Contact centres are vital in firms. But are Japanese telephony service firms operating well?
Calls help smooth relationships between customers and firms. In the economic downturn they are particularly important, regarding customer relationship management (CRM), a key strategy to maintain connections with customers in the long term by using data on their behaviours.
To gain and follow customers, call centres play an essential role in firms. Among many jobs are two types: in bound and out bound. The former is to receive a great deal of calls from consumers, listening to them and giving them suitable advices with making decisions carefully while the other to call people for promotion of goods: both of them collect customer data which is used to improve CRM. Since the 1990s outsourcing the practice to professional phone centres has been the mainstream.
This move has been lasting for years. Several reasons can be considered for it. With information technology developing such as the internet, firms need not to worry about time zones. So they can do business all day using the outsourcing abroad, especially Asian countries. Another factor is availabilities of many labours there to be call operators. Facebook, an online social networking service, for example, is opening a support centre in Hyderabad, an Indian city famous for technology hub, which is designed to handle its over 400 million users across time zones with multilingual support, according to AP[i].
But global economic climate remains cloudy, having affected business of Japanese call centre companies. According to a report conducted by Yano Research Institute in 2009[ii], the latest downturn hit the market, leading to some client firms cutting outsourcing, thus slowed the market growth. It estimates that telemarketing market is worth over 500 billion yen with a 3.4% growth while contact centre 457 billion yen with 2.7%, which may be optimistic given a gradual economic recovery.
Although people in a tough economy tend to be unhappy with their goods, like mobile phones, and complain to customer service centres, this is even a business opportunity. Mitsui Bussan, a general trading company, and Moshimoshi Hotline, a professional call centre firm, have announced a worth 2.4 billion yen joint plan to establish a call centre with a local firm to join the market in Vietnam, where both economy and mobile phone users are growing so that demands for customer care and outsourcing will rise. For business, TechExcel, a customer support firm, recently produced products designed both to improve CRM and to cut costs[iii].
All this may suggest that integrations of data on customers call centres collect are advancing, narrowing the distance between business and customers. In bound has reduced communication costs and raised efficiency to communicate with consumers. Out bound has become more effective since electronic data is easy to store in customer data base, which enables call centres to take new approaches to gain more customers.
Bellsystem 24, the biggest call centre firm in Japan, constantly innovate skills of communication and marketing by adopting scientific and psychological methods. A speaker of the firm says ‘there is a gap between what consumers say and what they think in minds. And we want to grasp the latter.’ This developed Personalised One to One Communication, a method to form trusts with individual consumers and motivate them to buy eventually[iv], which looks likely to remain its key strategy over the next few years. ‘The most important thing is to listen to customers carefully’ says he.
Some problems cast shadow on the outlook for Japanese call centre firms. Bellsystem found that Japanese customers preferred Japanese speakers to foreigners. ‘Differences in culture and ways of thinking were decisive factors to withdraw from China’ says the speaker. Some experts share a view that Japanese call centres lag behind other advanced countries because of poor management[v]. Were the job valued highly, Japan would have reached top standards.