I hate telemarketers. I don’t want what they are trying to sell me. Ever. I hate their robot dialer that calls me first to see if someone will answer before transferring me to a person standing by to sell me something. I hate that the person I’m transferred to will try to sell to me using a predetermined script written by someone else. I hate it all so much that whenever there are a couple of seconds of silence after I say “Hello,” I’ve always hung up, especially when the caller ID says “Unknown” or “Blocked.”
But a couple of years ago, I had a surprise that’s made me more careful about the calls I reject and the ones I take. One day I actually stayed on the line, because the name of our local garbage company popped up on the Caller ID, and I was curious. What could THEY possibly want to sell me? What I heard next shocked me…
“Hello, this is <garbage company> calling to let you know that because of the holiday next week, your trash will be picked up on Wednesday. If you no longer want to receive reminders like this one, press 9 to be taken off our list. Thank you and goodbye.”
“No WAY!” I thought. That was useful! That’s information that helps me. It beats walking up the street to see if anyone else has their trash out on Monday night! And the automation system was thoughtful too – it was willing to let me opt out. But who in their right mind would ever opt out of such useful automation?
As it turns out, there are many useful automated systems like this one. Companies use them to remind people about prescriptions that are ready to be picked up, update them about changes to their flight status, remind them of a dentist appointment, or confirm a service appointment for their car. There are even outbound campaigns where callers opt-in to a weekly phone call that gives them information about a medical condition, or helps them learn to make exercise part of their normal routine. There’s even an automated outbound application that helps you quit smoking! By creating automated outbound applications, I’ve had a chance to design systems that handle many of those examples above. And who better to design useful automation like this than a person who absolutely despises those annoying telemarketer phone calls? I have five tips that might help as you create your next automated outbound application:
1. Go with your gut: Ask yourself, “Is this a phone call I’d be happy or annoyed to receive?” (Reject the annoying ideas!) Telling me my trash pickup date has changed is incredibly useful. Telling me you’d like to sell me a new trash can for three payments of $19.95 is incredibly annoying. See how easy that is?
2. DO sweat the small stuff: Giving me an option to opt-out of future messages is a nice thing. My garbage company didn’t have to add that in there, but the fact that they did makes me even happier to receive those messages. If there were multiple companies competing for my trash, I’d choose this one! Similarly, if you’re calling to speak with someone specific, make sure you get the right person on the phone. And if the wrong person answers, give them choices to take a message, or to have the system wait while they find the right person.
3. Get good technology: Make sure the vendor you work with can detect whether there’s a voicemail system answering vs. a real person so you can leave a message on someone’s answering machine when appropriate. And if you want to build a system to call people who are late paying their bills, make sure the vendor can treat outbound calls like inbound calls so they can actually collect the payment, rather than transferring to a separate system to take the payment and ruining the good experience the caller was having with the first system.
4. Keep it short: Get to the point quickly. Craft text that clearly and immediately conveys the reason for the call. If you’ve followed the first rule above and you’re calling for a good reason, make sure the caller knows that! Outbound calls are tricky – people are predisposed to hang up on an automated system, so you have a short time to make an impression.
5. Make it sound good: Choose a voice that’s suitable for the type of call you’re making, and coach that talent to clearly convey the meaning of the text. The way text is read to someone is equally as important as the words themselves.