Industry Research : Call Centre Demise 'Exaggerated'
As ANZ Bank considers axing almost 600 Australian call centre jobs and employing workers in India and New Zealand, an industry figure has claimed the demise of call centres is "exaggerated".
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And although technological advances and cheap overseas labour are killing some call centre jobs, these factors have also helped create jobs here, according to Stephen Lewis, executive general manager of business consulting at Salmat, an Australian-based customer service call centre provider.
"There is a lot of opportunity for us," Lewis told IT Pro. "Media, retail, banking ... and the resources industry. The development of technology means organisations now have options on how to deal with customer service and inquiries. "There is definitely a change in how companies are interacting with people, but I do not see the demise of call centres."
The Australian call centre industry employed more than 250,000 people in some 3800 call centres in 2009, according to the Australian Services Union's most recent report. It handled around 16 million calls a day then.
However, in the past five years, many of Australia's companies have shut or shrunk their local operations, triggering a funeral march of Australian jobs in favour of offshore contractors.
In 2008, Telstra awarded an American outsourcing company a contract for a large part of its operations, and in 2012 the telco provider axed more local jobs in favour of offshore call centres.
In 2009, ANZ confirmed more than 500 positions would be eliminated in Australia and shifted to India, while an additional 100 jobs were moved to New Zealand]. This year, ANZ transferred yet more jobs from Australia to Wellington.
In 2009, Vodafone Hutchison scrapped a Melbourne call centre contract, leaving 450 workers redundant, and moving those jobs to India and Tasmania.
In February, as 648 local staff were axed, the managing director of Telstra's Sensis directories business, John Allan, said "Australians will get better customer services from Manila or India. They have better technology and innovation."
Meanwhile, NBN implementation plans saw one call centre open on the Gold Coast last year to deal with rollout inquiries. The National Disability Insurance Scheme is also expected to add call centre jobs to its operations.
Lewis said Salmat runs call centres in Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines, but contrary to public sentiment aired on social media and talkback radio, had not met resistance to offshore service centres from the Australian public. "If anything, people are more open to that nowadays," he said. "It is about the different types of customers you service, the different channels they come through, and how critical those inquiries are."
The ASU has reported that stress is one of the major problems for call centre staff, partly due to having to deal with "abusive and aggressive customers" dissatisfied with their experience. It launched a stress-o-metre to help its members.
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Lewis said developments in technology had yet to fully impact the industry. "Social media will radically change call centres but I don't think you can say it has radically changed the industry right now. Social media means an organisation can become a lot more responsive and has given customers a whole new voice.
"But it will not be the only thing that radically changes how call centres operate – even if it is top of everybody's mind at the moment." It's cold comfort for those whose jobs have been axed, but Lewis said customers would always need to engage with another human.
"Rumour of our demise is much exaggerated," he said. "It is just changing. When things go wrong, people need to talk to people. They need reassurance a problem is going to be fixed. It is more about the tools you put in place to make that interaction better."
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