The new name given to customer services
By SHABBIR H. KAZMI
June 14 - 20, 2004
People living in this part of the world have been familiar with railway enquiry, flight information, telephone enquiry and complaint centers for ages. The deployment of technology has not only improved the quality of such services but now most of the business entities are providing a variety of innovative services. All such activities are aimed at retaining and serving customers in a better manner, soliciting new business and informing the potential customers about new products and services. This nucleus system is often called 'Call Center'.
The system is based on state-of-the-art hardware and software but human beings still play the most important role. By pressing a few buttons on telephone instrument one can retrieve most of the information, but addition of human factor makes the things easier because the caller gets the feeling that he/she is being attended personally. Addition of human factor is also deemed necessary because of low literacy level in the country. Satisfied customers results in more referrals and help in further increasing the number of satisfied customers.
The database on products, services and customers help in introducing new products and services and there seems to be no end. In an attempt to get an edge over the competitors the corporates are always looking forward to get the crucial information that can help in distinguish them from rest of the lot. With growing population it is very difficult to meet each and every customer personally. However, the help-desk personnel are often bombarded with quarries for which they may not have an immediate reply but the back office has the capacity and expertise to resolve the issue.
It may be true that people have been using some of facilities for ages but it is also worth understanding the concept behind the contemporary Call Centers. In a nut shell and very simple words 'a Call Center is a facility using which the existing and potential customers get the information about a company, its products and services portfolio. Going further, they may also buy product and services or lodge a complaint in case a problem arises.
The concept can be better understood by relating it to real life examples. Telephone directory may not be a good example to cite but can certainly help in understanding the concept better. With the growing number of telephone subscribers and conversion from electro-mechanical to digital system, resulting in change of telephone number, even the latest printed version of telephone directory becomes obsolete by the time it reaches the customers. Regular updating of printed telephone directory is not only a tedious job but also involves spending a lot of money.
Deployment of technology has made the job easier and cost effective. Now complete and updated information is available in a comprehensive database and subscribers can benefit simply by calling a toll-free number. To make the job easier the toll-free numbers have been made short and easy to remember. Any one can just pick up the telephone and find out the listed numbers of an individual or a business entity by dialling 17. Previously, the attendants had to refer to thick printed volumes of directories but now using 'find' option available on the computer terminal available with the attendant the information can be retrieved easily and quickly.
The above cited example may seem too simple to the younger generation, as they are more familiar with Internet and mobile phones. A more recent and rather complex example is 'online' trading of shares. The clients are able to trade by logging in to one of the many facilities. However, to find out the details of their accounts they still need the help, though, it may not be necessary after some time as the systems are being fully automated. Similarly, establishment of Central Depository Company (CDC) has ushered in the new era of paperless securities but a lot of support is still desired by the clients. This help is extended through the help desk. Since the number of clients is so big and one person cannot attended all the quarries, it is being provided by a pool of people. The integration of hardware, software and human beings is collectively called a Call Center.
Another but more relevant example is the help line established by the credit card issuers. Since the card holders and vendors require the information round the clock, the back up facility is provided by the help line, which is part of the Call Centers. Previously in case the credit card was lost it used to take a few days to stop its misuse. Now the same can be done in few seconds and before any one can misuse the stolen card. How this has been made possible? It is the combination of technology and database. The person, who has lost the card, has to dial the help line. Customer support staff will ask a few questions to establish the 'real ownership' and by pressing a few keys on the keyboard stops further transactions.
Yet another example is the support centers of Internet Service Providers (ISPs). With the growth of Internet users in geometrical progression and the scope of services being constantly improved the users need to help intermittently to do their jobs faster and in a better manner. Customers are often able to get a computer generated reply but often they cannot proceed without the help of an attendant, who can always be approached by dialling the help line number.
The story about the growing business of call centers in Pakistan is incomplete without referring to two success stories, ZRG and TRG. ZRG is a well recognised call center specialist company that has been proving innovative solutions in Pakistan market since 1994. ZRG enjoys the distinction of installing the highest number of call centers, some of which receive over 100,000 calls per day. The lists of customers include both local and multinational companies. ZRG is also the first telecommunication solution providing company from Pakistan to have received and successfully delivered a call center solution export order from Africa.
While ZRG's key interest is in Pakistan, The Resource Group (TRG), a company listed at Karachi Stock Exchange is busy in acquiring call centers located in the USA and shifting the infrastructure to Pakistan. These call centers are providing services to most prestigious US companies/clients. TRG is the only Pakistani call center serving international customers. On May 24, 2004 it announced acquisition of leading provider of customer care and marketing services. On June 10, 2004 it announced acquisition of another US-based provider of call center services. This raised the total acquisitions to seven.
The establishment of call centers, particularly the operations of TRG, has opened new vistas. On the one hand these call centers are emerging as a major employment provider, and on the other hand are becoming a major of foreign exchange earning. In this regard it is worth noting that India was initially perceived to be a better location by the foreign companies but the entry of TRG has changed the perception entirely.
According to an analyst India may be a little cheaper but it suffers from a serious problem — dialect. Most of the Indians have peculiar dialects and at times it is considered a disadvantage. Whereas in the call center business, particularly serving a specific geographical location, the ethnic dialect is just not acceptable. As against this the attendants/agents do not suffer from this problem. On top of this the people keen in joining as attendant/agent in Pakistan are making specific attempt to further improve their language proficiency and command.
One of the reasons for the success of TRG is the availability quality of manpower in Pakistan at competitive rates. Initially TRG had a capacity of 200 workstations and plan to scale this capacity of approximately 1,000 workstations by the end of 2003. The principal criterion in selecting the work force is spoken English language fluency. It has also developed selection process that allow it to rapidly assess a candidate's language abilities using both internal and sub-contracted sources.
Call centers have established a reputation as employer of choice. Agents are paid highly competitive salaries, representing a significant premium over equivalent wages paid by leading multinational employers. Since the working environment is very congenial both male and female are keen in joining the workforce. Therefore, despite the growing demand there seems to be no shortage of skilled manpower.
The activities of Call Centers can be grouped in five key areas1) sales support, 2) help desk, 3) marketing, 4) information delivery and 5) customer support. All those companies or business entities that have strong belief in an old saying 'customer is the King' are making concerted efforts to get an edge over the competitors.
Commercial banks face two major problems, overflowing liquidity and shrinking spreads. While they are striving hard to make the best use of available funds they also have to optimise cost to contain erosion of profitability. In order to offer better customer support and attract new clients all of them are making greater use of call centers including telemarketing services.
Among the commercial banks the call center of Muslim Commercial Bank demands specific reference, though, some of the other banks are also providing similar services. The bank offers a wide range of financial products and services and trying to further improve the quality of services. MCB call Center, a customer-focused endeavour provides easily accessible, fast and reliable banking services to its clients.
The call center entertains calls from registered as well as non-registered customers. Registered customers are provided with an ID and T-PIN code for access to the value added services. Non-registered customers can easily get access to the value added services by filling out an application form. According to bank sources, "MCB call center is the answer to most of the basic but frequent banking needs". Others are also trying to match the quality or even surpass the industry standard.
In Pakistan the local call center industry is in early stages, with all the centers except TRG are focusing on the domestic industry and on an in-house basis. The most prominent domestic users of call centers service are commercial banks and cellular phone companies. Almost all these call centers are located in the three major cities of Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.
Most of the call centers are in-house but some of the banks have hired the third-party services. With the growing number of telemarketing companies it is expected that a large number of institutions will also go for 'outsourcing of call centers'.