Broker Facilitates Strong Call-Center-Client Partnerships

By Chris DeLambo

As one of the leading credit card providers offering Visa and MasterCard credit cards serving the non-prime U.S. market, Premier Bankcard’s marketing strategy generates several million applications per year. These efforts are spearheaded with business partnerships, interactive websites, and direct mail programs supported by call center services.

Headquartered in Sioux Falls, SD, Premier Bankcard expanded its customer acquisition efforts by introducing a call center partner to augment its existing inbound acquisition channel. The first step in the process was to hire call center broker eStrategy3 and hand off the role of managing the request for proposal process.

“I can’t stress enough how beneficial it has been to have an objective third party involved,” said Lisa Irvine, Premier Bankcard’s Directing Officer of New Business Development and Telemarketing. “It ensures that both companies get what they need out of the relationship. Call centers know that the objectivity is there and that is reassuring.”

Irvine explained that the original reason for hiring an outsourcer was to provide a challenger and contingency to an existing call center. The company was previously using one call center company and this was such an important part of overall marketing initiatives, it was necessary to provide a competitive edge by adding another agency.

“It was a smart business decision to seek another call center partner,” said Sandra Alexa, co-founder of eStrategy3. She explained that Premier Bankcard realized a competitive lift in its results when it added an outside call center services agency. “Without competition, there is no challenge and complacency sets in. The bar has been raised.”

Alexa has a wealth of call center experience that includes project management, client service, sales and marketing. Alexa and her two business partners Sid Scott and Jill Scannell share a philosophical mandate to offer industry best practices by helping clients find the best outsourcing partners for their clients and to provide an independent measure of evaluation for call center operations.

Irvine says that dual call center operations allowed Premier Bankcard to get a good understanding of best practices. “From a competitive perspective, it has allowed us to become more financially savvy,” she said. “It has given us more flexibility since we are not reliant on a single partner.”

Agency Selection: To find the right service agency for Premier Bankcard, eStrategy3 matched companies against client requirements for inbound calling and response to direct mail offers. The comprehensive review process included grading and ranking selected companies on a detailed checklist that specifically matched experience and success in the financial services market. Next, eStrategy3 compiled a side-by-side comparison report for each agency. Premier Bankcard selected the finalists and conducted conference calls and site visits with a handful of the top companies.

According to Alexa, the review process typically takes between six and eight weeks which is the ideal period of time to evaluate call center candidates. “It can be done more quickly, but this is an optimum time frame to handle discussions and give agencies the time needed to provide their best responses,” she said.

For Premier Bankcard, the process involved an intensive six-week review process of the capabilities, experience, and quality measurements of several call centers. Ultimately, Premier Bankcard selected LiveBridge, based in Portland, OR, which handles call center services for eight out of ten of the largest financial institutions in the world. LiveBridge operates call centers in the U.S., Argentina, Canada, and India to maintain a global, multilingual service offering. After the decision, there was a 90-day test period, which LiveBridge completed successfully.

Client Maintenance: The client interaction process functions smoothly between all three participants. Alexa believes the key is that eStrategy3 is not a barrier to communication, but one part of a three-part partnership. eStrategy3 provides program oversight, evaluation, and an unbiased third-party perspective. However, there still remains plenty of direct communication between LiveBridge and Premier Bankcard. eStrategy3 communicates via phone and email weekly with LiveBridge and Premier Bankcard where action plans are made, deliverables agreed on, and results identified.

According to John Bartholomew, Executive Vice President of Global Business Development at LiveBridge, “Our relationship with Premier has been facilitated by eStrategy3 and has proven to be a benefit to all of the partners.”

As an intermediary, eStrategy3 reviews results day to day and relies on a monthly snapshot that provides additional data to examine trending. “After approximately 90 days, you get a clear picture of how accounts are performing on the back-end as well as on the front end, which is the true measure of success,” said Alexa.

According to Alexa, Premier Bankcard uses a sophisticated success metrics formula to evaluate the program based on statistical information on acquisition and lifecycle of the customer. It measures return on investment and lifecycle and the financial portfolio that is acquired.

The LiveBridge team includes a dedicated group of individuals that have a sound understanding of the program. The LiveBridge call center receives the actual direct mail offers and the team discusses any changes. Scripts are prepared internally and programmed prior to implementation.

Three-Way Advantages: As an advocate for the client, eStrategy3 lends support, resources, man hours, best practices, and a third-party viewpoint. This perspective allows for a more comprehensive understanding of client goals and objectives and the production needs of the call center company.

For the LiveBridge team, the three-way partnership provides an added level of communication with the client. Premier Bankcard sets goals and expectations and eStrategy3 helps to determine and explain what LiveBridge needs in terms of constructive feedback and information to maintain a strong partnership.

The main benefit for Premier Bankcard is that the broker provides another set of hands, eyes, and ears. Because eStrategy3 can look at things that Premier Bankcard may not have had time to examine, such as forecasting and monitoring calls, it is a valuable service.

“Everyone in this relationship has grown and been educated in some way. Premier Bankcard has learned a new way of analyzing the business,” said Alexa. “LiveBridge has excellent analytical tools and has challenged them to combine their capabilities and best practices to succeed. eStrategy3 has helped Premier Bankcard and LiveBridge leverage all of the tools available on both sides.”

After two years of working together, Irvine is pleased with the results of the partnership with eStrategy3 and LiveBridge. Premier Bankcard’s acquisition channel is increasing and overall response is improving.

Chris DeLambo is Vice President of Marketing at LiveBridge. More information about LiveBridge call 503-652-6000.

[From Connection Magazine March 2005]

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