For some time now we’ve been talking about the digital evolution of the telecom industry, but to this point it’s been an almost entirely theoretical conversation. In an effort to truly see what we’re talking about when we speak of the “digital age,” consider the impending death of one legacy era concept that I’m surely not going to miss: the call centre. Try as we might, the telecom industry has been largely unable to rescue this antiquated notion from the onslaught of technological progress, for despite efforts to rebrand the idea of the call centre into contact hubs that handle multiple channels of inbound communication, the role of the centre has fundamentally remained the same: handling customer inquiries, complaints, and offering assistance.
However, the entire notion of the call centre is a nebulous legacy concept that binds us to a largely unhelpful operation, an old way of doing things that we can’t quite seem to let go of. In fact, as telecom blogger Teresa Cottam brilliantly notes, “The contact centre is a zombie concept – neither dead nor quite alive, but carrying on as though it were alive.”
But if the call centre is on the way out, what do we have to replace it? As the telecom industry continues to evolve into a entirely digital operation, the new concept that will begin to take its place will be one that will involve neither the centralized operation of call centres, nor the focus on “intermittent, reactive communication,” but will instead foster an entirely new era of constant communication; an “interaction hub,” as Cottam calls it—a radical new operation built into the core of every company, where continual, multi-channel communication will be practiced.
The problem with the idea of the call centre is that it is, as I mentioned, fundamentally reactive. The call centre was originally created as an afterthought, as a way to solve the problem of ongoing customer interaction. To that end, the call centre has always been a “siloed, operational afterthought,” that annoying bit of customer service that companies were forced to tack on to their overall operation.
But the notion of an “interaction hub” of communications turns this legacy concept on its head, as once sought after metrics of call times and queue numbers will become a relic of the past, replaced instead by an ongoing stream of communication that is, first and foremost, focused on customer satisfaction.
In fact, the biggest change with the death of the call centre will not be the end of large rooms of beleaguered employees on headsets working furiously under the watchful gaze of a domineering floor manager (although that will certainly be welcome), but an entire shift in corporate philosophy away from an operation-centric modality that views customer interaction as a problem to be solved, towards a customer-centric approach, where customer communication is valued in and of itself.
As Cottam writes, this change in corporate communications philosophy will be a clear sign that the “message will have got home that having no customers in the queue and rapid response times does not equal happy customers.”
Not only that, but eliminating the call centre will also foster a more positive work environment, as the employees themselves are no longer faceless cogs in a giant corporate machine, but instead, through this radical change in approaching customer communication, the entire operation “will focus on a positive, proactive and creative conversation with customers.” Not only that, but the elimination of the mindless repetitive monotony of the call centre will invariably increase employee satisfaction as well, and as I’ve found over the years, happy employees translate directly into happy customers.
So as Cottam does, let’s together declare the death of the call centre, a legacy concept that never really understood the value of customer interactions to begin with, and look forward to the next generation of positive, interactive, helpful customer service.