completion of coursework, students may to take a mastery exam to demonstrate knowledge in a subject area. Those students with a score of 80% or higher are awarded certificates from The Call Center School.

For some students, this certification is an end in itself. For others, it is an intermediate means of preparation for the industry-wide Call Center Industry Advisory Council (CIAC) certification testing. As an official Training Consortium Partner of CIAC, The Call Center School offers organizations the option to purchase combined training/testing packages for one-stop shopping for education and certification.

The Senior Partners of The Call Center School have been involved in certification since its inception in 1995, serving on the initial CIAC Board of Directors. The Call Center School is the only training organization where all its faculty members have earned the CIAC Certified Call Center Management Consultant designation.

For more information, call 615-812-8400.


CAM-X (Canadian Call Management Association) offers two testing programs addressing agent performance and quality. These are the Award of Excellence and the Call Centre Award of Distinction.

The Award of Excellence program, started in 1989, is a benchmarking tool to test call center agents at telephone answering services in telephone technique, call control, client knowledge, and overall service quality. Over a six-month period, participating organizations are called ten times by mystery callers. Independent judges listen to the recordings of the calls and assess a score. The average of all ten scores becomes the overall score. Those achieving a score of 80 percent or higher will receive the Award of Excellence, presented at the annual convention.

Call Centre Award of Distinction: The Call Centre Award of Distinction program was created by CAM-X in 2000 to meet the needs of members who serve call center and contact center clients. The program focuses on customer relationship management, courtesy, etiquette, and proper call techniques, providing unbiased testing for quality assurance. The Call Centre Award of Distinction operates in the same manner as the Award of Excellence, however the evaluation criteria is geared towards advanced call processes not covered by the Award of Excellence program.

For more information, contact CAM-X at 800-896-1054.


Customer Relationship Metrics offers CATs® (Completely Automated Telephone surveys). CATs programs are cost-effective, have high response rates, and a fast Return on investment (ROI). They are designed to accurately measure the service performance of callers. The company’s proprietary, comprehensive reporting provides information regarding performance at the business unit, team, and agent levels. This provides a call center with an action plan for improving service, training, and coaching to exceed customer expectations. The program supports call centers in their efforts to improve customer satisfaction, increase operational efficiency, attract more clients, and develop best practices that are in alignment with customer needs.

CAT surveys provide higher value than conducting telephone interviews using a live interviewer. Also, with the national “Do Not Call” list, customer research using live callbacks is no longer an ideal method. CATs allow call centers to collect caller feedback automatically and in real-time (at the close of a call) that is statistically reliable and valid. In most cases, CAT surveys can do everything a telephone interview does while completing more interviews at a lower cost.

In addition to providing CATs to call centers, Customer Relationship Metrics can also benchmark your calls with those of other companies (they do tens of thousands of surveys every month). This is done at no additional cost each quarter; they can also provide monthly comparisons upon request. This program is a useful means to assess how one center compares to others.

For more information, contact Jim Rembach at jim.rembach@metrics.net or 877-550-0223.


Certification training is provided by ICMI Inc., a global provider of call center consulting, training, publications, and membership services. ICMI’s mission is to help call centers including contact centers, help desks, customer care, and support centers to achieve operational excellence and superior business results. Based in Annapolis

ICMI’s Certification Training does more than just prepare you for Call Center Industry Advisory Council (CIAC) certification. It allows you to acquire tangible skills and knowledge that create real value for your organization and your customers.

ICMI offers three certification training options:

  • Study guides.
  • Web-based certification study courses
  • In-person certification study courses

Through preparing for the assessment process, you will:

  • Improve your skills and knowledge.
  • Increase your awareness of current customer contact trends.
  • Examine your organization’s current processes and strategies to identify areas that need improvement.

ICMI will assist with this preparation to ensure you are maximizing the benefits you and your organization may experience from the certification process.

Please contact Cindy Smith, Manager, Business Development, ICMI at CindyS@icmi.com or 410-414-9962 x 259.


JD Power and Associates offers a call center certification program. Call centers that become certified by JD Power and Associates can show that they are “process-oriented, professionally managed, and focused on providing high levels of caller satisfaction.” Further, this effort helps call centers to “improve caller satisfaction, increase efficiency, attract more clients, and develop best practice standards.”

Phase one of their certification includes evaluating a call center’s:

  • Recruiting, training, and employee incentives
  • Management roles and responsibilities
  • Standards for performance measurement
  • Quality assurance

For those centers that meet phase one performance standards, phase two is surveying a random sample of callers. The intent of the survey is to ascertain caller satisfaction. The survey results are quantified and compared to a national benchmark. Those operations achieving a score of 80% or higher may then become certified by JD Power and Associates. Certified call centers receive a trophy and relevant promotional material.

For more information, contact Jonathan Brookner at 203-354-4593 or jonathan.brookner@jdpa.com.


NetReflector provides automated solutions for agent and contact center performance monitoring and benchmarking. The company integrates multilingual online survey technology with CRM (Customer Relationship Management) applications and incident management tools to measure caller satisfaction and loyalty scores in real time. NetReflector combines these quality indicators with internal call performance metrics to generate a series of balanced scorecards by geographic region and individual contact center, all the way down to workgroups and individual agents. This provides an accurate, up-to-the-minute picture of contact center performance and effectiveness – in any language.

These scorecards are delivered in an online reporting environment designed to fit the needs of all internal audiences, from agents to upper management. It provides the actionable, real-time insights necessary for successful change strategies to drive operational efficiencies and enhance company profitability.

NetReflector is a wholly owned subsidiary of GMI.


The National Certification Corporation (NCC) offers a variety of credentialing options for healthcare professionals. Although certification is limited to nurses, subspecialty examinations which lead to a certificate of added qualification are open to multidisciplinary populations including physicians, primary care nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, physician assistants, and others. More than 60,000 professionals have earned their RNC (Registered Nurse Certified) or certificate of added qualification.

Core examinations awarding the RNC credential are Telephone Nursing Practice, Inpatient Obstetric Nurse, Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse, Low Risk Neonatal Nurse, Maternal Newborn Nurse, Women’s Health Care Nurse Practitioner, and Neonatal Nurse Practitioner. Subspecialty examinations are Electronic Fetal Monitoring and Menopause Clinician.

Computer examinations are available throughout the year. There will be a paper and pencil examination administration on August 19, 2005 for institutions with six or more candidates for any exam mix. Exams are given at the institution sponsoring the opportunity.


SNUG (Startel National Users Group) has developed “a three-tiered educational program to provide members with certification levels covering the areas of their business with the focus on achieving 99.99% annual run-time,” said Dan L’Heureux, SNUG executive director. The three areas are CSR (customer service representative), supervisor, and site.

CSR Certification: The CSR certification program is designed for a telephone answering service to certify and accredit CSRs. The goal of the CSR certification program is to offer CSRs a professionally prepared program where they can be tested and accredited in customer service skill sets based on the features of the accredited telemessaging platform.

Supervisor Certification: Examination candidates are given problems and case studies to solve. They also answer questions in essay form about system operations and procedures. Supervisor Certification is as much a test of character as it is a test of knowledge.

Site Certification: The 24/7 site certification program sets forth nearly 60 criteria to be met or exceeded. These specifications represent a collection of the best practices and guidelines to which call centers must adhere. Certification specifications have been developed for Startel systems, the Amtelco Infinity system, the Telescan Spectrum, Professional Teledata’s PInnacle, and Alston Tascom’s Evolution.

For more information, contact SNUG at 800-317-8529 or Dan@CallConsult.net. These programs are also offered through ATSI, 866- 896-2874.


The Support Center Practices (SCP) certification program quantifies the effectiveness of technology support based upon a stringent set of performance standards and represents best practices in the industry. The SCP program advances service excellence by providing the framework and language for the communication of best practices among participants and creates a network of professionals actively engaged in driving higher levels of service within the technology support marketplace.

The SCP Certification program is guided by a body of sponsoring companies and is managed by Service Strategies Corporation. The sponsor companies continually contribute their insight and perspective into defining key elements required for delivering world-class support. The SCP program is revised annually to stay current with the inevitable changes in support and advancing technologies. SCP is a global program.  Organizations from more than twenty countries worldwide are SCP Certified.

For more information, call 800-552-3058.


Peter DeHaan is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from peterdehaan.com.

[From the Fall 2004 issue of AnswerStat magazine]