By James Le Roth, Contact Centre Director, Eclipse Marketing.
In-house or outsourced?
One aspect remains the same: the debate over in-house vs. outsourced. Traditionally organisations turned to outsourced third party suppliers for cost reasons. They saw outsourcing as a way of minimising costs, reducing overheads on human resources, premises and technology. But as they quickly realised, the benefits go much further.
Outsourcing can enable an organisation to extend the range and quality of its customer services, by offering a wider range of services, extended operating hours and a higher headcount of advisers to handle calls.
It can also give access to fresh areas of expertise. For instance, a manufacturer who has grown organically may not have an established internal customer services function.
This can mean that customer service calls are handled by back office staff, who may not have the time, relevant training or knowledge to give a good customer experience, and moreover, may be more expensive to employ than contact centre agents. By outsourcing, such organisations can offer an improved customer experience without compromising core office functions, such as billing.
In companies where a dedicated in-house contact centre function has been set up, they may feel they are best placed to represent their own brand. But, even here, there are many occasions when outsourcing can provide a convenient and effective additional solution.
Tactical campaigns are a case in point. By using a third party agency, companies can undertake ad hoc sales and marketing activity, without impacting on their core business functions or affecting their ongoing sales and marketing activities. This could include supporting mailshots with telemarketing activity or the data cleansing of marketing databases.
Crisis management is another specialist area where it is often appropriate to use outsourced services. Manufacturers or food retailers in particular need to respond very quickly in a crisis. A specialist outsourced centre will have the expertise, capacity and support functions to deliver what is required effectively and with speed, offering an overnight turn-around if required.
Outsourcing to a third party can also give businesses access to additional customer data, not available by conventional in-house means such as web forms. A skilled contact centre advisor will be able to interact on a more insightful level with callers, capturing the essence of how consumers feel about the brand, whether positive or negative.
Historically the performance of contact centres was measured by response rates and handling times. But these give only part of the picture.
Increasingly, contact centres are moving towards measuring how effective they are, in addition to how efficient. To do this, they look at the quality of the interaction with consumers, rather than the quantity.
Contact centres seek to achieve meaningful engagement with consumers and good resolution rates, particularly when dealing with inquiries and complaints. One-call resolution and high levels of customer satisfaction are the Holy Grails of today’s contact centres.
To resolve inquiries first time requires contact centre staff to be equipped with the knowledge, training and processes to affect quick resolutions. This brings us to the thorny issue of retention rates.
In an industry sector well-known for its high churn rates, retaining and developing good contact centre staff is crucial. Employee satisfaction is as important as customer satisfaction, indeed the one leads to the other. Responsible contact centres put as much effort into developing and motivating their staff as they do in keeping consumers happy.
For many organisations, contact centres offering customer services functions like enquiries and complaints represent a cost centre, rather than a revenue source. However, complementary marketing functions like lead generation, capturing marketing information and telesales, can be added to drive growth and new business.
In today’s multi-channel world, high levels of customer insight are required to asses how and when to interact with consumers. Contact centres have become skilled in integrating email, web chat, web presence and SMS communications to create a holistic customer experience.
To this multi-channel approach a new dimension has emerged in recent years: consumer power. Increasingly, web-savvy consumers are driving the agenda. Contact centres have responded by becoming adept at choosing the appropriate channel to enable individual consumers to interact with a brand. For example, though a consumer may be happy to order a brochure on-line, they are likely to prefer to speak to a person on the telephone if they have a complaint.
Agents operating across multiple channels have access to a wide range of information about consumers, including a history of how individual consumers have interacted with the brand in the past. So, when a consumer calls a contact centre, the adviser may be able to see what page they have been looking at on the website, or even intervene with online help if they see a consumer ‘lost’ on a site.
Contact centres meeting the demand to communicate with consumers across multiple channels have another headache: ensuring consistency and integrity of the brand across all the channels employed. This, in turn, is having an impact on the skillsets needed by contact centre staff. Advisors recruited for their telephone skills, are having to multi-task, becoming competent in other areas such as emails and live webchats.
Much of this change is being driven by technology convergence. One of the biggest challenges facing contact centres is to make the most of the many new opportunities presented by the ability to combine previously separate data and telephony technologies.
In the last decade, UK call centres have been transformed almost beyond recognition. Fuelled by current rapid changes in marketing, technology and customer expectation, it seems the pace of change within the sector is not about to let up.
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