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Technology pushes growth of contact centre industry

THEY’RE commonly referred to as call centres, but technological advances and streamlining of business communications are transforming once phone-reliant call centres into contact centres.

Many people in the industry are currently using the new term, which describes an operation that not only liaises with clients using telephone systems, but also utilises other technological tools such as email and facsimile.

One training institution to recognise the transition is West Coast College of TAFE, which will offer a diploma in contact centre management from this April.

According to Australian Telecommunications and Call Centre Association (ATA) WA chapter chairperson Jenny McClelland, the growth of contact centres is a direct result of technological advances enabling more cost-efficient customer services.

“More and more call centres will become contact centres,” she said.

“There is a lot of debate about what will happen, but it won’t happen as quick as people think.”

Kelly Service’s State manager Mike Nicholson said the term contact centre had been used for several months and was a way for the industry to gain a better public perception of the industry.

“The term describes what happens a bit better,” he said.

“Call centres were also subject to a lot of bad press, and the term contact centre not only moves away from that, but customers don’t feel like they are talking to a faceless operator anymore.”

B Digital’s call centre manager Steve Mitchinson said companies were realising better customer service by using contact centres.

“More companies are seeing the benefits of contact centres,” he said.

“It combines email, chat room, fax and phone and integrates that into one service delivery.”

While call or contact centres consolidate on the advances in technology, they are also threatened by the expansion of overseas operations.

Countries such as India pose a threat to local operators because of low infrastructure and labour costs.

Mr Nicholson said that, while he was not aware of any Australian jobs going offshore, there was potential for companies to do so.

“Call centres are operating in India and Malaysia and some are opening up in Taiwan,” he said.

“The movement offshore is a potential risk.”

However, Mr Nicholson said it would be at least 10 years before Australian companies started exploring offshore projects.

“There are always going to be a few companies that lead the way, but a lot won’t have the ability of the financial muscle to do that,” he said.

Most in the industry believe it is commercial reality. After all, a main driving factor for the development of call centres was providing quality customer service at a better price than face-to-face interaction.

Ms McClelland said business decisions would play a large role in determining the fate of the Australian call centre industry.

“It’s a huge challenge but it’s the business dollar. In the end, if your customer is happy, then that’s what really matters,” she said.

However, Ms McClelland said the WA market would be a hard one to cater to due to the sense of parochialism that exists.

“There used to be a lot of resistance in WA to talk to companies outside the State,” she said.

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