New-look centres are key to improved customer service

The contact centre industry stands at the beginning of a journey that will define its development and role with organisations around the world, writes Dan Matthews

Not too long ago, call centres had a worrying reputation. Rightly or wrongly, the mere mention of these business necessities would conjure up images of rows of desks with grey-faced employees strapped to their chairs.

But in the last ten years, the business of call centres has undergone something of a revolution, and people working within the sector are now convinced they can provide a source of profit for companies and genuine career opportunities for employees.

So what’s changed? Technology for one thing; it has helped develop new ways for businesses to connect with prized customers, analysing feedback and data, and creating ways to improve customer experience every year.

The role of employees is also steadily evolving. Whereas before people saw a job in a call centre as a short-term hell, now increasingly there is the view that contact centres have much more to offer, including a healthier approach to staff and even a work-life balance.

“With the right customer service, we can drive profits up and make the business more efficient,” says Chris Stylianou, managing director of customer services at broadcaster Sky. “We know that training our people and giving them opportunities to develop to their full potential is core to the long-term success of our business.

“We also recognise the importance of employing people with the right attitude over qualifications because we are able to provide the training and development needed to ensure that staff feel equipped to do the job.”

With the right customer service, we can drive profits up and make the business more efficient

It’s a similar approach being adopted over at Orange Business Services (OBS). “In all competitive markets, companies seek differentiation and customer support as a key driver in delivering this,” says Béatrice Felder, vice president of Customer Contact Solutions at OBS. “In today’s socially connected world, good and bad customer experiences are instantly amplified across social and communications channels.”

Around four out of ten people in the UK now own a smartphone, which means not only can they connect with your contact centre personnel quickly and easily, but they can also complain in a range of ways if they don’t have a great experience.

There isn’t even a “cool-down” period for a customer of having to return to the nearest desktop computer; it’s a case of cancelling a phone call or web session and switching to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or any of the many digital sounding boards.

On the flip-side, technology means businesses can answer queries at a lower average cost by allowing customer to service their own accounts with self-service contact points that are available 365 days a year.

“It can offer a fully consistent service,” says Richard Carter, chief executive of outsourcing company Nostrum Group, “reducing the need for compliance reviews, staff training and the spectre of poor advice being provided or mis-selling.”

The need for improved and personalised customer experience and new efficiencies has also added fuel to the perennial question whether to outsource operations to a far-flung country or keep them closer to your core business here in the UK.

“The contact centre is only really a cost if you consider it to be making up for failures in the organisation elsewhere,” says Rufus Grig, chief technology officer at Azzurri Communications. “Therefore, the cost isn’t really in the contact centre, it’s in the broken part of the organisation.”