Over the last several years, corporate cultures around the world have changed to place increasing emphasis on customer relations and to establish policies and procedures to enhance these relationships. Where there are hundreds of thousands or even millions of customers, as is the case in the financial, communications, automotive, travel, and insurance sectors, for example, the task of establishing a one-to-one relationship with each customer is extremely challenging. Success in achieving the highest level of customer relationships requires a number of components to be integrated into the changed corporate culture, including human resources and technology, and the effective management of these resources.
The need to establish and manage highly productive relationships with large numbers of customers has led to the development of technologies specifically designed or adapted to assist organizations to manage, analyze, and respond to the challenges posed by large customer databases and the need to communicate effectively and productively with each customer. Many organizations have established a central department that uses these technologies to manage customer relationships. These departments respond to inbound customer communication of all types and are proactive in communicating with customers as well. This facility or department, generally referred to as a call center, customer interaction center, or contact center, has gained considerable prominence over the last several years. The total number of call centers of all sizes, internal and external, in North America alone is estimated to be well over 100,000. Today, in many organizations, the call center is a central focus of all customer-oriented activity-the eyes and ears of the organization.
The call center, the term that will be used most often in this book, may be internal to a corporation or it may be an external, outsourced function. Those organizations that have outsourced their call center operations, for lack of financial or human resources, have been able to take advantage of the experience offered by large, often multinational call center operations. These firms specialize in providing customer-related communications services using sophisticated software and communications technology and skilled customer service representatives.
The foundation for automation in call centers has been the integration of computers and telephony (CTI). CTI is not a new concept-it was first implemented in the mid-1980s in large corporate call centers. Since that time, advances in public telephone network technology and computing make CTI a powerful tool for businesses of any size, and reduced hardware costs make the combined technologies affordable for smaller organizations.
Effective management, use, and distribution of information have become increasingly important business considerations in today's fast-paced business environment. In particular, the adoption of appropriate technologies to accomplish these objectives can provide and sustain competitive advantage. Technology by itself cannot attain business goals-how people use the technology makes the difference in effecting improvements in communications and operational processes. CTI, the integration of computer and telephone technologies, has the capability to liberate human and system resources and to maximize the benefits of both technologies for the user community.
This book describes the evolution of the call center, analyzes the technologies that have contributed to its growth, and describes the technology tools available. It also provides guidelines for the development and implementation of a call center as well as the management of the facility, and it strongly emphasizes the human factors that can make a call center a successful operation. This book also describes how call centers benefit businesses, how closely these facilities are related to the corporation's overall CRM strategy, and how technology and changing business trends are reshaping the workplace. These trends have resulted in more horizontal organizations, high-performance workgroups, empowered employees, and, in general, the ability of staff members to do more with less.
Many sources have been consulted and used in preparing this book, and I am indebted to those authors whose works have contributed to the text; these are referenced in Appendix C. I am particularly indebted to Janet Sutherland, senior consultant with Bell Canada Contact Centre Solutions, for contributions to Chapter 4, "Selecting and Training Call Center Staff," for reviewing the manuscript; and for providing valuable knowledge and insight on call center operations in general.
Duane E. Sharp, P. Eng.