Like all sectors today, call centres are confronted with the need to keep up with technological advances. However, a look back into their history shows a long-standing relationship between technology and call centres. It becomes evident that the advancement of technology has progressed the evolution of the call centre. As the impact of technology is only increasing, this is a relationship that needs to continue.
While call centres have evolved through the years, the traditional concept of the call centre resonates with where it first started. The Birmingham Press and Mail, one of the earliest call centres seen in the UK in the 1960s, presents the fundamental aspects of a call centre that remain; multiple agents taking and making calls to handle sales and customer enquiries. What developed from early on, however, was the need for call centres to integrate technology with their processes to boost efficiency. From the 1970s onwards technology was utilised to speed up call times and improve productivity, and by the 1980s and 1990s call centres were a well-established and widely used site for handling customer requests.
From this point onwards, the call centre has expanded alongside technology and the growth of consumer culture. The rise of computer telephony integration supported the need for efficiency and meant that computers could interact with the telephone system. Call centre software allowed agents to handle their calls better, and meant customers spent less time waiting for results. Technology therefore became a necessary step in ensuring that call centres kept up with customer demands and expectations.
As call centres grew and became an integral part of company’s customer service handling, many businesses considered business process outsourcing services for their call centres to reduce costs. In the early 2000s, call centre outsourcing saw numerous companies moving their operations overseas. The rise of offshore call centres however was for many ineffective, resulting in decreased customer satisfaction. It became clear that quality customer service and excellent communication between call agent and customer was crucial for customer retention. After listening to responses from customers, we have recently seen more businesses returning their call centres to the UK.
In this return to the UK, companies exhibit how important call agent and customer communications are. The call agent therefore remains as essential in the call centre process as seen in the early days of the Birmingham Press and Mail. Today, however, there is a negative reputation surrounding employee satisfaction and retention in call centres. For some time, the revolving door of staff turnover has been an issue. Monotonous and repetitive tasks leave the workday uninspired. Dissatisfied agents result in dissatisfied customers, and vice versa. Clearly, then, something is needed to support the call agent as an integral part of the call centre. By integrating automation into processes, agents are provided with the information they need to offer the best service and more time for tasks that offer them satisfaction.
‘One and done’ is the term used in call centres to depict when a customer gets the information they requested within one call, and without being passed around to multiple agents in search of the right point of contact. Using automation to streamline the call handling process will support both agent and customer, making calls quicker and getting the job ‘one and done’ consistently. Today, call centres have evolved into contact centres, utilising technology to offer customers different contact channels, from chatbots and emails to the traditional phone call. This integrated system provides a consistent and connected experience and customers get faster results from a channel that suits them and their needs. Call agents time is better spent on the more complex and stimulating issues that need them. Whilst there may be a sense of trepidation around automation, and perhaps a concern of what is to come for the call centre agent, the result is productivity and efficiency. Automation does not take away the need for humans, it assists humans in becoming more productive.
The history of the call and contact centre is one that runs alongside technological developments, as businesses are constantly looking to find intelligent, fast and cost-effective solutions for their customers. And the future? The future is already here. Most forward-thinking contact centres are using automation to speed up their processes. Embracing automation simply means keeping up with those that are widely accepting what the future has to offer.
With the right people and solutions that are tailored to specific processes and requirements, automation transforms the call and contact centre experience for staff and customers alike. Adopting and embracing rapidly moving technology is what comes next for the evolution of the call centre. The future is here, we just need to make sure we are ready for it.
On the 18th & 19th of March at the Call & Contact Centre Exhibition in London we will be exhibiting our award-winning software SmartFlow. SmartFlow is an Intelligent Automation platform designed to take care of high volume, highly repetitive tasks. Boosting efficiency, maximising cost-saving and improving service. Visit us at the expo @ stand 2160 and book a slot to talk to us here.