As anyone who has ever worked in sales knows, there are many different tiers of sales people. There are the most valuable – the closers – who take hot leads identified by others and turn them into sales in the sales pipeline. Then there are the people whose job it is to use the telephone or other communications media to farm through reams of stone-cold contacts and see if they can’t warm them a bit by finding individuals whose buying needs and interests match what the company is selling. There may even be a layer of sales personnel in between, whose job it is to convert warm leads into hot leads.
Few companies begrudge paying their closers what they are worth. These are the people who turn prospects into customers, which are (after all) the company’s lifeblood. For the inside sales people who spend their days qualifying leads and passing them up the sales food chain, however, it’s a different story. The turnover among these salespeople is high, requiring nearly constant recruiting and training. It’s enough to make any company wish a machine could do their job.
Increasingly, it may be possible for machines to do exactly that.
When it comes to outbound telemarketing, it sometimes seems like there is nothing new on the horizon. Automated dialing technology, which usually accompanies outbound campaigns, is many decades old. Even automated outbound messaging – sometimes called “robocalling” is a mature technology at this point. For many organizations, however, the place where speech technology, analytics and outbound dialing meet is becoming ripe for opportunity.
We recently heard about “Samantha West,” a nice “lady” who has been calling Americans to offer them affordable health insurance. TIME Washington Bureau Chief Michael Scherer received such a call and was immediately suspicious that he was, in fact, actually speaking with a robotic voice. “Samantha” denied to Scherer that she was a robot, but she was unable to answer some simple questions (such as what vegetable was the main ingredient in tomato soup). To cover for her lack of knowledge, she would often resort to claiming a “bad connection.” The fact that Scherer was even in doubt regarding whether the voice was live and human speaks to how impressive this technology has become.
In other cases, automated voices are used in a way that’s being referred to as "voice conversion" technology or "agent-assisted automation technology." There is a human contact center agent involved, often located in another country, and he or she is “pushing” appropriate recorded answers to the person at the other end of the phone based on their questions or objectives.
A contact center manager in the Philippines told The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal, "Basically, the agent is just the driver but the system has its own life. The agents work as ears and hands of the system."
For foreign contact centers, this is a boon: some of the most persistent objections Americans have to foreign call center agents are heavy accents (which are overcome by “pushing” pre-recorded voices) and patriotism. Foreign contact centers using this technology at the front-end of the outbound sales process become invisible to American consumers. (In fact, one company that produces solutions in this market has a tagline, “Outsourcing without the Accent.”)
Whichever path companies take in the future – the truly automated speech technology model or the agent-assisted version, it’s another step toward nearly completely automating outbound telephone marketing.
Edited by Blaise McNamee