Contact Centres lock into CRM strategies

As the industry's appreciation for CRM grows, so too have other complementary disciplines. In particular, it's been a period of substantial growth and investment for contact centres.

As the industry’s appreciation for CRM grows, so too have other complementary disciplines. In particular, it’s been a period of substantial growth and investment for contact centres.

Call centres have been trying to find their place in a customer-centric model – struggling to offer consistent levels of service and provide effective CRM across more platforms than they’ve traditionally had to deal with.

Like many others, Toronto-based multi-media contact centre UTR has developed its own business strategy to attract new clients and serve existing clients in today’s customer-focused environment.

‘Companies are rethinking what they are doing, what value a customer has, how important it is to retain and how to best do that 24-7. You’re not going to set up your own internal operation – it’s too expensive. You’re going to use a multi-media approach so you talk to people on their terms and you’re going to hire a company to do it for you better than you could do it yourself,’ says Peter Shurman, CEO of UTR.

The trend among most marketers – with the exception of some financial institutions who deal in sensitive or confidential information – has been to outsource their call centre applications, which most often include, among other things, dispatch, troubleshoot, bookings, catalogue and mail orders, market research, and e-commerce transaction support.

‘Outsourcing of call centres is a huge area right now,’ says Stan Brown, partner in the CRM consulting practice at Toronto-based PwC Consulting. In fact, Ontario has one of the healthiest concentrations of call centre activity in North America, along with the Atlantic provinces, due in part to a strong educated labour force, flat telco costs and the weak Canadian dollar. A study conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (The Greater Toronto Call Centre Study), found that the number of call centres in Canada has increased by 10,000 to 13,400 since 1994 – an annual growth rate of 26% (almost 3,000 of those are in Ontario).

‘There are more and more companies approaching us and saying, ‘What can you do on an outsource basis?” says Shurman.

Customers are demanding cost-effective, round-the-clock web and voice support services, he says. UTR has tackled the CRM challenge by implementing what it calls Powersourcing, an outgrowth of the ‘outsourcing’ phenomenon of the last decade.

The four-point Powersourcing plan includes: providing around-the-clock presence; a pay-per-use model – so clients don’t pay for what they don’t get; extensive training for internal staff members, to the point where they are not just outsource suppliers, they are surrogates; and finally, providing a true multi-media platform, including Web Chat, Web Callback, Web Push, email or telephone.

‘We don’t care whether you send us an e-mail or call us on the phone, we handle it in the same time frame and with the same degree of aplomb,’ says Shurman. ‘Today people want to be able to address companies they are doing business with on their terms – and if their terms happen to be 2 a.m. Saturday, so be it.’

The company, which doubled its physical space last year to address this move to outsourcing, particularly in CRM and direct response, targets medium-sized businesses in Canada and the U.S. It represents a list of clients including Rogers, CTV, Nationwide Financial, Eureka, Altamira Investments and CityTV, as well as several non-profit organizations: Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund and Amnesty International.

‘Generally speaking, the larger organizations have developed more savvy in terms of what they want and with regard to the metrics of the business: ‘We need 70% of calls answered within 30 seconds or less,’ for example. We didn’t hear that from them a couple of years back because they didn’t know what to ask,’ he says. ‘The smaller to medium-sized businesses are involved in the realization that they have to be available all the time, and have a Web site and the support. So education is a big part of their interaction with us.’

The recent adoption of a customer-centric focus was further spurred by the terrorist attacks in September, believes Shurman – UTR’s revenues in December, were at least 40% ahead of pre-9/11 September revenues, which were looking ‘rosy.’

‘Client retention, which was always so important, is that much more important now,’ he says. ‘Customers have been forced to come to grips with the fact that it is so much easier to keep a client than it is to replace one. Doing what you have to – whether it is something as simple as re-pricing or reorganizing your service levels – it’s de rigueur.’