Although the call centre industry in the United Kingdom continues to grow, the number of independent contact centre operators is expected to fall dramatically by 2010, according to the 'Call Centres Market Assessment 2006' report, available from Research and Markets.
According to the report, the UK's call centre industry is still expanding despite the high-profile exodus of many large contact centre operations to lower cost locations overseas. But the country's call centre employment level has grown more slowly than if outsourcing overseas had not been so prominent a trend. Greater productivity per employee, brought about by workforce planning software, automated voice recognition, improved call distribution systems and other technological enhancements that raise output have also tempered the rise in call centre jobs.
Contact centres for the public sector (e.g. central and local government, police, health, fire and ambulance services, and so on) were probably the major trend of 2005, the report suggests.
More than three-quarters of the contract value of outsourced call/contact centre services is for outbound calling. Thankfully, though, unsolicited outbound sales calling to UK consumers is in great decline, and permission marketing is taking its place.
Brands stay at home
Effective responses to callers on incoming lines is becoming so important to brand values that many companies do not risk outsourcing them, even to operators within the UK.
For call centre employees in India and other Asian countries, the provision of peak-hours services to the US and Western Europe means they have to work anti-social hours. Staff turnover that often exceeds 40% per year damages customer service, because few staff stay long enough to acquire detailed knowledge about the organisation they are paid to represent.
Alternative attractive locations for contact centre operators include the new EU states in Eastern Europe, and South Africa (which has a large number of English speakers).
Surveys since the year 2000 have indicated rising customer dissatisfaction with call centres and, in 2005, the increase in dissatisfaction was at its greatest yet. People apparently dislike automated answering systems, and an overwhelming majority claimed to have wasted time navigating option menus.
Asked about their views on call centres, consumers had some firm opinions:
- More than 80% of consumers in the 2005 survey said they would opt for speaking to a real person instead of dealing with an automated system. Moreover, almost 90% preferred to speak to staff in a local office.
- More than 80% said that call centres made organisations too remote from their customers, and over 70% thought that call centres benefited organisations more than they benefited customers.
- More than 75% agreed than call centres could reduce customer loyalty.
- Almost 75% criticised telephone sales staff for being too persistent and putting them under pressure.
Among the other problems covered by the report are consumers' ability to understand call centre staff, attitudes toward the practice of foreign call centre agents assuming false English names or identities, and perceptions of improvement or deterioration in the helpfulness of call centre staff in the past year.
What the future holds
Successful businesses that operate contact centres in the UK are getting larger, and the gap between them and the smaller operators is widening. By 2010, the number of independent contact centre businesses is expected to have fallen substantially.
According to the report, companies that outsource contact centre operations, or run their own, are starting to look beyond costs to the enhancement of brand values, and the contact centre sector continues to suffer downward pressure on margins. In the future, businesses that have outsourced to low-wage economies could be forced to reassess the effectiveness of the economic models they have adopted, because long supply chains will become increasingly uneconomical. And after globalisation will come a phase of re-localisation, to keep supply chains as short as possible.