Managing Customer Relationships

Call centres are now at the frontline of New Zealand businesses. With the strategic position they now occupy in the marketing landscape they can make or break corporate reputations and customer relationships. They provide that crucial, and often lasting, first impression of an organisation.
Armed with host of innovative capabilities carried in on the wave of new technology introduced over the past few years, call centres are increasingly ensconced as an important and integral part of the efficient management and enhancement of customer relationships.
While telephone and fax services remain the predominant means of call centre communication, many are expanding into contact centres as the demand for email and web-based access grows. number of organisations are also now extending the call centre environment by adding services such as “mini” market research to the transaction points to test new ideas and increase revenues. Centres are frequently now open all hours.
An increasing number of organisations are using call centres for every type of person-to-person transaction that doesn’t require physical interaction. “This can include sales, service and collection, and business to business or business to consumer interactions,” says Clear Communications’ call centre implementation manager Megan Martin.
“Toll free numbers are often the first place the clients call. It’s the first impression they get of an organisation’s capabilities, services and products. The contact centre is also an important information capture point for many other streams within companies which includes marketing and sales.”
Those involved with the call centre industry agree that the new technology is changing the culture dramatically. But they also agree that it’s the people more than the technology which is the critical and the defining success factor. “Smart contact centre operators focus first on process and people followed by technology,” says Martin.
Grant Fisher, sales and marketing manager with CallTime Solutions, believes the convergence of telephony and data services is lowering the barriers that separated traditional PBX-based call centres from the information systems that store and manage customer information. By integrating these key components using today’s contact centre technology, businesses can uniformly manage customer interactions across any media and then deliver consistent response based on defined business processes and access to 360o view of the customer’s history.
“These technologies also provide businesses with the tools to prioritise traffic and customers, deliver automated self-service options for simple or frequently asked requests, and intelligent routing to ensure call centre agent’s skills and resources are matched to incoming inquiries. Supervisors can monitor, manage and fine tune the contact centre in real time, down to individual agent and call level, and have access to flexible reporting based on business rules and priorities.”
But it is the personal touch that counts. “Contact centres are all about people contact, and those at the coalface will ultimately determine its success,” says adds.
Established in Auckland in 1998, CallTime Solutions is now headquartered in Melbourne and is part of the new outsourcing movement. Its outsourcing services follow the Application Service Provider (ASP) model, where the core technology is hosted centrally and delivered to the business via high-speed data circuits. Contact centre “seats” are billed monthly.
Despite the increasing number of call centres the decision to outsource the service rather than establish an in-house resource is not always easy to make. According to Chris Costley, national manager of the recently established Unisys offshoot, e-@action OneCall, Global Network Services, “a clear choice depends on the organisation’s view of their core business as well as in-house capability”.
Although outsourcing is dependent on company’s business drivers, current capability, core business and future plans, it is very effective way of implementing new contact centre – “because you buy in expertise to deliver an outcome”, says Costley, who is also chairman of the TUANZ contact centre group.
Unisys has followed an industry trend by successfully relocating its operation from Wellington’s CBD to more cost-effective and worker-friendly premises on the Kapiti Coast, 54 kilometres north of the capital.
The company has it sights set firmly on new changes in call centre technology with further evolution guaranteed to include more moves to the contact centre concept with interactions managed from websites, emails, voice and web chat sessions.
Matt Surridge, business development manager for Interact Commerce Corporation and responsible for the SalesLogix product range in Australia and New Zealand, echoes Costley’s views on the value of call centres. With 10 years’ experience in the software solution industry, he predicts more organisations will opt for call centres as an efficient way to deal with large volumes of contacts.
“Even relatively small businesses are implementing small internal dedicated call centres to increase customer satisfaction. Many of these businesses realise that in tough, competitive market they must differentiate themselves from their competitors and not allow customers the chance to defect,” says Surridge.
According to Surridge call centres have now evolved to increase “blending” of call types. 
“Many businesses realise that to be truly efficient and effective they must address both the inbound and outbound sides of the call centre to provide the best customer service. Added to this is the integration of additional communication channels such as websites and email that should be incorporated in the process.”
Despite the developments, call centres are not being used to their full effect, says Surridge.
“Companies are only looking at half the picture, inbound or outbound, and are not coordinating their efforts in these areas. The call centre is powerful tool that can be used to service customers and enquiries and to maximise the efforts and time of other employees. The call centre is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to gain valuable feedback on the performance of the business.”
Surridge is not alone in believing that call centres have untapped potential. Centres should be taking advantage of the different times zones by working for overseas businesses, according to Alister Baird, the marketing director of Palmerston North-based Aspen Technology.
With new technology and cheaper communication costs, New Zealand’s isolation is no longer problem. Consequently, more international call centres are basing themselves here. American and Asian businesses in particular, find the Kiwi link an economical option. Baird believes there are now “golden opportunities for local call centres to work for other countries”.
The business, which imports and distributes Maximizer and Pastel Software throughout the country, is working with number of New Zealand companies on this basis.
With Aspen Technology’s Maximizer Customer Relationship Management (CRM) style software huge database of contacts and leads can be seamlessly transferred to their Pastel accounting program when the businesses become customers.
“Vast improvements in new technology and software has raised the bar in terms of the level of service customers expect from call centre,” according to Frank Hung, managing director of Multiactive Software in Australia and New Zealand.
“As customer or prospect, the standard level of service and information I expected from a company or call centre a few years ago, would now be unacceptable today.
“Customers want and expect the person they call to have the full range of information about them at their fingertips. They demand rapid response to their information queries… generally expecting resolution or answer while they wait. And they expect this to be available from the pers

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