Gauteng Business News

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BUSINESS: Contact Centres Must Service Changing Customer Needs in Order to Remain Relevant


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The way we do business is changing. This change is not driven internally by businesses or organisations, but by the customers themselves. It is a radical change, with far-reaching implications for business, as the e-commerce age has transformed the way customers shop and empowered them to share their experiences in new ways online. More than just sales transactions, organisations are now starting to offer services via social media and have launched apps with the hopes of enabling customers to engage with businesses in new ways. So where does this leave the traditional call centre ask Sadiq Munshi.

In today’s digital world the rules of engagement have been rewritten by the customer which means that to continue acquiring and retaining customers, businesses need to recognise that the rules have changed and adapt to these new dynamics. Contact centres will still play a role in customer service but the extent to which they are successful in their goals will depend on the extent to which the organisation revitalises their approach to ensure that their methods of interacting with customers remains relevant and useful.

Change is unavoidable
Businesses and their customers are adopting technology at a rapid pace and social networks, mobility, analytics and cloud computing are all major technology trends. Considering each trend in isolation, the implications for customer service are significant, whereas together, these trends are highly disruptive, creating complex business opportunities with substantial risks. Businesses should have, by now, noticed a change in customer attitudes and demographics. Customers are becoming more fickle and will not hesitate to change to a service provider that can offer them better service in a manner that is more appealing to their needs.

These customers have been referred to as “millennials” and labelled “Generation Z”, but it is important to note that this generation is no longer defined by age, but rather by preferences. Generation Z is considered the ‘instant gratification’ generation – they want to engage with businesses around them on their own terms, and have their needs as a customer serviced timeously in a manner of their choosing. They are less patient, and usually have unique demands. This generation regards the traditional voice call centre agent mechanism as a last resort, preferring instead to engage with non-voice and self-service options via SMS, Interactive Voice Response (IVR), e-mail and social media.

The contact centre has already begun the process of evolving from fax, traditional inbound and outbound voice calls to the current state, which incorporates voice recording, text-to-speech (TTS), SMS, e-mail and social media feedback platforms into the contact centre dynamic, and because of this, there has been a change from ‘call centre’ to ‘contact centre’. Here, digital transformation can be affected within a contact centre to effectively harness speech recognition, speech to text, workforce optimisation tools, integrated IVR (Interactive Voice Response) and intelligent routing capabilities in order to refine processes and empower personnel so as to improve the customer experience when making contact. Technology has already evolved to allow for the incorporation of social media feeds in a logical and structured way. These feeds are scrutinised by social media analytics tools that measure for negative and positive sentiment and feedback is presented in the form of an e-mail that agents can use to formulate an appropriate response. This is generally where the implementation of social media within a contact centre ends.

Change must focus on the customer
Most contact centres have not yet taken the steps required to implement multi-channel communications, as this requires a clear-cut plan for brand positioning, engagement methodology, social media strategy, online strategic intent and training in order to effectively incorporate these aspects into the contact centre. Those contact centres that have incorporated social media into their contact centre as part of an omni-channel strategy have not given it the attention it requires to be effective. Instead of having dedicated social media personnel to respond to communications on social media platforms, these channels need to be incorporated into the contact centre in the same way that voice calls have been treated, and contact centre agents should be empowered to deal with voice calls, e-mails and social media communications, alike.

This is known as an omni-channel approach, which treats all different channels as one mechanism. Proper integration of omni-channel strategies is currently out of reach for most contact centres in South Africa, as these will need to mature. In order to mature, contact centres need to take control of their processes, not by looking outward but by looking in and examining what the customer experiences and why they are making contact. These centres need to engage in comprehensive customer experience initiatives, while deploying and enhancing their self-service channels and training their staff to be more customer-centric. This requires providing personnel with the systems to achieve their objectives, which can only be achieved with a proper e-commerce and marketing strategy in place to unify all business departments. Where the business is complex with multiple products across different systems and business units, then the social media solution or multi-channel solution will need to be integrated into the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool. Further, agents need to be trained on how to effectively use the technology provided in order to engage with customers properly.

Only once multi-channel and subsequently omni-channel strategies are properly embedded into the contact centre where customer information is mined, is it possible for pro-active contact to be established and meaningful interactions to be concluded with faster resolution, as a result of the integration of these mechanisms into the contact centre. While we are seeing a reduction in the number of physical contact points that an organisation might have (for example, banks might be reducing branch numbers) there will always be a place for the contact centre. New enhancements to existing biometrics technology is the catalyst that will take self-service to the next level - with biometrics, it is possible to identify the customer based on his voice signature, which has obvious implications for security and authentication of self-service actions. When it comes to measuring customer service satisfaction with the contact centre, biometrics makes it possible to deal with exception management far more efficiently using voice biometric tags that can measure sentiment based on tone of voice and trigger words like “terrible service” and “rubbish quality”. This makes it easier to manage and monitor contact centre agents’ performance, and place a higher priority on certain customer engagements.

While the impact of digital technologies like biometrics on the contact centre remains to be seen, one thing is for certain. The real importance of digitisation to business is not in the emergence of new technology; the importance lies in the shift in customer behaviour and tomorrow’s market leaders will not be determined by how much new technology they deploy, but rather how they have evolved their entire service operation to respond to changing customer needs.

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