Can UK Call Centre’s Bounceback?
On my Kindle right now is the second book by Howard Schultz, the popular ceo (apparently, none of the job titles are capitalised), of Starbucks, which describes how he lead the coffee company back from the brink of financial collapse and set them back on the right track of producing the best coffee in the world.
It’s an amazing story about the passion and commitment Schultz enthuses throughout the Starbucks community for their coffee and their brand. I’ve hardly been able to put the book (err Kindle), down since I started reading. Starbucks is an amazing company and one which has my complete respect, because as a customer, I can appreciate and feel that passion in their stores. Though, I do wish barista’s were able to spend more time to talk about the coffee instead of moving through the queues, but when queues form, the work for them has to begin I guess.
I’ve never mentioned my place of work on my blog or Twitter, which is because I think my blog is my opinion and doesn’t reflect those views of my employer and nor do I wish to create trouble for myself or the company, but last night the company I work for appeared on BBC documentary “Made In Britain”, a three part show charting how jobs in Britain have changed and how our new industries contribute to the British economy.
Unfortunately, our sector (the contact centre business), was only given a five minute overview which I feel was slightly unfair given that so much of the North East relies upon business generated by call centres and there was so much more for the programme to explore; the migration of call centre jobs from the UK into emerging service sectors of the world, such as India, as well as the return of those back into the UK as companies have come to realise that customers prefer to speak to English-speakers who are able to converse off-script (that’s by no way meant as any offence to the Indian speaking call centres, which have grown and really taken over the sector in a big way; to dismiss them would be a complete mistake).
What really struck me, at the end of the show, was the admission that contact centres were unlikely to be around as a viable business forever which got me thinking; some of the most successful companies in the world today have made their name and success by re-inventing themselves by disrupting existing lines of their own business and others too. The most obvious example is Apple, who have continued to produce Mac computers and laptops, keeping their existing business line, whilst also disrupting the music business with the launch of their iPod product, which revolutionised the way we buy, store and play music (Apple were by no means the only or first company to do this, but they are the most visible in this transformation).
If contact centres are to stay a ‘British industry’ for many more years to come, then surely the key to that is all about disrupting and re-invention of the contact centre – and in my mind, it’s not that difficult to achieve – and as always the Internet is the key and an understanding that the contact centre is not just about telephone calls, it’s about providing that choice to the customer of how they should interact with the companies they want or possible should choose to do business with.
As an example think about the rise of Facebook pages that are dedicated to products – these could easily have ‘click to chat’ or ‘click to talk’ buttons installed directly onto them. Product pages could integrate with Skype or other online services for voice or video chat, instant messaging can be streamed into the contact centre as can Twitter keyword searches which provide opportunities to market, advertise and sell products and address additional questions or resolve problems.
But these examples are all based on existing technologies, what about new technologies? Automated help stations or AI services that are able to respond and react much like a Google search can provide the answers you are looking for? These AI services can easily be backed up by skilled knowledge workers as a second line for when a ‘machine’ just isn’t good enough (remembering these customers who still get frustrated by speaking with IVR and existing automated technologies).
The primary key to the support and services business overall though, is getting the right knowledge workers and ensuring they are knowledgeable enough to remain valuable, whilst this may involve a highly complex and intelligent knowledgebase system (think a specialist Google, but not necessarily online – though in reality it’s highly likely to be online), the ability to read, use and understand that knowledge is what will keep the contact centres open and have them remain relevant.
Which brings me right back to Starbucks, in Schultz’s book “Onward” the fight and challenge became realigning the business back to its core value of serving the very best coffee available throughout the world, which is just what every contact centre throughout the world also needs to do; focus on the business of being a contact centre and opening themselves up to be able to contact no matter what the medium and disrupting those technologies and re-inventing themselves to gain advanced knowledge on their specialist offerings; and that’s how the industry continues to move forwards in the UK.