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Improving customer service from the call centre is the single most important marketing investment a company can make in times of recession, according to Bruce von Maltitz of 1Stream.

“When times are good people are relatively willing to forgive service mistakes,” says von Maltitz. “But when money is tight, customers get a lot more critical – every rand they spend is important to them, and they expect decent service for their money. The contact centre is increasingly where that service is being delivered.”

The contact centre should take priority over adspend or sponsorships, argues Von Maltitz. “There’s no point in advertising your special on TV if all people get when they call in is a long wait, a set of shoddy interactive voice response (IVR) messages and eventually an agent who doesn’t actually know what’s going on.”

Von Maltitz, a director of hosted contact centre technology company 1Stream, says opting for a hosted solution can free contact centre managers up to concentrate on managing people and service.  “Your contact centre is either a sales channel or a service channel or both, and it’s critical that employees are well trained and well managed,” he says. “That should be the manager’s job – not worrying about whether the technology is working or not.”

Under a hosted model, contact centres buy services, rather than software or hardware from a provider – usually at a fixed monthly price per seat. “This usually results in absolute cost savings on technology, as well as making costs much more flexible,” says von Maltitz. “Scaling up and down to accommodate changing demand is as simple as ordering or cancelling another seat for the month.”

It also means, notes von Maltitz, that keeping abreast of technology changes is no longer the contact centre manager’s problem. “Investing in the best systems available sometimes doesn’t make financial sense if you’re not handling huge volumes of calls to offset the initial capital cost. And they’re obsolete in a few months anyway, plus you have the problem of integrating different pieces of equipment and keep up with patches and updates.”

With a hosted service, on the other hand, “you buy an integrated suite of services that’s always up to date,” he says. “And even smaller contact centres can afford the very best technology on the market.”

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