Magazine article Marketing

New Call Centre: New Danger

Magazine article Marketing

New Call Centre: New Danger

Article excerpt

Many companies are turning to telemarketing bureaus or installing call centres, but don't realise they also need a complete change of company culture.

Alerted to the growing importance of the telephone in contacting customers, an increasing number of companies have turned to telemarketing bureaus or set up their own call centres. But without undergoing a thorough re-evaluation of their company cultures, they will often fail to take full advantage of either.

Call centres offer immediate efficiencies, such as lower costs of customer service, an increased capacity to handle customer interactions, and reduced headcount. And as competition in most sectors intensifies and margins reduce, greater value is placed on the value of customer relationships.

Direct, high-convenience, high-quality service by telephone can build these relationships. Even those more 'traditional' companies which have remained blind to the benefits of direct telephone interaction with their customers have been jolted into action by the visible success of pioneers such as Direct Line, First Direct, Dell, and Virgin Direct.

The rewards are there for the taking. In the UK in 1995, 11.4 million people recommended companies they have never seen. The basis for their recommendation, according to the recent Teleculture futures research by the Henley Centre, is that they received excellent telephone service from that company. Conversely, 86% of people who suffered a badly handled call to a company would prefer not to do business with them again. The rewards are there, but so are the dangers.

Culture and people play a key role in successful call centres, but you must get the basics right, basics which new entrants can easily overlook.

Central to this is the agent system. Take great people, highly trained and motivated, and put them up against a bad system and the system will win every time. It must be thought out, implemented and constantly developed to drive agent productivity and help them give excellent service. Poorly thought-out scripts or inadequate help-screens hinder a natural interaction with the customer and hinder the agent in providing excellent, 'one-touch' service.

Systems which do not allow data processing mid-call will lengthen 'wrap-up' activities and reduce efficiency. Good call centres and call-centre specialists, including those whose main activity is systems design, know that IT must be at the service of the customer, not vice versa.

Beyond the system itself, the environment is key. Call centres are different from normal offices, have a higher concentration of staff and intense work patterns. Bad ergonomic factors such as desk layout, chairs, light, air circulation and toilets - important in any business - can cause steep declines in productivity and motivation.

Modern call centres are a long way from the old image of rows of desks and cubicles. The best will have well thought-out workstations and leading-edge agent equipment. The use of consultants or specialists can help avoid the most obvious pitfalls.

Culture - the shared beliefs and values which form the basis of social action - is grown and cultivated, not imposed. There are three primary factors for success:

* Choose the right people - call centres must not be the destination of misfits or surplus staff. In 1995, a building society pulled staff from branches and corralled them into a central unit in an effort to set up a direct business. Within nine months, 70% had left and the rest pleaded to return to the branches. The skills, training and personality of call-centre staff are unlikely to be those of branch or internally focused staff. …

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