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UK Firms Urged to Integrate Call Centers with Online Efforts

UK companies would do well to learn simple, cost effective lessons in achieving better customer relationship management by integrating call center capabilities with their online operations, says a new report.

Few UK companies have truly built strategies that bring together the power of call centers with that of the Web, says a new report, "Multi-Channels Strategies: Call Centre and Web Integration," from Fletcher Research, the UK Research Centre of Forrester Research.

"Many online customer experiences are, quite frankly, shocking," said Fraser Pearce, an analyst at Fletcher Research. "Only one-fifth of the (UK) firms we surveyed had any form of human contact available from their Web sites and there are no examples of shared browsing to date. More worryingly, only 14 percent of call center operators have Web site access and only 11 percent are able to provide Web site assistance."

Through e-mail, call-back, text chat and shared browsing plus the integration of customer databases and back-office systems, UK consumers should be offered a far richer and consistent experience across web and call center channels, he said.

There are some encouraging signs, however, particularly from the financial services sector, the report says. The Woolwich, for example, has made a significant investment in its new Open Plan Finance system to allow greater cross-channel coordination.

Also, The Co-operative Bank recently invested in a completely new call center purely to support online banking customers. Overall, 60 percent of the financial service operations benchmarked in this report had systems for handling e-mail queries from Web sites, a far better performance than most sectors of UK industry, the report said.

Other findings from the report:

  • Costs per interaction will probably decrease. The Web has become well known as a low-cost, self-service channel. However, companies should be looking to promote more, and richer, customer interaction
  • Even relatively complex technology, systems, processes and training is not going to break the bank. Fletcher estimates that employing integration systems and technology can increase the overall operating costs of a customer services unit by around 10 percent a year
  • Metrics such as customer retention and contribution are the ways to justify this investment. Web site and call center integration is about better customer service and better customer service is about retaining and enriching customers relationships. It is well known that customer acquisition is far more expensive than customer retention, it is also evident that better customer service often leads to increased customer spending

Fletcher Research was acquired by Forrester Research in November 1999, and will become Forrester's UK Research Center at the end of the second quarter 2000.