Call centres are the new e-commerce selling tool

Phrases such as 'sweatshops' and 'slave labour' could be a thing of the past now that e-commerce is placing high demands on call centre skills

Limitations in Internet and email response times are changing the image of call centres, making them a crucial selling tool in the e-commerce environment.

And now Internet companies are increasingly turning to the telephone for customer support services.

"The call centre is still the place where you have dialogue," said international call centre consultant Philip Cohen. "The Internet remains a monologue, and as the volume of customer emails increase, call centres will be needed to handle them."

Eighty percent of all Internet purchases are not completed due to design faults with the online transaction process. This is shifting the function of Web sites, making them more suitable for providing presale information, leaving the telephone as the ultimate selling tool.

Call centres have traditionally been used as 'sweat shops' for telesales and telemarketing, but analysts argue that the increasing support they are offering to e-commerce companies is helping them shed that tarnished image. Now that the Internet is being used primarily for obtaining pre-sales information, call centre workers are having to deal with more informed customer queries.

"People are solving a lot of problems with the Internet, and phoning call centres to ask more complex questions," said Cohen.

Call centre employees are now required to be IT competent, meaning that student slave labour is becoming a thing of the past. "Call centres are looking for educated people," explains Cohen. "This is creating a shortage of agents, but the Internet will be handling a lot of traditional call centre questions." This will help call centres to acquire a totally different status in the workplace according to Cohen, as they will have fewer but more highly skilled workers.

Technology research firm the Gartner Group predicts that by 2003, only 25 percent of correspondence between customers and support centres will be by email. "The telephone will still have the dominant position in the next two years," said Magnus Sjölund, president of Scandinavian contact centre consultancy Telia Promotor. "Customers want to be treated as individuals, which is hard to achieve on the Internet."

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