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Customer service comes home

  • Posted by Tony Poulos
  • October 14, 2013 1:00 PM BST
  • 1 comment
There is a trend to bring customer service back in-house, but not like it used to be.

Much of the attention being paid to Customer Experience Management (CEM) is being centered around the use of Big Data to provide operators with the information they need to give customers what they really want. Well, that’s the theory at least.

There is no doubt that Big Data will be critical for proactive CEM but we need to be careful not to overlook the key role existing customer facing activities play. Whether or not customers will appreciate the perceived advantages of Big Data that operators believe, i.e. in terms of push ‘marketing,’ remains to be seen.

What is certain is that when they need help customers expect their CSP to provide it, and provide it quickly!

The most used tool for that in recent years has been CRM or customer relationship management software, primarily used as a repository for as much customer related information that could be retrieved from other business and network systems. This, combined with product information and sales tools and the telephone, became the center of the customer service representative’s (CSR) world.

The manning of customer centers, their size and the logistics of operating them around the clock so that customers could call and speak to a CSR has became more and more costly. As a result, operators have continuously been testing ways of operating them more economically, but not always more efficiently.

CRM systems had, in the past, been notoriously challenging and costly to implement and did not always achieve the desired goals. It would be fair to say the same could be said about other business systems, but CRMs came in for the bulk of criticism mainly because they were costly, public facing and high profile. Customer service was often the first department to be ‘outsourced’ when displacement of CAPEX with OPEX became popular around ten years ago. Moving to cheaper off-shore markets was the fad, but when customers started sensing they were not talking to someone in their own country or couldn’t understand the accents of the CSRs, alarm bells started ringing.

The press, especially in the UK and Australia, had a field day exposing what they described is disloyal and anti-national activity on the part of the telcos. All this, plus rising costs in outsourcing have been factors in a change of thinking by many operators.

According to a recent CRM Outsourcing Business Trends Survey from Ovum, operators are increasingly preferring to bring their customer service functions back in-house, or at least closer to home. The survey report cites that telco respondents believe reducing costs will be a major priority for the next 12 months. Perhaps of greater interest is that telcos consider increasing customer satisfaction to be a top three priority.

Industry bodies like the TM Forum are placing heavy emphasis on CEM and what best practises operators need to adopt to ensure that they can successfully take back responsibility for it. This is quite a task with margins under pressure due to greater competition and increasingly price-conscious consumers. Leading suppliers such as Etiya (a member of TM Forum) show operators just how they can best utilize modern CRM tools within their own operations effectively.

The Ovum report also highlighted that many operators are also developing online channels and introducing self-service applications for customers to handle more simple problems themselves. Specialist CEM app developer, Push Science, will also be at the event. Its expertise lies in providing operators with an app for retail CSRs that allows them to interact directly with customers stepping through the sales or inquiry process in real-time, face–to-face or over a network via an app on the customer device.

Surprisingly, Ovum's survey found that the majority of those interviewed anticipated that their budgets for CRM outsourcing were likely to stay flat or decrease between 2012 and 2015. This trend is worldwide. Reduced contact center budgets may be driving the move towards more self-service and automated customer service options, but they could also result in better levels of service.

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