Contact centres focus on customer value add: Study

Businesses with contact centres are placing greater importance on customer retention this year, according to a recent Dimension Data study.

More than 20 per cent of respondents named customer retention as the No. 1 trend affecting their contact centres.

The shift is driven by the fact that it is seven to eight times more costly to win a new customer than it is to retain an existing one, said Martin Dove, U.K.-based global managing director for customer interactive solutions with Dimension Data.

“Contact centres are increasingly focusing on the role that they play around creating value and revenue both from a customer retention and new customer acquisition and customer lifetime value perspective,” said Dove.

The study also found a shift in focus towards providing greater value to the customer through additional service options.

Having the option for instance to connect with contact centres via channels like the Web, said Dove, will appeal to the 16-34 age group who “are using the Internet as their first port of call.”

Contact centres must certainly learn to embrace interactions with customers and add value to that relationship, said Dove.

Process optimization was another area that businesses are working on to increase customer satifisfaction, the survey found.

Dove said that, historically, process redesign focused on the contact centre as an independent entity, but now survey data shows more of an enterprise-wide perspective.

That broader view is driven by the need to allow contact centre agents to connect with other areas of the business during customer transactions, said Dove.

But while contact centres are entertaining new channels of contact and streamlining processes, it’s crucial that service levels remain the same, said Dove.

It can be tempting to get ahead of yourself with talk of “high ideals” with things like customer lifetime management, said Dove.

“But, you can only really do that once you’ve got those service delivery basics handled and you’ve got service levels managed not just in the contact centre but when you are reaching to other parts of the organization,” he said.

The survey also found that contact centres remain focused on cost reduction, something that can be achieved with offering options like Web and self-service.

The data showed that the number of contact centres telling customers about the benefits of lower-cost channels of communication has doubled to 36 per cent this year.

Although cost-cutting remains a priority, the survey found that only 66 per cent of respondents reported having a strategy to reduce the cost to serve customers.

The remaining 34 per cent probably do have a generic cost management initiative, said Dove, but “it’s not tied to that metric of cost-to-serve.”

One of the survey’s respondents, Portland, Me.-based medical practice InterMed, launched its contact centre last November to allay patient frustration with trying to contact the practice.

Dan McCormack, CEO of InterMed, said patients trying to contact the doctor for a medical question or obtain a prescription refill often had no choice but to leave a message on a voicemail, “and inevitably that started a game of phone tag.”

While the call centre was created to improve customer service, McCormack said the benefits of a streamlined process have been enterprise-wide with productivity improvements for medical staff. Two-thirds of the call centre staff have a medical background.

McCormack said InterMed has also entertained a Web option for customers through which medical records can be accessed and prescription refills requested.

Over the next three to five years, Dove foresees the role of the contact centre morphing from a purely reactive cost centre to a proactive entity that is integrated with popular communication channels.

“We think the role that the contact centre will play will be much more centred around value rather than just around cost and cost containment,” said Dove.

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