Allan Horsley, Managing Director, ATUG.
(first published in The Australian 26.11.96).
Now that telecommunications technology has become so easy to manage, business can move to the next stage and consider the people aspects of using the technology.
Yet this is where some business users are falling down. They seem not to have grasped that today's high-quality telecommunications interferes so little with people communicating that the technology becomes transparent.
This means a company's staff interaction with customers must be of particularly high quality. And that's where skilled call-centre management comes in.
Call centres are the result of two kinds of telesales operations coming together: the so-called "cold" calling of potential customers, and the activity generated by, say, a "special offer" advertisement which asks customers to ring a 1800 number. Call centres handle both.
Their rapid take-up by corporations has been made possible by the development of the highly functional networks in place over much of Australia. These fibre optic-based networks have almost unlimited capacity and come at low, and reducing cost. They also employ fast-switching and integral fault-finding technology, which makes for minimal faults. The result is communication unhindered by technical blips, network delays and the like.
A number of organisations have taken call technology on board very effectively; air-lines, for instance - from frequent flyer hotlines to Ansett's recently opened, state-of-the-art Tasmanian call centre. These use the most intelligent call centre technology, integrating telecommunications with the company's computers.
Ansett's Tasmanian call centre goes one step further, tapping into people skills as well as technological ones. Corporations tend to locate business operations in major cities, but Ansett has chosen to site its newest call centre in a regional city, Launceston, and take advantage of the natural sales skills of people living there - the warm, let's-have-a-chat-now-we've-met approach of small-town people.
This can work sales wonders. Think of those sturdy, down-home advertisements for bourbon and whisky. It does, however, require proper training to make the most of this natural talent. An intelligent approach to measuring results also helps.
Another technical twist being employed at Launceston, involves smoothing the sales path. Computer telephony integration (CTI) is used so that when a call comes in, the information is transmitted to the computer, which searches for any information on that customer, then automatically calls it up on the agent's screen.
This integrated technology also helps Ansett manage peaks and troughs in call traffic, as it allows for the transfer of staff from inbound to outbound calls as required. This guards against the bane of call centres, especially bill enquiry ones - being put on hold for as long as 40 minutes.
The other advantage of call centre of technology for business users is its Automated Call Distribution (ACD) facility. This means call centres can be set up in different geographic locations. But ACD could be used to, say, take advantage of the time difference between Perth and Sydney and so extend the hours the "office" is open without incurring overtime expenses.
ATUG's purpose here is to emphasise that call centres are about service, and the technology employed is a means rather than an end.
The fact that some organisations persist in measuring call response times rather than sales secured, and use this as a measure of the effectiveness of their call centres, shows that not everyone fully understands this.
The airlines, with their "how many bums on seats have these calls translated into?" obviously have.
Others need to as well.
The Australian Telecommunications Users Group (ATUG) is the business voice on telecommunications competition and quality.
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