Answer Your Email

By Peter DeHaan, Ph.D.

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of AnswerStatI often hear from outsourcing call centers (by the way, they generally email me) who wonder how they can obtain more clients. I have been hesitant to give them my ideas because that was not one of my strengths when I ran a call center, but I’m starting to realize that perhaps I do have something to offer. Quite simply, answer your email!

In each issue of AnswerStat magazine, we publish a list of outsourcing call centers that offer various types of medical-related call center services, such as telephone triage, medical answering service, appointment setting and reminder service, and physician referral service. We also print a complete list annually, which we’ve done in this issue.  The information is also posted online.

The listing information is compiled from submissions made by the call centers on the AnswerStat website.  This has been an ongoing effort for several years and a service that we are happy to provide to the industry – and to your prospects. Since business listings and contact data change over time, once a year I verify that all information is current before being printed in our magazine’s annual Outsourcing Call Center Directory. That is what I did in July, in preparation for the complete Medical Call Center Directory in this issue.

Starting with an initial 66 call centers in our listing, I sent an email to each one, asking them to verify their information prior to publication. Three of those messages (5%) bounced back immediately as undeliverable. Some people responded quickly (9 people or 14%) or the next day (3 or 5%), but some took a week or more (5 or 8%).  Two and a half weeks later, I sent a follow-up email with much the same results.

After both mailings, I received many “out-of-office” messages. A few of them were of the “out on a sales call” variety, but rather, they were “on vacation for two weeks.”  This would not be alarming, if not for the fact that I sent my message to email addresses that had been posted for sales inquires.

Of the 63 that didn’t bounce back, here’s how it broke down:

  • Responded to first message          19  (30%)
  • Responded to second message    20  (32%)
  • Didn’t respond at all                        24  (38%)

Remember, this was not a list that I bought or harvested, but rather the result of self-submitted information from people who wanted to be contacted. This is an astoundingly poor response rate.

Can you imagine if someone were that apathetic about their telephone number? With a record like that, how long do you think a call center could stay in business? Before you criticize me for implying that email is a comparably critical comparison to the telephone, I must point out that email is the default communication channel for an increasing number of people – especially the younger generation, who are rapidly becoming the decision makers at your prospects’ offices.

Here are some more suggestions to those who want to market their call center.

Start with a Website: First, you need a website. I’ve said it often and I’ll say it again, outsourcing call centers that don’t have a website won’t be taken seriously. Once you have a site, check it periodically to make sure it is still there and actually working. Sites can go down (usually temporarily, sometimes permanently), pages can be deleted, links become obsolete, domain names can be pointed to the wrong place – or to nowhere – and on and on. For the call center listings on the AnswerStat website, I check their websites once a month and remove all listings that didn’t have working websites. After all, if a prospect finds your listing online, they will likely want to visit your website.

Keep Track of Your Email Addresses: You need to assign an email administrator who keeps track of all email addresses that your call center uses. This includes both the ones to individuals (such as Peter@PeterDeHaan.com), as well as general purpose ones (for example, Sales@PeterDeHaan.com). When an employee leaves, don’t just deactivate their email address, but have it forwarded to the email administrator so that important messages can be received and routed to the proper person.

Test Your Email Addresses: Once you’ve accounted for all your email addresses, they must be periodically checked to make sure they are working. This is especially true of department and company-wide addresses. Also, carefully test all of those email addresses that have an auto-response message or are forwarded to another mailbox. Both of these situations are prime areas for problems to occur – and can easily remain undetected for a long time.

The most critical email addresses to check are those that are published. This includes those listed on your website, the ones printed in ads, directories, and listings, and those listed on other websites. These should be tested daily. This testing can be automated – just make sure someone is faithfully checking the logs to ensure the program is running and the errors are being addressed. Perhaps better still is to simply have a call center agent do the testing during a slow time of the day. Incidentally, this is a service that you should be offering your clients.

Develop a Vacation Policy: A policy needs to be established for staff email when they are on vacation. Short of having them check their email while gone (a requirement that I would discourage), an auto-response message is the minimal expectation. This message must provide the name, number, and email address of a qualified alternate contact.

A preferred approach would be to not inconvenience the sender and simply have someone else check the vacationing staffs’ email account for time critical and urgent communiqués. This, by the way, is an excellent reason to keep business and personal email separate. Just as you don’t want personal email encroaching on the business hours, it is wise to keep business email from detracting from personal time.

Heighten the Importance of Email: If your call center switch, server, or telco connection goes down, it is a problem of the most critical nature; all else becomes subordinate until it is resolved. There are backup options, contingency plans, notification procedures, and escalation steps. The same needs to occur with email.

Verify Your Sales Staff: Up until now, I have addressed the technical side of email. The human side, however, should not be discounted. Left unchecked, salespeople can become lackadaisical, forget to check email, or merely delete any lead that doesn’t sound like a sure thing. I wonder if this is why 76% did not respond to my simple query. Sales staff compliance can only be remedied through diligent monitoring and careful verification.

Therefore, the answer to my most commonly received query, “How can I get more sales?” may be as simple as “Answer your email!”

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 August/September 2009 issue of AnswerStat magazine]