Outbound communication is used in a number of different contexts. For potential customers, traditional telemarketing still exists, though it is limited these days due to its minimal effectiveness. Instead, many customer-experience planners have substituted digital outbound over voice for lead generation and nurturing campaigns. Customers find text messages in the channel of their choice to be much less intrusive, and they are considerably less expensive than having contact center agents reach out.
For existing customers, use cases include notifications and alerts of all sorts. Organizations use them to bring consumer attention to service outages or changes in working conditions. This has the added effect of making the organization look active and serious during a problem as well as preventing more expensive inbound calls asking for status updates.
Ventana Research predicts that by 2025, 3 in ten customer interactions will be conducted asynchronously by text messaging, with the majority of those consisting of outbound promotional messaging.
Outbound is also used to provide opt-in information about account status or any business threshold the customer may be interested in – for example, when a bank balance is overdrawn, or when a delivery is on the way. In field service, outbound is used for appointment scheduling and reminders, and tracking of service technician arrival.
And then there is collections, which is one of the most widely used applications for outbound. Increasingly, digital outbound is taking the place of voice calls. Many firms find it makes reaching customers easier, and there are indications that softer touches by text messaging or other text channels result in more engagement by the customer.
Outbound communication differs from inbound in several important ways. Although the industry often blurs the distinction between the two modes by talking about "blended” agents or centers, there are different skill sets associated with customer outreach than with handling inbound service inquiries. Especially for collections, agents need specific training in soft-skills like empathy and negotiation. They need to be precise in the words they use (often based on legal requirements) and adhere to scripts for compliance purposes. Voice-based outbound also requires specialized predictive dialing technology, which is usually embedded as an option in voice communications platforms.
It also lends itself well to automation and channel-hopping. Outbound is coming to be seen as a component of self-service, as notifications generate customer responses that can be captured within an interactive voice response or intelligent virtual agent. Outbound can reduce inbound volume and costs by capturing these routine interactions before they escalate and by using smart timing to smooth out demand and make it more predictable.
Outbound is taking on greater importance as a customer experience channel, and has been garnering more attention from vendors through feature enhancements. Because much of the stigma associated with telemarketing has receded, organizations are increasingly comfortable incorporating outbound into CX processes, especially when it can be automated and digital.
In the age of preference management and opt-in, organizations can be confident that the messages sent out will be received more warmly than poorly targeted phone calls. Providing messaging that is relevant to the customer and contextually meaningful, organizations are able to demonstrate clear value to the customer. Plus, outbound can be used as part of more integrated CX life cycles that include sales and marketing processes that bypass the contact center. Asynchronous outbound messaging can be managed by the customer on his or her own time, so it is less an unwanted interruption than a timely bit of advice or awareness.
Vendors are seeing the value of offering targeted outbound capabilities as part of broader CX tools. For example, Zendesk has put outbound messaging into its Sunshine platform via a Conversations Notification API, which lets users send personalized text messaging and WhatsApp messages at scale. The use cases are mainly alerts to situational changes (“your delivery is on the way”) and reaching out to customers who have disengaged to avoid churn.
LiveVox has long been known for its outbound capabilities, even as it is transitioning to a more diverse communications platform. It’s offering contains multiple types of dialers fit for different use cases, and an emphasis on compliance controls to make adapting to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and other regulations a simple matter. It has added multichannel outbound tools that lets organizations use virtual agents, chatbots and customizable email templates for automated agentless outbound contact, and to escalate to live agents as needed.
Some vendors with decades-long experience in outbound, like Alvaria, still focus mainly on the voice channel and have built solutions around maximizing agent efficiency. Others like Dialpad also specialize in outbound voice, but with the twist of software for campaign management that likely draws in users on marketing and sales teams.
Industry interest in outbound has been cyclical. The underlying dialing technology was settled in the 1990s, so advancements have come in either the set up process – creating campaigns and identifying targets – or in the expansion to other channels beyond voice. As more organizations embed contact centers within larger CX teams, the use cases for outbound will continue to expand.
Customer communication is becoming a more varied, push-and-pull conversation that involves more organizational personas with more varied needs and key performance indicators. This suggests that organizations should not view contact centers or broader CX initiatives as one-directional. Organizations can and should listen to, talk to and engage with customers in efficient, two-way conversations.
More information on how contact centers and customer experience teams are using technology to interact with customers can be found at Ventana Research’s CX Expertise Area.