Info-tech

From call centres to action centres

| Updated on: Feb 06, 2011
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Move from mere interaction to relationship building.

Transform call centres to action centres, urges Gautam Mahajan in Total Customer Value Management: Transforming business thinking (www.sagepublications.com). Call centres are impersonal, and the concept of a personal account manager does not exist, though companies such as Verizon have tried this, he notes. “Call centre people are faceless and never come in true contact with customers. They hear customers' problems but are often not authorised to or responsible to solve problems.”

Observing that call centres are viewed from an interaction matrix perspective, rather than that of relationship building, and as cost centres rather than strategic advantage centres, the author advises that call centres associates should have requisite information as also the authority and empathy to solve customer problems.

‘Horror' statistics

Mahajan cautions that one of the most irritating aspects of dealing with a company is often the call centre. Among the ‘horror' statistics mentioned in the book are that nearly two-thirds of complainants have to make a fuss to get problems resolved, and that nearly all find it irksome to deal with a recording instead of a human being.

He cites GetHuman.com, which shows waiting times on calls for many companies. Such as that AT&T has a waiting time of 17.7 minutes and Comcast, 13.3 minutes. “According to a recent Customer Rage Study, 68 per cent were very upset by their problems. Fifty-seven per cent of all those who had serious complaints decided not to deal with the company again.”

An example of how the transformation to ‘action' can happen is of a company that made its call centre employees participate in the customer circles. Six weeks later, they reported that the referrals had increased by 30 per cent, the author narrates. To those who wonder ‘how,' the answer is captured thus: “They had used what they had learnt and postulated in the customer circles on what the frontline people should do. This includes the customers' DNA (do not annoy), delight factors, being more patient, listening better, and proactiveness. The results were startling and were high motivators for the success of customer focus.”

Close the loop

Another insightful example is of a customer calling in to say that her air-conditioner's swing motor was to be replaced and it was ten days since the promised date. “The call officer asks the customer if he could put her on hold, and goes to the supervisor who calls the dealer, who says the part is not in stock. The supervisor insists on a conference call with the company's parts centre. After figuring out the part number of the motor, it turns out it is in stock and can be sent to the dealer the same day. The dealer promises to install it the next day.”

Alas, when the call centre executive is back, he finds the customer has hung up! As the story proceeds, one learns that no one called the customer back and there was no feedback on whether the part was delivered to her and installed. A few days later, if an executive were to call her and ask about the satisfaction of the transaction, he may be shocked to find that the motor was not installed, the author rues.

While the supervisor's actions in the second example are the start of an action centre, what the company needs is to close the loop, and have ‘a call back and results-oriented feedback (not satisfaction),' instructs Mahajan. He assures that the conversion of call centres to action centres will improve customer value and a sense of achievement.

Educative read for the value-conscious.

Tech support in supply chain

‘Tagging, tracing, and tracking' is one of the sections in Supply Chain Management: Concepts, practices, and implementation by Sunil Sharma (www.oup.com). It is not about the distressed students in a US university, as you would have guessed, but about the new directions in SCM facilitated by information technology (IT).

The author describes, as example, an identification technology based on electronic product code (EPC) embedded in products. “A radio frequency radar, based on wireless technology, would scan the smart tag which would in turn transfer the product's embedded identity code to the Web, where the detailed information as on the product would be stored. It can then be retrieved by the user.”

Just as the domain name system (DNS) routes information to respective Web sites, so too can the object naming service (ONS) act as a ‘post office' that would act in a flash, retrieving data for each of the trillions of objects in the world which would carry an EPC code, reads a futuristic scenario. Postulates Sharma that in the retail industry, shoppers would be able to learn the features of a product from the manufacturer's Website by just pointing the EPC scanner-equipped mobile phones at any product in the store. From the SCM point of view, he adds that such a system would make tracking simplified, enable real-time information sharing, and improve customer service levels.

SRM in Tata Motors

A chapter devoted to procurement and outsourcing strategies discusses the Tata Motors case of domain name system (DNS) using SAP. Improvement numbers, as attributed to the company CIO, are that SRM directly reduced the processing time to get acceptance from a supplier by 24-96 hours, depending upon the transaction, and cut manual work by 60 per cent, all resulting in huge savings.

Earlier, the company had an in-house Windows-based value chain management (VCM) system using Oracle database, and it was not able to handle the increasing number of suppliers and transactions, the author recounts.

As the goods receipt notes (GRNs) had multiplied from 6,000 to 16,000, it took anything between 20 and 60 days for approval of quotations from suppliers because of a number of lengthy processes at Tata Motors, he informs. “SRM ensured that a single bar code would enable multiple supplier shipments reducing the goods receipt cycle time significantly at the entry gate, leading to a reduction in the turnaround time of vehicles at the inward gate by 50 per cent.”

Online bidding

Of interest is the spadework prior to implementing SRM, in the form of help that the company received from the spend-management and procurement solution provider Ariba to locate global sources (e.g. jacks from China and specialty steel from Slovenia and China), and do reverse auctions. By 2005, the company saved around Rs 350 crore by carrying out around 1,500 competitive biddings and covering 40 per cent of the total material spend by reverse auctions, notes Sharma.

This is because the bid quoted online simply provides the cost curve of that industry at that point in time, he observes, drawing from the comments of Ariba's officials. It is transparent and may not pertain to price alone, but also to other conditions of the offer so that the buyer can choose a supplier based on his specific requirements, elaborates the author. “The auctions started from castings, forgings, bearings, sheet metal components, furnace oil, and fasteners, and then up to brake, clutch, steering, and radiator assemblies. The savings accrued in procurement costs by virtue of e-procurement ranged from an average 5 to 15 per cent…”

Valuable read for those in SCM.

> dmurali@thehindu.co.in

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Published on February 06, 2011

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