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Are call centres so bad they hinder business?

I was struck today by an advertisement for Swiftcover.com that I saw from the train. I know customers often don't like call centres (especially offshore ones), but this advertisement seemed to be targeted at those allergic to the whole idea of talking.

Now Swiftcover.com is part of Axa, so this is not an organization without call centre expertise. Nor is it strictly a web only player, as they have been very innovative about developing a mobile phone channel for insurance sales. Clearly there is a demographic out there who hate the idea of call centres so much that they'd rather use the web.

To a certain extent poor experiences from call centres are to blame, but that may not be the whole story. One big change in the retail insurance market is the rise of web aggregators, such as confused.com. These players don't have contact centres either, but they do pull together large chunks of the insurance market in their comparison tables, and make it very hard for insurers to differentiate themselves by brand. I would suspect that although swiftcover.com may be targeting a demographic less than keen on call centres, they are also trying to drive traffic direct to their website and not have a comparison site in the way.

Of course contact centres still have a major role to play, doing what they are good at. Web sites are ideal for simple or generic quotes. Complex matters, exceptions and assessments of options are still done better as a discussion with a person. For that the contact centre is ideal as it allows an insurance agent to cover business without geographic restriction. Using a human contact centre agent as a data entry mechanism into the quotes system (as some insurance contact centres have done) has never been a good use of resources. Skilled advice at the end of the telephone is extremely valuable and it is there that contact centres can help companies differentiate themselves and their brand in an increasingly competitive market. 

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Comments: (5)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 23 October, 2008, 01:32Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

I believe that call centre personnel, like receptionists or sales, are the valuable leading edge of your business. Specialists in communicating with your customers. In my experience there is a low likelihood of achieving the required level of skill when working in a second language and without a deep understanding of the particular culture-of-the moment of your customers.

Call centres are not a necessary evil, they are an important opportunity and customer touch-point. The returns they can provide are comensurate with the quality of the operation and people.

I want to identify with the person on the other end. I want them to care about me and I need them to understand my 'problem' ( =the comany's opportunity). Perhaps one  might be able to achieve that offshore but I haven't noticed it so far.

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 23 October, 2008, 11:06Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

The short answer to your headline is 'Yes'.

I think one of the worst aspects to call centres is the IVR.  They all seem to be designed by people who never use them.  I've had occasion this last week to phone two organisations and I reckon on both of them I've gone through at least 5 levels of IVR beforre I finally got to talk to someone.  That really isn't good.

Kill the IVR, I say.  Employ some more people (think of the tax revenue and the boost to the economy) and satisfy your customers - finally.

Joe Pitcher
Joe Pitcher - Irrelevant - Wirral 23 October, 2008, 11:19Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

The best way to ensure your customers do not contact you is to staff your call centres with people who do not speak the same native language as your customers. I refuse to call my bank anymore as I spend too much time trying to make myself understood that I never get round to discussing the reason I rang. I have lost count of the number of times I have had to hang up in frustration. Email is now the only solution for me, it may take longer but my stress/frustration levels are much better for it

Paul Penrose
Paul Penrose - Finextra - London 23 October, 2008, 12:31Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

As noted in this post back in May, the offshore call centre does serve one useful purpose - to frustrate awkward customers.

Alex Noble
Alex Noble - McAfee - London 30 October, 2008, 08:43Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

I really appreciate all the comments, so thank you for your thoughts.

I think a lot of the issues you highlight are covered in the post I wrote today "Abbey- did an IVR survey lock out a customer's account?". This is a good example of offshore, IVR and customer disatisfaction all coming together and resulting in some very bad PR for the bank concerned.

I hope that now credit has become so much harder to obtain, banks may start valuing customers (especially depositors) more and stop viewing them simply as a cost. Even if it's not for a good reason to improve service, I'm not sure that this is a time for banks iritate customers/ voters!