Cutting call centre costs: What are the IT options?by
As premium phone lines are to be banned, losing businesses £2bn a year, the emphasis is ever more on call centres to work efficiently and more cost-effectively – so what can they do and how will it affect the customer experience?
We’ve all experienced the frustration of being kept on hold when contacting a company for after-sales service. But what really adds insult to injury is being kept waiting while being forced to pay for a premium phone line when trying to register a complaint or resolve a customer service issue. As a consumer, I and many others, celebrated the recent announcement by the Department for Business (BIS) that they are to ban the use of premium rate 084 and 087 numbers by next summer.
Under the new legislation, companies will be prevented from charging more than the basic rate for a call to a mobile or local landline number. Estimates suggest that this will impact 30,000 companies who currently use the premium-rate numbers, and that consumers spend nearly £2 billion a year on calls to premium rate numbers. In 2009, they accounted for around 12% of the total call traffic volume in the UK, and generated 10% of the total call revenue.
So what does this mean for contact centres? They are after all a business and need to take a commercial approach to funding their operations. With the loss of the premium line revenue, call centres across the country will have to find ways to bring down costs, whilst simultaneously improving customer experience. No easy task for beleaguered CS directors already under scrutiny!
Calling a company may be the first option for many consumers seeking support, both pre and post-sale, but over the past decade it has become just one of many different channels available. The online channel is increasingly being considered as the key comms channel, above the telephone, in today’s always-online society.
Customers have access to multiple devices, often at the same time, and customers expect companies to provide a quick and consistent service across whichever touch-point they chose to use - and companies that deploy a multi-channel customer service offering can dramatically reduce the volume of in-bound calls and e-mails to their contact centre, significantly reducing costs.
Live chat is increasingly being thought of as the future of customer service – and rightly so. Adoption is increasing year-on-year in the UK, as ever mimicking the experience of the US where it is a much more mature technology. In the UK, industry statistics show that over two thirds of people have used live chat in the past year, and over half say that live chat is their preferred channel for communicating with a business.
But this isn’t the only solution. Let’s look at the key tactics to reduce costs and increase efficiency.
- Web self-service: A well-designed support section on your website can solve a lot of customer issues well before they arise. An FAQ section, knowledge base and customer forums will all reduce the calls coming into your customer call centre. One good example is the popular telco GiffGaff that encourages (and rewards) its member-help-member online community and leaves its agents to only handle account related questions.
- Live chat: offering the ability for customers to contact you instantly online - without having to change channel medium - both speeds up the resolution time and reduces costs. Whether a product/service question, payment query or if a visitor appears about to abandon their basket, a timely offer of help via a live chat pop up is a powerful sales conversion and CS tool. Identifying the nature of their enquiry beforehand via a pre chat survey ensures they are intelligently routed to the right agent – either based on their area of knowledge or their performance. With CRM integration, you can have all of the customers’ information right there ready when the chat comes in. Most live chat platforms allow multiple chats to allow agents to use their time and expertise efficiently.
- Email automation: Despite encouraging people to read FAQs, forums and join social media channels, a large number will fire off an email to an impersonal info@ or help@ corporate address. It’s still a popular medium to air a gripe or get something off your chest (an electronic form of the old fashioned stroppy letter). These need to be monitored and acted upon/escalated properly, and certainly not ignored. Using an email parser, you can automatically route the email to the most appropriate individual based on the content of the email. This will help to speed up the resolution process and deflect customers who may otherwise have called. Keeping response time high by email helps to ensure customers do not slip back to reaching for the phone. This business process automation bypasses the traditionally manual process of sorting through all the emails – saving time and resources for the business.
- Social customer service: Don’t forget your social media channels as customer service touch points. Automation plays an important role here, too. Extending your web self-service to your social channels takes care of the standard questions and comments by adding intelligent auto responses. You can monitor brand mentions and questions, and automatically reply based on the content of the social message. For example, if someone asks how to change the direct debit on their account, you can automatically send a link to it based on the content of the initial tweet. Tying it all in with your CRM system can provide impressive customer intelligence.
By looking to technology to help automate inbound communication processes, business can work more efficiently and cost-effectively, making significant savings yet improving customer interaction and engagement. So maybe banning the premium rate call is a win-win for both contact centres and consumers.