Is your call prompted by a veritable service? Call Center business threatened by state sanctions

The Call Center business has presently drifted onto a somewhat tempestuous and agitated track. Following an unambiguously clear announcement by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who openly declared war on unauthorized promotional calls last year to the point of contemplating the imposition of legal regulations, if needs be, there is no stopping the streaming flood of ill tidings. Voices are being raised demanding a ratification of the law against unfair competition, whilst associations for the protection of consumer rights are up in arms against inadequate sancion mechanisms. To counteract the unproportionately long waiting times at telephone hotlines which has resulted in a steadily increasing number of customer complaints, it was decided to cut these waiting times short. To this end, the legislator has also committed himself to improve the frequently complicated and long-winded voice control systems. What is more, henceforward customers shall only be levied a telephone charge when effectively being connected with a literally competent hotline-staff member.

“First and foremost it is up to the business society to come up with a satisfactory solution and to ensure that the complaints about long waiting times liable to costs will come to a finite halt. Failing which, we will be compelled to contemplate the option of employing statutory instruments“, stresses Dr. Gerd Müller (CSU), Parliamentary State Secretary of the Ministry for Consumer Protection, at the NeueNachricht-Interview. ”It may be true that the number of calls stacked in expensive waiting lines are comparatively small in contrast to the considerable number of overall phone calls undertaken. However, the innumerable complaints streaming in go to prove that we are faced with a serious problem here, which must be solved in the same fashion as we have to deal with the dilemma of the unsolicited promotional calls. These problems are far too ubiquitous as to be marginalized or played down. As far as the unsolicited calls are concerned, it is all too obvious that the ban compliant to the UWG enacted at present has proven ineffective as yet since there are still numerous service-providers wilfully acting against the law. While a centrally organised complaints department may be a useful entity, it will not suffice to remedy the problem as a whole“, Müller says. Almost all industry experts are in unanimous agreement that pro-actively countering the critics is the right step forward. In the past it was mainly the call centers in the outbound-business that were under public attack. Now, as a result of the initiative taken in the Seehofer-Ministry, the public fire also afflicts the inbound-business. Quite often for the companies these calls constitute the pivotal contact point with the customer, who as a general rule would call at his own expense. It is through these calls that experiences can be gathered on issues as diverse as quality problems, product optimization or service assessment. Michael-Maria Bommer, Vice President of the Software-Specialist Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories, is contemplating to offer these service-calls free of charge, with the objective to induce companies to implement further improvements in their telephone services on account of the additional costs incurred. As a consequence waiting lines straining the company with extra costs might soon become a thing of the past,” speculates Bommer. „For the Software-Provider Genesys the answer to the challenges posed by modern customer management lies in the concept of the Dynamic Contact Center (DDC). The DDC is a customer management platform, that integrates all areas of customer service automatisation. It further has the capacity to more efficiently enter, manage and control integrated processes whilst being able to switch from a reactive to an active strategy, if required. Beside the optimization of personal customer management, the advantages lie in the prompt contact building with the right consultant as well as the swift access to the Call centres via several channels, i.e. telephone, fax, email or web chat”, analyses Dr. Manfred Wirl, Director of the Bonn Research Group “Dienstleistungsökonomie” (Service Economy), in a guest contribution for NeueNachricht magazine.

„All things considered the public debate demonstrates that the situation of the call center industry takes on critical dimensions. Nonetheless it is paramount to view the tactical situation in a differentiated fashion: While the unauthorized “Cold Calls“ are in contravention of the current law that must be punished, the demands made by Seehofer constitute a direct encroachment of entrepreneurial action and may lead to additional costs. Shortening waiting times for callers would require considerable personnel and technical endeavours on the part of the call center providers. This also applies to the envisaged reduction of the hotline-charges which would have to be borne by the net-providers and the companies alike, who often make use of the refunds derived from so-called “added-value-numbers” (e.g.0180-5-xxx) in order to subsidise the costs of their agents. This illustrates the seriousness of the situation: In order to prevent such far-reaching state interventions, it is imperative that the industry initiates appropriate measures and devises a sensible and feasible self-imposed declaration of commitment,” demand Jens Klemann and Bernhard Steimel of the industry initiative Voice Business in a market analysis. It may also be viewed as an appeal to the manufacturers of voice dialogue systems, which are meanwhile being employed in almost 50 per cent of all incoming service calls in Germany. “According to the Seehofer-Ministry long-winded and complicated interlocked menu structures invariably lead to longer waiting times in hotlines and consequently higher costs at the expense of the user. It must therefore be in the interest of the manufacturer to take remedial action here. The fact that the use of voice technology yields excellent profits and results, provided that certain design criteria are being met, has been demonstrated over four consecutive years by the Voice Award of the Voice Business Initiative“, affirms Klemann and Steimel. All players concerned should make a pledge to join forces by signing a self-imposed declaration of commitment: The Voice Business Initiative as representative of nearly all manufacturers of voice technology and the major leading industry associations: Call Center Forum, Kundendialog in Deutschland (KiD) (Customer Dialogue in Germany) and the Deutsche Direktmarketingverband (DDV).

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