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By Jennigay Coetzer – Business Day, 5 May 2011

Interim findings of Dimension Data’s Global Contact Centre Report show that this year the main focus is on cost reduction through process efficiency. Martin Dove, MD of Dimension Data’s customer interactive solutions division, which produces the report says there are encouraging signs that organisations are taking a more holistic approach to business process design than in the past.

For example, they are automating and integrating their call centre and the back office processes. At the same time they are reducing the length of these processes to improve the customer experience and reduce costs by not having to handle repeat calls.

However, there is no getting away from the fact that 60% to 70% of costs in call centres revolve around salaries, training and workforce management, says Dove. He says agent turnover and absenteeism, which reduced during the recession are back up to the level they were prior to 2008.

“The average age of call centre agents in South Africa is 23 to 24, and these individuals have a different view of work life than other age groups.” He says the biggest difference is that they like boundaries to be set, but they expect greater freedom, for example in relation to working flexitime and engaging in social networking during working hours.

“They expect to be treated with respect and trust, and view changing jobs as something they do as a matter of course.” Dove says the trend is moving to multichannel communication and this requires call centre agents to have the skills to interact with customers by email, SMS, web chat, and social media, as well as by phone.

To do this efficiently, they will need to have access to an integrated view across all these interactions, to ensure customers get a consistent service experience and accurate outcome. They will also need to be able to navigate across the applications behind these channels, which might not all be integrated.

This will not be easy to achieve for companies with in-house call centres that are running complex systems that have been built up over the past 20 years ago and have been rigidly upgraded over the years, says Dove. He says the move to hosted call centres will make multichannel interaction a lot easier, because service providers provide the latest integrated technology infrastructure, which provides a platform for multichannel interaction.

“With a hosted service, functionality can be switched on an off when required or it can be tested out for a few months to see if it is viable.”  This enables companies to bring new products and services to market much quicker.

Dove says the complexity and inflexibility of old systems will be one of the biggest incentives for companies to have their call centres hosted. However, many companies will not be prepared to throw their existing call centre technology infrastructure away in favour of a hosting service.
They will probably therefore start moving certain functionality, such as IVR, workforce management and quality workforce management to a hosted environment, instead of upgrading these systems.

Dove says on the business process outsourcing front, government grants have made it more attractive for overseas organisations to consider outsourcing functions to local call centre operators or set up operations in this country themselves. But the potential for SA to create hundreds of thousands of jobs by becoming a substantial player in the business process outsource market is overrated.

“SA still has advantages and bandwidth is becoming more affordable, but it can never compete on the same scale as India and the Philippines for offshore business.” He says the Philippines is the most popular destination for offshore voice business and India is attracting the bulk of the offshore business process outsourcing business.

Jennigay Coetzer is a freelance business and technology journalist with 25 years experience, and she writes regularly for Business Day. She also runs media training and writing skills workshops, and is the author of A Perfect Press Release – or Not?, a guide to writing and distributing effective press releases, an electronic version of which can be downloaded free from her website: www.jennigay.co.za.

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