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Back in time: the past 30 years in call centres

by • August 14, 2015 • The Science BitComments (0)1949

I’ve taken a step back and looked at 30 years in the call centre – forgive me, contact centre – arena, and looked at some of the changes I’ve seen and some of the changes we will see in the coming months and years.

I joined IBM back in 1977 and in 1980 was working in the direct marketing department. In those days it was all about selling typewriters and supplies – PC’s were only just coming to the general public and floppy disks were also in demand.

IBM catered for this growing market by opening up a call centre in Greenford Middlesex. Almost 100 agents taking telephone calls and guarantying delivery within 3 weeks! Now that’s innovation (or it was way back then).

After 12 years as an IBM’er I joined a small company called Aspect who were starting to sell call centres in the UK. I had 10 years with Aspect and Rockwell, where the call centre landscape changed. It was all about being accessible to your clients. call centres started up in all “aspects” of the business world. Next talked about delivery of products within 24 hours, First Direct opened 24 hours a day with no need to visit a bank, British Airways and Virgin offered levels of service to “die for” as they responded to their customers quickly, efficiently and professionally.

So what had happened to call centres? They had become acceptable. They had become expected. They had become professional. They saw the rise of “offshore” contact and then “nearshore” with Ireland, Wales and Scotland taking more and more calls. They saw the “repatriation” of call centres to the whole of the UK and the call centres rode the recessions to come out stronger at the other side.

The big change in recent years has been multichannel, or omni-channel contact centres. What have these in common with the pioneers like Next, First Direct, BA and Virgin? Simple, we are listening to what our clients actually want and trying to deliver. That’s what.

Gone are the days where companies give you what they want and when they want to. Nowadays it’s about choice, both in how I want to contact someone and when I want to do it. For certain types of query I just want a fast, informal answer, webchat might be good enough and quick enough to provide for what I want. A more formal response might be an email. However sometimes I just want to voice my opinion or vent my anger or disappointment, that’s when social media comes into play. Facebook has over a billion users world-wide and if I want to “say something that’s got to be heard” then Facebook will certainly be seen.

Twitter may have less users than Facebook but it so easy to put a comment out there that will be seen and heard. Contact centres must have visibility of these social media channels or they will not know what’s being said (or trending). It can also have a serious impact on your business.

However, when I really want an answer, what do I do? I pick up the phone and I call someone. I may have already exhausted the other channels and not received what I wanted, so a good, old fashioned conversation is what’s needed. Talking to someone is often the answer, or the cure.

Be careful though. If you have spread your wings too wide, and too soon, at the expense of a delayed answer on the telephone you may open yourselves up to even more criticism rather than praise. If you offer a telephone service you must be available to answer those calls.

As we move forward the Multichannel, Omni Channel will become the norm. People on the whole, expect an answer from an email within 48 hours maximum, from Social Media within a couple of hours (and you should aim to be quicker if you don’t want bad news “going viral”), a response on web chat within a minute, and the telephony response should be almost instant. Don’t tell someone you’ll answer within 60 seconds and leave them holding for 15 minutes as one holiday company did to me last week.

Work out your strategy for the next five years and what services you are going to offer but be prepared to change! Who knows what’s around the corner and what you’ll have to deal with over the next 30 years, or is that 30 months, or even 30 weeks! Maybe even the next 30 minutes as our industry is alive and well, and moving fast.

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