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.
More and more fmcg brands are promoting their carelines to drive traffic
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
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.’
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.
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.
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.’
HOW GUINNESS ADOPTED A CARELINE STRATEGY
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
’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.’
This article was first published on Marketing