Monday, April 28, 2008

Online banking and contact centre

An interesting article on Finextra today with statistics that one third of UK web users bank online. Apparently the most popular sites are Lloyds TSB and Royal Bank of Scotland.

What is interesting for me is that in the UK at least, the web channel and the phone channel are still some way off converging. You might argue that this is natural, as the web (used at home for transactions with lots of detail) and the phone (used anywhere for real time interaction) are different both by function and nature.

I think this rather misses the point. Imagine that one of these web users sees a serious error or a suspicious transaction. Is it likely that they will e-mail and wait for the bank to respond? Or will they pick up the phone to get an instant response?

By contrast, some of the European banks have experimented with web and contact centre integration. Rabobank's youth banking website offers instant messaging (via MSN) or e-mail with 'Yvette' their chatbot. They also offer a skype button on most pages for a free click to call and a link for skype downloads. I've talked about this a little before (in posts like "Skype, contact Centre and Banking") but I do see this as one of the likely trends of the future.

I've yet to see anything equivalent from UK banks, but I suspect that customers pressure will start to force them to offer these services.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The future of contact centre - Google, Salesforce, Skype & Microsoft

A lot of interesting announcements in the last two weeks.

Firstly, Google announced a link up with I can see the logic, as explained by both companies, that this way embedded google apps in would allow users to switch data between (say) a google spreadsheet and a salesforce customer application.

What I find interesting about this is if Google and Salesforce were to integrate Google's emerging communication offerings, as that would start to be a contact centre on a wholly SAAS basis.

Microsoft seemed to respond to this by announcing that Microsoft Dynamics CRM would be available in as an online offering. It is priced more aggressively than ($44 per user for Microsoft vs. $65 per user at but otherwise it seemed to me to have no clear advantages over and both were less functional than the offerings from Siebel and SAP.

All of which was very interesting and shows that where lead, the rest of the CRM industry is following rapidly.

I mentioned in the first paragraph that if Google and Salesforce were to integrate Google's emerging communication offerings, as that would start to be a contact centre on a wholly SAAS basis. The google communication applications are an interesting collection of functions, there's Google Talk for instant messging and voice, and
Google Mail for e-mail . Helpfully, if peer to peer voice isn't quite enough for you, then Google Pack for your computer includes the option to have Skype. In other words the raw functionality to build a web based contact centre is there in Google and if the idea's occurred to me, then you can bet it has occurred to Google.

It will be interesting to see when we start to see contact centre telephony as a SAAS offering, as this may be closer than many people assume.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Call centre worker gaoled for data theft

An interesting article on Finextra about the recent theft at a Royal Bank of Scotland call centre.

This isn't the first, and certainly won't be the last, example of security breaches from staff. There's been a lot of recent focus on the risks of external attack and how biometrics can help deal with this but the internal threat has been neglected. I've posted on the external attack on Barclays ("Security, Call Centres and Fraud"), when fraudsters stole the identity of their chairman for a credit card application, and there's been some good posts on Finextra (see "Biometrics - what's that all about then?" by Dave Griffiths and "Who's in your Wallet?" by Jarvis Kandik both last month).

In fact, inside threats are perhaps as serious as the risk of external attack. In 2006 HSBC lost £233,000 after it's Indian call centre suffered inside attack (here for the BBC report). Last year the BBC also reported how HSBC and HBoS had been targeted by an organised gang which both penetrated the banks and laundered the proceeds of their crimes.

An internal threat is nothing new - fraud from dishonest employees is something that banks have had to deal with almost from the start of banking. What is new is the level of the threat and its organisation. As an example, Strathclyde Police (who cover the west of Scotland where many call centres are located) believe that organised gangs have infiltrated perhaps one in ten of the call centres there (full report here).

In the end, as I've argued with biometrics, the criminals will be beaten by process, not technology point solutions. If the defences against external attack are strong, then criminals will seek to get on the inside. The correct response is not to strengthen the exterior with biometrics (though I'm not sure biometrics do strengthen it), but instead to make sure that staff are vetted, exceptions or unusual activity is identified and monitored and good management is in place.

Process is not terribly exciting, but it will be the element that determines whether technology defeats criminals or not.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Embedded Call Centre Video

I've been seeing quite a bit on video call centre lately, and most of the focus has been on video as an alternative to just voice communication. I've done quite a bit of posting on this lately in "Video and contact centre - some thoughts" and "For a Friday - Contact Centre, video and the call centre movie".

One area more neglected area of video where there's some interesting ideas is the agent desktop. The thoughts here are more around embedding video for the agent as either e-learning or brand awareness training. As an example, I've embedded the trailer for the call centre movie below.

The thinking is that this way agents could quickly learn about the latest TV advertising campaign, for example, that an organisation is using to generate inbound sales traffic. If this campaign were to be run only at peak times then there is a high probability that the agents on the shift that takes the calls will not have seen it.

Other uses potentially include adding dynamic content to portals and integrating it with mashups. Mashups with Video and VoIP enablement strike me as very interesting area for the desktop and is something I'll look at in more detail soon.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Latest Gartner Magic Quadrant on IVR & Speech Self-Service

A good article on the Speech Technology Magasine Website setting out the details of the latest Gartner Magic Quadrant for IVR and Self-Service ( titled the "Magic Quadrant for Interactive Voice Response Systems and Enterprise Voice Portals, 2008." and available from Gartner here).

I was quite please to see that the Microsoft Speech Server was dropped from the Magic Quadrant as I've never found it a relevant offering for the European Contact Centre. I've gone into the details of this previously (in "Technology firms, Europe and speech recognition" and "Speech Market Share"), but the main reason is that if you don't offer speech in European languages, you will struggle to sell in the European market.

It was also good to see Holly Connect getting onto the magic quadrant. I've seen a bit of them in the European market and their network based IVR/ self-service solution looks interesting for those who would like their self-service hosted by a network carrier. They're an Australian company in origin, so I wouldn't be surprised to see them push further into Europe and Asia-Pacific.

Otherwise, the Magic Quadrant has the usual firms in the leader's segment, Genesys, Avaya, Cisco, Intervoice and Nortel. For the full details (I won't duplicate them here) best to look at
the Speech Technology Magasine Website or buy the report Gartner .

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Capital One cuts 750 UK jobs at Nottingham Call Centre

Not the best news from the Daily Telegraph and Finextra, but perhaps one of the first signs of the credit crunch hitting the call centres of UK financial services firms.

I'd wondered in January this year if trends the call centre job market were a warning sign that things were getting much tougher ("Are Onshore call centre jobs always good news?"). The post was triggered by news of increased hiring for onshore jobs in debt management call centres. Come the credit crunch, these firms look like some of the few potential winners.

I was also interested, though, by the Telegraph's comment that Capital One was suffering from increased competition and had reported a 72pc fall in net profit in the three months to December, down from $390.7m a year earlier to $226.6m. In addition, the bank took a $1.9bn charge for loan losses.

Low margins and lots of competition is not a good place to be in and is one of the few areas where offshoring might make sense (other than getting out of the market altogether). I've talked about this before ("
Is cost a contact centre issue or a symptom?"), but offshoring doesn't fix a broken business model.

My suspicion is that the credit crunch will mark a big decision for the remaining monoline credit card companies. They need to work out whether they fight for value (like Amex) and can afford a call centre or, if they targeted lower margin business, if they have to think about cost and start looking at self service to control costs.