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SA consumers expose biggest call centre frustrations

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 17 Feb 2021
Contact center
Contact center

A new business process outsourcing (BPO) survey found that being contacted without permission is among the major frustrations South African consumers experience when dealing with contact centres.

The survey by BPO solutions provider Merchants SA provides a glimpse into the five major frustrations local consumers experience with outbound contact centre calls.This, as more consumers turn to call centres to solve problems, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown.

The research was conducted through a consumer survey that consisted of 2 000 participants, with 77% of them female and 23% male. The majority of respondents were between the ages of 25 and 34, and the smallest demographic were 50+ years.

South Africa has a thriving BPO industry, employing over 270 000 people in six cities, 65 000 of whom serve international clients, according toconsultancy firm McKinsey.

A 2020 McKinsey report projected that the local BPO market has the potential to create 775 000 jobs by 2030, with up to two-thirds of these in the service of overseas markets.

However, not everyone is a fan of outbound calls from contact centres.

The findings of the Merchants SA study reveal that 44% of consumers say they are frustrated with being contacted without permission.

Merchants, however, anticipates that this frustration is likely to change as organisations gear up to comply with the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act.

The survey highlights that for consumers, the enforcement of the POPI Act means they have the right to ask organisations and businesses what personal information they might have on file, and ask for this to be removed or deleted – further opting out of unwanted communication from businesses.

In addition, consumers will be able to file a complaint against non-complying businesses with the Information Regulator, should they feel their personal data is not being respected.

“This Act fundamentally changes the way businesses manage their customer databases, make use of consumer contact details, and make initial contact with potential customers,” explains Mathew Conn, group chief revenue officer at Merchants. “Each and every interaction with a customer should be well thought out and seen as a chance to add value – this is the blueprint for success when it comes to the contact centre.”

The POPI Act is SA’s data protection law, whichhas been put into operation incrementally. Once it comes into full effect on 30 June, organisations, public and private, big and small, and anyone processing personal information will have to comply with the conditions for the lawful processing of this data.

Mathew Conn, group chief revenue officer at Merchants.
Mathew Conn, group chief revenue officer at Merchants.

A major frustration for consumers is being sold something they do not need, with 75% of the respondents pointing to this.

“This is an important finding for all South African businesses, as it highlights the fact that consumers are the drivers of their own experiences and want personal, tailored service when it comes to the customer experience,” says Conn. “It is also a wakeup call for BPO providers who are not properly integrating customer experience into their clients’ business strategies.

“Businesses need to ensure they are collecting and utilising consumer data in the right way, in order to develop insights around consumer behaviour, habits and needs specifically for their current and potential client base.” Conn cautions that if businesses are not doing this, they are at risk of losing market share.

More than half of the respondents (69%) listed being called at an inconvenient time as another frustration, and 54% said the call centre agent took too much of their time.

“While contact centre agents should be polite and courteous, they should also be looking to add value to the client in the shortest amount of time possible,” says Conn, adding that a large component of being able to do this is linked to agent training and skills development.

“Contact centre agents should have access to the best possible technology and trained on how best to use this in order to make their job easier and the client’s experience more satisfying.”

When contacted by a call centre agent, 36% of respondents said they don’t want agents reading scripts.

It is imperative that agents are trained to be integrated partners of the business, and are able to interact with the consumer in a way that adds value and creates a connection, rather than just reading pre-written material and entering data into a system,” explains Conn.

In a world where products, services and pricing are converging and the business landscape is more competitive than ever, Conn stresses the importance of providing a positive customer experience.

“This is almost the only differentiator businesses have – and is certainly the most important. If providing a personalised and positive customer experience is not the top priority for a business in 2021, they risk irrelevancy and even failure in the near future.”