Leaving the big room: the changing contact centre
TELECOMS| July 25, 2011, 12:39 p.m.
Elingo's Sales and Marketing Director, Karl Reed, examines the history of the contact centre, and how The Big Room came to dominate, and limit, modern customer interactions.
Contact centre legend has it that the centres we recognise today originally stem from the Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) system developed in 1973 by US firm Rockwell, to allow Continental Airlines to run a telephone booking system.
While research reveals that this story is more good marketing from Rockwell than strict historical fact, the brand certainly was one of the first to develop and utilise an ACD system. Private Automated Business Exchanges (PABXs) were, however, actually the first to handle multiple customer contacts, and that happened as far back as the mid-1960s. This, rather than the Rockwell ACD, was the development that put us on the road to the modern contact centre.
Regardless of the finer historical details, there's no doubt the story of the contact centre is also the story of mankind's accelerating love affair with communication technologies – an affair which has touched every aspect of our lives, including, of course, the way in which we do business.
In the business world, the most obvious impact of our rapidly evolving technological use has been the changing relationship between the consumer and the company. In the sixties, seventies and most of the eighties, this relationship was pretty much a communication one-way street. A business offered a range of products to consumers, who bought an item of their choice. Anyone wishing to communicate with the provider of the product had three options: 1) write a letter 2) locate a sales agent 3) get on the phone to head office.
As use of the telephone grew globally, brands were faced with the imperative of setting up systems to cope with an increasing volume of insistent phone calls. In fact, dealing with the insistent customer on the other end of the line was to become the dominant service and communication paradigm until the 21st century. The phone effectively became the coal face of consumer interaction, and as a result in the 1980s automated communication systems gained serious commercial traction.
Dell is often cited as the pre-eminent case study of the period, one that illustrates a growing realisation across the global economy over this time that the quality of the consumer interaction could define bottom line success. The Dell CEO famously moved his desk into the back office area of his company that dealt with customer phone calls. This move was an unambiguous recognition of the centrality of the consumer interaction to business, and marked the beginning of the end of the Rolodex as an office communication tool.
In the 1990s, the customer-centric philosophy swept the business world on the back of the Dotcom boom and the communication revolution. While new technologies created powerful automation ability for companies, communication advances also allowed consumers to call companies on the move, via the cell phone.
Contact centres thus became the business status quo, regardless of the nature of the business. The technology was clumsy and large, however, consisting of multiple hardware components requiring extensive integration and management within what industry specialists came to call The Big Room.
In the first decade of the 21st century, the shift from The Big Room began, with software based systems coming into their own. Contact centres were now recognised not only as cost cutting tools, but also as sources of significant advantage in a highly competitive global market.
Nonetheless, the size and complexity of existing contact centre investments housed in The Big Room sawmany companies effectively running several contact centre 'silos' within their larger operational umbrella. Not only did the silo approach create spiralling technical and cost headaches thanks to widespread emergence of new communication mediums and channels such as email and social media, it also clouded the high level strategic view that decision makers need so badly.
With each communication silo added, the reporting integration nightmare escalated, until the ability to gain a clear view of customer interactions across multiple divisions or business units was severely limited.
And so we arrive in the second decade of the new century, an era when multimedia communications channels are demanding more and more from contact centre technologies, and an era when communication system consolidation is an essential part of any business strategy.
After several decades of telephone dominance, companies now have to address a new reality, one where the traditional communication one way street, where brands try to control how and when customers interact with them, is filled with strategic pot-holes. Simply put, companies slow to act on the multi-channel imperative are already losing ground to the early adopters. Of course, understanding the strategic need to evolve a communications system and actually getting it right are two different things entirely.
MORE TELECOMS NEWS
Tigo Ghana rolls out new cell sitesTigo is rolling out new base stations to fill gaps in its 3G coverage and improve on its 2G coverage in Ghana. Read More
MainOne marks 5 yearsIn its five year existence, MainOne has invested over $300m in infrastructure in West Africa. Read More
MTN CEO restates commitment to educationThe Chief Executive Officer of MTN Nigeria, Mr. Michael Ikpoki, has restated the telco’s strong commitment to partnering with government to develop the education sector. Read More
VP commissions Huawei Seeds for the Future programmeGhana’s Vice President, H.E Paa Kwasi Amissah Arthur, has officially commissioned the Huawei Seeds for the Future Programme in Accra. Read More
IHS plans to inject fresh $500m to grow capacityMohammed Darwish, managing director of IHS Towers, says the firm will soon inject another $500million into the business after raising some $2.5billion to finance expansion drives. Darwish spoke with biztecafrica.com in Lagos. Read More
More convenience for Airtel customers in Embu with new Airtel shopAirtel Kenya has opened a new Airtel shop in Embu town as part of the company’s aggressive expansion and upgrade plan. Read More
Nebula: You’re probably wasting 20% of your telecoms spendSouth African businesses are wasting up to 20% of their telecommunications spend every year, according to a new white paper by Nebula. Read More
Tigo CEO chairs Ghana Chamber of TelecommunicationsThe Governing Council of the Ghana Chamber of Telecommunication has elected the Chief Executive Officer of Tigo Ghana Roshi Motman as the new Chair of the Chamber. Read More
MTNC inaugurates new Service CentresMTN Cameroon has inaugurated two new Service Centres in the city of Yaounde. Read More
FEATURED STORYIHS plans to inject fresh $500m to grow capacity
Mohammed Darwish, managing director of IHS Towers, says the firm will soon inject another $500million into the business after raising some $2.5billion to finance expansion drives. Darwish spoke with biztecafrica.com in Lagos.
BEST READ NEWS
IN DEPTHAs curtain falls on MDGs, what next?
Dr. Bjorn Lomborg, president of the Copenhagen Consensus Centre, speaks to Biztechafrica about setting smart targets.