Callcentre churn and growth prompts IT investment

Teleworking could be an effective way to increase staff satisfaction and reduce high levels of turnover, says expert

The New Zealand contact centre industry has been growing strongly for the last 10 years and there is little sign of that diminishing.

The current growth rate is 7.5%, according to the 2007 contact centre industry benchmarking survey, conducted by Sydney-based Callcentres.net.

However, the local industry is struggling to recruit, train and keep staff, says Catriona Wallace, managing director of Callcentres.net

The industry here consists of around 325 organisations representing 515 contact centres and employing about 25,000 agents, Wallace says.

“The [staff] turnover rate is 24% in New Zealand, compared to 22% in Australia,” she says. On average, agents stay in callcentres for 28 months and two thirds never return to a callcentre role, she says.

“But these numbers are much higher in bigger callcentres,” she adds.

Investments in technology could potentially help companies retain callcentre staff and also take the pressure off recruitment demands, says Wallace.

The survey found that 63% of transactions in local callcentres were handled over the phone, solely by agents. Thirteen percent of calls were handled by agents in combination with interactive voice response (IVR). Only 0.5% of transactions were handled via online chat and only 0.04% with SMS, says Wallace.

The survey found that 58% of local contact centres currently have a knowledge management system. Half of the respondents have an IVR system and a CRM system, but only 27% have VoIP capabilities, 13% SMS capabilities and 11% web chat capabilities. One fifth of respondents have an e-learning system, according to the survey.

In the next 12 months, contact centres are likely to invest in call recording systems (47%), CRM systems (40%) and workforce management systems (40%), according to the survey. Nearly a third will make investments in VoIP.

IP technology enables contact centres to become virtual environments, allowing agents to work from home, but also making it easier to log on additional staff to take overflow calls, or having experts available to take calls, Wallace says.

The number of contact centres that allow staff to telework, or be home-based, rose from 7% in 2006 to 11% in 2007. This is expected to jump to 16% next year, she says.

“Most contact centres have not yet embraced this flexibility, but teleworking could be an effective way to increase staff satisfaction and reduce the high levels of turnover in the industry,” she says.

The main channel for contact in New Zealand is still the phone, she says. “The average speed of response is 15 seconds. Customer service is great, but 65% of [contact centres’] budget is spent on HR, for example recruitment and training.”

The cost of the phone channel, continuing staff shortages, and the emergence of Generation Y consumers — who prefer self-service online — will drive uptake of other channels, such as online chat and SMS, Wallace says.

Ann Mayer runs a virtual callcentre as well as a consultancy for callcentre staff training. Mayer’s agents are located “from Whangaparaoa to Taupo”, she says.

“It doesn’t matter where they are,” says Mayer. “The only challenge with a virtual callcentre is making sure we can coach our people.”

Mayer’s callcentre uses a web-based system and she is now looking to invest in a VoIP solution.

Her agents are mainly mums who have children at school. The agents are contracted to work a specific number of hours every week, but it is up to them when they choose to do that work, as long as it is done within business hours, says Mayer.

There are also other groups of people who are attracted to the idea of working in a virtual call centre — prisoners, for example, says Callcentre.net’s Wallace.

She says there is a very successful contact centre in a women’s prison in Singapore.

Inmates, selected for the callcentre jobs, are put through training, which is recognised outside the prison walls. This gives them a chance to get a job when they get out of jail, she says.

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