We have all experienced contact centres, in the UK and abroad, and have probably formed our own opinions about them. Are they still just a streamlined means of handling calls, whatever the size of the business, or should they now embrace all forms of communication?
Innovative technology means heightened customer demands
The widespread adoption of digital devices and unified communications (UC) is undoubtedly changing the way customers want to communicate and contact centres have been forced to adapt accordingly. Customers expect to engage with companies seamlessly across multiple channels such as chat, mobile, video and social media, not just via the telephone.
When we think of early call centres, images of dubious double-glazing sales calls spring to mind. Contact centres have moved a long way since then and today’s contact centre uses the latest technology to allow customers to contact a business at any time, through any channel, from any device. It integrates social media with email and telephony and with customer history, ensuring that every customer enjoys a smooth, efficient and compliant response, first time.
Technology such as interactive voice response (IVR) is now commonplace and, according to recent research, it has had a predominantly positive effect on the customer experience. The study found that 71% of US and UK consumers would be happy to receive a call that used voice recognition to inform them that their plane or train will be late, while 80% would look favourably on automated calls that informed them of the time of a home delivery.¹
Negativity surrounding contact centres
Many organisations moved their call centre operations overseas as their businesses grew, to countries such as India and the Philippines, where labour is significantly cheaper. While they enjoyed lower operating costs, there was a widespread perception from people in the UK that call centre agents based overseas weren’t capable of dealing with customer calls effectively. In recent years, many organisations have returned their call centre operations to the UK, and often use this fact as a selling point.
Other enduring criticisms of contact centres are that poor-performing IVRs often force people to repeat information, or they are made to wait, call back or confirm things in writing. So despite all the technological advances, it seems that the contact centre is still on a steep learning curve.
The enduring human element
It is clear that the contact centre has evolved into a more sophisticated technological offering but voice calls still remains intrinsic to a call centre’s services. SMS, web chat and instant messaging all enhance the customer experience - however they need to be implemented intelligently to work well. We are still a long way from a voice-free service offering because human contact is just too influential on customer satisfaction.
¹ Taken from www.sourcingfocus.com, “The evolution of the contact centre”