Call centres combine the use of highly effective and empowered company representatives with a service framework that relies heavily on state-of-the-art communications and information technologies. A call centre is sometimes defined as a telephone based shared service centre for specific customer activities and are used for number of customer related functions like marketing, selling, information dispensing, advice, technical support etc. Thus, a call centre is a service centre which has adequate telecom facilities, trained consultants, access to wide database, Internet and other on-line information support infrastructure to provide information and support to customers. It operates to provide round the clock and year round service i.e.24 x 365 service.
The use of call centre is undergoing enormous growth due to importance attached by companies to customer care, telemarketing for product offerings, tele banking, concept of direct response television and home shopping, market liberalization of utilities, growth of direct marketing etc. In addition, telemarketing is growing and information lines are forming part of many product service offerings. Telephone banking has led to call centre growth in the financial services sector, while in retail the increase in direct response television and home shopping have driven call centre growth. Market liberalization of utilities has also been a key driver of call centre growth. Finally, the growth of direct marketing has also contributed to the popularity of call centres as a means of reaching targeted customer bases. Call Centres provide large and small international enterprises with the unique ability to establish a presence in foreign markets without the expense and complexity of owning and managing their own infrastructure.
A call centre with good metrics and good data capture abilities represents a credible marketplace intelligence system.
With the enabling of integration of call centre and Internet technology, call centres of future will handle telephone, fax, web, Internet and interactive T.V. enquiries on 24x7 basis. These combined Internet Call Centres or "Customer Contact Centres" will shape the future of call centre design.
What does a Call Centre do for an Organisation?
- It allows a wider customer base to do business with.
- It offers an economical means of reaching diverse and widely distributed customer group.
- It fine tunes offerings to specific customer groups.
- It allows customers easy access to experts.
- It facilitates business round the clock and in any geography.
- It allows a company to avoid the overheads of brick and mortar branches.
Types of Call Centres
Call Centres could either be 'captive In-house' or using an 'Outsourced bureau'.
Captive Call Centres are typically used for various vertical segments like Insurance, Investments and Securities, Retail Banking, Other Financials, Telecommunications, Technology, Utilities, Manufacturing, Travel and Tourism, Transport, Entertainment, Healthcare, Government, Education etc.
Outsourcing Bureaus have experience in running call centres, allow corporations to 'Hit the Ground running', help in dealing with a complex labour market, better capability to handle volatility, tend to use the latest technology, lowers the company's operating expenses, offers a way of cost control and limits the client's financial risks, are responsive to their clients needs and allow the client to focus on their core competencies.
Many companies find that outsourced bureau offer them the flexibility required in the following manner:
- Set-up outsourcing: This involves use of a bureau in the early stages of the call centre life cycle. Having used a bureau for set-up, some companies later bring the process in-house, while others continue to outsource on a longer term basis.
- Transitional Outsourcing: This involves use of a bureau during the period when internal infrastructure is being revamped or re-engineered.
- Overflow outsourcing: A bureau is often an attractive option for a company when the demand on the company's own call centre is too high for its current capacity. The use of a bureau operator in such circumstances ensures that the company does not have to ramp up during peak demand periods. Companies may also use bureaus for 'out of hour' demand. In this case, the ability of a call centre operator to mix time zones offer a competitive advantage.
- One-off: For applications such as direct response advertising which requires a call centre on a one-off, short-term basis, bureau offers the best option. Many companies prefer to outsource the handling of direct marketing campaigns rather than invest in new technologies, especially for limited period campaigns. Examples of such requirements would be marketing campaigns, special issues such as recalls, or anything which generates spikes and large call volumes. Other examples could be where a company was testing a new business initiative, new product or a new marketplace.
- Long-term outsourcing:This may entail the entire outsourcing of the operations.
Outsourced call centre may further be classified based on:
- The delivery channel or mode of customer-call centre interaction e.g. Voice, E-Mail, Chat, Web Call Back, Web Call through, Web Collaboration, WAP, Touch Screen etc.
- Components / features constituting the call centre e.g. Customer Relationship Managements (C.R.M.), Workforce Management, Computer Telephony Integration (C.T.I.), Integrated Call Management etc.
- Location of its target customer.
Potential Customer industries for call centres are essentially those industries which require customer interface and transactions success is based entirely on information availability. These industries include:
- Banks / Insurance / Financial Services boutiques to provide services to the customers / callers
- Telecom services
- Companies providing customized and high value services
- IT products companies
- Tourism & Hotels
- Other services industries
As per a survey conducted by Nasscom, Customer Interaction Services including Call Centres in India employed about 10,000 people as on 30 July 2000 generating an annual revenue of Rs. 450 crore. It is estimated that during 2008, this segment will create employment for 2,70,000 people generating revenues of Rs.20,000 crore.
The potential market of immediate relevance to service providers in India is USA . During 1997, and continuing into 1998, USA , as an industry as well as trend setter in shifts in technologies and practices, has experienced significant changes that have been making substantial difference to conventional business logic and vendor-customer relationship.
Advanced technology has fueled growth among several product segments; but resistance has been witnessed from the user sector — which is impeding growth. This essentially is driven by increasingly felt need of customers to critically work out the cost benefit analysis, opportunity costs and other more viable options available.
Most of the recent trends in this industry pertain to the technology behind the call routing and distribution function. Some of these trends will continue, and include the following:
- Shift from proprietary to open architectural platforms is rapidly gaining acceptance as is exemplified by vendors' frequent introductions of PC-based routing and call management software.
- A shift toward the "complete package" or "turnkey" solution is boosted by this trend to open platforms which allows for easier integration with existing systems. The growth in turnkey solutions is also driven by a high level of customer demand.
- In addition to the formal call center setup, demand for this industry-standards based, open architecture is seen by those types of call centers operating in more "non-traditional" environments. For example: SOHO, virtual call centers, telecommuting, etc.
Besides the above developments, call centre technologies are making a rapid shift from mere stringing together of boxes and wires to, more intelligent and manageable solution. For example, select companies in India have already developed extremely competitive and technologically advanced call centre solutions based entirely on PC technologies and platforms, and IP technologies. This helps to reduce the cost of the system and reduces changeover or upgradation costs for the new technologies as a major portion of technology is derived from software. These are highly automated call centers.Influences upon the call center market structure have approached from various directions to such a degree as to create flux. These persuasions are steering the market through a shake-out phase, culminating in a leaner and more competitive market. This would also mean vendors as well as customers looking to reduce their costs and outsourcing their requirements /contracts to such call center service providers who can help to add and continually enhance competitive advantage.
Criteria for location of call centres
The choice of location of a call centre by overseas M.N.C's is based on a number of factors and include:
- Laws and Regulations.
- Telecommunication Infrastructure, Technology & Tariffs - India is perceived as technologically savy but with keen desire to emerge as a country with sound telecommunication infrastructure. Therefore, technology is an important deciding factor in location decision. Similarly, tariff is another significant factor. There are also issues of connectivity (to P.S.T.N. etc.) that need to be addressed by the government quickly.
- Workforce - Companies look to countries that can provide them with work force that is proficient in English (and possibly other languages); cost effective with disciplined work culture.
- Real Estate, Availability and cost of office space.
- Economic Incentives - These may take the form of grants or tax exemptions, repatriation of profits, corporate tax on profits generated by call centres, tax treaties etc.
- Feel-good factor- Companies look for countries where the people are positive, service minded and friendly.
Call Centre Technology Suppliers
Some of the suppliers of Call Centre technology are as follows. This is just an indicative list:
- Hardware: Aspect,Clarify, Brightware, Cisco (webline)Convergys, Corepoint, Dialogic,e-Gain, eShare, Genesysd, Kana (including Silknet), Lucent, Nortel,Quintus, Rockwell, ServiceSoft, Siemens etc.
- Software: AnswerSoft,Brooktrout, Edify, eFusion, Genesys Labs, Geotel, IBM/Lotus, Intecom, KnowledgeX, Microsoft, Multilink, Nabnasset, Netcentric, Netphone,NetSpeak, Oracle, Paresc, Scopus, Sitel Corporation, SpanLink, Sun,Teloquent, Vantive, Venturian, Voicetek, Webline etc.
Setting up a Call Centre
Establishment of a call centre needs efficient integration and management of telecom and I.T. infrastructure.The main elements constituting a call centre are telecommunication links (I.P.L.C., typically E1 Link), call centre infrastructure (hardware in the form of L.A.N., Agent P.Cs, Headsets) and the requisite software(C.R.M.).The decision process should typically include the following sequence:
- Define Business requirement
- Define Decision Criteria
- Research options and deduce
- Evaluate options against decision criteria and business requirements
- Pursue vendors of technology along chosen path viz. Technology Vendors for In-house call centres, Service Bureaus for outsourcing entirely, and ASPs for outsourcing technology.
Decision criteria. Some key criteria to consider and define for your environment are listed below:
- Operations: What operational environment you want to use for call support? What media functions, applications, and hours of coverage are required?
- Technology: What infrastructure is needed to meet business goals? Are you in the process of procuring technology solutions like C.R.M., C.T.I. that web integration may be part of or need to integrate with?
- Resource: Consider Call Centre staff and management, technology, H.R. training etc.
- Workload: Volumes and variability of volumes. How are they likely to grow?
- Culture: Some companies need control of technology, staff or both in order to deliver the level and type of service and support they desire.
- Cost: What are the investment priorities? Consider the cost of technology, resources and ongoing maintenance and support.
- Core Competencies: Are call centres core competency for your company, or will they be? Consider technology implementation, integration, development and management
Systems Selection: In the race to gain a competitive edge in this market, it is easy to be seduced by an advancing technology. In doing so, many companies lose sight of the ultimate business goal: to become more competitive, productive and efficient in providing the most effective customer service. It is important to look carefully at the call centre's real technology needs, vendor selection, and the possibility of increasing the efficiency of a technology project by rethinking the organisation beforehand.
The technological systems choices while setting up call centres include:
- Entry options ranging from traditional voice, e-mail, internet forms, web triggered calls, fax and video
- Desktop tools including knowledge based systems (AI), electronic documentation, new contact management applications and CTI and screen based telephony;
- Resource locations ranging from home agents to centralised or decentralised centres;
- Service options ranging from self-help or assisted services via Internet, voice response units, fax back systems, and electronic technical support forums. Introducing the right technology will benefit every component of a call centre including training, staffing, scripting, customer relations, tracking and reporting etc.
Proven Success Factors
Operation of a Call Centre revolves around serving an existing and potential customer base. This need translates into providing satisfying and well informed responses to a customer query, or in case of a potential customer, meeting his expectations with regard to quality and quantity of service. The difference in services can be made through a number of factors. Some of them are discussed as below:
- Process IntegrationThe call center service flow should be closely integrated with the process of customer for whom this service is being rendered. This translates into easy access to and presentation of updated information.
- Customer Satisfaction: Defined as Direct-to-Quality (DTQ), this is akin to ability tosatisfying the customer's (caller's) query the first time.
- Responses Time: Waiting period and responses time for a query should be minimised. The only way is by benchmarking against some of the best call center operations in the world.
- Quality: Vendors should aim to achieve quality certification such as ISO 9000 or other certification applicable to this industry. This includes full COPC-2000 Certification (COPC -Customer Outsourcing Performance Center ). This distinction means that the facility has met the requirements of all 32 areas described in the COPC-2000 Standard. It thus helps to validate call center's quality and continuous improvement initiatives.
- Professional Service: The quality of service rendered by an outsourced call centers should be equal to or exceed service levels already achieved by the client's in-house call center.
- Employees: Call Center staff should be trained on the client's business, the role of the call centre, nature of potential callers, and service expectations of the client.
- Accent and Fluency: Call Centre staff need to be constantly trained to help improve accent and diction capabilities,especially for region being served.
Call Centres in India
In the last couple of years, India has emerged as one of the preferred countries for setting up of call centres. Many companies including GE, iDLX, Bechtel, British Airways,Dell Computers, Bharti Telecom have already chosen India as the base for their new global call centres. These are choices made for solid, practical reasons which guarantee them competitive advantage in the global marketplace. Many banks - ICICI, HDFC, Standard Chartered,Citicorp, American Express to name a few- telecom service providers and infotech companies - Lotus, Hewlett Packard, 3Com etc. have deployed call centres for better customer support and care.
Guidelines from Department of Telecommunications
In India , Call Centre operators have to get a no objection certificate from Deputy Director General(Customer Relations) at Department of Communications, Government of India, New Delhi. This NOC is granted with the aim of granting a special permission to use voice circuits over international gateways with the dedicated and stated purpose of serving overseas customers, and accompanied by an undertaking that it will not be connected to a PSTN within India.
The Government of India has released a set of Terms / Conditions for Call Centre operators in India. The new policy initiatives are aimed at liberalising Call Centre operations in India . Some of the salient points of the policy are as under:
The Call Centres are being permitted on nonexclusive basis against the requests received from IT Service providers. These call centres can either be international or domestic in nature.
- However, no interconnectivity of the international and domestic call centres is permitted. But, interconnection of two domestic call centres of the same company is permissible, subject to prior approval of the DoT.
- The International Call Centres will be permitted on IPLCs (International Private Leased Circuits) only and will cater to calls from foreign end PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Netweork). However, no PSTN connectivity will be permitted at the Indian end. At Indian end, even linking to any private or public network is not permitted for IPLC, even if it is of the same organisation.
- The domestic call centre can have P.S.T.N. connectivity at one end or both ends or at multipoints in a more complex configuration, with only incoming and with outgoing disabled at all places, wherever P.S.T.N. termination is provided.
- No other interconnectivity, except as permitted above, with any public or private network, shall be permitted to the call centre set up.
Nasscom welcomes the above initiative announced by DoT. This is expected to give boost to proliferation of call centres in India. However, there is a strong need to permit PSTN connectivity at the Indian end, to international call centres as well as for software companies in India (who provide software support from India). This is important not only for large establishments of international call centres ( a great source of export revenue and employment) but also to encourage software companies to enable their employees to perform as teleworkers. Nasscom is presently working with concerned authorities to resolve this issue. It is also desired that domestic and international Call Centres be permitted interconnectivity. Actually, there should be no distinction between them.
Call Centre services are provided to clients customers on the basis of a long term contract (running upto 2-4 years or more). Therefore, it is advisable to approach clients directly. This may be effected through establishing a branch office / subsidiary in USA or any other export market. It is also advisable to appoint a local person as a senior / head executive of the office as it helps to increase comfort level of the target customer(s). Further, in order to attract initial customers, it may be worthwhile to operate on Build-Own - Operate- Transfer basis. Companies may also bear in mind that it is easier to sell services by having a functional 'proof of concept'. In other words, a functional call centre, preferably operating closer to service levels expected by the customer. Such concerns may be common as call centres represent interaction in real time and companies would not appreciate any faux pas in such interactions.However, companies may also consider establishing and managing facilities for a large call centre services company or even enter into a joint venture agreement. This would help ensure profitability as well as growth. The call centre is also a viable business proposition as it is considered to be a good launch pad for other service areas in various segments of the value chain and thus providing end-to-end platform for virtual value chain.
Call Centres have clearly emerged as one of the most favoured of all IT enabled services. On one hand, this is due to the success and prominence achieved by call centres already operating in India. On the other hand, global call centre industry has proven to be amongst the most stable revenue growth centres amongst all related services. The enthusiasm of global corporations as well as domestic entrepreneurs are validated by some of the inherent advantages enjoyed by India. Proactive encouragement by Government of India to promote this industry augurs well for India emerging as the preferred choice for setting up call centres in India.