The most successful leaders will be those who have a global perspective. This has always been a global industry. Think about it: from queuing formulas developed in Denmark (Erlang B and C), to process improvement tools created in Italy (pareto chart) and Japan (cause and effect diagram), to, well, even the Arabic numeral system (1,2,3) used throughout the world!
There have been so many times I've wished I could literally put in a bottle the innovations, insights and solutions I've seen and learned from contact centre managers around the world, and share them with others. So often, "global news" is focused primarily on outsourcing services, suppliers opening an office in Timbuktu, or XYZ Co. expanding into a new region. And those stories have a place. But there's a much more significant story to be told -- how deeper customer management developments across the world are impacting virtually every organisation in today's communications-driven economy, even those with relatively small or local customer bases.
According to ICMI, there are now an estimated 18 million agents and 1.5 million managers (including managers, supervisors and analysts) working in customer contact operations worldwide. Organisations across the globe are spending an estimated U.S. $485 billion annually to run their centres. And growth in call centre seats continues at a healthy clip: up to 5% in developed regions and over 15% in developing regions. Any way you slice it, call centres (a.k.a. customer contact centres, help desks) have become a major economic force.
Beyond these numbers, there are two trends that are significantly shaping our global profession. First, customer contact operations are becoming increasingly complex to operate, for several reasons:
- More empowered, demanding customers. The proliferation of mobile and broadband services, Internet-based information, sophisticated search tools and ever-changing cultural expectations have created a better-informed, more empowered and more savvy customer base.
- Increasingly complex contacts. Automated services -- Web-based, speech, kiosks, et al. -- are offloading more straightforward or defined contacts, leaving agents with more difficult transactions. Of course, these capabilities are also creating new types of services and contacts.
- Significant organisational change. Many organisations are wisely restructuring so that all channels of contact with customers -- Web, phone, email, mobile services, VoIP -- are developed and managed under the same umbrella. This is causing enormous organisational changes that involve IT, marketing, HR, and virtually every other department.
A second and even more significant global trend is that customer contact services are more important than ever. Sure, many organisations still don't "get it" -- they still see the call centre as a necessary cost and are primarily focused on efficiencies. But more all the time are seeing the strategic power of these services. They know that contact after contact, day after day, the centre is capturing information that can literally transform the organisation—intelligence that helps other departments improve quality, further research and development, focus marketing campaigns, detect potential legal or publicity problems, and provide input on how to improve self-service systems.
This is an important and exciting time of development in our profession. I often hear various pundits and observers talk about how advanced the call centre industry is today. I believe we're just getting started -- I believe we're going to see more development and change in the next five to seven years than we've seen in the last three decades.
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