939 — ‘Call centres are not an industry’. The opinion of Paul Hudson, Group Director, Research

Nov 17, 2003 | Conteúdos Em Ingles

The last few weeks have again seen a wide coverage in the press of the ‘Indian’ issue. Headline after headline tells us another well-known brand is to close its UK-based operation with the loss of many UK jobs. HSBC, National Rail Enquiries and Prudential, have all announced that they are either looking at, or have already decided to, move their operations abroad. To some extent these moves should neither be surprising nor worrying – in the global economy, resource and employment shifts based on cost from region to region.

In just the same way that an economy moves from agricultural base to industrial base to service based economies, so may the call centre ‘industry’ also shift.

However, contrary to popular comment, call centres are not an ‘industry’. And nor should they be treated as such. They are not a factory, a production hub, a logistics house or any other form of the supply-chain. They are, and always will be, the centre of a relationship – the interface between the organisation and the customer.

If we believe this vision of a contact centre, then it is more than a collection of technology interfaces, processes and standards – it is the fusion of many business functions, working to bring about a successful series of mini-interactions that combine to create a relationship.

In the business world, it is as much about brand, marketing, customer-experience, Internet and fulfilment as it is about technology or operations. In the customer’s world, it as much about conversation, support, help, advice or feedback as it is about speed, getting an answer or ‘resolution’.

I am a customer of one of the organisations that recently announced they are to move their operations overseas. To date, I have always been very pleased about the service they offer over the phone, always impressed by the dialogue, the conversation, the intimate knowledge of both my situation and of their products and most importantly, the way they could effortlessly move from subject to another, often intertwining it with an aside comment. But now a bond, a helpful support line and a relationship have been broken.

In all parts of human life, relationships exist on many levels – from the simplest and least involved to the deepest, most meaningful and most involved. But by seeing a call centre as a series of actions that we can ‘process’ or ‘manufacture’, we are in danger of degrading customer interactions to the lowest form of relationship – simple transaction.

By the nature of moving the centre offshore, the contact centre becomes enshrined as a separate entity or business function, and therefore the balance of its management is more likely to be about cost, not customer-value.

The customer relationship is therefore less likely to be at the core of the organisation, and it becomes far more difficult to create a central fusion of interwoven business functions that combine to create this deeper, longer-lasting and more meaningful relationship. And even if it were, the long distance management cost of doing so is suddenly that much greater as to mean the immediate savings on advisor and telephone costs are quickly eroded.

There are bigger questions here. What about the danger of continuing to downgrade the customer relationship to the lowest common denominator? What about the danger of pushing the customer further away from our organisation – just at a time when the talk continues to be of ‘CRM’, ‘one to one relationships’ or ‘customer experience’? Are these moves really about long-term value, or short-term gains?

Paul Hudson

Em Foco – Opinião