Call centers in the world began to exist in 1965, but over this time they have changed significantly – both technically and functionally, and their importance for business cannot be overestimated. This is the point of interaction between the customer and the company; these are the ears of the business. The task of the call center is to get to the business on time and report the problems and customer requests.
Trying to reach as many customers as possible call centers or already contact centers have gone through several stages of evolution and now they use advanced technologies, including machine learning and artificial intelligence. Together with PrivatBank and Accord Group, which is engaged in the implementation and modernization of contact centers, we followed how they have changed since the beginning of their existence.
Beginning of the industry
Call centers first appeared in the United Kingdom in 1965. Employees then used the GEC PABX 4 telephone exchange.
This is a large aggregate that automatically distributes calls. In Ukraine, call centers appeared back in the days of the USSR, in the 1970s, one of the first was the call center of the Kyiv telephone network. The operator of this call center could suggest the right number of a Kyiv resident or the phone number of a company.
At that moment, operators worked on phones connected to networks by analog lines. Such telephones were, for example, in the call centers of PrivatBank at the very beginning of its existence, in the 90s.
Then the bank had about 10-15 employees, they could solve only 20 client issues. Analog phones did not allow expanding the network of call centers to other cities. If it had gone on like this, the operators of PrivatBank would still be only in Dnipro today.
However, everything changed thanks to digitalization, in particular, the emergence of IP-telephony in the early 2000s.
The first call center revolution
IP telephony allows contact centers to transmit telephone calls over the Internet. This technology has changed the face of the industry.
In PrivatBank, it was introduced in 2000 and became the cornerstone of further development. Namely, it helped to expand the call center to other cities, except for Dnipro, allowed to recruit employees from all over Ukraine.
As Olena Prylipchenko, the Head of PrivatBank's Telephone Customer Support Department, explains, switching to new equipment also helped businesses save money, because Internet calls are cheaper than phone calls, especially long-distance calls. It also improved the user experience for employees.
The transition to IP-telephony was the first stage of evolution, but not the last, because the development of technology has created the basis for the future digitalization of processes.
For example, it became possible to integrate with CRM systems (systems for customer relationship management). “We were able to build our projects for organizing contextual sales on incoming calls and fill the knowledge base of employees, which made life easier for call center agents and improved the quality of consultations. We also improved the quality of personal data storage, as employees do not have access to the data of those customers who they don’t communicate with them,” Olena explains the benefits of implementing CRM systems.
Other technologies gradually began to be introduced, the purpose of which was to automate actions. Active digitalization and automation is the second stage in the evolution of call centers. All contact centers where 10 and more agents work, one way or another turn to automation, explain in Accord Group.
The transition from Excel spreadsheets to specialized systems begins for call centers with 25+ concurrent operators.
The automation of processes started just in time, because in 2020 call centers must adapt to the new reality, which marked a new stage in the formats of their existence.
Home to home support
In 2020, many businesses have realized that they must change in order to adapt to the new reality and make remote work possible for employees. The same applies to call centers. But how to implement it?
According to Dmytro Lytvyn, the Accord Group Development Director, the only technical support that call center agents need today is a personal computer and a headset (and, of course, the Internet). Modern platforms provide the ability to remotely connect contact center agents while maintaining absolutely full functionality, regardless of whether you use an on-premise platform (servers are located in the company's data centers) or a “cloud” solution (for example, Cisco Webex Contact Center). For business, this is not only savings on operating costs (minus the rent of premises, infrastructure and office privileges), but in the case of cloud solutions, flexibility and deployment speed.
Olena Prylipchenko from PrivatBank also talks about her experience of transferring the call center to remote work.
The transition to remote work for PrivatBank's call center employees was quick and easy – in just two weeks, 100% of employees were able to work from home. This became possible because before that a certain part of the employees had already worked remotely, so it was only a matter of scaling processes.
At the same time, new questions arose later: how to recruit and adapt new call center employees? “When you recruit new agents, in addition to training, you also need to help with adaptation. After all, receiving the first calls is stressful. When you work in an office, you can hold a person by the hand, support, and remotely this is impossible. Therefore, we had a big risk of disrupting the process. But due to the fact that at that time we already had a solution for connecting the supervisor online to the dialogue, this helped us in adapting new employees. Later, we interviewed newcomers and found that this approach was convenient, because it gives an understanding that there is a specialist nearby and he will help if necessary. Therefore, this did not affect the quality of work. Moreover, the quality of employees has even increased and continues to improve. At the same time, customer satisfaction is also growing,” says Olena.
This is the case when a premature modernization of the contact center platform helped to avoid problems. PrivatBank has already decided that even after quarantine, the bank's call center can continue to work 100% remotely.
Your call is like a Turing test
Now automation of processes in contact centers is becoming ubiquitous. At the same time, it helps to support effective remote operation and becomes the basis for the development of self-service services in case of customer requests.
This is especially important for large businesses that provide services to the public. For example, the peak load on PrivatBank agents for incoming calls is about 3,000 calls in the morning and 4,800 calls in the evening every hour. And these are only calls that are serviced directly by operators, because more than 85% of voice calls are resolved automatically, using DTMF IVR and a voice bot.
Today, the participation of the operator requires only purely technical problems, for example, a failure in the operation of an ATM or terminal. The remaining issues can already be resolved without an operator, says Olena.
“It's still hard to imagine a contact center without people at all, but it's true that more than 90% of calls can be automated. However, there are businesses for which such automation can be disastrous. There used to be a trend towards the widespread introduction of DTMF IVRs for self-service (by pressing buttons on the phone), but if this is not convenient for the customer, then this approach negatively affects customer loyalty and retention, so you need to find the line between the number of self-service services, their convenience and the speed of solving subscriber issues. It gives a positive financial effect”, Dmytro Lytvyn explains.
PrivatBank also agrees with the growing popularity of automation and self-service services.
We have learned how to make contextual IVR depending on the needs and habits of the client. We guess the client's questions and help him even before the operator connects. For example, if you pay with a card in a store and enter your PIN code incorrectly, then when you call the customer support line, the virtual assistant first of all offers options for solving the problem with the PIN code,” explains Olena.
Describing the bank's work on call center automation, Olena jokes that the goal of the contact center is self-destruction, because the ideal contact center is the one that does not exist, when all processes are built so well that the customer does not need to call.
“I would like to automate all 100% of call center tasks, but to automate those questions that operators now accept, we need more complex schemes and solutions that are more thought out than those that we know and use today,” she reflects.
One of the more complex solutions in this direction was the Yana voice assistant, which, thanks to artificial intelligence and machine learning, is able to learn how to answer customer questions. A separate team is working on it. According to Olena, there are cases when customers do not even understand what the “robot” is talking to them.
“She is very much like a live person. Sometimes I myself forget that she is a “robot”. And as for its effectiveness, Jana is already picking up about 200,000 calls each month,” says Olena.
Subsequently, voice communication with a virtual assistant thanks to natural-language understanding (NLU) will increasingly resemble communication with a person, Accord Group says, and as a result, the number of options for using them in self-service will grow.
“With NLU, you can offload agents from processing simple, repetitive, and less creative requests so that they can spend the right time with customers on more complex requests.
However, in order for the implementation of such technologies to really become a “victory” and not a “treason”, the implementation must begin with “hot” use cases in classic DTMF IVR systems, gradually looking for a balance between the “new” and the well-known “old one”, - says Dmytro Lytvyn.
Another “tectonic shift” in the work of call centers is the transition from accepting customer requests exclusively through calls to using a whole range of channels. Omni-channel means the ability to serve voice and non-voice channels on a single platform with unified routing rules and involving the same operators.
“Anyone who is concerned about increasing the efficiency of a contact center should look towards omni-channel and the introduction of chat bots. According to Cisco (and the experience of PrivatBank confirms this), 70% of contact centers experience a decrease in the volume of calls when even the simplest chat is implemented. At the same time, the connection of contact center operators to the maintenance of non-voice channels (messengers, social media, mobile apps) reduces the number of required personnel, increases its “utilization”, and even gives customers a convenient way to communicate,” Dmytro Lytvyn notes.
The call center of PrivatBank is still most often contacted by call, but the dynamics is such that more and more users receive support through instant messengers and applications of the bank. Moreover, PrivatBank automatically closes about 80% of non-voice customer requests through chat bots.
“And even if the consumer starts communicating with the bank by phone, he can end it in a chat, which also helps to unload the contact center staff. The omni-channel has helped us a lot,” Olena explains.
The systems introduced for this also make it possible to save the history of resolving the issue and correctly route the call so that the client communicates with the same operator when resolving his issue, even if the call “fails” or the chat is interrupted.
How do you know if your call center needs an upgrade? Checklist
from Accord Group
Ask yourself 4 simple questions:
1. How convenient is it for consumers to interact with my business?
Is it possible to contact me in different ways and get information or help? Do we maintain high service standards? Are we able to quickly provide up-to-date and consistent information in any service channel?
2. How quickly do we process consumer requests?
Can we minimize service time? For example, by understanding the habits of the client and anticipating his needs.
3. Can we protect customer's personal information?
This applies to both storage and use.
4. In modern conditions, one should also remember about anti-epidemiological measures and try to solve the maximum number of issues remotely, not in departments of direct physical / face-to-face contact.
In our case, the contact center upgrade was a strategic decision that ensured that our contact center would run smoothly and customers would receive the proper level of service.
“Accord Group helped us with this task and did a titanic job of migrating the entire contact center infrastructure from the outdated platform to the new Cisco Contact Center Enterprise,” says Olena.
“The migration process lasted six months. The main difficulty was to carry out a global modernization and not affect the current customer service processes in any way. Such a brain surgery without anesthesia. We must move in small steps to level out most of the risks. Actually, our idea was to give contact center employees a ready-made migration tool – step-by-step instructions for territorial sites or even individual skill groups,” explains Dmytro Lytvyn.
For example, a contact center agent could independently register in a new or old platform. And the decision to migrate was made independently by each business unit. While the “business” was busy moving its divisions, IT focused on process control and subsequent service migration queues.
“We discussed all this with the customer's project team while still “ashore”, planned and captured it in the project migration plan. And our approach has worked! Implementation and further migration were successful. I personally consider the project in PrivatBank to be almost a benchmark. And the best result for we have something that PrivatBank cannot remember when they had the last incident in the operation of the contact center platform,” concludes Dmytro Lytvyn.
Correspondent of Liga.Tech