Wired For Service

Call centres have evolved considerably
in the past few years and continue to do so in order to keep pace with the plethora of technological changes. Call centres are no longer just concerned with inbound and outbound telephone calls. Today they are known as contact centres.
This change in name reflects current trends. “Contact centres are dynamic and provide point of reference for any type of contact whether it is voice, text or email,” says David Glen, general manager at Page One. The nature of business today means that we expect more, faster, and cheaper. Web chat, email, intranet, and voice-over internet protocol are some of the ways that contact centres generate and maintain business.
The less we visit organisations like banks, electricity providers and entertainment ticket offices, the more we rely on phones. In business terms the world is getting smaller and the whole concept of buildings, branches and salespeople is no longer the usual option.
Sandi McDonel, at Startel Teleper-formance, says that today around 80 percent of all business-to-business sales are generated by phone. “Telephones are key component of business. The initial contact is often made by email, then taken over by telephone and, of course, some deals are finalised by face-to-face interaction.”
The latter point is important. We have all experienced the downside of technology, the frustration of listening to “press 1 for this, press 2 for that”, with the option of speaking to real person tagged right at the end. Contact centres are getting better but will not replace all personal presentations, negotiations, and deal making. They fit alongside the servicing of customers and provide the platform to operate good service.
Customer service revolves around getting and keeping in touch with your customers. The first stage requires database management of customer details. Companies like Compaq sell software packages designed to help company understand more about its customers. If you can manage all the information needs about your customer, the theory goes, you are better able to manage your relationship with them.

Data mining
When company wants to get information about its customers, it could use product, such as those from Wellington-based company Datamine, which provides lists and information on client. Datamine offers ways of providing research on particular customer that company can use to increase sales.
Toby Green at Datamine explains that the range of industries analysed by his company is split into three groups. Firstly, segmentation of customer bases; secondly profiling, using transactional and demographic data; finally making predictive models. “If company wants to launch say, an insurance product, we look for characteristics and prospects of people with similarities. This is based on transactional information like salary, where people live from QVNZ (Quotable Value New Zealand), and how much money they spend. We also use external information which is derived from the 1996 Census and mesh block level data which bands 60 houses together in order to protect privacy.”
For the past couple of years Datamine has been working on ways to improve outbound calls. One of the new projects focuses on “channel calling” to select which is the most likely caller to make sale based on the history of previous calls. “We are trying to get rid of random calling and replace it with channel calling which is much more satisfying both for the customer and the agent.”
Other trends in the market reveal more similarities with the US. “We are also working on some clever predictive models,” says Green. “If large bank receives 10 million calls year on its 0800 number, the cost to the bank adds up when in many cases customer only has simple query. What we are trying to do is analyse recent bank account information as soon as customer rings up. If customer deposited large amount of money, he/she may just want to know whether the cheque has been cleared. Now taped voice will say “your cheque was cleared yesterday and your balance is xxx. If you have further question, press 1.”

Fulfilment tips
We are all aware of the limitations of technology but this should not be reason to sit back and wait to see how technology affects customer service. “There are the doers and the watchers but the really competitive companies are going from no contact centre at all, to setting up centre from day one,” says Compaq’s Neale Hughes. The tip here, explains Hughes, is don’t waste time going to the web first and discover its limitations before opting to use contact centre. “Customer fulfilment comes from people in an organisation, not technology from the web.”
As contact centres often provide the only opportunity to have personal relationship between customer and company, the “preferred agent”, is becoming more common. “Better service is expected as contact centres are the prime access to many companies,” says Hughes.
While preferred agents can improve CRM (customer relationship management), Hughes points out that this is just the beginning. Although there is much to recommend web chat and email, problems arise when people start dialogue online and then go off-line without knowing whether an obligation has been fulfilled. Agents at contact centres need to manage their calls intelligently with queuing, prioritising, and scheduling calls back from the web.
One of the recurring themes of communicating with contact centres today is the need for more than one phone line. Workers need to have web access at the same time as being able to speak on the phone. Clearly, it is easier at work than at home.
Today we can have two-way dialogue over the net. The voice quality needs some improvement but it is leap forward. Convergent technology is changing so fast that companies like Vodafone, which can send and receive email on its cellphones, are pioneering new levels of customer service. “This will act as precursor of how we will conduct business. We currently have half million customers in New Zealand but this figure is gaining daily,” says Susie Kelt, CRM manager at Vodafone.

When life gets peaky
The goals of contact centre need to reflect and fulfil the business it represents. contact centre for many companies becomes the main interface between customers and the company. Mathew Boland, corporate communications manager at Vector, says that the company considered setting up its own contact centre but chose to outsource to Telnet instead. “Telnet has the resources to handle heavy loads of calls at any one time and the technological platform to help us. With our free call line our 26,000 customers might need assistance at any time. The nature of our business is peaky — either we have little customer enquiry or massive load when fault occurs.”
The benefits of technology, particularly intranet and Internet, are apparent for companies like Vector. “We can update different departments where faults have occurred in real-time information. We are also looking at helping Internet customers. They can check that we are aware there is fault, that we are acting on it, and discover when the restoration time will be,” says Boland.

Contact centre capital
Geography is not factor when you are on the phone. This means that countries compete to set up contact centres on their soil. Ireland currently handles most of the contact centres for the US. But the aim for many centres here in New Zealand is to become the contact centre capital for the Australasia market. “We have recently launched our website: callnz.com and are promoting the benefits of using New Zealand at conferences in the States and to foreign ambassadors. We are hoping to attract large corporate groups on the basis that we are near the Asia Pacific region, we have the skill base, low labour costs and the technological expertise,” says Startel Teleperformance’s McDonnel.
Richard Johnson, at Telefinancial, shares the belief that New Zealand is well situated to ru

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