How the Contact Centre is Becoming Multi-channel

By Lauren Fritsky

You’re not the only one who has started making calls over the web, texting or using chat as your primary forms of communication. Nearly half of contact centres in Australia have now fully or partially implemented a multi-channel agent, which can come in the form of email, chat or video calls, according to Callcentres.net. We talked with Andy Cranshaw, Datacom’s General Manager of Professional Services for Southeast Asia, to learn what to expect with this multi-channel trend.

What are the emerging channels in this space?

“In technical support, it’s chat rather than email. Email is not a great medium for some types of technical support. Going through that process over email can be long: you send your problem, I send you a solution, you try the solution, and it doesn’t work, so you send me the result. Enquiries are best for email, when it’s nothing urgent.

We’re also starting to see social media used as a means of putting questions to a user community, and there are opportunities here for us to assist in providing answers. Regardless of the channel, Datacom guarantees its contact centre staff possesses the technical knowledge to answer everything from the most basic to the most complex enquiries.”

Are we seeing these technologies threatening to overtake phone?

“Not to the extent we thought we would. Ten or 15 years ago, people were predicting calls would diminish to nothing. The volume of phone calls that we take hasn’t really diminished significantly but volumes of email and web chat have increased.”

What do you see down the pike as far as emerging technologies?

“I think self-help options, online communities and forums and other forms of social media are increasingly going to be the first stop for people to find technical solutions. In that case, ‘click to chat’ options, which enable the user to connect directly with an engineer if they encounter problems, could really drive chat volumes.”

How are the skills required to handle a newer channel, such as chat, different from the skills needed to answer phone enquiries?

“In the world of tech support, the layers of technical understanding are obviously critical regardless of the medium.  But then there is the ability to be able to communicate your technical understanding to another person and articulate it in a way the customer understands that’s very different when you’re instant chatting rather than talking on the phone.  Most people use chat as a method of social communication – it’s informal, full of abbreviations and emoticons. In a business environment, you have to be able to type quickly, concisely and accurately. You also have to know what’s appropriate and what isn’t when it comes to chat.

At Datacom, we address this by recruiting the right people and adhering to the COPC standards of contact centre training so that all staff have the relevant skills to work in this evolving multi-channel environment.”

How long does it take to train staff on these channels?

“Training is not a big issue if you can recruit the right people in the first place. But when it comes to multi-channel environments, that’s not easy, particularly offshore where a person’s spoken English may be significantly better than their written or vice versa. In a two- to three-week training period, you can give staff a few tips and language skills to ensure culturally-sensitive and relevant communication, but the key is to recruit people who already speak and/or write well in the language they are going to communicate in. Datacom only hires contact centre staff with excellent language skills and cultural awareness, and we conduct quality assurance to guarantee a professional level of customer interaction.”

It seems there is a large challenge around workforce management with the multi-channel approach. How do you get around that?

“There are IT solutions such as multi-channel queuing. At the back end, the system will receive phone calls, emails, chat, and then it will distribute them to staff. So, if a tech support specialist puts down a phone call, the next thing that pops up could be an email.”

How does integrating a multi-channel approach affect the manager’s role?

“It changes how they schedule people and staff the centre. In the end, the ability to queue multi-channel interactions is one thing, but the implication is the centre must have someone sitting at the desk who can handle the call, chat or email. Regardless of how the changing multi-channel environment affects staffing and managerial roles, Datacom continues to ensure its contact centres decrease support costs, raise customer service levels and further brand perceptions.”

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