Thursday, 6 October 2011

Jim quoted in today's Irish Times article

"The term 'call centre' is sometimes perceived in a negative light.  In SouthWestern, we prefer to describe this service as 'contact' centre because the emphasis for us is the contact, the engagement, we make on behalf of our clients with their customers and it's something I feel strongly about.  Have a look at an article in todays Irish Times by Siobhan O'Connell who asked me to contribute to the piece."

Talk not cheap as call centres prove crucial to retailers

Retailers can advertise all they want but shoppers still phone around for best deals. Although the recent closure of the Talk Talk call centre in Waterford grabbed the headlines, contact centres are big business in Ireland. The sector employs 29,000 people across more than 100 contact centre operations nationwide, and many of these centres are vital to the marketing of goods and services.

Retailers can do all the advertising they want but when it comes to big-ticket consumer items, shoppers tend to call around to source more information and find the best deal. And if they don’t get the answers they are looking for at the other end of the phone, then they will likely take their money elsewhere.

This reality was brought home to me personally recently when I had occasion to seek out a new washing machine-tumble dryer for my apartment. My quest was centred on three retailers – Currys, DID Electrical and Power City – and with each of them I was directed to a contact centre.

Calling the phone number for one of DID’s Dublin southside shops puts you through to an Irish contact centre when the shop phone is busy. A helpful agent called Keith did his best to source the Bosch model I was looking for. Alas, after a few calls back and forth, Keith conceded defeat because the model I wanted was not in stock. Keith was to be commended for having even rung Bosch overseas to establish how long it would take to bring the machine to Ireland. However, waiting a month without a washing machine was just too big an ask.

Next on my list was Currys. Finding a phone number on the Currys website was something of a challenge but eventually I tracked down the premium rate 1890 number for the Carrickmines shop in Dublin. The call was answered by a lady in an English call centre and I explained that I wanted to converse directly with someone in the shop, which is located 10 minutes from where I live. That would not be possible, I was informed. Nor would she be able to assist me by revealing the Carrickmines phone number so I could try my luck myself. Instead the only way forward was for the UK call centre to ring Carrickmines on my behalf while I stayed on hold.

But then Carrickmines didn’t answer the phone. Could she please ring the Currys store in Swords or Liffey Valley, I pleaded. No, I was told, because the rules are she can only ring one shop at a time. So I would have to hang up and ring in again.

Rather than persevere with Currys, I rang Power City. As with Currys it is no longer possible to ring a Power City store directly. Instead there is just one phone number listed on the website and it’s a call-back service. This means you ring the number, leave your contact details and Power City will call you back. Which Fergal did within seconds.

As with DID, the Power City call centre is based in Ireland and as with DID the service was excellent. The Bosch model I wanted was in stock, the deal was concluded and an invoice was e-mailed to me immediately. Fergal even gave me his mobile number so I could call him if there were any problems with the delivery of my new machine.

It is estimated that there are 90 million calls like mine made to Irish call centres every year. One of the big operators in the shared services sector is SouthWestern, which handles business for Eircom, O2 and Bord Gáis. Chief executive Jim Costello’s view is that Irish consumers prefer to deal with someone in a call centre based in Ireland.

Creating trust in the person who calls with their query is hugely important, as is understanding the cultural nuances such as being able to discuss the match on Sunday,” says Costello. “But there is a service management cost issue, particularly for white goods retailers, and some companies want to run it as cheaply as possible. If you treat your customers well, they will stay with you longer and they will improve your business over time.

“If the query is resolved by the overseas call centre operative, and service meets expectations, then all is well. But if it’s not, then all of the other factors such as language, accent and culture come into play.”

6 Oct 2011 - The Irish Times - SIOBHÁN O’CONNELL

Read this article in today's Irish Times

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