Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The contact centre agent experience - First Direct

There's a good overview on the BBC News website of what it's like to be an call centre agent at First Direct (the telephone and internet banking arm of HSBC). What's also interesting is that it shows how First Direct deals with the problem of agent attrition and under-motivated staff. All very relevant when at the start of the month the UK Contact Centre Operational Review found that agent attrition was up for the 5th consecutive year and now stands at an average of 32%. The idea that you loose a third of your staff in the year in which you hire them would not be sustainable in any other industry. If your brand depends on telephone service (and the staff that provide it) then it is not affordable and the BBC article shows what can be done to retain good staff and hence maintain the quality of customer experience.

I find First Direct very interesting as an example of what can be done with the contact centre. First Direct actually dates back to the pre-interent age and were set up by HSBC as experiment in telephone only banking. It was extremely successfully and has since then led a number of developments such as migrating transactions to internet and introducing fee based retail banking to the UK.

The thing that most struck me about the work environment was not the technology, but the focus on the agents. Once you've migrated simple transactions to the Internet channel, the phone becomes predominantly the channel for complex interactions. I've discussed this a little before why the people matter so much when offshoring ("Offshore - why I would go for South Africa over India") and when looking at e-mail ("e-mail in contact centres, process driven or response driven?" & more fully in "Call Centre to Contact Centre... or why worry about e-mail when the phone's ringing?"), but I think it's a topic I'll need to return to in more detail.

In the end, technology is critical for handling basic interactions and being efficient, but it's how the people in the contact centre use that technology that will determine the customer experience and the perception of the brand.

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