Posted by Elena del Valle on March 19, 2008
By Tony Malaghan
CEO, Arial International
Tony Malaghan, CEO, Arial International
Many companies have adopted strategies to welcome their newly acquired customers. These contacts most often take place in the form of letters or packets mailed to the customer via the postal service, an e-mail, a pre-recorded outbound broadcast message and/or a live outbound telephone call from a customer service representative. The type of industry, purpose of the initial contact and cost to deliver the message drives the strategy and the tools utilized in a welcome contact. We have seen that many companies underestimate the benefit of welcome calls, especially to their US Hispanic customers.
Census 2000 showed that more than one person in eight who lives in the US is of Hispanic origin, and the US Hispanic population continues to grow much more rapidly that the non-Hispanic population. By 2012, nearly one person out of every six living in the US will be of Hispanic origin. By 2025 that figure will have increased to one out of every four! According to the Selig Center for Economic Growth, in sheer dollar power Hispanics’ economic clout will rise from $862 billion in 2007 to slightly over $1.2 trillion in 2012. Based on these numbers, this market is certainly one worth taking, pursuing and developing specific strategies to target and retain these customers.
In nearly every industry, a welcome contact that thanks the customer for their business and congratulates him on selecting your company as his provider helps form the foundation for a successful long-term relationship. In today’s competitive landscape consumers have many choices when selecting providers for their banking, lending, insurance, landline/wireless telephone service, cable TV, home security, etc. I think it is fair to say that in today’s highly homogenous marketplace, consumer decisions are initially driven by price and businesses have to look elsewhere to find that key differentiator between their product/service offering and that of their competitors.
One area where businesses can develop a real competitive advantage is providing excellent customer service. In the general market, low-cost postal mail, e-mail and automated message strategies are effective tools to welcome customers and familiarize them with your products, services and payment methods. Except for the very young customer, who may be a first-time user of your service, general market consumers are fairly experienced in commonly used business practices. However, the US Hispanic market is comprised of individuals who vary greatly in their level of acculturation to the social/cultural life, as well as business practices in the US. Those unacculturated and partially acculturated Hispanic consumers may be unfamiliar with US business practices, processes, and tools that can be accessed to answer questions or resolve disputes, and these customers will benefit greatly from a live outbound welcome call by an experienced bilingual customer service representative.
Immigration has been a major contributor to the growth in the Latino population which means adult consumers who are newly arrived to the US must research, shop and purchase the basics and luxuries to function in their new environment. Most of these consumers have used banking, insurance, telephone, utilities and other services in their native countries, and will seek similar services in the US. However the way companies in these industries operate in other countries can be vastly different than in the US because they function under different laws and regulations and use other business practices. For example in some Latin American countries industries which are very competitive in the US, such as telecom, operate under a monopoly which means that immigrants to the US must learn how to navigate, understand and make decisions in a complicated and competitive environment. Many of these issues and concerns are tackled in the sales process where sales people take the time to describe, explain and answer questions about your product or service. Additionally, many companies provide Spanish-speaking sales representatives, and Spanish-language websites, marketing collateral and documentation as tools to educate the customer and close the sale. However, let’s be realistic, how many salespeople describe how a customer will be billed, the consequences of late or missed payments or other servicing issues? Sales people are motivated, remunerated and driven to close sales and move on to the next prospect. Therefore this information is generally ignored. Since Hispanic customers are less experienced in billing and payment processes in the US, it behooves companies to deploy a high-contact strategy to ensure your customer understands your products, services and the importance of making timely payments.
The objectives of a live outbound welcome call to your new customers are best delivered by a bilingual customer service representative and may include one or more of the following:
- Verify and correct account information;
- Answer any questions the customer may have about the product/service;
- Educate your customer on how to maximize his relationship with your company by further describing your products and services;
- Emphasize the importance of on-time payments to reduce delinquencies, service interruptions, etc.;
- Increase customer loyalty to improve retention and reduce churn; and
- Identify relevant cross-selling opportunities for the future.
The ideal timing for a welcome call will depend on the type of service your company provides, but optimally will take place within a few days of service activation. Do not underestimate the importance of the welcome call and the long-term benefits you will reap. This is the first contact you have with the customer following the sales process.
The tone of a welcome call is friendly, informational and inviting. In Best Practices, the content of the welcome call includes the following steps:
1. Welcome the customer and ask if they have any questions or concerns about the service.
2. Verify the customer’s contact information and ask for additional or missing information. These include verifying the correct spelling of the name(s) on the account, billing and/or property address(es), home, work and mobile telephone number(s). Ask for and record alternate telephone number(s) where the customer could be reached (beeper, pager, etc.), employer name, employment position and location, and spouse and/or co-signer contact information. This information is invaluable if the customer’s account falls into Collections.
3. Explain your billing process:
- How your company will bill the customer and what the bill looks like: payment or coupon book, monthly billing statement, invoice, etc.;
- When he should be receiving his billing statement (or other payment notifications); and
- The payment due date: explain the terms of your payment agreement or contract.
- Advise the customer of the due date, grace period (if any), how minimum payments are calculated and the penalties and/or consequences of late or missed payments. These could include late charges, credit line reductions, account closure, service suspension, etc.
- The tools you provide to your customers to verify their charges and account e.g. a call center, Internet website, ATM, branch, etc.
4. Close the call by thanking the customer for his business and selling the benefits of your product or service. Reassure the customer that if they have any problems with their product/service, then you are only a call away.
Another opportunity for a customer contact is after the customer receives his first billing statement and before the first payment is due. This is particularly relevant to the US Hispanic market as we have found that many companies in the US who are servicing Hispanics do not provide bilingual or Spanish-language billing statements. If your customer’s preference is to speak Spanish and you are providing billing information in English, this further emphasizes the importance of making an in-language call to explain your billing and payment process.
The tone of a statement education call is friendly and informational. In Best Practices, the content of the statement education call includes the following steps:
1. Ask the customer if they have received their bill and ask if they have any questions or concerns about the content or the amount owed.
2. Highlight the payment due date and explain the terms of your payment agreement or contract. Advise the customer of the due date, grace period (if any), how minimum payments are calculated and the penalties and/or consequences of late or missed payments. These could include late charges, credit line reductions, account closure, service suspension, etc.
3. Educate the customer on two important points: the importance of establishing good payment habits with your company and how to build their credit history.
4. Describe all the ways your company makes it easy to make on-time payments. Your payment methods could include as many of the following as is reasonable for your company and industry: postal mail, Internet, electronic bill pay, branch, pay-by-phone service, credit or debit card, electronic funds transfer, ACH, cash center, money order, mobile banking, third party vendor service, etc. Based on the customer’s preferred payment method, it is wise to advise him of how many days he should allow for the payment to be credited to the account.
5. This is an ideal moment to offer a recurring payment program where payments would be automatically debited from the customer’s credit or debt card or checking or savings account. Offer an incentive for the customer to enroll in an automatic payment program, as this may provide the motivation for the customer to sign-up and, therefore, reduce the likelihood of missed or late payments in the future.
6. Close the call by thanking the customer for his business and selling the benefits of your product or service. Reassure the customer that if they have any problems with their product/service, then you are only a call away.
On a welcome and statement education call your customer service representative is building rapport with your customer and, possibly, identifying potential dispute, collection, fraud or other problems. You are giving the customer an opportunity to build loyalty and trust with your company, so that if he does have a problem in the future he will not feel nervous about calling you to discuss his situation sooner rather than later. Depending on the product you are servicing, you may also want to mail the customer a welcome packet in the customer’s preferred language with the above information in writing. The mailed material should not substitute for a live welcome call from a trained bilingual representative from your company as many studies have shown that US Hispanic customers respond favorably to person-to-person contact.
The types of calls discussed in this article can be an invaluable tool to cement long-term relationships with your customers. In the Hispanic market, where customers respond favorably to personalized contacts, these calls give you additional opportunities to create customers who will not only happily utilize your company’s products and services, but also pay as agreed, providing a boost to your accounts receivables.
Tony Malaghan brings over 25 years of professional experience in marketing to Arial International’s management team. He has a Bachelor of Business Studies with a major in Marketing from Massey University. Since joining Arial International in 2001, Tony’s focus has been on Hispanic marketing projects in the US. For more information visit www.arialinternational.com