Fear and loathing in the call centre

Geoff Long
04 Sep 2007

Each year for the past 10, operators of call centers and their technology partners from around Asia- Pacific have congregated in Melbourne, Australia for "G-Force""”billed as the region's largest contact centre event. As an attendee of the last three events, I can attest to the enormous enthusiasm the people in this sector have for their industry. And that's kind of ironic given the widespread loathing the general public has for anything to do with call centers.

It's not that the industry isn't aware of the negative sentiment surrounding call centers: In his opening address, Genesys Australasia VP Jason Stirling pointed out that "call centre" is still a dirty word for many customers, while many other speakers noted that the industry has a perception problem. This can partly be explained by the fact that customers tend to remember the exceptions, particularly the bad exceptions, and also because customer expectations are generally going up.

Whatever the reason, in an age where customer service is increasingly the main differentiator for companies, it's a problem that must be addressed. Thankfully, going on some of the positive case studies presented at the event, it's also a problem for which solutions, expertise and business models readily exist.

Take the example of Telecom New Zealand, which takes around 100 million calls from customers each year. Jared Mortlock, manager of the telco's speech implementation team, told the G-Force audience of his experience with a natural language IVR system, where the customer can respond via regular speech rather than the more cumbersome (and generally loathed) touchtone IVR systems.

According to Mortlock, customer satisfaction jumped from 16% for the touchtone IVR to 60% with the natural speech system, while customers opting to connect to the operator dropped from 30% to three percent. He pointed out that some customers that don't like to use IVR, but the more channels that are available to them the better. And in the case of Telecom New Zealand, it went from an organization that had trouble with its customer experience before the IVR project, to "haven't looked back since", in the words of Mortlock.

Customer care 2.0

One neglected support channel is the web, which is surprising in this e-service age. In its most recent Contact Centre Realities report, Genesys surveyed 230 contact centre managers from across Asia-Pacific on their use of the Internet as an interactive channel. While many offer some form of email and web self-service, the use of newer channels such as web chat to interact with customers was not widespread.

The adoption overall for web chat was just eight percent, with Australia and New Zealand having just four percent of companies using it, while in South Korea it was more common, with 22% of respondents making use of it. And of the companies that do not offer any form of live online help (such as web chat or click-for-call back), 70% have no plans to invest in it.

How long they can afford to continue to ignore new online channels is another matter, however. According to the survey, more than 60% of organizations using web chat say it has increased sales revenue, while almost half note a drop in the web abandonment rate.

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