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August 2008 | Volume 27 / Number 3
From The Analysts Desk

Fuel Costs Drive Increased Contact Center Interactions

By Susan J. Campbell,
Contributing Editor, Customer Interaction Solutions

The rise in fuel costs has far-reaching implications, even in the contact center industry. While this phenomenon has been attributed to the rise in home-based agents, it is also causing a rise in contact center interactions as a result of an increase in Internet use among rural residents.

According to New Zealand rural broadband provider, Farmside, there was a 97 percent increase in inquiries through its contact centers in April, with a similar pattern emerging through May. The company contributes this increase to a surge in rural residents opting to use the Internet for routine tasks in an effort to offset rising fuel costs.

"They realize they can save money by using the Internet for errands that have traditionally required a personal trip, like banking, shopping, vehicle registration, study or even doing tax returns," Farmside sales and marketing director Nick Carter said, in a company statement.

A Ministry of Transport Ongoing Household Travel Survey has found that the average driver in rural New Zealand spends 300 hours driving nearly 15,000km each year. Nearly 30 percent of this travel is due to shopping or carrying out other personal business.

Carter noted that with the increase in online services offered by the retail, business and government sectors, rural people are becoming more aware of how using the Internet could save on travel costs.

The challenge in this increase is that contact centers may not be adequately prepared for such increases. Workforce management software solutions can go long way in helping the contact center to prepare for spikes in call volume. Such programs, however, examine known variables, such as campaigns, seasons, and past performance, to name a few.

While it is true that rising fuel costs are impacting economies throughout the world, contact centers may not be fully prepared for the increase in volume. This is where it is imperative that the contact center and its supporting organization invest time and resources into studying market trends that can identify such changes so that customer service does not suffer due to volumes higher than the scheduled staff can handle.

Aside from rising fuel costs, consumers as a whole are turning to the Internet more and more as information is better organized and companies are offering better interaction within their Web sites. Features such as chat and click-to-talk are making it easier for consumers to find the information they need online, while also interacting with the contact center.

Understanding consumer trends overall and how they will impact call volume and customer service will go a long way in ensuring that the contact center can adequately manage call volumes to deliver the best experience possible.

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