Demand for telephone directory services dwindles, popularity of telemarketing services rises

  • 2011-07-27
  • By Linas Jegelevicius

Small businesses now work with contact service centers, says Remigijus Seris.

KLAIPEDA - What twenty years ago was an ordinary call station with phone booths available for intercity calls only, over twenty years has evolved into sophisticated contact centers, providing a far wider range of services such as telephone directory and telemarketing.

Lintel, a subsidiary company of TEO, the largest telecommunication company in Lithuania and the contact center leader in the country, started off in the same way. “Lintel commenced its activity back in 1992 as the first ever international-intercity call station and international operator service in the country,” Remigijus Seris, Lintel director general recalled to The Baltic Times.
In 1998, Lintel became a subsidiary company of Lietuvos Telekomas, the predecessor of TEO, and started providing phone directory services. It also provided business information for the company’s customers. Soon, in 2000 to be exact, the services started being provided by calling one number – 118. The service, known as “Phone Directory 118,” has become extremely popular ever since, becoming the market leader. It was operated from Radviliskis Contact Center first.

The price of calls to Directory Inquiry Service 118 in Lithuania is 1.50 litas (0.43 euros) a minute.
The revenue of Lintel, a leading provider of directory inquiry and Contact Center services in Lithuania, amounted to 45.8 million litas in 2010, an increase of almost 10 percent over the revenue of 41.8 million in 2009. The company’s revenue growth, Seris emphasized, resulted from the increasing popularity of customer care by phone and telemarketing services.

Expanding its activities, last year Lintel opened two new contact centers in Vilnius and Klaipeda. More than 400 customer care specialists were employed in the new establishments. At present, Lintel runs six contact centers in the country in total. The modern information system, virtually interconnecting the centers, distributes call flows and strives to ensure timely answering of all calls.

According to Seris, small companies have also started more actively using the contact center services, which, he maintains, were well evaluated by the country’s major business enterprises.
“We have offered them our sales visit planning and debt management services. This year we will also offer more effective customer care solutions, allowing them to save money and increase sales volumes,” Seris said sounding upbeat.
Lintel, providing the most popular Directory Inquiry Service 118 in Lithuania, last year presented the directory inquiry service number 1808, where by calling, customers can, free of charge, get information about business enterprises, public transport time schedules, leisure events and entertainment.

Since the beginning of 2010 Lintel has also launched televoting services, which provide the organizers of television, different charity and sponsorship projects and surveys the possibility to manage over the Internet the start and end time of their voting sessions and to constantly monitor voting results.

At the end of June 2011, there were 1,044 employees in the company, as most of them were customer service specialists. The company, the Lintel director general informed, runs 6 Contact Centers in 5 Lithuanian cities – Vilnius, Kaunas, Panevezys, Radviliskis and Klaipeda. The latter city has two Lintel contact centers. During the last year Lintel consultants, Seris points out, handled 12.6 million calls.

Lintel provides customer care and telemarketing services to companies such as TEO, Omnitel, Tele2, Maxima LT, Lietuvos Draudimas, LESTO, Lietuva Statoil, FL Technics, Vilniaus Energija, Maisto Ralis, DPD Lietuva, AB Citadele bank and some others.

The company’s contact center services are also used by educational and state institutions, such as the International Business School at Vilnius University, the Central Electoral Commission, the Ministry of Transport and Communications, and the Personalization of Identity Documents Center.

“The bulk of our clients are large and medium-sized businesses working in the sectors of telecommunications, banks, insurance, energy, commerce and public administration. As a rule, all these kinds of companies have large flows of customers and are eager to save on customer service costs and run their business processes by entrusting the functions to us” the Lintel director said.

Seris says that the most popular in the country Telephone Directory 118 provides a very wide range of information about Lithuanian companies, organizations and state institutions, informing the directory’s customers about contact data, working hours, provided services and offered products. The directory’s information, both online and by phone, is being renewed and revised on a daily basis.

Recently, however, the flows of calls, the Lintel director general admits, have been on the decline. “The wide possibilities of finding the necessary information online have impacted the decrease,” Seris explains, adding, “The service, however, remains very popular when Internet is unavailable, when an Internet search does not yield the desired information, or when information is needed in a flash.”

In bids to provide more services, in May Lintel launched the provision of assistance and consultations to computer users by calling 118. The service is a part of the expansion of the possibilities of the trendy Directory Inquiry Service.
Its consultants from now on not only provide information about companies, services, products, transport schedules, but also help consumers to protect their computers against viruses and other harmful content. The 118 consultants, specializing in computer use, advise callers on how to protect themselves when buying online, configure a wireless Internet network or restore lost data.

Remigijus Seris explains the necessity of the new service: “Most computer problems can be fixed in just a few minutes, as around 80 percent of problems stemming from computer crashes can be resolved over the phone or through a remote connection, while to others we will offer to take advantage of the services of our specialists who travel on-site to a customer’s home.”

Subject to the caller’s consent, Seris relates, the consultant is  able to remotely connect to the caller’s computer and remove the problem or, for example, install required software applications. In case of more complex faults, the 118 consultants enlist the help of specialized companies and their specialists are able to travel on-site to customer homes. The on-site computer support service costs 40 litas per hour of specialist’s work and, in the biggest cities, a charge of 20 litas is applied per on-site visit to the customer’s premises.

The service may be just another far-reaching business idea of Lintel, as, statistically, only 21 percent of computer owners tend to try to fix their faulty computers on their own. “Generally speaking, remote client service and contact center services are very promising,” Seris infers. “Throughout the recent years, the poor economic situation has significantly boosted telemarketing and customer care by phone services, as a remote way of service, providing companies more effective services, strengthens their loyalty and opens up new possibilities to offer new services,” the Lintel director general emphasized.

He is convinced that Lithuania remains a favorable country for the expansion of contact centers.  He notices that, in comparison with Western European countries, a relatively insignificant part of business entities and state institutions in Lithuania use their services. Therefore, he concludes, the market in the future will, undoubtedly, increase. “It will be so, particularly bearing in mind that there are a lot of young people in the country who can speak one or several foreign languages. The latter will trigger the need for the services among foreign companies. Besides, considering the expansion of telecommunication networks in the country, I foresee new contact centers to be opened in most Lithuanian cities and towns,” Seris maintained to The Baltic Times.

As a part of its striving for innovations, last month Lintel upgraded its information system, interconnecting the company’s six contact centers. The new system, Avaya Aura, allows further improving of the quality of services. In addition, the Internet (IP) technology-based system has been implemented by the intelligent engineering solutions company Fima, which will for three years perform its monitoring and regular updates. Over this period, Lintel’s total investment in the system and its updates will be nearly 2 million litas.

Seris says that the evolution of communications technologies leads to the need for call center services to improve as well. “The consultants are currently providing information in voice, SMS, and text via the Internet – by means of Web chat technologies. Video calls will provide an opportunity to communicate more efficiently, for example, and will allow the customer to see the product offered by the consultant,” Seris said.

According to Eugenijus Kurtinaitis, Director of the Telecommunications Solutions Department at Fima, by choosing the state-of-the-art information system Avaya Aura, Lintel shows its far-sighted approach. “Such an upgrade of the system means consolidation of servers and decreased hardware needs. Experience shows that in contact centers this allows reducing hardware maintenance costs by up to 15 percent, application acquisition costs by up to 35 percent,” Kurtinaitis said.
The upgraded hardware at Lintel’s contact centers, Seris says, allows the company to ensure more efficient customer care. “Employees are able to more easily manage and distribute call flows and this will result in lower wait times and a decrease in the number of abandoned calls.   Customers calling the contact center will have an opportunity, with a single button press, to evaluate the consultant’s work immediately after the call. Such evaluations will be automatically recorded and made available to customers,” the Lintel director revealed.

The Aura information system, from Avaya, a leader in the worldwide contact center market, implemented by Lintel, enables companies to ensure efficient, open architecture-based real-time communication. The solutions developed by Avaya are being used by nine out of ten companies, which last year were rated by the magazine Bloomberg Business Week as the best in customer care.

Kestutis Balcikonis, director of Infotela, a contact and telemarketing center, acknowledges the leadership of Lintel, and places his company third in the list of companies providing contact center services. In the segment of telemarketing, he puts Infotela fourth, behind Lintel, Mediafon and Eurotela.

Asked to name what makes Infotela different from other rivals, Balcikonis says that “unlike other, similar companies, Infotela does not assume aggressive tactics in marketing its services.”
“We establish long-term working relationships with our clients. Therefore, we have over 60 percent of clients who have been with us since 1995, and the volume is rising,” the Infotela director says.

He foresees a rapid expansion into neighboring countries in the coming years. “We plan on opening our representation in Latvia this year,” the businessman says. His company has obtained the domain, which now focuses on company cataloguing, and eying the future; other services will be provided.

The company’s history is similar to that of others of this kind of company – providing telephone directory services first, and moving onto wide-ranging telecommunication services. “Last year, we invested into the opening of an up-to-date call center and started providing telemarketing services. In addition, we launched an e-inquiry system last year, which helps to save time while performing Internet searches. Also, it allows carrying out surveys on service prices within several hours, which is, time-wise, a significant improvement,” Balcikonis relates to The Baltic Times. In order to undertake more sophisticated and expensive improvements, the company has applied for a grant to EU structural funds, and has been allocated one.

The company employs 11 staffers currently, which is small compared to the leader of the market, Lintel, with over 1,000 employees. “We have decided to specialize only in certain services that generate profit – servicing in-coming calls, company cataloguing, SMS and advertising services. We are about to quit the service of sales by phone and introduce e-marketing instead,” Balcikonis said, sharing some of his plans.