What's going on?

News

13 May 2013

By: Danny Singer

Blog #10: Call centres without telephones – the rise and rise of web chat

Danny-Informal

In technology, as in comedy, timing is everything. Does anyone remember the dotcom boom? Well, it turns out that all those would be entrepreneurs setting up ridiculously overvalued companies, certain of overnight world domination were right after all. They simply got their timing wrong.

Instead of 15 weeks or 15 months (as those über-optimistic dotcom business plans wished to hope), it has taken 15 years for the world to adjust to the online economy. Most of the ideas floated by those goggle eyed visionaries of the late 90s are now part of our daily life. The proliferation of colourful liveried vans delivering weekly groceries to our doorstep, and the ubiquitous Amazon brown cardboard are just some of the signs that we are now cheerfully clicking our hard earned cash away.

There are good reasons why it has taken so long. Fifteen or so years ago, very few homes were online and those who were connected to the web (or the Information Superhighway, as we loved to call it then) did so via slow and unreliable modems. Bandwidth was several orders of magnitude narrower than it is today. Downloading a medium resolution photo was a tea break event.

So now that we are all hooked up to the web using high speed broadband at home, at work and on the move the world is a different place. Websites are much richer and more interactive. However, the public perception is changing. The expectation is that websites should now be "manned" in the sense that they are no longer just a series of colourful inert pages but can provide a truly human touch.

The website is no longer just a shop window; it is now the shop itself.blog #10

It is no longer sufficient to plaster a telephone number all over your website. As the consumer is already using a multimedia device to do the browsing and the shopping, it seems anachronistic to use another device such as the phone (particularly if they are already using their "phone" to do the browsing), in order to interact with a human being.

The expectation now is that behind every website, poised and ready to pounce, is an army of ninja customer service staff, watching each visitor`s every move and observing every mouse click in the hope that something may vaguely indicate that help might be required.

The preferred modus operandi of these superhighwaymen is to accost you as you innocently wander through their particular patch of cyberspace and try to engage you in written conversation. A little popup appears out of nowhere at the slightest sign of hesitation or loitering on your part. "Can I help you? My name is Susan and I will be your assistant today…" or some such nonsense, usually accompanied by a broad and toothsome smile.

This is the clearest sign yet that the website has transformed from shop window to the shop itself. It is quite reminiscent of real life etiquette whereby you would be safe outside the shop looking at the window display, but once you've crossed their threshold you would be fair game for the semi-articulate shop assistant's approach: "May I help you?", "No, just browsing, thank you."

Web chat has arrived. It is no longer a fringe medium but the channel most in touch with the zeitgeist. It manages to achieve that happy marriage of the immediacy of live conversation with the thoughtfulness and distance that only the written word can provide.

One of the main reasons it has taken such a long time for web chat to come into its own is absurdly simple and it's merely to do with typing skills. As recently as twenty or even fifteen years ago, the ability to use a keyboard was the preserve of software developers and professional typists.

In addition, the ubiquity of internet connected devices (laptops, tablets, desktops, smartphones, etc.) and their transition from the preserve of geeks to grannies everywhere has meant that a keyboard is no longer something to be feared. Even if you're still using only two fingers, you will still be able to send a text.

For the inbound call centre industry, this revolution is only beginning. Perhaps the term "call centre" will survive, as we are so used to it, however, these places will change beyond all recognition. Telephones will soon disappear from view. Agents without headsets are likely to become the norm in the world of inbound customer service.

Although voice communications for customer service will naturally survive, it will mainly be in the form of Skype or Facetime-like Voice over IP and will only serve as an occasional aid to the main textual exchange.  

Why am I so sure of this? Two main reasons spring to mind.

The first one is money. Organisations are already finding it much, much cheaper to handle chat-type media than voice. Peaks and troughs can be easily levelled out, home workers (in some kind of virtual presence environment) can be deployed with ease (as the barking dog or the screaming toddler are no longer a problem), off-shore accents miraculously disappear, canned responses take no time to provide and each agent can handle several customers in parallel.

There's more… Each interaction is fully transcribed by definition and can be statistically and stylistically analysed. Visual information can be shared instantly with the customer. The cost of sales and service drops, productivity soars as do profits. It's a no brainer.

The second reason is customer demand. This is fuelled by the increased probability that the customer will be looking at some kind of screen whenever they decide to get in touch with an organisation. Therefore they are much more likely to converse and therefore buy from the company that can provide them the most immediate and trouble-free means of answering their questions and placing their orders.

Organisations which fail to deliver this will find their market share shrinking as their customer base moves online and transacts without a spoken word. The size of the online economy is only going in one direction and that direction is up. These millions of customers will not want to use last century's communications channels. 

Here at Noetica we are at the cutting edge of new customer contact channel technologies and we take great care to ensure that this new and rapidly growing media integrates seamlessly into the more traditional framework of customer communication to deliver the right blend of options so that customers feel comfortable contacting the enterprise how and when they want to.