‘Year of the customer’

Normal, Weekender

THE big question as we move through 2010 may be, “What does the future hold?” For PNG, the growth in the past year will give us a glimpse into the future, that anything is possible. 2010 is the year of the customer.
Dec 31, 2009, marked the end of one of the toughest years companies have faced in decades, both in terms of the challenges of a major economic downturn, and a major shift in how companies interact with their customers – who are increasingly more demanding and can change providers easily.
Today’s customers know what they want, when and how they want it. What they don’t want is to be “managed.” And while the economic crisis has made businesses focus even more on the bottom line, cost-cutting cannot be done at the expense of customer satisfaction.
Even in terms of pure numbers, it is considerably more expensive to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one. Forward-thinking companies are positioning themselves for quick performance improvements by planning investments in technologies that help promote customer satisfaction and loyalty, such as speech analytics, better utilisation of cross-channel information and smart-agent desktops.


Call centres
The call centre holds the key to success in “the year of the customer.” It is the front line with customers, and it offers valuable insights into how a company can grow sales, improve marketing effectiveness, better serve customers, and improve back-office processes for increased overall operational efficiency.
Several business and technology trends are top-of-mind as companies look to balance cost-cutting with operational efficiency – and, most importantly, with customer satisfaction.
Important research findings:
* Customer satisfaction, operational efficiency and compliance are top operational priorities. 
* Companies are focused on increasing customer satisfaction and reducing operating costs. 
* Regulatory compliance is a key priority, along with increasing customer satisfaction. 
* Financial services organisations are facing greater scrutiny, and the penalties for non-compliance are stiffer than ever before. Companies are concerned about avoiding the consequences of non-compliance, and are also very aware of the possibility of rogue employees damaging their reputations.
Growth in customer interactions:
44 % of respondents expect increases in customer interactions – those conducted over the phone, as well as alternate communication channels such as instant- and text-messaging.


Web self-service
Growth in customer interactions is also attributed to the economic turmoil. For example, in the financial industry, many more customers are calling to receive information about their finances, voice their personal financial concerns, or to refinance their mortgages.
While the role of the call centre has expanded into a source of intelligence for the whole organisation, the scope of expectations on the part of the customer has expanded as well. In many cases, call volumes have increased as people become more concerned about their investments, have trouble paying their mortgages, or seek to compare deals among competitors.
Speech analytics deployments are expected to increase by 182 %:
Interviewees noted that speech analytics presents an opportunity for expanding this source of intelligence by obtaining valuable insights on key business issues from a readily available and historically overlooked information source – the conversation inside the call recordings. Respondents see plans for speech analytics deployments growing by 182 % by 2011 compared with the first half of 2009.
The call centre, generally the first point of contact for customers, carries most of the weight of ensuring a satisfying customer experience, but even more importantly, bears the burden of keeping customer churn to a minimum. As the interactions companies have with their customers increasingly occur through channels other than traditional telephone calls (e.g. email, web chat, and text messages), speech analytics solutions evolve into broader interaction analytics solutions. Many companies are implementing interaction analytics solutions in order to better understand customers and keep them. Analytics also offers an opportunity to understand how resources can be used more effectively and business processes can be improved to streamline operations and reduce costs.
Over 50 % of infrastructures will be VoIP-based by 2010:
Considering the challenges of the current economy, the efficiency and cost containment gained through the use of VoIP technology may help to offset some of the budget shortfall.
While some organisations have used headcount reductions and resource cuts as a tactic in these times, progressive companies have used the cost savings associated with VoIP to avoid those steps and prevent a negative impact on service. Thus, VoIP was noted as a high investment priority, due to its ability to help reduce operating costs, and more than 70 % of respondents indicated that they plan to have more than half of their infrastructure VoIP-based by 2010.
Furthermore, large multi-site enterprises are centralising their call centre operations, made possible by advancements in VoIP-enabled solutions, and as a result are prioritising investment in VoIP.
National workforce optimization investment growth:
National workforce utilisation and performance management systems can be ranked high, significantly outpacing expected growth of other types of technology investments, due to its impact on both reducing costs and decreasing customer and employment churn.
Employee churn is more important than ever, as companies are painfully aware of the cost of attracting new employees over keeping existing ones. Reducing employment churn is key to putting efficiency first, as staffing a call centre with trained nationals who are knowledgeable about the organisation and its products is critical to providing outstanding service.


Wealth of hidden information

The importance of call centre interactions across multiple communication channels continues to be at the centre of business strategies to streamline operations while optimising the customer experience. Though the global economic climate has created challenges for call centres, the need to operate more efficiently and ensure exemplary customer experience continues to be a top priority, as it is directly linked to profitability.
Companies will increasingly rely on technology solutions that can capture and reveal the hidden information present in all customer interactions – and enable organisations to act on that information – as we move through the “Year of the Customer.”