Will Technology Kill the Call Center?

Maintaining an in-house call center is expensive. Voice recognition software like IVR systems and Siri as well as other types of telephone technologies are getting better. That begs the question – will technology kill the call center?

iStock_000011523049XSmallI own an outsourced call center and over the last twenty years I have seen a tremendous evolution in technology. The Internet, e-mail, websites, interactive voice response systems, smart phones, etc. With each new innovation I heard predictions of the demise of the call center. It didn’t happen and in some instances, it actually increased the volume of calls that were generated. This was true for a number of reasons.

Reach: Internet marketing (search, websites, pay-per-click, etc.) has vastly increased the size of the audience that companies interact with. For this reason alone the numbers of telephone calls that are generated has risen.

Trust: People trust people. When a lot is at stake – time, money, safety, etc., you naturally want the reassurance of talking with a live human being.

Complexity: Voice recognition software isn’t intelligent enough yet to deal with complexity. If your question doesn’t fit the predefined menu on an interactive voice response system, you need human assistance. For example, if you have questions about a special application, you have an emergency, you have an unusual request, etc. you need the complex interaction that only a person can provide.

Sales: Automated systems can’t “sell” a prospect. Yes, purchases are made all of the time through websites. But the more emotional or complicated a sale is, the more likely it is that the intervention of a sales support person is required.

Complaints: Automation is never going to calm down an irate customer. We are very emotional creatures. If you really want to ensure that a customer leaves you, create an automated system that can’t acknowledge those feelings.

Technology can absolutely augment your sales and customer service processes. But it needs to be thought through carefully and tested. It should support your sales and customer service goals, not hinder them. Don’t ignore the need to identify situations where “live” intervention is vital and provide your audience with that option.

Two types of calls that you should definitely focus on are first-time sales calls and calls that carry any type of legal risk.  In both of these situations, losing or mishandling a call has a high cost.  For a first-time sales call the cost of an abandoned call is the value of a sale.  Calls that involve a legal risk could be situations where a contract has stipulated a guaranteed response time, there is a safety issue, you must meet a regulatory requirement or there is a problem with your product or service has put your client’s business at risk, etc.

What are your “human critical” situations?

This blog was written by Laurie Leonard, the President of SUITE 1000, a U.S. based national telephone answering service, inbound call center and outsourced call center service. Her company has specialized in handling legal intake, sales leads, email lead response, appointment scheduling, customer service and help desk calls for over 20 years.

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