Sears says in-house portal key to call centre success

Contact centre outsourcing may be gaining interest as companies decide to focus on core competencies, but three large Canadian organizations say keeping operations in house is critical to the success of their business.

According to a benchmarking firm serving the contact centre industry,

Sears, Canadian Tire and Bank of Montreal have award-winning centres.

The SQM (Service Quality Measurement) Group benchmarks over 150 contact centres each year. It recently named Sears Canada No. 1 for highest customer satisfaction – 91 per cent of Sears customers who used a contact centre said they were satisfied with their experience.

“”We focus on people, process and technology, but one of the largest reasons is our people,”” said Paula Edwards, national manager, contact centres, Sears Canada, speaking as part of Learning From True Call Centre Leaders: End User Perspectives at the Call Centre Canada show in Toronto Tuesday.

Sears fields more than 24 million calls a year and 110,000 e-mail from customers – 60 per cent of which are generated by catalogue sales. Edwards said one tool that has helped call reps manage a greater number of calls without having to send them out of the call centre is a Web portal that contains “”anything they require to resolve a call.

“”They feel the portal is very helpful. It’s a knowledge-sharing device,”” she said.

First developed a year ago, the portal was created with input from the associates with many suggestions made, particularly around navigation. When the call centre rep logs on, they see the latest newsletter from the company, a messaging centre and selling points. When it comes to finding answers to customer queries, they can search by keyword and establish a favourites area for frequently viewed subject areas.

“”It was developed in-house. We have a very strong IT department that worked with us,”” said Edwards.

Sears also has its own scorecard goal setting and performance system. Each representative has online access to their own monthly scorecard detailing their performance.

Outsourcing is not considered a threat, said Scott Williams of Canadian Tire, although in the last five months two call centre outsourcers have moved where Canadian’s Financial Services division operates one of its centres.

“”We are considered a strategic pillar at Canadian Tire,”” said the director of customer services strategic development with Canadian Tire Financial Services. “”We’re cost effective and we keep winning awards.””

And the outsourcers have not been successful in luring significant numbers of employees away staff from the Canadian Tire centre, said Williams.

“”When they came in we were scared, but we’ve lost just seven employees.””

But SQM discovered that 78 per cent of the Canadian Tire Financial Services employees were totally satisfied with working at the credit contact centre.

And with the advancement of technology, call centres are able to shift more simplistic customer queries to interactive voice response in which a customer uses touch-tone telephone to interact with a database to acquire information from.

Increased use of IVR has translated into more complex calls being handled by call centre staff, therefore requiring a more educated workforce to manage those calls, said Don Stewart, Toronto call centre manager for Bank of Montreal.

Sarah Kennedy, partner with SQM Group said a recent survey showed 85 per cent of banks are offloading services to IVR. At Bank of Montreal, 62 per cent of services are managed by IVR, said Don Stewart, Toronto call centre manager for BMO.

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