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Disconnect with consumer attitudes hampers efforts to develop effective contact strategy

Organisations accept that they need to improve customer service, but many persist in treating contact centre management as an operational cost rather than an integrated part of their marketing and customer relationship strategy, according to research by Teleconomy on behalf of Cable & Wireless and Vertex.

Interviews with 170 senior executives responsible for contact centres found that a significant 70% of respondents rated their ability to provide multi-channel customer service as either poor or average. Conducted alongside a 2,000 response consumer survey, announced last month, the second survey revealed distinct disparities between the expectations and priorities of both businesses and their customers:

• Businesses focus mainly on ‘operational’ performance measures, such as the time taken to handle a customer call – while consumers place the greatest value on how well their query is resolved;

• Customer service teams tend to be structured around a specific product or service, with calls and emails routed to the relevant team – while consumers expect contact centres to tailor the way they handle queries according the nature of the query itself, for example whether it is a complaint, problem or routine transaction;

• Attitudes to the usefulness of automated interactive voice response (IVR) systems are not aligned - for example, only 16% of organisations thought automated systems would help their customers make bill payments, while 43% of consumers thought they would help.

“Organisations have made large investments in contact centre technology having recognised that more needs to be done to enhance customer service,” comments Paul Hudson at Teleconomy. “However, businesses will not see a return on these investments unless they focus their knowledge of customers to close the gap between what the customer expects and what the business aims to deliver.”

Although 78% of respondents said they base their contact strategy either wholly or partially on delivering good customer service (the remaining 22% said they focus wholly on minimising cost), the survey indicates that contact centres are not using the right measures to monitor their levels of customer service. Furthermore, a surprising 10% of contact centres still use no measurements at all to monitor performance.

Those that do monitor performance tend to use internal ‘efficiency’ measures such as time taken to answer (100%) or average call length (76%). Time of response was the main measurement of response to queries by email. However, the consumer survey indicated that while speed must be kept within ‘tolerance’ levels, it is not central to what constitutes excellent service. Consumers primarily value an advisor’s skills and ability to resolve issues efficiently.

The method of structuring and training staff also indicated a significant disconnect with customer attitudes. 70% of those interviewed stated that their staff were organised around product knowledge and provided with ‘generic’ call or email handling skills. By contrast, the consumer survey indicated that customers expect that the means of contact and the way the contact is handled should vary according to the nature of their query – for example, whether they are completing a routine transaction, lodging a complaint or trying to resolve a problem. Failure to handle complaints and problems in particular was shown to cause rising levels of dissatisfaction, indicating that businesses should structure and train their teams to fulfil different profiles of customer need.

With the majority of respondents acknowledging that contact centres needed to become more sophisticated, the research also shows that there is no consensus on how to deploy developing technologies. Automated systems, which enable customer self-service, polarised opinion. While 35% of organisations believed that fully automated systems would decrease the level of customer service they provided, 49% thought that it could enhance customer service. Also, organisations do not share the same attitude to automated systems as their customers: 43% and 45% of consumers thought automated systems would help them pay bills and make bookings respectively, while a significantly lower 16% and 24% of business interviewees thought that automated systems would aid in these situations.

“This research clearly indicates that contact centre strategy must be customer-driven,” said David Jackson, vice president, customer interaction management, Cable & Wireless. “Technology is a powerful enabler for enhancing customer service, but the starting point for any new technology project must be thorough research into how it can help meet the objectives and priorities of the customers and advisors who will use it. This can then help organisations to assess how automation and other technology will help enhance their customer service levels.”

“Many organisations need a closer integration between marketing departments and operational contact centre management - marketing needs to advise contact centre management about the most appropriate contact channels to deploy and provide customer feedback,” added Amanda Burn, strategy and marketing director, Vertex. “This research makes clear that they should not base their contact centre strategy purely on the cost effectiveness of the technology deployed.”

-Ends-

Note to Editors
A summary of the entire ‘It’s Your Call’ research is available from paul.hudson@teleconomy.com.

Cable & Wireless Customer Interaction Management
Cable & Wireless Customer Interaction Management (CIM), a focused business unit, has over 10 years experience supporting flexible customer interaction management solutions. The Cable & Wireless team includes customer interaction management specialists, systems integrators, service engineers and other professionals. They design, supply, install, maintain and evolve CIM solutions, be they network or premise based. The professional services team also works with customers to set baseline performance information and metrics vital to the delivery of quantifiable business benefits.

About Cable & Wireless
Cable & Wireless is one of the world's leading international communications companies. It provides voice, data and IP (Internet Protocol) services to business and residential customers, as well as services to other telecoms carriers, mobile operators and providers of content, applications and internet services.

Cable & Wireless' principal operations are in the United Kingdom, continental Europe, the United States, Japan, the Caribbean, Panama, the Middle East and Macau.

For more information about Cable & Wireless, go to www.cw.com

About Vertex
Vertex is an international business process outsourcer with particular expertise in customer management, leading the way in helping organisations deliver operational and customer service excellence. We work in partnership with many other organisations to deliver a step change in performance

Vertex is the UK’s leading business process outsourcer with a particular expertise in customer management. Typical services include customer call handling, billing services and financial services. Vertex undertakes services for utility, telecommunications, retail and public sector organisations. Vertex operates across 29 locations nationally and employs over 9,000 people, largely within customer contact centres and information services.

Every year, Vertex handles over 34 million customer accounts, handles over 204 million UK contacts, prints and sends over 65 million bills and documents, processes over 95 million transactions and collects in excess of £6 billion in payments for a wide range of clients in the public and private sectors.

About Teleconomy
Teleconomy is a research consultancy and knowledge centre specialising in understanding how customer relationships are built. It has more than 20 years experience in working with over 100 organisations and contact centres across all sectors nationally and internationally.

Teleconomy comprises a full service research capability and a focused and creative research based consultancy. Its research services range from ethnography through to quantitative data collection - either online or using Teleconomy’s own CATI call centre. Teleconomy has strong academic links to universities in the UK and overseas, and particularly strong relationships with Henley Management College and Lancaster University.

For more information, please contact:

Tara Salgado
Cable & Wireless
Tel: +44(0)20 7315 4184
Email: tara.salgado@cw.com

Henny Valder
Brodeur Worldwide (for Cable & Wireless)
Tel: +44(0)20 7298 7075
Email: hvalder@uk.brodeur.com

Deborah Sadler
Vertex
Tel: +44(0)161 493 2200
Email: deborah.sadler@vertex.co.uk

Paul Hudson
Teleconomy
Email: paul.hudson@teleconomy.com

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