"Embracing The World Wide Web"
"Embracing The World Wide Web, How The Internet Is Changing Call Centers" By Lisa Yorgey
The Internet has reshaped the face of telemarketing-at home and abroad. Just as many traditional U.S. call centers have morphed into multimedia customer service centers, so too have global call centers embraced Web teleservices.
THE WEB'S INFLUENCE
While Internet penetration in the consumer market is not as deep in Europe as it is in the States, it is growing and call centers are quickly becoming prepared to handle multimedia communications. Speaking to the U.S. Trade Mission to Europe led by International Direct Marketing Consultants, John Campbell of British Telecommunications (BT) reports that while only 1 percent of Europe an call centers are currently Web-enabled, this number is expected to grow to 19 percent within five years. The Internet is increasingly viewed as a complement to the phone, and more Europeans are going online each year.
Business Week named Scandinavia and Britain as two Internet-savvy European countries. It also reported that IT spending, as a share of gross domestic product, has risen by one-third in Britain and that Finland, Iceland and Sweden have more Internet usage per capita than the United States.
"Sweden is a leader in the IT [Information Technology] and Internet environments; its people and skill sets are very demanding for the newest technology," says Mark Smedley, senior advisor, call center services with the Invest in Sweden Agency. '"as a result, nearly all telecenters in Sweden are Web-enabled."
In France, 10 percent to 15 percent of all call centers are Web-enabled, according to Dante Belisari, director of call center solutions with France Telecom North America, who adds that this figure is growing as technology becomes more available. However; he points out, e-commerce - not technology--is the driver.
The number of non-English-speaking Internet visitors is growing and is predicted to outnumber English-speaking "netizens". In fact, it is the Internet's influence on teleservices that led to BT's creation and launch of a new division, BT eLocations.
THE EMERGENCE OF THE CUSTOMER CARE CENTER
Due to cultural and legal issues, the lion's share of call centers in Europe are inbound or customer service operations. In a study conducted by Datamonitor, 48 percent of agent positions in Europe are for care of existing customers and 24 percent for inbound call handling.
According to research performed by the Invest in Sweden Agency recent developments in IT are presenting new customer service opportunities such as the rapid trend toward "e-mail centers" and communication centers which handle customer contact via telephone, fax, e-mail, the Internet or other media.
Across the globe, numerous online buyers abandon an online transaction due to questions or concerns about the product or service. The emergence of the multimedia customer call center or Web-enabled call center is beginning to solve this problem for online marketers by enabling live agents to help Web site visitors. What's more, by marrying telemarketing and Internet technology, marketers are giving customers more ways to communicate with them, be it phone, fax, e-mail or Web.
Technology such as "push to talk" or chat connections link the Web and the phone. Chat connections can be used when a user is confused or has a simple question. It can also be used if the site operator recognizes that a customer is having problems and interjects with an offer for chat assistance, notes Smedley.
The Web teleservice tools most frequently used by marketers to communicate with customers in Europe are "live" or Web chats and e-mail. A Web chat allows a customer to interact with a teleservice agent in real time while visiting the site. While systems and technology are available, it is important to recognize, as a marketer, that the audience you are targeting might not be ready to communicate with you via the Web just yet 'Voice is still the most popular way to interact with a customer. About 70 percent to 80 percent of all customer contacts are by phone," Smedley points out.
Bellisari concurs, adding that the growth and use of Web teleservices in call centers in Europe will have more do to with consumers becoming comfortable with technology and the whole process of ordering online than the existence of technology. For example, push to talk technology is already available in France; however, many computers in Europe do not have the microphones and speakers needed to take advantage of these new customer service tools.
A DIFFERENT SKILL SET
As more call centers embrace Web technology, the criteria for hiring teleservice sales representatives will change. A multimedia customer service agent requires a different set of skills from that of typical telemarketing sales reps handling calls in a multilingual or international call center. For example, not only must reps be fluent in the required language, they must also possess written communication skills in the same language. Remember, multilingual agents may not be able to correspond in every language they speak.
Says Smedley: "Previously reps needed service and speech training now they also need to develop their vocabulary and writing speed." For example, e-mail correspondence varies in response time by the end customer; therefore, the multichannel rep should have the ability to handle multiple customer contacts. "It is probably best to have reps handling voice while other reps manage Web chat and e-mail contacts," Smedley recommends.