Wednesday, July 29, 2009

How to reach an agent , Aussie style, and 0870 numbers in the UK

Not strictly a European story, but interesting to see on the very good site that covers APAC and Australia, a news story on how to reach agents directly.

It seems that such is the frustration with IVRs and self-service that an enterprising Aussie has set up a wiki type site called so that consumers can share details of how to get straight through to a human. It's interesting to see how consumers really haven't bought into self-service the way much of the contact centre industry has. My suspicion is that consumers still need a lot of persuasion that self-service can benefit them and isn't just there for companies to save money.

To show how this can back fire badly, it's worth looking at non-geographic numbers in the UK. Originally these were introduced as a way of ensuring that consumers knew how much it would cost to call and so that a business could provide a single number for contact, regardless of where it's staff were located (or moved to). The problem was that once free local calls became more common in consumer telephone packages, a local non-geographic number meant that the consumer was now paying for something that free for them. Also consumers began to realise that non-geographic national numbers were costing them substantial sums in an era of otherwise falling telephone costs.

The consumer response (similar to Australia) was to set up the Say no to 0870 website, which was entirely designed to bypass national non-geographic numbers by instead giving the true, local number for each call centre. This was picked up by national media (especially by BBC Radio 2) and is now widely used in the UK and can save consumers significant sums.

The results for the users of non-geographic numbers have been less happy. One bank described to me how they had used non-geographic numbers to virtualise multiple contact centre sites in the UK. The idea was that by providing a non-geographic number they could virtualise their operations, use any agent anywhere in the UK to serve customers, and provide customers with a shorter wait time in queue. The problem was the Say no to 0870 website had had caused havoc with this by providing the local number for each contact centre so that calls were no longer queued centrally and customers ended up waiting longer.

The trouble is, that like the self-service example in Australia, the bank had never explained to consumers why the 0870 number might benefit them. As a result, consumer have seen something that appears to disadvantage them and have responded. It is arguable that this is all part of the consumer Web 2.0 response, and that these examples highlight how web 2.0 (or at least some technology changes, if you don't like the "web 2.0" term!) have empowered consumers.

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