Survey: Call Centers Now Profit Centers

Call centers are now seen as revenue generators rather than a place for people to answer customer questions or execute transaction requests, according to a survey of large business-to-consumer companies.

Portrait Software, a provider of customer interaction optimization software and now a part of Pitney Bowes Business Insight (PBBI), unveiled the research findings in the fall. Conducted by Loudhouse Research for Portrait, the independent study surveyed strategic decision-makers at U.S. and U.K. in-house call centers and found that 69% of large b-to-c companies view their call centers as business-critical revenue generators.

What’s more, 60% of respondents cited the need for better integration of inter-departmental customer data as a key focus for the next 12 months. The need to integrate call center data with online customer service was seen as a primary focus for the next year, with 54% of decision makers saying this as a key challenge for the year ahead.

Call center staff are increasingly expected to pursue new real-time cross-sell and up sell opportunities; however, 86% of respondents stated that reps need a broader range of skills to deliver this revenue.

Mark Smith, executive vice president at Portrait Software, says the most telling statistic revealed was that nearly 70% of respondents indicated their business is now looking to the call center to deliver revenue.

“What makes this so important is that, as we all know, the call center for the longest time has been viewed strictly as a cost center,” Smith explains. “Many organizations have historically only approached these interactions as something to minimize and constrain, in some cases even hiding the call center number from their customers themselves. To this end, the measurement of success focused upon reduction of call duration. The translation: How quickly can we hang up on this customer?”

Now, Smith says, “there is a veritable sea change. With more and more consumers opting out of direct marketing (telephone, mail and email), companies are realizing that they need to take advantage of every customer interaction – not only to service the customers’ needs, but to engage with them individually, build relationships and extend the customer lifetime value through effective up sell and cross-sell.” With opt-out and do-not-call restrictions at an all-time high, the inbound call center interaction can in many cases be their only opportunity to do so, he adds.

Companies will only succeed in turning call centers into profit centers if they use historical insight combined with context data and predictive analytical capabilities to equip their staff with “best next action” prompts, Smith says.

Standing between the business’ goal of customer centricity and the ability to actually deliver upon it is in most cases the way the business itself is set up, Smith says. “All too often departments within large organizations operate as separate and siloed entities, working to serve their own goals by pushing only one specific product or service. The organizations account for, and are incentivized by, product lines and channel efficiency, rather than the augmentation of customer lifetime value.”

As such, Smith adds that product-centric or department-centric goals “tend to overshadow a company’s customer-centric efforts by shifting the focus from the customer to the organization.”

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