As customer experience becomes the primary competitive advantage in business, the role of the contact centre is changing significantly. But whether it becomes the heart of the business or a component of the bigger machine depends on the business, say African contact centre experts.
This emerged in interviews conducted by Interactive Intelligence with some of sub-Saharan Africa’s leading contact centre experts, to determine the trends and challenges shaping the future of Africa’s contact centres.
Opinions varied, depending on the strategic role of the contact centre in individual businesses, and on where in Africa the contact centre is situated. However, the experts agreed that significant change is afoot. Companies that are slow to adapt to the changing market, new customer expectations, and a changing approach to customer experience are set to lose to their competitors, says the experts.
Rod Jones, head of Rod Jones Consulting, says contact centres, now also called Customer Interaction Centres, are having a profound effect on organisations’ abilities to deliver high quality customer services. “In Africa, customer interaction centres will make a massive difference to the way in which business is done on the continent in future,” he says. He notes that as many as 5 000 new contact centres are expected to be built in Africa in the next five years as public and private sector organisations start seeing them as the most cost-effective way to provide high quality customer services and to generate incremental revenues.
However, the contact centre industry is relatively immature in many African markets, and the role contact centres will play in enterprises have yet to be defined. Job Njiru, Head of Customer Experience at Kenya’s KCB Bank Group says in Kenya, mobile operators tended to pioneer the concept with financial institutions, retailers and public sector trailing behind. “In Kenya, many organisations still don’t fully understand what benefits they can harness from a contact centre,” he notes.
Mbuela Luwawu, MD, Odilum Technologies Limited in Nigeria, reports a similar trend. “Telcos were the early leaders, but financial institutions are now rolling out contact centres too – largely because new regulations are compelling them to do so. But the concept is still relatively new in Nigeria and there is a lot of room for growth and maturing of this market,” he says.
In regions like South Africa, where contact centres are well established, the role of the contact centre is changing significantly. Gavin Atkinson, CEO: of the Call Centre Division at BankServAfrica says a key shift has been that the contact centre is becoming the last point of contact as opposed to first. “Now, the average consumer – particularly younger consumers – will try to self-service using internet and mobile applications. So, as the last point of contact, the contact centre is expected to deliver absolute resolution of the query in one call. The contact centre must resolve the query as well as delivering complete consistency with the other touch points.”
Jackie Naughton, CEO of BYC Consulting, believes the contact centre has become pivotal for consistent and effective service delivery. “The customer expectation today is that needs must be fulfilled in one call – so contact centres need systems and skills to speak to customers in the way they want. The contact centre has become the strategic differentiator in business today,” she says.
In contrast, Roland Mazery, COO at Velociti, sees the contact centre as having become just a part of the bigger picture. “While the contact centre is often the tool to monitor and track how other touch points behave, it is not the only component in customer experience. There are shops, tellers and websites for example, and all of them contribute to the overall customer experience. But the role of the contact centre has not been diminished. Other parts of the organisation have simply stepped up their role in delivering overall customer experience.”
“In an ideal world, the contact centre should be integrated into all operational areas of the organisation. It should be the hub of interaction with customers and business, which is used to collect multichannel data to analyse and build business intelligence for the entire organisation,” says Deon Scheepers, manager sales Operations Africa at Interactive Intelligence Africa.