Calling time on old-style call centres
For most of us, a call centre conjures up an image of rows upon rows of people, head-sets afixed, spending hour after hour on the telephone to customers
When is a call centre not really a call centre? When telephones are no longer the primary form of communication.
For most of us, a call centre will conjure up an image of rows upon rows of people, head-sets afixed, spending hour after hour on the telephone to customers.
As Derek Stalley, operations director for Sky Ireland, who first started working in the sector some 20 years ago recalls, “it was about lots of bums on seats and call after call after call”.
With the advent of social media however, call centres are moving further away from this old mode of working. Now known as contact centres, telephones are no longer the tool they once were.
“We’re seeing huge development in terms of how companies across all sectors are handling interaction,” says Dorothy O’Byrne, managing director, of the Contact Centre Management Association (CCMA), noting that companies are now adopting a “multi-channel” approach.
Stalley agrees. “Five-plus years ago it would have been predominantly call-related, but we’ve since started to tap into other channels, and are doing more web-related stuff,” he says.
Indeed Facebook, online web-chats, Twitter and YouTube are where it’s at now. eBay for example, gives training on successfully selling on its auction site via YouTube, while 02 promotes its “GuruTV” on the medium, through which you find out about tech-related problems.
Bookmaker Paddy Power introduced web-chat in 2009 on the back of customer demand, and it now accounts for more engagement than all its other methods.
“It’s an incredibly popular tool of communication,” says Ronan Wall, operations director with Paddy Power, which has 150 people working in its contact centre in Clonskeagh, supporting all its online products.
The firm has a dedicated social support team, whose role is to manage and monitor support queries through Facebook and Twitter.
For a younger generation of customers, social media can be a more preferable communication tool to picking up the phone.
“We know that the younger generation don’t necessarily want to pick up the phone to speak to someone,“ says O’Byrne.
And for businesses, it can be a cheaper and more productive way of keeping in touch with customers, with employees able to to facilitate several web-chats at the same time – as opposed to just one phone-call.
But social media also brings with it its own challenges. “It is difficult, because it’s so free and open. It’s difficult to have a response to every permutation,“ notes Stalley.
So what do companies do if they find their brand being disparaged on Twitter?
“What we try and do is if we can offer some help, we will engage, and we will try and privately communicate with the individual to resolve the problem,“ says Wall, but adds that the support team “don’t answer every comment, if there’s nothing we can add to it”.
By facilitating customer service online, it also gives a perception that help is at hand 24-7. But is this something companies can fulfil?