Digital Transformation and the Increasing Importance of the Call Centre

In the rush to undergo your digital transformation, are you forgetting the importance of the call centre?

Digital transformation: you can barely scroll through social media or an industry-specific news site without seeing those two seemingly disparate words connected.

This suggests that digital transformation is important, that it’s essential for a company’s success in the 21st century. Indeed, Forrester research found that by 2020, nearly half of all organisations’ revenue would be impacted by digital in some way.

According to a recently-released piece of Managing Digital Marketing research, however, only a third of all businesses are actually undergoing their digital transformation. What’s even more startling is that of those businesses, only about a third actually succeed and recent research from Couchbase, which surveyed 450 heads of digital transformation for enterprises across Europe, found a whopping 90% of all digital projects fail to meet expectations.

Digital transformation strategies are failing. “Why?” you may ask.

Well, often, problems begin before the strategy is even put into place, with disagreements over what actually needs to be transformed. The DevOp department, for example, may view digital solutions as a way to drive operational efficiency, while the marketing department may see digital as the answer to boosting customer engagement.

At other times, an enterprise’s digital transformation just ends up being too complex. For example, in 2006, the Co-operative Bank set out to completely eliminate its antiquated solutions. If successful, it would’ve been the first time a full-service UK bank had replaced its core banking processes. Unfortunately, however, the Co-op Bank’s digital transformation proved too ambitious and was abandoned in 2013 due to the organisation having insufficient ‘capacity to orchestrate such a major project’. Other reasons cited for the failure were IT staff changes, and senior staff not engaging or being fully on-board.

Digital transformation is a journey, not a destination. Although you need to know where you’re going, it’s important to recognise that digital transformation is literally a never-ending task that will take years to even begin to pay dividends.

According to the Digital Transformation ROI Survey from Wipro Digital, just 4% of companies ‘realise their digital investment in under one year’; with the vast majority taking at least three years before investment comes to fruition.

Of course, unless you have the right technology in place, then the vision and benefits of your digital transformation may never be realised.

Global sports brand Nike, for example, cut its Digital Sport workforce by approximately 80%, after failing to fully exploit data from its wearable activity trackers, like FuelBand, which provided wearers with detailed statistics.

Its digital transformation failed because it just did not have an adequate data analytics platform.

To implement your digital transformation, therefore, takes foresight, courage and preparation, especially when preparing for the unexpected.

However, even successful transformations don’t mean you should radically change your customer experience strategy, or reduce the numbers of customer facing staff.

In the 90s, when the units were first introduced, many feared they would replace bank tellers, as ATMs could perform many of the basic functions that the typical customer required. In fact, in the US – the birthplace of the ATM – the opposite happened; bank teller numbers increased, alongside the number of ATMs.

Bank tellers became less involved in banks’ simple transactions, like facilitating the withdrawal of money, and more involved in providing advice, guidance and reassurance. The bank teller became indispensable because of their human capability to foster good relationships with customers.

This tallies with recent research – a survey carried out in early 2019 of 2,000 US adults found that 83% of respondents said they would trust a human financial adviser to manage their financial plans, compared to just 36% who said they would trust a ‘robot-adviser’.

The Increased Importance of the Call Centre

Similarly, an unexpected modern consequence of banks directing more customers to their digital self-service platforms, has been an increased demand on banks’ call centres.

Indeed, along with every digital leap in technology, the humble analogue contact centre has remained surprisingly popular, with over 4% of the UK’s working population employed throughout its 62,000 contact centres.In the last decade, the average length of calls to contact centres has increased by 46%, (now exceeding 3.5 minutes), suggesting customers are now calling with either more complicated questions, or to seek reassurance about specifics.

Ron Shevlin, Director of Research at Cornerstone Advisors, found that a consequence of the longer calling times was that customers were also, on average, spending longer in queues, with average waiting times having risen from 22 seconds to 39 seconds.

As such, abandonment rates have also risen by 36%. This, coupled with the fact that more customers are using self-service platforms, means that in 2017, Customer Contact Agents handled 11% fewer inbound calls per day compared to a decade ago.

If a customer is taking their time to contact your call centre, they are doing so because it concerns something that cannot be done online, so it’s even more important for that customer journey to be an effortless and enjoyable experience.

Studies show that customers often drop out of digital channels because they prefer the high-touch, one-stop benefits of face-to-face interactions. Customers want to speak to a human, not only to have complex products or processes explained clearly, but also to feel reassured.

Customers also want to be able to see and compare products and packages and be able to sign and exchange documents in real time, in one fluid, streamlined and simplified interaction.

In undergoing their digital transformation, therefore, enterprises must remember the importance of the call centre to their operations. Rather than being a mere afterthought, the customer contact centre should remain pivotal in every customer-centric digital transformation.

Be bold, be courageous and embrace the opportunity to supercharge your customer contact agents, with the digital tools to replicate the in-branch experience in the convenience of remote channels.

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