Contact centres they are a-changingThe days of direct sales agents cold-calling unsuspecting members of the public with irrelevant offers are numbered. Technology and customer-centricity are combining to change the way contact centres approach their sales and service tasks.Ed Reddy, Business Unit Manager of Bytes People Solutions Horison contact centre on Gautengs West Rand, is a contact centre veteran of 16 years. His enthusiasm for the current revolution underlines its significance. Direct sales, which is the marketing and selling of products and services directly to consumers away from a fixed retail location, has traditionally been associated with cold calling and spamming, he says. Agents would get a database of leads and call, or send emails to, everyone on it, hoping that someone would buy the service or product on offer. That is coming to an end as contact centres harness technology and data mining to strategically drive sales and efficiencies.This new approach is built on five pillars.1. From database to omni-channelOver the past number of years, customers have started dictating their method of communication with companies. Going into a store or phoning a call centre are no longer the only options for resolving a service issue; increasingly, customers are choosing to engage on social media. This trend is now spilling over into the sales environment too, says Ed. Customers are choosing their method of interaction and expect that the services they require will be available via their channel of preference.The opportunity presented by the omni-channel approachnamely, engaging according to the customers preference and thus increasing the odds of a positive outcomeis also the challenge. Companies have to be geared to handle the different channels effectively to ensure that customers dont have to repeat their request or problem every time they switch channel. Furthermore, the customer service experience has to be consistent regardless of the touch point.2. From cold-calling to hot-lead generationInstead of blindly calling every name on a list, companies are investing time and money in profiling customers to improve the odds of a generating a positive response. Data analytics are used to match customers on companies books to specific products. For example, a customer whose cellphone contract is about to expire receives a text message from the provider with a renewal offer. Not only is the customer experience a positive one, but wastage in the contact centre is significantly reduced.Thanks to data analytics, sales methodologies are changing as companies see opportunities to use service-related calls to generate sales. For example, a customer calls the contact centre with a service issue. While dealing with it, the agent notices that the customer doesnt have insurance. Upon concluding the service issue, the agent asks if he may transfer the caller to an insurance sales agent.There is furthermore a shift away from one product per customer to a multi-selling approach, especially in the case of affinity databases. The latter comes about when companies, such as a clothing retailer and an insurance company, partner and make use of each others databases. We speak to a store customer who could qualify for a hospital, a dental and a short-term insurance plan, says Ed. By addressing all the options in one call, the contact centre is more efficient and the customer doesnt have to field a barrage of calls. The outcome is that the consumer gets more cover, the store gets more value from the customers and we, as the contact centre, earn more revenue. 3. Technology and profiling Previously, leads were loaded into the contact centre agents dialer and he or she would start calling. The latest technology in dialers allows you to profile both contact centre agents and customers. Through a series of algorithm analyses, the dialer identifies which agent sells better to which profile of customer and allocates leads accordingly. For example, customers in Cape Town and Pretoria are more likely to respond favourably to an agent who is fluent in Afrikaans than to an English speaking person. Similarly, when a trend analysis reveals that Agent A performs best when selling to customers between the ages of 20 and 30, more of those leads are pushed to the agent.Dialer algorithms furthermore determine the best performing agents on the floor and pass the best quality leads through to them to close more deals.An example of customer profiling is the scheduling of leads based on which customers are more likely to pick up their phones at specific times of the day. Building rapport is an important element of selling successfully, says Ed, and that is what we strive for with this level of profiling.4. The impact of regulationContact centres, like every other consumer-engaging entity, are subject to strict regulation. Ed mentions the impact of three specific pieces of legislation.¢ The Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act was signed into law in November 2013 and although the actual commencement date is yet to be announced, the whole industry is gearing up for it. The Act protects consumers personal information and limits how it can be used. When, for example, we receive data from a bank, we can only use it for the purposes for which the consumers have given express permission, says Ed. All contact centres have to adhere to the Act from a data and technology point of view.¢ Treating Customers Fairly (TCF) is a regulatory approach specifically relevant to the financial services industry. It demands that an agent offers a product to a customer in a fair manner; clearly explains all the benefits, features, premiums and exclusions; and ensures that the customer is satisfied at the conclusion of the call.¢ The Financial Advisory and Intermediary Services (FAIS) Act is one of most important regulations in the highly regulated insurance market. Compliance increases our cost as we have to ensure that our agents have received proper training and have the necessary qualifications to sell complex financial products, says Ed. For example, our Quality Department has to carry out specific checks and we had to introduce a Verification Department to meet the FAIS requirements. As a result of the compliance demand, we are finding an increasing synergy between the contact centre, our training divisions and quality control entities. Today customers are more informed of their rights, and they understand the market very well because they have so much information at their disposal. As a result, agents have to be trained to deal with customers appropriately.5. From stepping stone to careerIn the face of increasing demands for professionalism and the ability to harness the power of data and technology, it is not surprising to learn that the contact centre space now offer viable career opportunities. Gone too are the days when telemarketing was a stopgap until something better came along.Ed identifies four career paths:¢ In the customer service space, an agent can become a team leader and then move into line management with positions such as contact centre manager, business unit manager and finally executive. ¢ The training field offers positions such as sales coach, product trainer and training manager.¢ Quality management can see progression from QA team leader to QA manager.¢ Data analytics is an exciting new career path from a technical point of view.The days of hoping for the best are well and truly over. Data analytics, and the profiling of customers, products and agents have become minimum requirements for contact centres. Not all companies are there yet, says Ed, hence business process outsourcing entities, like Bytes People Solutions, still cater for general in- and outbound calls and SMS channels. This allows our customers to select certain elements of the omni-channel approach. But the bottom line is that in order to remain relevant, customers have to invest in data analytics to properly research their products and the consumers they hope to reach. What makes BPS a good partner?Bytes People Solutions is a one-stop shop for contact centres in that it offers data analytics capabilities, adheres to all the necessary legislative requirements, has market-leading solutions in place to guide customers in their direct sales strategy, and partners with major blue chip companies, notably banks and insurers.