A decade or so ago, I had just arrived at a new job and was looking at the processes that the small call centre used for telephone research. The software and infrastructure (including the cabling) were inadequate for the role so I had to put together a case for a system that was more in needs with that of our customers (internal and external). The natural assumption was that you go out and get a CATI (Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing) system
My line manager (who also assessed this area of the business) was very clear in that the system had to pay back rapidly and had to be low cost so most CATI systems were priced out to the market. Initially I was quite agitated as it meant the process had to have more stages and would as a result be more expensive, reducing the pay-back time.
On one of my caffeine-fuelled strategizing sessions it occurred to me that perhaps I should be more concerned with what my customers wanted rather than purely financial concerns. Economies of scale meant that we could not compete on price with large agencies but could turn the process to our benefit.
One of the weaknesses of CATI programmes is its strength – you type answers in to pre-established box, but by choosing a solution that was based on a paper based questionnaire we were able to train telephone interviewers to make notes in the margins and then write them up on finishing the telephone call. Even the excel spreadsheets we used could then be analysed to understand why people refused.
The notes in the margin were key to providing anecdotal evidence alongside quantitative data meaning clients found little snippets of information that would have otherwise been lost or that could be introduced for discussion in focus groups.
Oh and the savings of changing software licenses meant the company saved around 30% on process costs and turned the department from loss-making into a company asset.
Just because you can use technology to cut costs and automate doesn’t mean that you always should – knowing what your customer wants is more important.
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