Keeping in touch

News that predicted the demise of the UK call centre industry caused by increasing self service and a huge shift of work to lower cost overseas destinations has proved to be largely unfounded and the industry is still very much alive and kicking. In fact, it is reasonably estimated that there are now nearly one million people employed in the UK industry alone.
Are there any parts of our lives today that are untouched by the telephone and therefore call centres? It’s tough to think of any, isn’t it?
In recent years, a huge effort has been made by the public sector in particular and – if not yet reality everywhere – the desire to have a multi media “one-stop shop” surely exists within every government department and local authority. A great deal of progress has certainly been made by the emergency services and it seems clear that both the ‘First Contact’ and ‘Beyond the Call’ reports have brought enormous energy into this sector. You need only research the number of public sector winners of industry awards in the last 12 months to be assured that many are competing with the best of the commercial operations.

Customer management
So what does all this mean for customer management? Well, for one thing it means customers are becoming increasingly demanding and much more likely to take their business elsewhere if they don’t think you are performing. It also means ‘competition’ is no longer simply your direct competitors; it is anyone creating good customer experiences.

There are several levels of customer loyalty:

  • Dissatisfied but not yet defected.
  • Inert – retained but at risk.
  • Loyal and willing to endorse.
  • Fans with a high level of advocacy.

Organisations can turn their customers’ call centre experiences into visionary moments that build customer advocacy or they can deliver something that drives their customers away. The key is to define just how customer-centric you want to be and align all the components of service delivery around that point. This includes the goals of the business, stakeholder expectation, the expectations set by marketing and the measures used to manage business operations.
Customer dissatisfaction is a key indicator of future problems. Price and product are now just tickets to be in the game. Sustainable differentiation is now at a higher level than price, product or brand.

Good customer experience
The sets of attributes that create a good customer experience, and therefore loyalty, are no longer simply people, process and technology. These now need to be sandwiched by leadership (what the company says it will do) and what it actually measures. This will ensure the customer strategy is defined and applied across the business and drives the behaviours required to execute the customer strategy.
At the heart of this is a requirement for the organisation to build a workforce that is highly engaged and working positively in ways that are aligned with the goals and mission of the business.
Leaders and managers cannot introduce initiatives successfully without the collaboration of their workforce. The more enthusiastic and committed this collaboration, the more successful the organisation will be.
It is clear that organisations increasingly recognise the importance of building a positive, engaged workforce and many are working hard to address a range of important factors. A recent survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, for example, revealed talent management and retention as key business priorities, with over 90 per cent of organisations recognising their importance to the bottom-line.

A maturing industry
It is forecast that the UK contact centre industry will continue to mature over the next ten years.
Advancements in performance measurement, automated scorecards and reporting, and a more sophisticated management process will allow managers to have a comprehensive view of centre operations at their fingertips and every agent will have real time access to their own work performance.
The reducing cost of communications and networking technology make virtual centres ever more certain – better balancing the desire to work locally or at home with both cost savings and economies of scale.
As companies begin using new capabilities and technologies, the customers’ expectation will continue to rise as they interact with the best and most sophisticated organisations. Changes in one industry will be expected of others. Those that lead the way with innovative and customer-focused call centre capabilities will be the success stories of the future.

About the author
Ann-Marie Stagg is currently Head of Direct Sales for The Co-operative Financial Services. She has managed and directed a variety of contact centres for large organisations including the Brakes Group; Citi-Financial Europe; Scottish Power; the Automobile Association; Vertex Customer Management and North West Water. Ann-Marie is Chair of the Call Centre Management Association in the UK and Secretary of the European Confederation of Contact Centre Organisations (ECCCO).

For more information
Contact Ann-Marie Stagg at or call on 01477 500826.

Please register to comment on this article