Online Sales vs Phone Sales

Tomorrow, World Vital Records will begin building its call center under our new manager Scott Spencer. He worked at MyFamily.com (now The Generations Network) from 2003-2006.

We are planning to hire 10-15 people in the next few weeks (part time and full time) to do genealogy sales, support and coaching. (If you know someone who might be interested, please use the Contact Me form on my blog, and let me know about them.)

Scott will be recruiting, hiring, and training individuals who can successfully sell our products (and our partners products as well), but also who understand the unique characteristics of the genealogy market, and who won’t use high pressure tactics that have no place in this business. In fact, we are anxious to hire call center employees who love genealogy and love helping others. Scott has worked previously with a number of very skilled genealogists who worked at the TGN Call Center, before TGN cut its call center staff dramatically and focused on trying to have as many sales and renewals as possible be handled online.

Until now, nearly all of our revenue has come from online marketing. Our World Vital Records Quantcast chart shows how our traffic has grown dramatically this year. Our sales are growing, but we are planning to more than double our current sales volume by the end of the year, and while online marketing will provide a lot of that growth, we think our call center will add a great deal to our capabilities.

I wonder what percentage of other internet companies sales come from their call centers? I love the Internet Retailer Top 500 annual report, one of the best reports in the industry, but I don’t think they have any way to track phone sales. But surely someone has compiled such a report. (If you know of one, please comment.)

Business analysts talk about “high tech vs high touch.” Online transactions are high tech. But some industries and some types of customers need “high touch” more than others, meaning that they need great customer service and support–a human element. Many B2B companies can build global supply chain management software that pretty much automates all their interactions with their suppliers and customers. This can dramatically increase profitability, as many of the unnecessary human labor costs are squeezed out of the business.

But family history is a hobby that engages millions of people that often need a real person to guide them in their research and to encourage them in their sometimes difficult quest. Most genealogists tend to be older and some are tentative about technology. Just attend your local genealogy society meeting and you’ll know what I mean.

I have a friend in his 40s who attended a genealogy society meeting back east a few years ago, and he reported to me that he was the youngest person there. That didn’t surprise me, but then he told me that his father was the second youngest person there!

In a recent month, 16% of our sales came from checks that were mailed in to our company. How many online businesses do you know that have customers writing checks and sending them in? Is this because family history customers are wary of online transactions, or is it because they’ve been using checks to pay bills and buy things for 50 years, and old habits are hard to break? Probably a combination.

But for customers who are used to asking questions, getting phone support, and talking to a real person when making a purchase, we are excited to build a customer friendly call center and to interact with hundreds of genealogists, societies, and libraries every day.

In addition to increasing our sales, and improving our customer satisfaction, we will use our call center to develop a great deal of “customer intelligence”–a knowledge of what our customers want.

Many companies fail to understand their customers.

Just this week I had two terrible experiences with credit card companies who have an automated phone system that makes it virtually impossible to reach a human. I had cancelled a card back in February, and I’m still getting billed for it, and I can’t pay my bill online because I had cancelled the card (and they disabled online payments) but they keep putting in finance charges, even after I paid the entire balance by phone last month (and had to pay $14.95 for paying by phone). It’s like I can’t pay the balance down completely without having either a payment fee show up on my bill the next month or a small interest fee show up. I feel like I’m stuck in Hotel California, “you can cancel any time you like, but you can never leave.” Finally I reached a human, and he said I had to call back the next day because he couldn’t tell what my late fee would be until tomorrow when the computer calculated it for him. Arrrrrgh!

I remember the day when my brother Curt asked the 12 or so VPs at MyFamily.com (back when he was CEO in about 1999) how many of them had spoken to a customer in the last 30 days. No one raised their hand.

From that point on, I made it a practice to have phone calls with customers regularly. When I became VP of Marketing in 2001, I required my team to go to the call center weekly for several hours and participate in customer phone calls. It made all the difference in the world for our marketing team to actually listen to customers firsthand, and to know what questions they were asking, what they loved about our products and services, and what they hoped we would improve.

I helped start a company in 2005 that had a great online offering, selling mp3 related supplies and content, but had no first hand interaction with customers. I really tried to convince the CEO to set up a mall kiosk where we could interact with dozens of customers every day, and find out what they wanted in person. It didn’t happen. The company focused only on online sales and marketing, because retail was “too expensive.” Without qualitative feedback from actual customers, without knowing the reasons why they were making a purchase or why they would not make a purchase, I think the company lost touch with its customers and went on to make some strategic product and marketing mistakes that would have been prevented had we been highly involved with our customers.

Scott Spencer is going to help World Vital Records make sure that we are highly involved with our customers and highly responsive to their needs.

Scott is a strong leader who brings with him experience in call center operations along with a great passion for genealogy. His background consists of managing inbound/outbound sales and support teams to overseeing the quality assurance department at The Generations Network (formally MyFamily.com). Before joining TGN in 2003, Scott worked as an outbound sales supervisor on the American Express account at Convergys Corp. where he assisted in the development and success of key programs.

He later joined the supervisor ranks at TGN’s Member Services department where he managed the inbound sales and support department for Genealogy.com, which TGN acquired in 2003. He went on to manage the Quality Assurance team where he played a vital role in supporting the company’s vision, while gathering valuable member feedback essential to providing a world class customer experience.

Scott again joined forces with the operations team in 2006 as the Assistant Manager of Inbound Support. Scott worked hand in hand in supporting the inbound operation which consisted of customer retention, sales, welcome call, and technical support teams. During his tenure at TGN, Scott spearheaded many key projects that impacted the growth and success of TGN’s Member Services.

When not working, he enjoys spending time with friends and family, as well as fly fishing the beautiful waters of Utah.

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4 Comments

  1. M BROWN

    YOU ARE EXTREMELY FORTUNATE TO HAVE SCOTT SPENCER IN YOUR GRASP. HE IS A HIGHLY INTELLIGENT INDIVIDUAL WITH ALOT TO OFFER. SCOTT HAS THE AMAZING ABILITY TO COMMUNICATE WITH JUST ABOUT ANYONE AND MAKE IT INTERESTING. HIS AMBITION & DETERMINATION ARE UNMATCHED. HE IS A STRONG INDIVIDUAL & A SUPERB LEADER.

  2. I just had to say how much I enjoyed this (and other) postings. From 1992 to 1998, I led ad sales and merchandising efforts for computer cataloger Micro Warehouse (MacWarehouse). When I joined, we were under $100mm, privately held, and nearly all our revenue came from the Mac platform and from North American software sales. Over my 6 years, I witnessed (and contributed to) growth to become $2.5 billion.

    Why am I sharing this? Because our call center was in New Jersey, a few hours drive from our Connecticut HQ. And, harder still, our warehouse was in Ohio. SO….many of our very talented and smart marketing and purchasing people rarely (if ever) had interaction with customers or even the sales people that connected us to the customer each day.

    With more than 1,200 agents on the phones (inbound and outbound), I always found it CRITICAL to put aside the day-to-day tasks of product/category assortment and catalog production and make the 3 hour drive to NJ. By listening to the customers DIRECTLY each month AND listening to the sales personnel EACH MONTH, we learned so much about how to market better. How to sell better. How to convert better. AND – also about how to not waste our time producing “sales tools” that sales people would never use. I’ve repeated that same experience many times since and it always proves to be the best learning on record. The great side benefit is that the sales personnel and sales management also walk away with a better understanding of the issues faced from a marketing perspective.

    Keep listening to customers; or one day they won’t be there to listen to.

  3. Mary Wilson-Burkett

    Our established coaching company is staffed with several LDS people who have worked on their geneology. We would like to talk about with you about coaching for you.
    Since we are an established company, we can help you set up your coaching program and hit the ground running. I can be reached at 1-866-533-9781. This is my direct number. Thank you!

  4. Mary Wilson-Burkett

    We are an established coaching company predominately staffed by LDS people who have personal experience with geneology. I would like to speak with you about providing coaching service.
    Mary Wilson-Burkett, Coaching Associates, Inc.
    1-435-627-9781

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