South African companies need to prepare their call centres for ever-increasing volumes of customer contacts, particularly the growing wave of multimedia interactions - from voice mail and SMS to Web-based text chat collaboration and voice over Internet.
According to a Data Monitor report, multimedia call interventions into call centres are expected to rise from 6% to 36% of all communications between 1999 and 2003. Total interventions are expected to rise by more than 600% into call centres over the period, according to the report.
These exploding customer communication channels do not even include the massive growth currently being experienced in telephonic and e-mail-based contacts.
Call centres need to be prepared for such growth - but throwing more human resources at the problem is not the solution. You have to look at deploying technology that will help them handle such volumes, and automate functions wherever possible.
Ideally, call centre solutions need to prioritise communications before they are channelled to an agent. For example, a call waiting is obviously more time critical than a fax. They also need to have built-in intelligence that enables e-mail to be searched for key words and appropriate responses, say from an FAQ database, generated automatically.
Call centre management
With increasing volumes of call interventions, the management of the call centre becomes critical. Workforce management tools that can analyse call trends and forecast the number of agents needed at any given time are coming under the spotlight.
Call centres need not necessarily be seen as cost centres, as technologies exist that would allow organisations to generate revenue via outbound marketing campaigns, using predictive dialling technology during quiet periods.
Good centre management can also be achieved through the use of business intelligence tools that monitor and report on call centre performance based on individual key performance indicators such as time to call resolutions, volume of calls answered, ability to handle different channels effectively or a reduction in abandoned calls.
It is important to remember, however, that speed is not everything. If it takes a little longer to deliver satisfactory customer service, then obviously speed should not be an issue.
In such a customer responsive environment, totally integrated back-end systems that support call centre agents become critical as the need to be able to present an all round view of the customer becomes paramount.
The early days of stand-alone call centres are disappearing, as are independent silos of customer data that exist in the different computer systems of many organisations.
To make CRM work, and a call centre is just one aspect of a CRM strategy, you have to create one view of the customer, so that when they communicate with the company via their preferred channel, all the relevant information on the client is at the agent's fingertips before any interaction begins.