PROGRAMMING COMING SOON!
Everyone is talking about internet-enabled call centres. It is hardly surprising that discussion is focusing on the new medium, given the statistics that are currently being bandied around. In March 1998, 20% of all airline tickets sold in the US were bought over the internet. Five million people in the US use online banking services. Dell Computers makes sales of £2.5 million annually over the internet. The UK is the fourth most connected country in the world (after America, Japan and Germany) with 10% of the population connected.
The Internet as response mechanism?
A total audience of 2 million (of which only a certain proportion will be relevant to each marketing campaign) hardly offers marketers a significant marketplace in its own right. The smallest lifestyle database on the market is some 5 million strong. So the net-enabled consumer is not of much interest to marketers, unless one of two conditions applies. First, vendors of desktop computing products and services can assume that a high proportion of net-connected adults (and children!) will be prospective customers with a propensity to respond over the internet. Secondly, if the goods or services being sold are of very high value (and net margin) then a small but very profitable audience may be reached by encouraging Internet based response to one's advertising. Nevertheless, the Internet as a response mechanism into call centres is hardly a viable reality yet. Remember, half the British people have never used a computer.
On the other hand, if we believe the pundits, then 50% of the UK population will be connected by 2005. That means a total net-enabled audience of approaching 15 million, and that is the kind of volume at which mass marketers get seriously interested.
To what viable and effective use can call centres put the Internet today? The answer lies in the development of Intranets, or private networks which use the internet as their connective tissue. Already in Europe, a quarter of large organisations have over 70% of their workforce's desktops connected to the internet. And a great deal of this is probably for Intranet access. As just one further indicator, the European intranet services market currently stands at $1.4 billion today and is predicted to grow to a massive $6.9 billion by 2001.
The main purpose of setting up a corporate intranet is to make a company's various databases or repositories of knowledge available to everyone in that organisation, on-line, accessed from the PC wherever access can be gained to a telephone line. Such knowledge might include press releases, internal telephone directories, price lists, branch addresses, company history, product descriptions, stock levels, accounts data, delivery status, and many other important sets of information.
This is often precisely the kind of information to which call centres need access if operators are to successfully handle less structured consumer enquiries.
Many of the calls which operators need to handle are very structured. Often responding to an advert, the caller will ring to order a product, ask the location of their nearest branch, request a brochure, etc. In these cases, especially when response has been encouraged with freephone or local rate tariffs, the call has to be kept as short as sensibly possible, whilst at the same time satisfying the caller's query. Scripting software is used to build scripts which control, support and measure the way the call is handled.
Handling Unstructured Calls
Links to corporate information resources is also a major factor in the business-to-business market. Take the instance of an electrical appliances manufacturer which sells to the public through a network of distributors and dealers. The dealers especially will need information support from the manufacturer. This kind of support is increasingly being offered by Intranet-enabled call centres. One dealer call may require the operator to query the warehouse and distribution database to find out whether a part or a product is available and when it can be delivered to fulfil a customer order. Another call might be to request marketing support and point-of-sale literature, so another database may need to be queried. And a third call might be an new enquiry about the rules and requirements for becoming an accredited dealer - another data source will need to be accessed.
Linking to an Intranet
Finally, we could easily see call centre links becoming a principal cost justification for putting serious amounts of information on a corporate intranet, or even for setting up an intranet in the first place. The main obstacle to Intranet growth is quantifying and measuring the payback and business advantage they deliver. In the modern call centre, being able to deal with a multiplicity of call types without having to invest in very expensive and specialised systems carries an obvious return on investment. And in most industries which are grasping the power of the telephone for customer communications, information availability and flexible scripting are the key to improving competitive edge.
About the Company
Published: Thursday, August 8, 2002
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PROGRAMMING COMING SOON!