Friday, June 27, 2008

A Friday video - Cisco's call centre of the future

My previous videos have been well received (see "Embedded Call Centre Video" and "For a Friday - Contact Centre, video and the call centre movie") so I suspect that it's time for another one. It's also Friday and that's a good enough reason for a less serious post.

I was very interested to see that one of Cisco's promotional videos is up on YouTube. This is n illustration of Cisco's vision of what call centre could be: video enabled, integrated around the enterprise, seamless inbound and outbound and full multi-media.

In fact, the view from one of the experts in Cisco's product house is that almost all of this contact centre vision could be achieved today (though not all of it are yet products), give or take the robot dog.....

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

HSBC creates 250 UK call centre jobs & offshore in decline

After a week off sick there's been a lot to blog on.

I was interested in the Finextra story "HSBC creates 250 call centre jobs". The interesting thing for me is that these are onshore jobs. HSBC has always had onshore operations but has also been one of the firms that has pushed call centre jobs to India. The onshore operations have tended to focus on high quality customer service (see past posts like: "The contact centre agent experience - First Direct") whereas it's always been my suspicion that cost is the primary motivation for the Indian operation.

I'm not against either cost saving or offshore, I just have strong reservations that India for lowest possible cost is a sensible customer service strategy. If offshore is an appropriate option, I've tended to look at South Africa ("Offshore - why I would go for South Africa over India"). I know there are issues with South Africa as well (SA Telecom and crime being two of the big ones), but the cost savings and availability of English are strong factors in that locations favour.

HSBC is also just part of a larger trend back onshore. Earlier this month Orange announced that it was moving 500 call centre jobs back to the UK from India, but at the same time was shedding 450 onshore administrative jobs. This is very similar to what Lloyds TSB did last month, when it decided to offshore its IT rather than its customer facing operations (I covered the story here on the blog or here on Finextra).

In short, I think the trend for customer service to go offshore has almost come to an end but administration, back-office and IT might all go offshore to a much greater extent.

Friday, June 20, 2008

CEOs of BT, the Royal Mail and Corel discuss telephone customer service

I have tonsillitis this week and this is the first day I've really been able to get anything done. It also means that my post the week will be short.

What I have been doing while ill is listening to the radio. There was a very good discussion on customer service earlier this week on BBC Radio 4's business program "The Bottom Line".

What I found interesting was that it had the CEOs of two of the UK's biggest company's, British Telecom and Royal Mail (both of whom who have customer service issues). In the discussion both CEOs wanted to focus on concepts like 'customer lifecycle' and 'customer experience' (not that they used those terms), but they kept being brought back to the issue of how they provided basic telephone service.

Not rocket science, but further proof of the importance of doing the contact centre basics right and worth a listen. You can download the podcast here.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Aviva (Norwich Union) and the offshore market

The decision of Aviva (Norwich Union) to cut 1,800 jobs is a story making most of the national press and Finextra this morning.

This is on top of the restructuring announced in 2006, which would shed 4,000 UK jobs. Of these, 1,000 were call centre workers whose roles would be replaced by offshore call centres.

Interestingly, this time it is not the call centre that is being expressly targeted as a cost centre. For starters, 500 of the job losses announce this morning are in IT. This to me seems to be part of the trend that saw Lloyds TSB a few weeks ago offshore its IT rather than its customer facing operations (I covered the story here on the blog or here on Finextra).

My impression is that the need for high quality customer service is being recognised as a differentiator while the focus on cost is shifting to more back office areas. In UK insurance, I suspect also that the arrival of the web insurance aggregators ( , go, etc...) has really hit volumes and margins in the direct web channel. By contrast, the telephone channel is less affected by these new players and may be a way for insurers to preserve margin and brand.

It may also be the time that the contact centre gets recognition in the wider enterprise for its ability to deal direct with customers and stops being a cost centre.

Merchants Contact Centre Benchmarking study for 2008

One report that it always of interest to managers of customer facing operations is the annual Merchants/ Dimension Data contact centre benchmarking report.

This year's has just been released for download (link here) and the published version will be available at the end of June.

There are two big points of interest to me. The first is that now 31% of all inbound transactions are completed by self-service. This is primarily IVR (15.5% of the transactions), followed by web self service (13.7%) with speech self-service and web co-browsing with an agent making up the balance. Ten years ago, 90% of transactions required an agent to complete, so this represents a significant cost improvement.

The second is that CRM systems have not delivered some basic functions. Ten years ago the benchmarking study found that 39% of organisations had a single view of customer for the agent to work with, today the figure is 34%, despite massive subsequent investment in CRM. This will not come as a surprise to anyone who has dealt with a bank recently, but it is a damning statement on the performance of CRM.

The self-service metrics, though are a great cause of hope. Although IVR and its menus of "press 1 for...., press 2 for...." are widely hated if done badly, there are signs of it being done really well. I was in a presentation from Lloyds TSB a few weeks ago and they reported that their self-service channel regularly achieved very high customer satisfaction scores. The reasons for this is that it is well designed, does what it intends to do well and doesn't try to unduly force customers to use it for complex transactions. It can also be used for a simple post-call survey (the sort that takes 15 seconds so the survey doesn't cause customer dissatisfaction itself), which gives the bank a near real-time view of how customers feel about that interaction.

Interesting to see that despite the hype, it may be IVR and speech self-service that are bringing benefits while CRM is lagging.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Phone Banking vs Facebook banking

I was very interested to see two good stories on Finextra today.

The first was that around half of Facebook users want to be able to bank through Facebook. The second was that 91% of British adults had concerns about fraud on their phone accessible bank accounts.

It seems to me a pretty bizarre set of contradictions. Facebook is a very nice application, but I'm pretty dubious that banking through it is a good idea. There are issues over some of the Financial Services advertising (see the BBC "Facebook users warned about ads") and I'm not convinced that data privacy issues are fully resolved, or in line with the standards set by banks (again the BBC with "Facebook 'violates privacy laws'" and "Facebook faces privacy questions"). It may be that as Facebook matures these issues will be resolved to everyone's satisfaction, but I know many remain dubious about entrusting their details to an organisation that has already had to apologise for how it has used them.

By contrast voice technology is far more mature and security concerns should be on a different level. There are weaknesses but they are more to do with processes than the underlying technology. A good example was the case I covered at Barclays (see "Security, Call Centres and Fraud") where there was nothing wrong with the technology, but the processes were not as robust as needed to be against identity theft. At this point (although the research is funded by Nuance a speech technology vendor) I'm inclined to agree with the article that speech recognition and biometrics could make a difference where pass words have been stolen or an identity otherwise compromised. Certainly it had the potential to make a difference in the Barclays case.

The scary thing about Facebook is that if a Facebook banking application were to be compromised, the chances are that the fraudsters would have access to so much personal information that any future identity recovery could be very difficult. By contrast the telephone channel at least offers the prospect that even if your identity was stolen you would only be authenticated by who you are, not what you know.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Banks criticised by BBC for automated calls

I'm working in San Diego this week, but over the weekend I was sent an interesting story.

The BBC Radio Money Box program has been investigating the use of automated outbound calling by UK banks to chase bad debts.

Some consumers claim that this had led to them receiving up to eight calls a day and Privacy International is arguing that this potentially constitutes harrassment. I can see how this is especially frustrating if the calls are chasing a family member no longer resident at that address.

Lloyds TSB, Natwest/ Royal Bank of Scotland and Halifax Bank of Scotland all use these systems to some degree but say they would not call that often. They say they follow the guidelines laid down by Ofcom, the UK communications regulator and (in the example of Lloyds TSB) they would not expect to call more than perhaps four times and not for more than four days in a row.

To me, this just seems another case of the bank's shooting themselves in the foot. I wrote about the ineffectiveness and decline of outbound calling last week ("Further thoughts on outbound in the UK.....") and while automating the calls might make it cheaper, it hardly makes it more popular. This only adds to thoughts I've had in posts like: "Abbey National fined £30,000 by Ofcom & the future of Outbound in Financial Services" that outbound calling is gets the industry a bad name.

I appreciate fully that banks need to chase bad debts (and some consumers appreciate reminders). However with Ofcom looking to release new, almost certainly tighter, regulations on these outbound systems in June, this may not be the best time for the banks to have poor public relations.

P.S. If any reader requires a guide to call centre outbound technology, this past post provides it: "Outbound, an explanation of the technology"


From feedback, I realise I probably didn't set out the two big problems with this form of outbound clearly enough.

The first problem was reasonably well stated, that multiple calls to an individual may construe harassment.

The second, slightly more subtle point, is that a phone number doesn't necessarily map to an individual. It's quite easy to think of scenario where two parents have children either living at home or using the home address while they are at university. In these circumstances, potentially informing whoever answers the phone that another family member has a credit problem strikes me as a significant breach of privacy.