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The evolution of the contact centre


As we all know, business process outsourcing (BPO) has taken off in recent years and now we are seeing this form of outsourcing overtaking ITO in growth.  The BPO sector has evolved into a vibrant and competitive market and we have seen many new players from all corners of the globe enter the fray.  Contact centres are synonymous with BPO and contact centre vendors provide the most customer centric service of the entire outsourcing industry. 

As a result, contact centres have a love/hate relationship with the public (more hate than love usually) and end users tend to do as much as they can to hide the fact that they outsource their contact centres (especially if that service is offshored).  As the outsourcing industry changes shape and technology advances, contact centre providers are evolving and adjusting their service offering.  So, how are contact centres changing?  What has technology done for the contact centre industry?  And above all, what does all this mean for the millions of customers than engage with contact centres every day? spoke with various industry experts to find out.

Chris Hancock, Managing Director of GasboxDMG, a high tech contact centre service provider believes that there is a “diversity of opinion in the business world on what contact centres can do.”  Mr Hancock goes onto highlight that some use contact centres to provide “support in the most cost effective way possible”, this type of cost centric service lends itself to offshoring and is the type of service that first springs to mind when the words call centre are mentioned.  However, Mr Hancock also identifies a modern, more sophisticated, contact centre, one which “best develops a relationship with the customer” and in turn can “determine the customers emotional attachment to the organisation.”

The contact centre has certainly evolved from low level outbound sales, such as the famed dinner time double glazer (although he still seems to call).  Simon Gresswell, Director of ProtoCall One, believes that contact centres have become more intrinsic to a client’s business, “We are offering more.  We are using different media to interact with our customers and we are finding that customers are expecting contact centres to have the information they need.”

Technology has obviously been key in the evolution of the contact centre and vendors are incorporating multi-channel communication into their service offering.  As a result, innovative technology such as automated self service or voice recognition are being rolled out and, according to recent research from BT and Nortel, this is not to the detriment of customer service.  The study found that 71 percent of US and UK consumers would be happy to receive a call that used voice recognition to inform them that their plane, train or bus will be late while 80 per cent would look favourably on automated calls that informed them of the time of delivery of goods to their homes.

Ruth Rowan, Head of Global Propositions and Marketing, CRM at BT Global Services believes that this form of automation is becoming more accepted, “Automation has been one of the success stories of the last few years.  The research looked at 1000 consumers and found that customers were happy to interact [with automated services] where appropriate.” 
This was echoed by Mr Gresswell, “ProtoCall One’s SMS offerings tend to be of an outbound nature such as SMS for travel alerts and other useful information.” 

Mr Hancock believes that contact centres have become “much more diverse in the way they communicate with people.  In the early 90’s it was purely voice-led communication.  Now contact centres can use any number of communication channels including web-chat and instant messaging.” 

However, despite this automation and plethora of technological advancement one fact remains, when a customer needs something a little more than information, voice wins every time.  The BT and Nortel research revealed that 53 percent of UK respondents are happy to check timetables through voice recognition but only 23 per cent felt happy enough to use the same interface for actually purchasing tickets.  We may all just want a quick automated service that allows us access basic information fast, but we want to speak to real people when we have anything more serious to address. 

Customer service should be the first thing on the boardroom agenda, although it rarely is. But, the cost savings associated with automation are just too good to be ignored.  According to Ms. Rowan and the BT/Nortel research it costs £6.50 for an agent to handle a base level inquiry, compare that to £0.70 for an automated interface and you would be pushed to find a financial director who doesn’t leap at the opportunity. 

It’s clear that the contact centre has evolved into a more sophisticated offering.  But, voice still remains intrinsic to a call centre’s service.  SMS, web chat and instant messaging all add to the customer experience however they need to be implemented intelligently to work well.  We are still a long way from a voice-free service offering as human contact is simply just too influential on customer satisfaction.

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