Will a self-service experience be at the heart of the future call centre?

25th Feb 2013

Today’s multichannel customers are increasingly time poor and tech savvy so demand the ability to service their accounts across multiple channels in order to gain access to the information they need whenever they need it. Richard Carter looks at what changes customer service teams can make to continue meeting customer’s changing expectations. 

Throughout 2012, ‘customer experience’ continued to be the buzz word within customer relationship management (CRM) as brands sought to get ahead of the curve and defend their market position. In a challenging economy, brands are increasingly using customer experience as a tool to grow revenues, boost brand engagement and gain a competitive edge.
With almost 40% of the UK population being smartphone users (60% in the 25-34 age range), there’s a vast opportunity to allow customers to service their own account, enabling organisations to operate on lower margins, increase competitiveness and reduce the cost of operations.
Evolving into a contact centre
Traditionally, the call-centre has been an inherent part of the customer service offering for customer-facing firms. However, the rise of digital natives entering the marketplace means that there are more customers that have grown-up with an intrinsic understanding of technology and demand the ability to use new channels and devices to access customer support. As a result, businesses have been forced to develop innovative ways to interact with clients and keep them engaged in the customer lifecycle.
To remain at the forefront of consumer trends, traditional call centre units have expanded into contact centres that enable customers to access self-service support across a range of the online power channels including email, on-line chat, SMS, web portals, twitter and other social media. By making significant IT investment on an ongoing basis, or outsourcing services to a specialised technology partner, organisations are able to ensure that multi-channel customers can receive immediate gratification.
Remember the personal touch
The adoption of technology doesn't remove the need for a human element within call centres. Moving forward, we will witness call centres become more automated and operators become highly skilled as they become dedicated to resolving the more complex customer requests. Ultimately, it is those organisations that can combine multi-channel offerings with a personalised approach that will secure customers for longer periods, reduce churn and decrease new customer acquisition costs.  
Within call centres being able to gain a single view of the customer is critical to understanding the different products that a customer has in place and the channels that consumers are using to interact with the brand. For example, being able to generate a single view of customers’ means that the finance function of a business can identify when customers that are in arrears are reviewing their accounts or ignoring it. Having easy access to details on the times a customer has used the website and the activities they have previously performed will enable providers to more successfully offer a tailored service that builds trusted relationships.
Think of the end game
It is important to remember that great customer service tends to result in strong brand loyalty. Those organisations that truly embrace multi-channel offerings will secure customers for longer periods, reduce churn and decrease new customer acquisition costs. In addition, in an economic environment where interest rates are low and funding costs are variable, the margins that organisations are able to secure can be thin. As a result, the need to reduce costs is paramount and providing access to self-service customer support ensures that customers still receive consistent levels of support whilst ensuring that resource can be redirected to other areas of the business.
Over the next twelve months, the contact centre will continue to evolve as Generation X and Generation Y continue to drive the take-up of new mobile technologies and demand more self-service offerings. By understanding the changing nature of customer demands, brands can create a stronger customer service offering that enables users to service their own accounts 24x7 and provides the appropriate level of support.
Richard Carter is chief executive officer of Nostrum Group.

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