CRM & CONTACT CENTRES Answer That – Customer touchpoints that count

When Jane Caddy took herself off to Sydney to test drive Australian contact centres as an anonymous caller she found that the kangaroos were falling short of kiwis at every turn. On all 11 of the chosen criteria (see chart “Making connections”), the Australian contact centres underperformed against their New Zealand counterparts. What’s the story?
Caddy – who was working on assignment for Laurie Smith, director of contact centre consulting company CRM Consulting – says she hadn’t realised the situation in Australia was quite so bad. Although, in fairness, she does wonder whether New Zealand’s performance has crept up over the past few years due to recent close scrutiny from mystery callers such as herself. That would have been in preparation for the annual CRM Contact Centre Awards which feature regularly on New Zealand’s awards calendar (see box story “Winning ways”).
What stood out for Caddy? First up, she came away with an overriding perception that lot of the contact centre operators across the Tasman were bored and unenthusiastic. She could hear it in their voices. There were some exceptions, of course.
Second, Caddy uncovered moments of soberingly bad product knowledge. During one conversation about Gatwick Airport, one operator was astounded to discover it wasn’t in Australia at all but across the other side of the world. Next, they were heard pondering whether the currency of the United Kingdom was indeed pounds sterling. Another operator assured her – quite incorrectly – that she could drive rental car anywhere in New Zealand.
Smith, who is the driving force behind this year’s CRM Contact Centre Awards, says the results held few surprises for her. “For some time, many people in the industry in New Zealand have had gut feeling that we have better customer service than Australia but until now we didn’t have the documentary evidence to support that.”
Smith notes that contact centres in Australia tend to be bigger than those in New Zealand. “In larger ones it is harder to control everybody. In smaller environments, managers can see what’s happening more easily and step in as necessary.”
For Smith, the biggest surprise came when sales awareness – the ability to drive sales at appropriate moments – was being measured. “I had thought they might be up on us with that,” she says. But she adds that, mindful that this is traditional area of weakness for them, many New Zealand contact centres have worked over the past year to improve their performance in this area.
Tony Bullen, managing director Asia Pacific region of CRM software suppliers Stay In Front, points out that when it comes to sales awareness poor performance can be attributed to both human factors and lack of decent systems.
“Relevance is key,” he says. “Software can give the whole interaction relevance – making it quick, pointed and ensuring that it matches the needs of the caller.” In Bullen’s view, customer service representative with information at their fingertips on caller’s past sales history, preferences and other relevant data will have an edge in helping customers. The software can be used to suggest an appropriate path that the conversation could follow.
Disparities in performance between Australian and New Zealand levels of service were evident right from the start of the calls. On average, Caddy’s calls were picked up within 10 seconds in just 72 percent of the trials in Australia. Over here, that happened in 86 percent of calls tested.
Worst still, once through to live operator in Australia, the warmth of welcome was decidedly tepid. “There was no enthusiasm,” says Smith. “This may be because they are lot busier than us and have to handle back-to-back calls with little time to recoup their thoughts and little or no downtime. But number of them did sound more warm and welcoming as the call went on.”
Andrew Knight, section manager at specialist recruitment and placement company Hays Contact Centres and one of this year’s awards judges, points out that large proportion of the workforce in Australian contact centres is comprised of people on short-term contracts. Compare this with contact centre workers in this country where basic customer service representatives can expect starting salary of around $32,000-$36,000 and those working in the financial services sector may get an additional package covering items such as clothing allowance, superannuation or bonuses.
Most importantly, many New Zealand contact centres, with their many tiers in their management structures, provide clear opportunities for advancement. From their entry level status as customer service representatives – and depending on the industry in which they are working – keen workers may look to advance to cover specialist areas of interest or become senior CSR, team leader, become involved in management or quality analysis, take on role as business analyst or move into training or consultancy work.
Compare this, he says, with Australia’s flatter management structures. There, the choices are often limited to customer service representative, team manager or call centre manager – with few options in between.
Knight ascribes lot of the local success to solid training which stacks up well against international standards. “Ninety-nine percent of our clients put their new contact centre staff through four to six weeks training,” he points out. “Unlike in New Zealand, lot of Australian contact centres don’t have dedicated training departments.”
Good product knowledge is key, he says, and spills out into other areas of expertise. Operators are more confident because they know what they’re talking about and this frees them up to concentrate on other aspects such as how they manage and direct the call (call control) or the quality of their listening.
On both sides of the Tasman, the ability to anticipate callers’ future needs is an area of relative weakness. New Zealand contact centres collectively scored 66 percent rating on this attribute while their Australian counterparts rated mere 54 percent. Stay In Front’s Bullen notes that this is another area where CRM systems can add huge advantage, enabling customer service representatives to quickly see profile of the caller and placing the immediate conversation in context.
He points out that in many cases it is easier for New Zealand companies to have single view of the customer. “On the whole, Australian businesses are larger than New Zealand ones. Their IT systems are often siloed off and not integrated so their [customer] data may not be all in the one place.”
How did the Australian contact centres perform on sector by sector basis? Caddy praises the operators at many of the consumer goods contact centres whose service she rates as “very good”. The banks “weren’t too bad” although they kept her hanging on the phone for long periods before she got through to live operator. Ironically, some of the telecommunications companies also seemed to suffer from poor telecommunications, keeping her waiting on the end of the line for considerable stretches. Ditto their New Zealand telecoms cousins.
Smith says she is looking at running the comparative trials again next year in order to get some year-on-year benchmarking. Who knows? Maybe by then the kangaroos will have learnt to connect with customers like kiwis can.

Press 1 for success

It takes lot to impress Laurie Smith. The one-woman powerhouse behind New Zealand’s annual CRM Contact Centre Awards has been involved in the local contact centre industry for 16 years. So it’s pleasing to hear her full of praise for the latest crop of winners at this year’s awards (see table “Winning ways” for the full list of winners).
Smith, who is also director of contact centre consulting company CRM Consulting, ensures any winning company has been put through its paces. Throughout the year the contact centres are subjected to evaluation through series of mystery phone calls and emails. judging panel then scruti

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