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New Zealand Needs More Than A "Me Too" Approach

Creating a profile for New Zealand as a location for international call centres as part of a 'knowledge economy' will require more than enthusiasm and a 'me too' approach, according to Sue Elliott, consulting partner with Vanguard Communications, a leading international call centre and customer contact consultancy.

One of the more tangible examples of a knowledge economy in action is the use of call centres to provide organisations and consumers with fast, reliable access to information.

"Recent media coverage tells only part of a story in an industry where overseas practice is actually some years ahead," says Ms Elliott, who has led a number of major call centre projects in the UK and New Zealand.

"Take the Co-operative Bank in the UK as an example. In 1995 they introduced an integrated customer service strategy across all communication channels - telephone banking, branches, and video kiosks - to provide a customer contact profile that our banks here are yet to embrace.

"In the past week we've heard that a New Zealand bank is offering account balances via cellphone. The Co-operative bank introduced this service in 1996.

"The Assignment programme on Ireland's economic resurgence talked of government initiatives such as tax breaks and other financial incentives and their role in attracting international call centres and technology companies.

"The reality of the Irish success is that there is more than money involved - their geographic proximity to the European market, for example. They can provide a truly multi-lingual workforce more or less from their own doorstep. Even Australia can draw on a more diverse linguistic population base than New Zealand."

Ms Elliott says that while some New Zealand call centres employ the latest technology, ours is still very much a domestic industry.

"Internationally, leading organisations are integrating customer relationship management [CRM] systems into their call centres so that service is driven by the individual customer. New Zealand organisations are still primarily focused on transactions and processing calls on a product or service line basis. As a result, they know very little about their individual customers. We will need to revise our approach if we are to compete internationally."

Vanguard also believes that New Zealand has to address the skill levels of its call centre workforce and management.

"One of the most striking things that people notice about New Zealand is its strong service culture. But it's only evident in face-to-face situations. That service culture needs to be translated into the telephone service environment."

Ms Elliott believes that most New Zealand companies have a long way to go in this regard

"To compete internationally, we need to create an environment attractive to international investment. That means leveraging investment in technology, tools, people and processes to move our industry to a level at least comparable with that overseas."

"And that puts New Zealand at huge risk of missing the boat on call centres."


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