TELEMARKETING: Telephone extension - Customer carelines can not only help to deal with complaints, but they can also provide a valuable source of consumer feedback. Robin Cobb reports

The way fmcg brands use their carelines is undergoing a dramatic strategic switch. When the pioneers first placed phone numbers on their packs it was to put them a step ahead of their competitors in demonstrating that they were a helpful, approachable brand. Then those competitors, anxious to be perceived as equally caring, followed suit.

The way fmcg brands use their carelines is undergoing a dramatic

strategic switch. When the pioneers first placed phone numbers on their

packs it was to put them a step ahead of their competitors in

demonstrating that they were a helpful, approachable brand. Then those

competitors, anxious to be perceived as equally caring, followed


Now, as well as being an arrow in the marketing quiver, the fmcg

careline is itself being competitively marketed. Having invested in the

equipment and staff - either in-house or through a telemarketing bureau

- companies want to see value for money.

Redirecting traffic

More and more fmcg brands are promoting their carelines to drive traffic

to them.

Uses are being found beyond the generation of goodwill and having a

cost-effective method of handling complaints.

Call data is analysed to profile customers. Feedback from consumers is

used in product development, pack design and label information. The line

may handle requests for literature, acceptance of special offers and

competition entries.

Opportunities for cross-selling and up-selling are explored.

’When people are setting up carelines they are looking for some sort of

payback and being able to measure it,’ observes Mark Osmond, managing

director of InTelMark. ’But you need clear objectives as to what the

careline is about - otherwise it can run away with you.’

There is a growing trend to drive traffic through carelines, he


’Particularly in fmcg markets, companies are exploring different ways of

building brands through direct marketing, using carelines to profile

consumer types and feed a database for future activity.’

But some call-centre operators and tele-consultants, to whom much of

this activity is outsourced, warn against the core purpose and value of

the careline being lost amid a welter of added functions.

Helen MacKenzie, managing director of Business Extension, says: ’People

want economies of scale by employing a careline facility for additional

purposes, but the important thing is to meet customers’


There may be a temptation to turn every call into a cross-selling


This has to be carefully judged.

’There is a big difference between the skills required for selling and

for placating an irate customer. I doubt companies will find operators

who have a schizophrenic ability to switch from being caring, listening

customer-oriented types to being sharp super-salespeople. Such people

don’t work in call centres, they become captains of industry.’

Subject matter

Maggie Evans, Telecom Potential’s head of marketing, recommends that

where a company’s call centre is used for a variety of purposes, each

service should have a different number so that calls can be directed to

appropriately trained operators. Otherwise, there is the almost

impossible task of training staff in a diversity of subjects. ’One of

our clients identified 149 different types of questions,’ she says.

Matthew Taylor, director of communications consultancy Calcom Group,

says: ’If you start cluttering up your lines, using agents who are

highly trained in handling specific types of queries to deal with

lower-value calls, such as brochure requests, it gets messy and


’Carelines can be passive, with the numbers on-pack in small type, or

positively promoted. Nowadays companies are recognising they have to be

proactive, saying to customers, ’We want to talk to you’.’

He says the marketing benefits include cost-effective relationship

building, an understanding of the customer base, data capture, trend

identification and feedback on how products are perceived.

Complaints should not be viewed as a necessary evil but welcomed for the

insights they provide.

Familiar questions

Taylor has found that the same consumer queries keep cropping up. Does

it contain nuts? Is it kosher? Is it assembled in a Third-World country

with exploited labour? Why is it sold cheaper somewhere else? Why didn’t

it do what it said on the pack? Why doesn’t your advertising show people

of different ethnic origins? Can I have a T-shirt?

Paul Cresswell, managing director of telemarketing giant Sitel, observes

that carelines today are being used more innovatively. But he warns that

they should not be used for a hard sell, although opportunities may be

found for cross-selling.

In fmcg markets, where the retailer stands between manufacturer and

consumer, he describes carelines as ’a form of disintermediation:

getting to know directly who your customers are rather than what the

intermediaries say they are.’

Andy Phillips, operations director at Mailcom, says: ’In terms of

extricating additional value, promotional work through a careline is

fine, providing it is not intrusive and does not interfere with the

ethos of the care service.’

Some call-centre companies are now looking beyond the telephone. Matrixx

Telemarketing has introduced its CybeResponse service to manage internet


In quiet periods careline staff shift their attention to the client’s

interactive web site and respond by phone or e-mail to questions and

complaints placed there by computerised consumers.

One of the oddities among carelines is the ’invisible’ service provided

by Teledynamics for an fmcg manufacturer whose name is virtually unknown

to consumers. This company is one of the largest suppliers to

supermarkets of their own-brand products. There is a different on-pack

phone number for each supermarket chain and callers are answered in the

name of that retailer.

’The manufacturer gets no direct benefit,’ says Bernard Stott,

Teledynamics’ managing director. ’It is added value in a

price-competitive area to encourage supermarkets to continue to use the

company for their own brands.’

One company that is proficient in getting value from its carelines

without losing sight of the principle of customer service is Lever

Brothers. Its help numbers, managed by The L&R Group, are extensively

promoted. Persil, for example, devotes the entire back of its pack to

encouraging use of the line.

’It’s an invaluable way of getting feedback, particularly on new

products,’ says Lever’s Helen Fenwick.

In one instance, critics of a pack were enrolled to comment on new


But Fenwick emphasises that, first and foremost, the objective is to

give help and advice. ’We don’t see carelines as a facility for

gathering data and only take names and addresses if callers have asked

to be sent further information.’

There is a carefully judged degree of cross-selling, such as offering

advice on the best Lever product for a particular purpose. This is

introduced only when it is appropriate to the subject of the call.

An example of using a careline in a special promotion is provided by the

Lever Homecare line, a winner in the last BT-Marketing telemarketing

awards. It was triggered by a TV ’infomercial’ about the Jif product

range and the offer of a bathroom care guide and test kit.

Advice centres

Call-handling capacity on the careline was doubled and specific advisers

were assigned to fulfil requests for test kits and give additional


About 12,000 guides were sent out in response to calls, and sales

increased by 65% during the period of the campaign.

Land Rover makes extensive use of customer and dealer call lines.

Administered by The Ops Room, they include separate lines for test-drive

requests, advertising and direct-mail responses, customer queries,

competitions and incentives, and event booking. The lines handle about

5000 calls per month.

’Each potential customer has a very high worth and the quality of

handling is crucial,’ says Niki Turner, The Ops Room’s marketing


’It’s important that a telemarketing supplier works closely with clients

and their other agencies.’

The first fmcg carelines in the UK were those introduced by Van den

Bergh for the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter and Flora brands.

’Initially we explored what would happen if we just put a phone number

on the pack,’ says Mike Slipper, brand activity manager. ’Since then we

have moved on to include details in most promotional communications.

’There are two primary reasons for having a careline: one is to signal

to consumers that you are readily contactable; the other is to obtain


In another field, Private Patients Plan (PPP) seeks to differentiate

itself in a crowded medical-insurance market with its health information

line. Set apart from its customer service at the insurance-claim stage,

the line gives advice and counselling.

Operated by Access 24, in which PPP has a 50% stake, the line employs

nurses, pharmacists, midwives and medical librarians to answer


PPP’s customer-lapse rate has been reduced to one of the lowest in its

market - a success that PPP attributes to the loyalty generated by the


Access 24 is now offering its services to other products and brands,

including those in the pharmaceuticals sector. Martin Leuw, managing

director, believes it could even extend to sports products, accompanying

the purchase of kit with access to nutritionists and


’The health information line is integral to the relationship we have

with our customers,’ says Simon Rhodes, group marketing director of


’It is more than a service, it is part of our proposition that both

physically and emotionally we are dedicated to supporting our customers

and their health needs. It is a strategic part of our marketing.’


Its somewhat surreal advertising was one of the reasons why Guinness

felt it needed a careline. Another was that it is the only major brewer

that does not own pubs to give it direct contact with its public.

’As a company, we were rather aloof and mysterious in the way our

advertising projected us,’ explains Roy Mantle, head of PR and

sponsorship for Guinness Great Britain, whose department handles

consumer relations.

’Consumers see our advertising and sponsorship face but we were not seen

as a friendly, approachable company. It’s vital that when people have

contact with you it is a satisfactory or enjoyable experience.’

Following a six-month pilot in 1994, the careline was launched last

November, handled by InTelMark. It encompasses Harp, Kaliber and

Kilkenny Irish ale, as well as the Guinness brand in all its forms.

’We took it gently to start with,’ says Mantle. ’We put the number on

packs relatively unobtrusively to allow us to iron out any problems and

get a feel for the whole thing.’

Now the number is emblazoned on direct-mail and promotional


It will soon appear in ads and on beermats and will be issued by

Guinness mobile bars at events and sponsorships.

Call analysis gives consumer insights. There will be cross-selling where

appropriate to the nature of the call. It is also an early warning

system for crisis management. ’If you get 25 calls in quick succession

about the same thing, you know you have a problem,’ says Mantle.

Recently the volume of calls has grown from about 700 a month to almost

1000 and further increases are expected. ’If you are investing in this

activity, you want to get value for money,’ says Mantle. ’If you’ve got

it, flaunt it.’


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