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When UNISA dialed the wrong number

RIM is not the first or large major organisation that gets communications badly wrong. FOKION NATSIS, Interactive Intelligence’s South African country manager, tells the tale of the UNISA call centre closure.

There is no doubt that customer communications can be one of the biggest challenges for a company or organisation. Get this right and you can turn people into brand ambassadors, but get it wrong and customers make their displeasure known very publicly.

When Unisa decided to close down the voice channel into its contact centre in favour of email, SMS and its website, this caused negative reactions from students. This is based on the comments on Facebook and other web sites. The general feeling is that the university hasn’t addressed the core communication challenge it was facing: providing people with the information they were looking for quickly and easily.

Now, according to the students’ comments, the other communications channels are overloaded and it is taking days and even weeks for students to get a response to their queries. According to comments on online forums, many students have resorted to contacting their lecturers for the information they needed, adding an unnecessary administration burden to the educators.

Unisa is not alone in working out how best to set up its contact centre in light of the myriad of ways and reasons people want to communicate with organisations. But instead of simply removing an overloaded communications channel, companies should address the underlying cause of the problem. This starts with building a picture of communication traffic patterns, looking at: the number of customers: the number of calls received per day: when this traffic spikes ‚ in Unisa’s case around exam time, or for a retailer over the busy Christmas period: and the typical nature of the inquiries.

Next, companies must review the contact centre technology they are currently using and make sure it has been deployed optimally for their specific scenario. In Unisa’s case, generic information such as term times, assignment deadlines, payment dates and even exam results could be handled via an automated self-service interactive voice response (IVR) system, using the student number as an identifier, and so not require an actual consultant on the line.

It is worth pointing out that even in this age of email, SMS, website, Twitter and Facebook, very often people need and want to speak to a real person. This can sometimes be the best and quickest way to solve a problem or get the required information. If companies make sure that unnecessary calls are handled via IVR or another communications channel, the available contact centre agents will be able to deal with the inquiries requiring a conversation far more effectively. In addition, if organisations know when peak traffic periods are likely to occur, they can increase the number of agents at those times to maintain service levels.

Finally, the other communications channels, such as email and SMS, must be factored into the contact centre processes ‚ in fact, nowadays it is more accurate to refer to multi-channel contact centres, rather than call centres. This means that whatever a customer’s personal communication preference is, and whatever their question, they would receive accurate and efficient service from the organisation.

Companies should be very careful of opting for a band-aid solution that temporarily patches an immediate problem, rather than improving underlying processes and putting best practices in place. Unfortunately, too many companies do the former, resulting in poor service, angry customers and a damaged brand. Fortunately, however, the technology and know-how exists to solve these and similar communication problems, if only companies would go back to basics, listen to their customers and use the correct technology in the right way to respond to them appropriately.


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