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Will the Internet mean that Call Centres are obsolete?

In a world obsessed by technology, will the tools that develop mean we become surplus to our own existence. We strive so far in business that the need for an element of human touch is no longer required. In some industries we are already seeing effective use of B2C shopping web sites and trading on line. Even in these glorified cases what happens when it does not all go according to plan and the customer needs to deal with returns, complaints, wrong orders, warranty claims etc? Can we live in a world without a living breathing call centre agent? The answer is clear - NO!

Technology is a great enabler, however live interaction is still required in situations where technology is not sophisticated enough to deal with it.

It is also required when the response needs careful judgment or specific skill need to be applied to the situation. We can be smart about the way we use technology or we can just implement it without consideration for our customers. If you have or are planning to incorporate the Internet into your call centre make sure that you give customer a choice and always offer an agent for those who want the live touch!

"I don't think that technology will replace the live agent, at least not in the next 50 to 100 years. It has taken us thousands of years to learn how to interact and communicate with each other and this new technology is just forcing us to rethink how we interact with it. People buy from people and the real

value to customers is in the one to one personal contact. This is nothing new; we have seen resistance to new technologies including voice mail and IVR in the past. Therefore, I don't think the Internet will replace live agents; this technology will simply help agents to do a much better job and to improve their quality of life. For example, agents can improve their skills and build better relationships with customers by becoming more sophisticated in the approach to understanding what customers want. Agents can also make reference to larger amounts of information over the web hence even reducing some call times.

The massive growth in companies adapting to a more customer focused approach through customer services and ultimately Customer Relationship Marketing (CRM) will continue to fuel the growth of Call Centres. Their importance within a company’s channel strategy is clear and is here to stay.

As we change the way we tackle both our personal and work functions with the rise in the internet, so will the communication channel between us as individuals and those who are agents in the centres. We are already seeing the transformation of Call Centre into Contact Centre and the next natural progression will be the further development of even more sophisticated communication technology.

The arrival of the Internet as a communication channel for both business and consumers was seen, in the early days, as a considerable threat to the continued growth of Call Centres. Many "in the know" predicted a reduction in the number and size of them and some were even talking about the death of the call centre. However, whilst there has been a slowing of growth in the Call Centre sector this seems to have been caused much more by a maturing of the market than any threat posed by the Internet.

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Now most experts believe that the Internet’s impact will be to change and develop the role of the Call Centre – hence the growth in the use of the term Contact Centre – than threaten it.

I would not like to think that technology will replace the agent and going forward with a multi-channel communications approach will have adverse effects on our industry. The agent and the phone will always be some ones preferred channel of communication. Technology is being developed to further enhance the role of the call centre agent, by allowing them to multi task or specialise in using the telephone or the Internet to interact with customers.

This Internet usage will cut down on many of the meaningless calls and give agents the opportunity to answer more educated questions.

If anything the introduction of the Internet will make our call centres more skilled and more productive workplaces. Call Centre specialist should never fear technology but embrace it for the powerful tools that it offers. The Internet is just another way for us to communicate with our customers; hence it needs to be incorporated properly in the marketing and communication strategies of the organisation. It is imperative that we do not look the other way when it comes to technology in our call centres.

My advise to you is to start looking at the Internet now before your customers start to look the other the way.


Copyright Author:
Amita Krishna
Director of KrisTEL
IT Malaysia May 2001.