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Advancing technology: a mixed blessing for customer care?

Call Centres and Telemarketing

By Fokion Natsis, Interactive Intelligence’s South African country manager

Customer care is constantly reinventing itself as a result of advances in technology. IVR trees and directed dialogue applications are becoming increasingly popular, but, in some cases, are doing far more harm than good to corporate brand reputation.

Advanced technology in the customer contact centre environment can be a double-edged sword, with the increasing ability to automate proving problematic for some customers, especially in the South African market.

Customer care, irrespective of the technology used to implement it, should aim to serve the end-user, and address their needs as expeditiously as possible. Automated technology can, if used correctly, greatly assist in facilitating this process, but can also lead to irreparable damage to brands if improperly managed.

Technology needs to be implemented with the customer in mind, and cater to the sensibilities and preferences of the market in question.

The African market is particularly well known for its aversion to automation. The concept of voicemail has never taken off in any African states, with users preferring more personalised forms of interaction. Companies who implement especially complicated IVR menus are likely to alienate an audience that prefers human contact and interpersonal issue resolution.

Contact centre operations need to be aligned to the overall vision of the company, carefully taking into account the nature of the service offering and the needs of the target market. Ultimately, the contact centre is the voice of the brand, and should be operated in a manner that dovetails seamlessly with the overall brand personality.

For instance, an online gaming website should be handling customer queries in a very different manner to that of a bank, as customers are inherently web-based, and thus likely to look for answers in a similar environment.

In most instances, contact centre systems are implemented based solely on bottom line. South African contact centres are among the most expensive in the world to operate, with automated solutions reducing the cost of an individual query resolution from R9 to approximately 37c.

As a result, many companies opt to implement generic solutions, pre-packaged without any specific end-user in mind and without considering the actual long-term business consequences.

This short-sighted approach to customer care can lead to disastrous results, with many end-users likely to take their business elsewhere as a result of a single negative experience.

Rather than simply taking the cheapest possible route, Corporate South Africa needs to adopt a more considered approach to customer care, and dedicate appropriate time and resources to sourcing the most relevant and effective methods of communicating with their customer base.

Tools like social media and online chat systems are greatly underutilised, and can go a long way towards alleviating contact centre volumes, particularly in certain market segments. A more holistic approach needs to be adopted by brands looking to cut costs, as a vast array of very cost-effective technologies can be harnessed to great effect to improve contact centre efficacy.

Customer care is expanding beyond the realm of the telephony environment, and it is important that companies familiarise themselves with the options available to them, in order to be able to make the most effective decisions for their business.

Many are quick to blame technology for what has been perceived as a general decline in the quality of customer care, but it is the thoughtless implementation thereof that has led to problems. Businesses need to start introducing truly bespoke solutions that utilise the full potential of the technology available to them, and address the specific needs of the customer base in the most efficient manner possible.

Advanced technology solutions can prove invaluable, both in terms of reducing costs and improving reputation, provided they are relevant and appropriately governed by the needs of the customer.

About Interactive Intelligence
Interactive Intelligence Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ININ) is a global provider of unified business communications solutions for contact center automation, enterprise IP telephony, and business process automation. The company’s solutions, which can be deployed via an on-premise or hosted model, include vertical-specific applications for insurance and collections. Interactive Intelligence was founded in 1994 and has more than 4,000 customers worldwide. The company is among Forbes Magazine’s 2011 Best Small Companies in America and Software Magazine’s 2011 Top 500 Global Software and Services Suppliers. It employs approximately 1,000 people and is headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana. The company has offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific. Interactive Intelligence can be reached at +27 (11) 510 0074 or; on the Net:

Press Information
Fokion Natsis
011 510 0205

Lizelle Cloete
022 433 4914

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