Contact center by phone still popular in Asia

Calling contact center still preferred method for Asian customers seeking tech help, even with emergence of new media tools, says market specialist.

Contact centers in Asia are fast-adopting new media technologies to monitor and engage customer feedback, but communicating over the phone is still the preferred method for customers, says a unified communications product specialist.

In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, Kenneth Chong, unified communications product specialist at Cisco Systems, noted that in Asia, most customers still prefer speaking to a customer agent over the phone. The younger generation, though, is showing a preference for SMS (short messaging service) and e-mail when dealing with non-critical service queries.

Datacraft/Dimension Data Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report noted that global call volumes have risen slightly, with pronounced growth in emerging markets. Released in August 2009, the study findings contradict predictions about the demise of contact centers with the development of self-service and contact avoidance.

Nagi Kasinadhuni, Datacraft Asia's general manager for converged communications and customer interactive solutions, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail: "Voice is still predominantly the most popular medium in Asia, followed by e-mail and voice mail."

"The reasons could be that Asian clients are still conservative and are not as sophisticated to use newer channels, like the Internet," Kasinadhuni explained. "Another reason is that Asia has language needs that are unique, [making] it more convenient to use speech."

While their customers still prefer the traditional way of communicating, he noted that Asian contact centers have changed significantly in the past two years. "Functionally, contact centers are now seen as a channel to improve client loyalty, not just a low-cost medium but as a high-touch medium to serve and sell.

"Technologically, Internet Protocol technology is no longer a debate but a given. And operationally, newer tools include more workforce management and for channels of communication, the Internet and e-mail are beginning to become important and in specific cases, speech," he said.

Datacraft/Dimension Data's benchmarking report also indicated that IP adoption was the top technology trend influencing contact centers.

Kasinadhuni concurs with this momentum, noting that contact centers today no longer question the validity of IP, and are instead planning how and when to introduce IP in their environment.

Cisco's Chong added: "IP technologies are the foundation that enable contact centers to grow beyond a single location, allowing them to operate virtually across dispersed geography, while still allowing for central management and administration of the entire contact center operations."

According to Kasinadhuni, Asia is leading the world on many fronts for contact centers. "For example the adoption of IP, strategic motivation to move to outsourcing, lower time to resolve a call, and so on," he said. "Asia also has some of the best practices, whether it is in having business continuity plans, support contracts or first-call resolution."

Some of the more established contact centers in Asia have also deployed integrated business process flows, computer telephony integration and emerging channels such as video interaction, said Chong.

Internet first for others
For companies such as Microsoft, however, the Internet is becoming the first point of contact for its customers.

Toni Ruotanen, customer service and support director for the Asia-Pacific and Greater China region, said Microsoft is seeing an evolution from phone-based support to online support through self-help, forum or newsgroups and online submissions.

"On an annual basis, over 600 million customers seek self-help from Microsoft's customer service and support online and 33,000 from onsite services, while 50 million receive support via the phone," Ruotanen said in an e-mail.

The software vendor also saw an increase in answer rate at the Microsoft Developer Network forum. When the online community was established in March 2007, the answer rate was 49 percent. This increased to 82 percent in February 2009, Ruotanen said.

"This is hard evidence that our customers are increasingly aware of various online options and using them to troubleshoot problems quickly and efficiently," he said.

"Customers in general today expect very quick turnarounds and the Internet enables them to find the support and solutions they need very quickly," he noted. "In addition, they are able to connect with other users who face similar issues, and this gives them an opportunity to share experiences and exchange tips and tricks."

Ruotanen believes all channels of contact are equally important, and it is more efficient for contact centers to have a broad-based approach in providing customer service.

But with the availability of different interaction channels, Chong noted that this is a challenge for contact centers as they have "a very short runway to catch up with customer demands".

Kasinadhuni added that contact centers are now also expected to support product-selling activities, but current platforms have not been built to facilitate this requirement.