Communication methods may be changing, but the basics of customer service remain the same and, armed with a wealth of newly available information, contact centres are poised to redefine service standards in the coming years.
Deon Scheepers, regional business development manager of Interactive Intelligence Africa, says contact centres will undoubtedly continue to play a pivotal role within the social media landscape. He also says the biggest mistake companies can make is to separate their social media communications from their contact centre, as the two are inextricably linked, with both forming a critical element of a company's customer service offering.
"Contact centres have been forced to evolve over the years to cater to a growing variety of media channels - first it was the fax, then e-mail, then SMS. Social media is just another step in this evolution.
"The key to providing excellent customer services lies in maintaining a holistic, single view of the customer and understanding their preferred points of contact and means of interaction with the company.
"By separating social media from the existing contact centre, a company's ability to deal effectively with customer queries will be undeniably compromised," says Scheepers.
Single system best route to ensure efficiencies in all channels
He says while a dedicated pool of agents can be assigned to manage social media queries, it is vital that a single system be used to monitor and manage all interaction channels. In so doing, a company can maintain an overarching view of their customer base, and ensure utmost efficiency irrespective of the channel used.
While the expectations of the social media audience are certainly changing, with a greater emphasis on immediacy, the basic principles of customer service still apply, and the contact centre is best equipped to deal with this.
"While social media offers customers a new and more immediate platform through which to have their queries handled, it is not an effective replacement for human interaction.
"It can certainly help to alleviate call volume, particularly when it comes to minor issues, but when it comes to more important customer queries - particularly those that require the exchange of personal information - customers tend to feel more comfortable dealing with a live agent and telephonic queries still account for 80%-90% of contact centre interactions," says Scheepers.
Markets often dictate call centre upgrades, investment
Paul Fick, MD at Jasco Enterprise, says the uptake of social media and the fact that many economically active people use it as their preferred method of communication is also driving growth in the contact centre industry.
"As a result, we are seeing the integration of social media into the contact centre on the rise," says Fick.
He adds that markets often dictate the frequency of upgrades and investment in call centre technology.
Social media, for example, will drive the investment in multichannel technology, allowing contact centres to communicate with their clients, suppliers, debtors and creditors via their preferred method of communication. Says Fick: "The goal of being more proactive also compels companies to invest in their contact centres as this provides them with a competitive edge and results in higher sales, reduced debtors days and overall better service.
"Therefore, it is an important consideration for companies to invest in upgrading their contact centre technology and meet trends and preferences of their markets."
An attractive alternative
Fortunately, he says hosted solutions and contact centres as a service deliver an attractive alternative that assists in reducing the requirement for capital investment. For example, a hosted service is the model where the outsourcer owns the infrastructure, technology and equipment at the client's site and bills the client on a monthly basis.
This can be taken one step further where the outsourcer or hosted service provider owns the equipment off-site and offers this service to many customers as a shared hosted service that is cloud-based.
"With this scenario, the customer benefits from a 'pay-as-you-use' model. These models do not require a major capital outlay and ensure the end user customer has access to the latest software versions and technology without the upfront investment that goes hand-in-hand with owning the infrastructure," says Fick.
"This puts leading technology into the hands of the customer which can result in a world-class contact centre but does not guarantee a world-class service. What the contact centre does with the technology, their processes and understanding of their market makes all the difference."
Source: Business Day, via I-Net Bridge