A discussion on call centres brings to mind a vision of scores of computer terminals in a room with a person sitting behind each and every one of those terminals wearing a headset. The call centre representatives are busily tapping on keys as they try to keep up with the demand of people who have either called in for help or are the target of telemarketing pitches.
As sophisticated as those types of call centres are, today's call centres (and, even more so, those of the future) require a skill set that encompasses more than phone etiquette and basic computer knowledge. The often-hyped idea of technological convergence is becoming a reality. Call centre workers are finding themselves in an environment that not only requires them to place or accept phone calls, but also to check and respond to e-mail messages and faxes, and to interact with customers via the Web with multimedia real-time presentations, IP telephony and text-based chats.
The cyber age
According to Iain Grant, managing director of Brockville, Ont.-based The Yankee Group in Canada, a research firm specializing in telecommunications, companies or network managers thinking about deploying a telephone-based call centre are behind the times.
"You've got two different vectors. One is a distributed call centre. You don't need to have that bank upon bank upon bank of operators standing by. You don't need to have the Gestapo guard seeing that everyone is sitting at their desk answering calls," Grant said. "Everyone is sitting at home and they only get paid for the calls that they work on, which means you don't need to have all that supervisory overhead. The other one, of course, is the cyber call centre. It's not really a call centre anymore; it's an enhanced Web site with human interaction. That's fun stuff."
Of course, for outbound call centres, the telephone is still the way to go, and will be in the future, he said.
Although there are not too many cyber call centres in the Canadian marketplace yet, some major companies are integrating the Web into their centres. For instance, Toronto-based Xerox Canada Inc. maintains a cyber call centre in St. John, N.B., which supports both Canadian and U.S. customers. The TeleWeb centre, as Xerox calls it, has been operational since 1999 and employs approximately 350 people.
One cyber call centre technology that Xerox is using allows call centre representatives to run customers through virtual demonstrations over the Web, said Martin Chiasson, vice-president, St. John TeleWeb operations at Xerox. The technology lets the representative show customers what a product looks like, how it works and what its benefits are right on-screen.
"[This is] all technology that's been designed to help us speed up the sales process with customers, so that's the win for Xerox," Chiasson said. "But from a customer stand-point, it's also to speed up their decision-making time so they don't necessarily have to come and see our product live on-site or have it brought to their office, so that's been a very useful tool to enhance our productivity."