The shift from call centre to contact centre involves a change in company culture, says SalesForce managing Michael Masterton.
SalesForce New Zealand last year launched a multimillion-dollar internet-enabled contact centre.
Chief marketing consultant Oscar Alban for US firm Witness, which produces contact centre software, agrees. “The contact centre is much more than a place for customers to call when they have questions or a problem. It has become the brand extension of the company’s marketing efforts. It is also the one place that offers the best opportunity to build relationships with customers."
Witness Systems has offices in Australia and counts New Zealand’s Clear Communications among its clients.
Both sides confirm the shift to contact centres, with Alban saying they have become the “nucleus of the company”. As well as being cheaper, both say net operations also gives the customer control over how they interact with firms. This can include by phone, by email, web-chat and web call-back. More information can be learned about their needs, they say, which then means better service, even personalised one-to-one marketing.
Consequently, New Zealand firms are spending millions on new software to allow this. The 2001 Benchmark survey says investment in call centres accounts for 14% of total spending in the industry, up from 9% on 1999. Salesforce spent “a few million” on its Genesys CIC software, which allows customer contact by phone, fax, email, online and chat with voice over IP technology.
Masterton says such costs would be prohibitive to small firms but were worthwhile for his.
Alban says firms need to invest in the new multimedia customer relationship management environment to survive and services must be consistent whichever media is used. For staff, change means their skills need upgrading, as they have more sophisticated technology to operate.
Reports in Britain say this now means the contact centre may offer better career prospects than its predecessor, which there has a “sweatshop” image.
New Zealand’s own benchmark study also shows a switch to more full-time work and call centres planning to recruit people with different skillsets to account for the new technology.
For IT managers, Albarn says they have to understand their business and consider the technology to support its activities, and ensure it is ready for action.
“There is too much software out there not ready for full deployment. If not careful, the IT manager could be left holding the bag,” he says.
Masterton says IT managers now have to extend their understanding from data only to all technologies to provide the most effective solution. “The end user is now dictating what they require, whereas before the IT manager would dictate how a company would communicate [in terms of technology] with a customer,” he says.
And he adds net-based systems are not yet as reliable as the phone systems they replace, as they have more things that can go wrong.
However, net-based technology is improving service. Salesforce says this has helped the firm grow from 20 people 11 years ago to 2000 people in four countries, with 120 staff in New Zealand serving seven partners, and enjoying 100% growth.
The Benchmark survey also reveals that despite public perceptions, 91% of call centres met or exceeded customer expectations and over half met company response targets for answering calls.