tomorrow‘s visions with James Roper.
CCI: Mail order and online shopping has
become a big business through major
distribution channels such as telephone,
TV and web. What do you think is going
to be the real ‘‘touchpoint“ with custo-
mers in future – will phone, virtual shop-
ping and consultancy all be centered
around customer service centers?
Roper: An example: To me, buying my
summer holiday, the best experience I
ever had is when I do all the research on
websites, but then I am talking to a con-
sultant on the phone. He can point me
at websites. You only get one shot on
your holidays, so something like that is
great. But as a general rule, I absolutely
loath having to use call centers because
something else has not worked well en-
ough. Running a call center is very ex-
pensive. I think if you get everything
right on the internet, predict what infor-
mation people are going to need and
provide it in a useful way to cover all the
questions that they are likely to ask,
then many call center costs can be avo-
ided. At the other extreme, a lot of inter-
net companies just focus on the cost
saving. They don‘t put a phone number
or even hide it just because they don‘t
want the costs of running a call center
– a very bad practice!
CCI: Which future role could customer
care organizations play?
Roper: I think for most businesses, call
centers are a key. But the way they ope-
rate is changing, driven by the internet:
In a lot of the best call centers, opera-
tors now have screens available to see
exactly what the consumer is looking at
and may even take over his machine to
direct him around things. If you take say
an area where you need an expert, for
example: I want to fit a new bedroom, it
would be great to speak to a carpen-
ter... – as a retailer, you may not have
an expert in all of your shops but you
might well be able to have an expert
who is available through the call center
to handle specific enquiries on a nation-
CCl: Call center agents in Germany are
allrounders, meanwhile. They need to
listen to the customer‘s problems on
the phone, sell at the same time and
offer „just service“. Will it be the future
role of a mail order company to manage
these skills inside the company?
Roper: I remember talking to the CEO
of easyJet Airlines a few years ago. Th-
ey originally didn’t want to use the inter-
net for selling tickets. His team made
him switch to the internet and over time
the call center received fewer and fewer
calls. Now, something like 99 percent
of easyJet‘s flights are booked online.
The cost of selling an airline seat
through the traditional channels was
about 15 Pounds. Selling it with no hu-
man interaction, through the internet,
the cost is approximately four pence.
CCI: That‘s a good reason.
Roper: Exactly. But what they ended up
doing was using the call center staff to
answer emails and just switching the
role. Their main center in Luton today is
like the tower of Babel, with operators
speaking twelve different languages,
according to the flight destinations.
CCI: Does that mean that multiskill
agents will be a preferable solution in
future also for mail order companies?
Roper: Yes! But at the same time there
is a massive opportunity for web ser-
vices to improve and drastically reduce
the general need for what has been the
main stay of call center activity.
CCI: What is the ideal customer service
organization of tomorrow: A service net-
work provided from mail order compa-
nies linking everything together – from
call back buttons in the internet to on-
line shops, to the agent...
Roper: Yes, I take that as read. Com-
munication is available and transparent
throughout the organization. A call cen-
ter has to have the same visibility to the
organization’s information as does the
customer. I think there is a huge amount
of development that we have yet to see
CCI: In other words: your vision is, that
good customer services via phone
might be very exclusive in a few years.
If you take for instance a closer look to
the UK market with its booming TV
shopping channels, the success is ge-
nerated mainly through orders by
Roper: Yes, but while I think the general
use of phones will drop dramatically, the
need for service will not diminish, and
sometimes, inevitably, this will call for
CCI: So the future of competition will
actually be about service?
Roper: Yes, indeed. It is about adding
value, trust and quality through ser-
vices. Whether it is with call center in-
tervention, via telephone or e-mail, it will
enevitably be a key part of that – if not
CCI: A look at the sales aspect: If you
see TV shopping specialists sales
through the call center is offered as
push and pull strategy. Do you think this
is going to last as a tool carried out
through the customer service center?
Roper: In my view, no, because the te-
lephone can be incredibly intrusive. Peo-
ple given the choice, will welcome a
move away from that level of intrusion.
CCl: Should they rather provide a mul-
tichannel process to the customer
Roper: The way that retail functionality
it is required will change, service possi-
bility is rising. Therefore, naturally the
customer expectations are rising, too.
Interview with James Roper
James Roper, CEO of IMRG
(Interactive Media in Retail Group),
„I think for most businesses,
call centers are a key.“