Leaving the big room: the changing contact centre

TELECOMS

|
Image: Karl Reed, Ellingo Marketing Director. By BiztechAfrica
Karl Reed, Ellingo Marketing Director

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.



Share the News

Get Daily Newsletter

comments powered by Disqus

MORE TELECOMS NEWS

TNM to conduct biggest promotion pay-out

TNM will on August 26 splash out over K100 million in its Ufulu@50 Promotion, the biggest payout in a single day in the history of promotions in Malawi. Read More

We don’t patronise fake OEMs, says Glo

Globacom has said it does not patronise substandard original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and telecoms equipment vendors.  Read More

Africell DRC waits ‘in vain’ for interconnection

Africell, which began operations in the DRC in June 2012, has yet to enjoy interconnection. Read More

Telecom Namibia: WACS repairs to start this weekend

Repair work on the West Africa Cable System (WACS) off Namibia’s coast is scheduled to start over the weekend, says Telecom Namibia.  Read More

MTN Uganda marks 10m subscriber mark

Having hit the 10 million subscriber base, MTN Uganda has announced that it is giving out 10 million minutes of free airtime and 100 million MB of data to its customers. Read More

Airtel Malawi launches thematic campaign

Airtel Malawi has launched a new thematic campaign dubbed 'Muli Bwanji?' a local language greeting meaning 'How are you?' aimed at depicting the warmth and love that is synonymous with Malawians. Read More

Etisalat commissions flagship Experience Centre in Abuja

Etisalat has commissioned a world class flagship Experience Centre in Abuja. Read More

Infrastructure, connectivity key to Africa’s smart cities

Infrastructure and connectivity are key to achieving the Smart City vision, say WSP and Ruckus Wireless. Read More

Glo offers subscribers 3-in-1 recharge option

Glo has unveiled a unique 3-in-1 Recharge Option to make the process of loading regular airtime credit, international calling packs and data bundles more convenient for its subscribers. Read More

DRC’s ICT penetration reaches 23%

ICT penetration in war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has risen significantly, to 23%, says the government. Read More

PRESS OFFICES

Sage ERP AfricaSAP AfricaSage Pastel AccountingTrust PayVMWareSamsung ElectronicsMitsumi DistributionPhoenix DistributionSage HR AfricaMTN BusinessSchneider ElectricMultichoice

FEATURED STORY

Nigeria’s VAS providers ‘on brink of extinction’Nigeria’s VAS providers ‘on brink of extinction’

WASPAN chief Simon Aderinlola says unless the regulator intervenes, WASPAN may not have anything left to regulate. Kokumo Goodie reports.

IN DEPTH

Kenya rolls out e-extension to improve agricultureKenya rolls out e-extension to improve agriculture

In a bid to curb the overwhelmed number of agricultural extension officers in Kenya, the ministry of agriculture is embracing technology with their introduction of E-Extension services, which are aimed at reaching out to over 7 million farmers annually.

COMPANY NEWS

Schneider Electric trains 50,000 in energy management

Schneider Electric has trained more than 50,000 people in energy management as part of its BipBop energy access programme.