SA call centres face social media evolution

Wi-Fi calling is seen as an alternative to traditional phone calls. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
Wi-Fi calling is seen as an alternative to traditional phone calls. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Cape Town - While it may too soon to expect the death of the outbound call centre, technology will change the way they operate, says an industry expert.

"In my view call centres will still have a stable place in the business world, however the way in which they communicate to customers' needs to evolve," Andre Steenekamp, chief executive officer of 25AM told Fin24.

Steenekamp is CEO of Cape Town based digital agency 25AM and has decades' worth of experience in the marketing industry.

According to Brand South Africa, around 54 000 people are employed in call centres. While not all are outbound, call centres operate prolifically in the insurance, mobile and financial industry where agents are incentivised to sell various products and services.

Social media integration

But modern mobile phones allow consumers to engage with companies in new ways and the traditional call centre will have to change its operations in order to keep pace with technological change, said Steenekamp.

"As we see consumer markets become more digitally savvy often demanding immediate communication on their terms, call centres will need to adjust their communication approach accordingly.

"With this in mind, I think that we are going to see a strong trend toward social customer service ie leveraging social platforms to communicate to customers on their terms and often in real-time as well as the use of instant messaging as a communication channel to customers."

SMS represents a lower cost of operations for consumer contact companies. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Mobile giant Vodacom has a comprehensive social media department where the operator monitors responses on Facebook and Twitter and uses the information to inform its strategy accordingly.

"Social media is no longer a fringe issue. It needs to be integrated into the daily work flow of contact and needs to be done well. Unfortunately it is a complex and unpredictable platform to use that should be navigated without expertise," warns the Key Trends Affecting the South African Call Centre Industry report, prepared by 1Stream.

Steenekamp said that call centres optimise technology to ensure that they use the most effective means of contacting consumers.

"It is important to establish the communication preferences that the customer has i.e. some customers may choose to be contacted by SMS, where others may prefer e-mail or telephonic communication."

Targeted ads

Popi or the Protection of Personal Information Act, mandates that companies can collect information with the permission of "data subjects", and many firms are actively working to build in-house databases, rather than buy names from third parties.

Social media channels do not fall into the strict definition of personal information because data on Twitter, for example, is regarded as public.

Also, by joining Facebook groups, people give the social media giant permission to use their information to target ads, among other activities.

"We use the information we have to improve our advertising and measurement systems so we can show you relevant ads on and off our Services and measure the effectiveness and reach of ads and services," Facebook says in its Terms of Service document.

Steenekamp argued that it is critical for companies to get express permission from consumers for marketing material communication.

"Again, adopting a permission based marketing approach is critical to engage and build relationships with customers successfully. After all, how can we add value to our customers without obtaining basic data and permissions from them first?"

- Follow Duncan on Twitter

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