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Retail by Mail: Call Centers for Mail Order Catalog Companies

Mail order catalog companies can look forward to rising profits for the next few years, according to research from the Direct Marketing Association (DMA). The DMA predicts that catalog sales will grow by 6.1% annually between now and the year 2005, and it expects that sales for consumer and business-to-business catalog companies will climb to a combined total of approximately $93 billion by the end of this year. By 2005, the DMA calculates, that total will peak at about $125 billion.

Catalog companies use call centers for more than securing sales. In its 1999 State of The Catalog Industry Report, the DMA estimated that 87% of agents at call centers within catalog companies handled calls involving customer service and sales in 1998. During that same year, roughly 60% of all incoming calls were for orders, 22% of all incoming calls were inquiries from customers and the remainder of the calls concerned complaints or other issues. Catalog companies usually train agents to handle more than one type of call, although some divide agents into separate teams to answer incoming sales and customer service calls.

Most catalog companies hire outsourcers like ClienTEL Plus. The DMA estimated that 82% of call centers within catalog companies work with outsourcers to answer calls after business hours, compared with 19% in 1997. The DMA will publish an updated version of its report by October.

As catalog companies seek a skilled workforce and outsourcers for their call centers, they create more jobs in the process. Although many of them also sell products and provide customer service from the Internet, it's unlikely they will ever eliminate their call centers. Companies with a Web site also display a toll-free number that you can call to speak with an agent. Customers still appreciate live service, particularly if they need to ask questions or register complaints.

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