Having to cope with its own success, Halifax PLC is testing software that would turn the increasing number of service requests to its call center into sales.
The United Kingdom's second-largest financial institution is "looking at phenomenal growth in customer-initiated calls," said Dick Spelman, director of distribution. He said he expects the 24-hour service, Halifax Direct, to field 24 million inbound calls in 1999 and 50 million by 2002.
"We were looking at the cost of servicing that level of traffic and realized we must be able to get sales out of them," Mr. Spelman said.
The $215 billion-asset company plans to go live this month with software designed to help its 1,000 call center agents analyze customer account activity and make appropriate sales suggestions.
The Rightpoint software, from a four-year-old company of the same name in San Mateo, Calif., gives call center representatives real-time prompts on products, services, or promotions likely to appeal to specific customers based on their preferences and account histories.
"Halifax wants to make its call center into a profit center," said Gayle Crowell, president and chief executive officer of privately held Rightpoint Software.
The real-time aspect of Rightpoint was important to Mr. Spelman to "deliver effective sales prompts to the agent."
That is "the power of the Rightpoint product," said Christopher Fletcher, an analyst at Boston-based Aberdeen Group. "It can go into historical records and analyze transaction patterns in the course of a 30- second conversation."
Agents fielding inbound calls have "a warmer prospect" than do outbound telemarketers, Mr. Spelman said. Background checks and credit report references are done instantaneously. "We have high hopes," he said.
Mr. Spelman said Halifax Direct's investment in Rightpoint "was reasonable. The potential sales revenue we anticipate will more than justify it. We have set fairly ambitious sales objectives relative to the cost of installation of the software and training."
Rightpoint Software began as a data mining software company called DataMind Corp. in 1994.
"DataMind had a reputation for doing data mining well," said Kathleen Khirallah, senior research analyst at Tower Group in Newton, Mass. Now with a new management team, "it is working toward connecting the channel pieces."
Halifax, she said, is a very aggressive user of technology. "It has this propensity to look for tools to leapfrog ahead and make progress quickly. It is not going to inch toward greatness but will move there quickly."
Rightpoint has 50 customers, mainly Fortune 1000-size telecommunications and financial companies, said Ms. Crowell. The financial services customers include a global credit card provider, a top 10 financial institution, and a start-up Internet bank.
"Today's environment suits a product like Rightpoint because it enables smaller-scale, personalized, highly targeted marketing," said Mr. Fletcher of Aberdeen Group. "I think Rightpoint is hitting the market at the right time with the right technologies."