Call center for hire helps sell blenders

Outsourced service from LiveOps has agents based in homes.

When Homeland Housewares wants to sell lots of Magic Bullet blenders, it most often calls on call-center service provider LiveOps, which uses call agents who work from home in combination with sophisticated back-end software to boost the percentage of calls the agents convert into sales.

Magic Bullet attracts customers via TV infomercials that can cost $50,000 for airtime, so getting as many callers as possible to convert (buy blenders) is key, says Colin Sapire, president of TV Traffic, the company that oversees Magic Bullet sales. And to maximize profits, the company rejects the expense of opening and running its own call center, he says.

A combination of LiveOps' conversion rate, the call statistics it can deliver to TV Traffic, the training it can provide to agents and the speed with which it can adapt new scripts all account for why Magic Bullet directs 75% of its incoming calls to LiveOps, Sapire says. "We wouldn't allocate at 75% if there were an issue," he says.

Outsourcing the call center relieves Magic Bullet from an expense it could not afford, Sapire says. Calls from viewers who see the infomercials peak during and just after the broadcasts, requiring a large number of agents to handle a crush of calls that could number as many as 40,000, he says. "If we had to hire for that spike, it would be cost prohibitive," he says, though he would not provide dollar figures.

Instead, the company has 13 employees, six of whom are programmers who write code to automate and analyze the company's business processes.

With LiveOps, the company contracts for more agents during projected peak times, and LiveOps schedules more of its agents to be available with very little notice. This same flexibility prompted the Red Cross to use LiveOps after Hurricane Katrina last year to take calls from an 800 line set up to help families find their loved ones. LiveOps says it set up the service in three hours and handled 220,000 calls in 30 days.

Magic Bullet's 800-number provider, AT&T, provides statistics on how many calls it diverts to LiveOps and Magic Bullet compares those numbers to the statistics LiveOps provides. These include how many calls LiveOps answers, how many result in sales and how many result in sales for more than the basic blender, Sapire says. Those kinds of statistics are available from another call-center outsourcer it uses, West Telemarketing, but they take longer to get, he says.

These stats can be further broken down and integrated into instructions written into LiveOps back-office code, according to LiveOps. For example, after ranking call agents based on their conversion rate, the call distributor can be programmed to divert calls to the top 10 first, and only to other agents if those 10 are busy. So 25% of all the calls might be routed to the top 10% of agents.

LiveOps also trains agents with online programs that might include a Magic Bullet infomercial to familiarize them with the product, Sapire says. The training includes testing to guarantee the agents have learned the new products and scripts they are supposed to use with customers who call.

To ensure the quality of service LiveOps agents give, the company records all the calls and delivers them electronically to Magic Bullet, Sapire says.

The cost difference between LiveOps and other call-center providers is not significant, but in this case price is not the major deciding factor, Sapire says. Using offshore telemarketing firms is less expensive, for example, but it was difficult getting recordings of calls back to analyze, because of bandwidth constraints across oceans. Magic Bullet also found that foreign accents make a negative difference on converting callers into buyers. "Performance is much more important than price," he says.

Based on new elements of Magic Bullet infomercials, the company may want to change agent scripts or procedures rapidly, and LiveOps can do that within three hours. The same changes take competing services 10 days, he says.

LiveOps says it can program in customer call features, such as one that masks credit card numbers from call agents for security purposes. So an agent taking an order asks customers to speak or press the phone number pad to enter their credit card information. Customers' voices or the phone tones during their response are blocked, so an agent can't hear it, and the automated confirmation repeating the number back to the caller is also blocked from the agent.

While Sapire likes LiveOps, he would never give the company all his business. "If you put all your eggs in one basket, something could go wrong," he says. "We like competition."

Outsourced call center

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