“All of our operators are busy. You are held in queue and will be answered shortly.”
Call centres across the country struggle to deal with fluctuating customer demand. A quick search of the internet reveals many lurid headlines setting out customer service woes. The BBC reported that “Alex told a familiar tale of woe with trying to install her Talk Talk package – and the lack of service available from their helpline”. And the problem is not just confined to businesses. Public service organisations are often the worst offenders with headlines like “44 million calls go unanswered at HMRC.”
Surely there is a better way?
It seems strange that all of these organisations struggle on in the same old ways and still use traditional telephone call centres to answer all of their customer questions. They employ row upon row of permanent staff, working shift patterns and are then unable to gear up to meet peak demand. No wonder their customers are “held in queue and will be answered shortly”…or maybe not at all.
As an alternative, it makes you wonder why they don’t consider using a text based service to complement their existing call centre activities. This isn’t to say that text can fully replace the call centre and answer every question, but a text system could easily be used to triage questions, by answering the first tier questions directly and filtering those requiring a different type of response. Texts are easy to manage, they help frame questions into short, manageable segments and they are the communications method of choice for the younger, Facebook and Twitter generation. Even better, the person asking the question can get on with their life whilst they wait for the answer rather than listening to Bach as they are held in a queue.
A solution not to be sneezed at
Whilst a text might not be appropriate for everyone and every question, it would certainly deal with a high proportion of the typical questions sent to call centres. Take the swine flu helpline as an example. “Swine flu helplines are flooded with panicked callers” proclaimed headlines back in 2009. Yet the Evening Standard explained how just 52,000 calls over seven days “overwhelmed” the Swine flu helpline. By comparison, at 63336, we regularly answer double this volume of questions over a week and some of our recent TV adverts were generating 300 questions per minute.
We are not suggesting that every call to the Swine flu helpline could be answered by text. However, many people called the swine flu helpline to find out where their nearest Tamiflu centre was or to get a unique code to pick up their batch of Tamiflu. Pareto’s principle would suggest that 80% of these calls could easily and more satisfactorily have been dealt with by text.
Why work in a call centre?
We set up 63336 as a home based working model. All our researchers work from home using secure links and databases. This offers a number of advantages over the traditional call centre model. We have very low fixed costs as all our researchers work from home, provide their own equipment and they are only paid for the questions they answer. This home based policy means we attract a highly intelligent workforce from across the country and across all age groups and, as a result, our researchers don’t have to succumb to the tyranny of a daily commute, or the requirement to live within reach of a call centre in the UK or even India.
It is not just about texting
This is about doing more than simply offering a text service alongside a telephone service. This is about embracing a much wider cultural change.
Call centres have certain structural problems that can’t be fixed. They have huge fixed costs, they have fixed locations and they tend to have a narrow range of expertise. This makes them wholly unsuitable for managing surging demands as they can’t suddenly ramp up staffing at short notice. The fixed and relatively high labour cost means that many are outsourced to India with all the incumbent and well documented cultural problems that brings.
A home-based researcher pool solves all of these problems and helps to keep well remunerated jobs in the UK.
Embracing the new digital age
The government wants to improve opportunities for the most socially excluded members of society and thus set up the new Digital Inclusion task force led by Martha Lane Fox. Reports last year showed that some 40% of the population still do not have even basic internet access . However, the government appears to be overlooking the most common and easily understood piece of technology, the mobile phone.
Digital inclusion doesn’t have to be difficult. Just embrace some of “new” technologies already in place such as SMS. People already use and understand it and have easy access via their mobile phone. Everyone has a phone with text capability.
The way forward
At 63336 we have begun exploring with companies to help put in place new ways of answering questions from their customers. We share their desire to get the best answers, in the most effective way, using our mobile technology and our highly skilled answering team.