How Call Centres Are Finding Their Voice

Monday, November 01, 2010 by Nuance Communications UK

Excellence in customer service has been touted as the big differentiator in a struggling economy. Despite the phone remaining the dominant communication channel when contacting a call centre, many companies fail to grasp, or at least demonstrate an appreciation of the potential to improve the customer service experience through this medium. The call centre remains woefully underfunded and many customers face long queues, only to be misrouted to the wrong department.

Sales reps often travel the length and breadth of the country, tirelessly knocking on doors for leads. However, a customer or prospect rings a call centre because they actively want to speak to that company. This is a luxury that should not be taken for granted. Every call is an opportunity for that company to sell its products or services.

Admittedly, call centre managers have a lot to contend with. Call volumes continue to grow in a sporadic fashion and call centre staff attrition is extremely high. However, this is not an excuse for poor customer service. Technology has evolved to such an extent that automation can now play a major role in overcoming these challenges. The fact is that automation has already, and will continue to, transform customer service. For instance, queuing in a bank to wait for a cashier to withdraw cash probably feels like a distant, even faintly ridiculous memory now that we self-serve at an ATM.

As consumers become more adept at using technology for their personal needs, staff and customers will benefit from increased interaction with call automation, and more specifically speech recognition technologies. From an employee perspective, having to handle an increasing number of repetitive calls can contribute to low morale and high staff turnover. But by automating such routine queries, call centre agents can be freed up to focus on more complex tasks.

This results in a more motivated force of 'knowledge workers', with a better record for attendance and quality performance, with the overall effect of elevating the brand. Likewise, from a customer perspective, if callers have to sit in a queue to speak to an agent, while being subjected to some dreadful music; only to be confronted by an unhelpful or unenthusiastic person at the end of the line, the end result will be discontentment at best. The opportunity to cross-sell disappears and brand reputation and loyalty plummets, with a disastrous effect on the bottom line.

People are by nature task orientated and just want to get a job done as quickly as possible with minimal fuss. Businesses that recognise this and respond by giving their customers the choice and flexibility to serve themselves will ultimately prosper. In fact, based on our calculations, if a company handling 1m calls per month increases their rates of self service automation by just 5%, using speech recognition, that company would be able to handle 600,000 additional calls per year and save an average of £3 per call which amounts to a saving of £1.8m/yr.

Admittedly there will always be people who prefer to speak to an agent and that option will remain available, but more and more people are experiencing the benefits of speech automation. The key is to provide choice and be sensitive to the fact that people will require varying methods of service for different tasks at different times. What is clear is that we are about to reach a tipping point for speech technology adoption and soon we will wonder how we ever survived without it.