As the premier call centre destination for the East and the West, South Africa is under pressure to ensure that the service we provide remains world-class and innovates ahead of global trends.
According to Warwick Talbot, business manager: call centres at GijimaAst, the new trend in call centers is integration.
"In the past, integration was understood as the dark science that a programmer created to try and get various disparate systems to understand each other. Integration has come to mean more than just the integration of your ACD with your CRM system.
"Real integration in a call centre means that all aspects of your business work together to support the customer service function. This includes real, meaningful integration of business systems, but it also means that processes and people are integrated in support of creating a memorable customer service experience.
"Too many companies decide to set up a contact centre in the hope that it will be a silver bullet and magically solve all their customer service issues. In these cases, the call centre is set up as an isolated department without the necessary integration to the rest of the business and in many cases without the mandate to really make a difference.
"Naturally, this isolated and lame duck department will fail. Proper system integration ensures that agents have all the necessary information available at their fingertips for when a customer calls. Proper integration with the business processes ensures that agents are empowered to make decisions and provide meaningful customer service first time, every time. This is real value."
Apart from integration, there will be technical developments taking place in call centers. With the improved broadband services in South Africa and the problems associated with traffic and fuel prices, contact centers will be encouraged to make use of remote or home agents.
The advancements in speech enabled applications and the improvements in natural language recognition mean that we will see more speech self service applications being used to drive efficiencies. Another development that will become more widespread is the offering of call center seats as a service.
In other words, a company like GijimaAst will host the call centre systems and customers will be able to hire a couple of seats as they need them. There will be increased focus on quality within the call centre with proper quality management systems and practices becoming the norm and not the exception. Technology such as emotion detection and analytics will support this.
"At GijimaAst, customer care is the primary objective of any call centre. Everything else that is spoken about in terms of technology, processes, training and integration is ultimately in support of customer care," says Talbot.
"Training must be designed to support the goal of excellent customer care. This means that training should only take place if it is going to improve the customer experience – this applies to systems training, soft skills training or business process training.
"GijimaAst's biggest advantage in the call centre space is probably our depth of offering. We have an unrivalled ability to sell a complete solution that extends beyond merely the call centre technology itself. GijimaAst is able to cope with and maximise the integration aspect that I mention above which can help propel a call centre from being merely a collection of disparate systems, to a real centre of customer service excellence."
Multi-linguism is also becoming more and more important. How can a call centre really be providing great service if agents cannot respond to a customer in the language of their choice? asks Talbot.
"We are currently busy with a large call centre project where we need to provide service not just in the 11 official languages of South Africa, but also to be able to deal with the multiple languages that will be represented by fans of the world cup in 2010."
Call centers will continue to grow and become more central to how a company deals with its customers.
The call centre has had a mixed reputation in both South Africa and the rest of the world. This bad reputation is largely due to the fact that some call centers merely paid lip service to the concept of customer service. Call Centers will also feel more pressure to improve all aspects of the customer's experience with their technology; this means that long IVR menus and menu options at different volumes and using different voices will need to be replaced by friendly speech applications that encompass the personality of the organization. Customers are simply not willing to put up with poor service any more.
"Recently, there have been a number of high profile incidents distributed on sites such as YouTube that have spread like wildfire around the world. This means that examples of poor service are no longer contained within a group comprising the unfortunate consumer and his or her immediate circle of friends, but can be recorded and spread around the world within hours.
"This can obviously be a death blow to an organisation's reputation. This means that making the change to our call centers is no longer an option but an urgent imperative," Talbot adds.