Call Center Agents Stand Ready as the Catalogs Come Flooding In

Patrick Barnard
Group Managing Editor, TMCnet

Call Center Agents Stand Ready as the Catalogs Come Flooding In

We've been getting flooded with catalogs at my house during the past couple of weeks. It seems like some merchants are doing a little more prospecting this year: Although I didn't take an official count, I would say we definitely received more catalogs so far this year than we did in 2008, which is surprising.

Every time I get a catalog in the mail, I think about the call center agents that are somewhere out there in the proverbial call center services "cloud" (I use that term because let's face it, with today's virtualized call centers, it might as well be a "cloud," as far as the consumer is concerned, since they don't know where the agent is located), all fired up a ready to take a flood of calls.

I also think about how those agents fit in with the long chain of events that makes up every merchant transaction: The manufacturing of the products; the sourcing of the products; the merchandising; the development of marketing campaigns, both around the brand and the products; the advertising; the mailing of the catalogs and building of Web sites and new Web pages; the handling of orders in the call center and the rest of the fulfillment process - it's all a rather intricate and fascinating process, the way consumers buy all this "stuff" every holiday season.

I also think about call center managers pacing wildly up and down the aisles as the clock ticks down -- as the agents sit idly, waiting for contacts to come in. This is the point where it becomes like a game of "cat and mouse" between the merchant and the customer - a game the merchant wins when the mouse is "caught," "cross-selled" and "upselled," the interaction is completed, the transaction is closed, and the wrap-up is, well, "wrapped up."
On the other hand, if the holiday season turns out to be better than these merchants expected, and they already cut their call center staffing to the bone, there will be customer service hell to pay on both ends of the wire.
By the way, the topic of whether or not the call center industry is ready to handle an unexpected spike in volume due to the start of an economic rebound this holiday season was explored during day one of the Frost & Sullivan Customer Contact Philippines summit 2009, being held Nov. 25-26 in Manila. During the event, regional thought leaders convene and discuss the challenges that the contact center industry faces in delivering exceptional customer experience whilst reducing costs.

The overall consensus at the event, according to a release, is that as economic conditions begin to improve "the contact center industry will need to increase its focus on customer acquisition and delivering exceptional customer experience with people, processes and technology."
"The recession shifted the focus in the contact center industry towards efficiency such as cost reduction and optimizing resources," said Shivanu Shukla, industry manager, ICT practice at Frost & Sullivan, in the release. "As the economy begins to revive, efficiency will continue to be a driving factor; however focus on effectiveness will return and re-assign importance on customer satisfaction, customer acquisition and revenue generation activities The Asian contact center industry is expected to see steady growth driven by increased investments by enterprises on beefing up their customer service infrastructure, as well as increased levels of outsourcing expected in 2010."
Regional thought leaders at the summit included representatives from Thomson Reuters, SAP, Genesys Labs, NICE, DSM Manila LLC, Hong Kong Call Center Association, Western Union Financial Services, Gulf Bank of Kuwait, e-LOAN Division of Banco Popular, Business Processing Association of Philippines (BPAP) and, amongst Frost & Sullivan senior analysts.

For more information, check out the release.

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