COMMUNICATIONS Workers Union general secretary Clyde Elder fretted on Thursday about TSTT switching call-centre providers.
Mr Elder believes that TSTT should have brought these services back in house. But it's likely that the current scale of incoming calls, handled until recently by DirecOne – which employs 200 workers — is impractical for the company now.
That doesn’t mean TSTT’s new approach is necessarily the right one.
Mr Elder and TSTT may not be keen to hear this, but it's not really sensible for the telecommunications company to be relying on call-centre services in 2021. Globally, the trend has been to switch to automated systems, chatbots and online live chat systems to resolve basic customer problems.
For one thing, TSTT's problems in sorting out its internal billing systems continue to cause difficulties for its customers. Knowing this to be a reality of its business, the company should have taken more decisive steps to automate its customer-service response and to improve the quality of its self-service options for customers.
Trends in customer response are pushing businesses to delegate routine responses to customers’ queries to reliable, well-programmed automated systems, while pushing live customer-service agents further up the value chain for those seeking help.
First-tier call centre work is largely driven by scripted responses to common questions and problems, the kind of work that chatbots excel at.
So what the telecommunications company needs to be doing is improving its business operations, by building more effective and accessible self-service options that reorient live contact with well-trained customer-service representatives to deliver more sophisticated responses to nuanced issues.
It's here that problem-solving becomes customer relations and issues become opportunities to understand how the company's services are being received by those who pay for them and then add to or improve on them in terms of meeting customers’ needs.
Properly trained customer-relations representatives working at this level can solve problems while gathering business intelligence that guides the company’s development and leads to customer-led improvements.
In 2021, a telecommunications company that professes to be agile in its business approach shouldn't be thinking of customer service as scripted responses by a bored employee on a phone.
Customer tolerance for sitting on a phone line, being advised by a voice recording that they are twenty-fourth in a queue, will disappear sooner, not later, as a new generation of customers demands a rapid response.
Next-generation customer service will bounce between customer-driven self-service options powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning, and personal interactions that will offer businesses an opportunity to build meaningful relationships with their customers that benefit both parties.
TSTT should demonstrate its commitment to technology by embedding this example in its operations.