Wednesday, December 17, 2008

System Integrators write interesting things about contact centre for the downturn!

The title says it all, but I was pleasantly surprised in the past week to see that both Accenture and IBM had written some interesting white papers on contact centre. I'm often deluged by vendor whitepapers but these are usually from the smaller niche product vendors. It's quite nice instead to see something from the big boys.

I was sent the IBM whitepaper via the Call website. Call is an Australian and APAC focused site, but the content is good and often worth comparing with what we see in the European market. The site is run by Dr. Catriona Wallace, one of APAC's leading authorities on call centres and she has a very good blog that's well worth reading.

What I found interesting about the IBM whitepaper was that it focuses on the customer service process. You can download the whitepaper here , as I thought that a focus on the end to end processes was one of the things that too many contact centres don't worry about. To be sure there's always a focus on the applications, but less often is there a good understanding of how the customer process flows between those applications. This is important, as process is often a greater determinant of customer experience than the capabilities of any application. I appreciate that a system integrator with a portfolio of SOA offerings might be have a vested interest here, but it's still a good study and applicable outside of the sample of Australian contact centres it studied.

The Accenture study looks at the impact of poor customer service. The idea that poor customer service leads to loss of customers and loss of revenue makes sense but has been challenging to prove. Their findings are that,

...Service again ranked above price as a global driver of customer churn, according to Accenture’s fourth annual study on customer service satisfaction, titled “High Performance in the Age of Customer Centricity.”

The study is based on a survey of more than 4,100 consumers in eight countries across five continents. Through the survey, consumers provided feedback about customer service across the full range of customer service channels, including use of the telephone, e-mail, corporate websites, mail, online chat and on-premise services.

In total, two-thirds (67 percent) of respondents reported moving their business to other companies as a result of poor service in a variety of industry sectors, up from 59 percent of respondents in last year’s survey. Underscoring the sharp increase in consumers switching business providers is an overall erosion of customer loyalty. Half (50 percent) of respondents in this year’s survey reported that they switched providers in multiple industry sectors during the year, taking an average of $4,000 worth of business with them, by their own estimate, each time they took business elsewhere."

That service is more important than price for customer retention should come as no surprise, but it is nice to have experience supported by research.

The challenge is what this means for business. It seems to me that there is a strong case being made here that investing in customer service in the downturn is likely to be more profitable than an across the board cost cutting program. I found it interesting that outsourcing was (at least in the IBM study) only one way of fixing service issues and that approaching outsourcing from a purely cost reduction point of view was likely to fail. Outsourcing to fix process problems (either BPO or BTO) seemed more likely to succeed and the Accenture study provides the evidence for how that might show up on the balance sheet.

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