As I mentioned in one of my earlier blog posts, TMCnet does not know of any reliable or accurate measure of the size or growth rate of the call center industry. With so many companies operating so many call centers in so many locations all over the globe - plus the fact that they do not need to disclose the size of their call center operations, with regard to the number of seats or even call volume - it's really an almost impossible industry to measure. Several of the leading market research firms do a good job of trying to measure the industry based on available data and their own research efforts, but the results of such studies sometimes have to be taken with a grain of salt. For the past several months we've seen several market research reports which predict that the call center industry will continue to see significant growth over the next several years - this regardless of the recession and the ever-growing trend toward customer-self-service and automation.
IBM and insurance management solutions provider Assurant Solutions recently announced their new Real-Time Analytics Matching Platform (RAMP), which uses advanced analytics to match a caller with the "optimal CSR" in real-time. As per an article by TMCnet's Susan Campbell, "RAMP relies on techniques invented and patented by Assurant to combine data about individual customers with each contact center agent's specific skills, expertise and past performance. IBM Global Business Services consultants then designed a 'matching-engine' to leverage this combination of customer insight, agent profiles and real-time analytics. The result is an 'individual-level' decisioning and assignment of calls not available in most contact center applications." Think about that for a minute: "'individual-level' decisioning." Or "agent-customer "matchmaking" if you will. The purpose of this solution is to "match" customers to agents who are the most familiar with their cases, or profiles - which in some cases, depending on the size of the center, will be the same agent. This has always struck me as ironic -- the fact that these centers are employing advanced call routing ("skills based routing") and analytics solutions that cost a fortune and complicate their systems - but in the end the goal is simply to connect customers to the same agent they spoke to last time. So if the industry has figured out that customers want to speak with the same agent they spoke with last time, why not just provide customers with a direct number to the agent they should be dealing with - and skip all that other expensive intelligent call routing stuff? (I say this in jest, of course.) I find it amusing and ironic that the software vendors have developed intelligent call routing solutions that "decide" on behalf of customers to connect them to the same agent they spoke with last time. Sort of like a giant whacky machine with a million moving parts that takes up an entire kitchen and carries out a dozen impressive operations, but in the end all it does is drop an egg into boiling water. Of course I'm not so naive as to not see the purpose - I realize that obviously you can't have the same agents available to customers 24/7.
Last week I wrote about a recent customer survey performed by caller ID management company DipFees.com which reveals the importance of having accurate CNAM caller ID for outbound call centers. DipFees claims that it is common for outbound call centers to be unaware of which caller ID is being displayed when they carry out their campaigns and customer support calls. Personally I've heard of instances where they forget to update the outbound caller ID, so it displays the wrong one. Or worse yet it displays no number at all. This lowers connection rates, as call recipients -- with their own caller ID -- are less likely to pick up a call from an unfamiliar name and number. Well here's something new to place an even stronger emphasis on the need for accurate caller ID: Yesterday TMCnet reported that the House of Representatives has passed an amendment to the Telecommunications Act prohibiting the use of caller ID spoofing software, which allows callers to change the number and name that is displayed to one other than their own. This new rule could have serious ramifications for the call center industry because by stating that callers cannot "misrepresent" it is implied that the caller ID they use must be accurate. In essence what outbound call centers use to control the ID displayed on a recipient's phone is the same software used for caller ID spoofing: They have control over the ID that is displayed on the recipient's phone (or TV). So if they make a mistake and "misrepresent," I would assume that they could be cited (fined?), however, I'm not sure yet how this law will be enforced or if it will even have any teeth. Which raises a whole other topic - how will they catch the people who "spoof" their calls - and what will their punishment be? And whose job will that be anyway?