In the latest in our series of articles where industry experts bust buzzwords and puncture hyperbole, Ed Shropshire, managing director of Aquarium Software, warns that if call centres don’t evolve, they will be overtaken by the new era of channel communication.
Call them what you wish, if call centres or contact centres still operate as if it were the 00’s, they could be extinct within a decade. Shifting paradigms will lead to call centres as we know them today becoming a thing of the past, with organisations gradually delegating the customer journey of future generations to those who understand it best of all – the customer themselves.
The first call centres came into being in the US in the mid-1960s with The Birmingham Press and Mail introducing an early UK centre in 1965. Advances in software and technology led to the 70s and 80s being call centre boom time, while the early 2000s saw the rise of the offshore call centre. Yet the backlash against offshore began less than ten years later with BT earlier this year becoming the latest company to openly state they are moving operations back to the UK.
Figures suggest over one million people are employed by contact centres in the UK, but a service that has been at the heart of business for five decades is not going to be able to remain viable in its current form. A new power is rising – social media, coupled with cloud computing and more sophisticated software is changing business approach to the customer journey for good.
There are a few key pointers that could all prove nails in the coffin of the traditional call centre:
Quality contact counts
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The future is going to be all about increased customer contact, but not in the traditional sense and that is going to impact conventional call centres. In much the same way that many of us no longer visit our bank but conduct all transactions online, the same is likely to be true for the majority of contacts with organisations; even the highly complex ones.
Customer service will no longer be delivered from a ‘dedicated’ departmental silo, as it has been for the last 60 years. This is an outdated model that has its roots in twentieth century thinking and the business needs of the industrial age. The case is not so much for an exercise in remodelling, but for a whole new structure.
Brand awareness is the new buzzword on the block
The news that BT is bringing call centres home from India in a bid to boost customer satisfaction was just the first shot in a new customer contact war, as other big businesses from Waterstones to major airlines like Monarch and BMI all embrace ‘brand personality’ to deliver an authentic experience when engaging with customers - and have transformed their approach accordingly.
The thinking behind brand personality is simple enough in that business needs to ‘live’ the brand as opposed to ‘using’ it. This is nigh on impossible for conventional contact centres, unless they change their approach, thinking and technology. Telecom giants like Virgin and BT have set out to demonstrate brand awareness concepts can be applied to contact centres but to deliver the same across several brand platforms with multiple inbound customers is a big ask. With the right technology platform, it is not an insurmountable challenge in theory, but it remains to be seen if working practices can change enough to make it work.
A new power is rising – social media, coupled with cloud computing and more sophisticated software is changing business approach to the customer journey for good
Today’s savvy consumers are not easily fooled and it takes more than a script and a crib sheet to deliver genuine rapport. Contact centre agents need solutions that put them immediately on message with the businesses they are representing and without flexible software and brand personality training, this is going to be a tall order.
Waterstones staff are now encouraged to eschew jargon in favour of an authentic tone of voice and embedding brand personality through employee training is essential. If the customer journey with the company’s contact centre doesn’t match up, it risks the competitive edge across both B2C and B2B sectors.
An intelligently designed technological interface can allow seamless switching between affinities and their differing brand languages and is vital for contact centres. Without it, more businesses may follow BTs lead and independent contact centres face being placed on permanent hold.
A recent study showed 69% of people are fed up with being kept on hold; and BT felt so strongly about the risk posed to their reputation, they abandoned a 13 year commitment to overseas contact centres. The end of the call centre business model as we know it is a reality and the risk is the business goes for good unless change is embraced.
The good news is the revolution now taking place may take a decade to be fully implemented, but make no mistake, times are a changing and the most forward thinking contact centres are the ones that will thrive in this new age. The concept of customer control is not a new one. However it is more far reaching than merely widening customer choice of communication channels. That has been a focus over recent years with a choice of channels developed such as email, SMS, SM, web chat, and phone for customer queries.
Despite this drive for a wider channel menu, the process of responding to customers’ queries remains with the contact centre representative needing to source information from, or refer the customer to, a variety of organisational departments. Often making the customer take time away from what they are doing, this also lacks the necessary insight into the full picture of the customer’s needs and motivations.
The future is full integration and assimilating intelligence across the whole organisation to develop effective customer and stakeholder interactions, by predicting the needs of the individual customer, enabling effective engagement and, in turn, informing key business objectives.
We are moving towards a much more predictive model of customer journey management, where businesses will be fully informed by extensive, real-time intelligence about individual customers at any given point. This is not just a possible avenue of progress, but rather a certain development within the next five to ten years.
Companies that introduce technology platforms which integrate and streamline intelligence about each customer’s journey and situation, which are seamlessly accessed across the whole organisation, will be the ones who thrive. Brand personality drives consumer behaviour but recognises that authenticity sells. Intrinsic branding looks set to triumph over extrinsic cynicism and consumers are looking beyond price to evaluate in terms of customer service and that can only be a good thing.
What this means is the contact centre in its current form needs to evolve yet further or risk becoming extinct. Only time will tell if a viable version can be reborn in the crucial next decade.
Ed Shropshire is the managing director of Aquarium Software