Smarter contact centers another emerging BPO trend?

Infotech Lead Europe: Customers are looking for smarter contact centers, according to a survey by BT and Avaya.

The survey says 70 percent consumers have better product knowledge than contact center agents.

BT and Avaya say that 80 percent of people thought agents struggled to answer their questions and 85 percent believed they’d been put on hold because agents didn’t know what to say.

The survey was done in the U.S. and U.K.

According to market and research, till 2009-10, the UK call centre market was in terrific shape, recording consistent double-digit revenue growth, which attracted a number of new entrants to the industry. However, the economic downturn dramatically changed the operating environment: industry demand collapsed, sending revenue into a dramatic downward spiral.

The total value of the UK call centre industry is believed to be in excess of £2.5 billion. It is estimated that 70 percent of the industry globally is made up by in-house operations.

The UK contact centre market is no different to the overall global market, with in-house contact centres dominating the market. Outsourcing operations to contact centre specialists is a growing trend, however outsourced specialists still account for 30 percent of industry revenue.

Offshoring of contact centres has been credited with savings of 25-40 percent compared to UK operation. India is the most important offshore destination having low labour rates and an English-speaking workforce but other locations, such as South Africa, the Philippines, Eastern Europe and Egypt are also widely used.

Given reports of poor service, some organisations (eg NatWest) have used their UK-based contact centres to marketing advantage and several organisations, such as Santander and E.ON, have reopened contact centres in the UK.
According to GIA, global call centers market is projected to reach US$337.8 billion by 2018, driven primarily by increasing corporate focus on providing efficient customer service as a part of business development. Renewed business process outsourcing activity and increasing use of innovative IT technologies also augur well for the future of this market.

The survey by BT and Avaya say that the failure of service identified by the research presents a significant risk to organizations as 78 percent of consumers say that they only buy from businesses that make it easy for them to deal with and a third believe convenience is more important than price. Additionally, almost half believe customer loyalty is a thing of the past.

According to GIA, while the global call center industry continues to recover from the 2007-2009 economic recession guided by the fact that prolonged deeper cuts on customer service investments can potentially magnify fickle loyalty among consumers, the industry in Europe is running into fresh set of challenges.

According to GIA, call centers are gradually taking up image management roles for client companies, triggered by the ever growing clout of social marketing. The ever increasing popularity of social media as an important medium to express views is forcing call center agencies to leverage the platform to interact with their client’s customers and gather views and channelize opinion for clients. Rising to the occasion, contact center software developers are increasingly integrating Social Media Context module into their solutions to enable agents to quickly identify social media conversations most relevant to the client’s businesses.

The BT-Avaya survey says video conferencing seems to be finally taking off, with usage up 100 percent since similar research was carried out in 2010. Some 13 percent of the people surveyed use video conferencing at home every week — double the number from 2010 — and 55 percent would like to use video chat to have their questions answered by contact center agents. Webchat is also growing fast, with 26 percent of people using it to communicate with organizations, up by 36 percent compared with 2010.

But the phone remains the most popular customer service channel with 77 percent of people having called an organization in the six months prior to the survey. 54 percent had used the phone to call an organization in the month leading up to the survey compared with 56 percent for the same period in 2010 — indicating that the phone is holding its own despite the growth of alternative contact channels. Over 90 percent (91 percent) of consumers want organizations to display phone numbers clearly on all channels and 89 percent say that when things go wrong, there is no alternative to speaking to a real person.

As smartphone usage, social media and Wi-Fi coverage continue to grow, half of consumers are constantly changing the way they contact organizations. Eighty two percent say they need a range of channels to meet their needs. But many are frustrated with the experience of switching channels as it exposes huge gaps in customer service. In fact, just 17 percent think swapping between channels is easy and gives them a seamless experience and 69 percent of consumers say they’re often asked to repeat their account details on the same call.

GIA says another trend being witnessed is the delivery of call center services in the form of mobile apps. Thanks to the smartphone revolution, call center companies are launching innovative apps for the customer to directly interact with the call centers using their smartphones. With smartphones poised to emerge as the preferred mode of communication, call centers are projected to offer enhanced value added services through mobile apps.

Andrew Small, vice president BT Contact, BT Global Services, said: “When organizations fail to connect their customers to the right agent, it’s not only frustrating for the consumer but also for the staff involved. The solution is for organizations to use technology to ensure their customers’ calls go to the right agent first time and to connect contact center staff using collaboration tools to create networked experts who can share their knowledge when needed.”

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Anand B
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