Customer Management: Customer relations management

Call centres have the potential to employ over 200,000 English-speaking Indians and annual revenue could touch Rs.25,542 crore

The era when the marketplace was crowded with unsophisticated, uninformed, and gullible consumers is fast drawing to a close. Service, efficient delivery, smart packaging, and rock bottom competitive pricing is what a growing number of consumers around the world are increasingly demanding — and getting. That’s why customer relationship management (CRM) professionals are much in demand and CRM is emerging as a fast-track career option.

CRM is all about understanding, satisfying, and retaining customers in the business or corporate interest. With the liberalisation and deregulation of the telecom sector, almost overnight, call centres which handle customer grievances over the phone is big business in India. According to a NASCOMM and McKinsey study, if given free rein, call centres have the potential to employ over 200,000 English-speaking Indians and annual revenue could touch $5.4 billion (Rs.25,542 crore) this year. With its large number of English speaking graduates who are ready, willing, and able to work at a fraction of the rates of their counterparts in the West, India has the potential to become the hub of the emerging global CRM industry.

Today there are over 50 international call centres in Mumbai and several in Gurgaon, Delhi, Bangalore and other cities employing thousands of CRM executives. Essentially, call centres are set up by intelligent companies to support and supplement the retail industry in terms of building corporate brand-loyalty and creating and retaining customers in the interests of business development and growth. This also requires the training and development of customer care executives (CCEs), adept in verbal communication. The efficiency of a CCE depends on how well he/she can interpret the data fed by a customer to generate meaningful and appropriate corporate response. This is one profession where assertiveness is an invaluable assest.

Most call centres pay a starting salary of about Rs.10,000 per month going up to Rs.20,000 at the executive level. The perks include an enjoyable work environment, meals, and transport. Opportunities are also multiplying abroad, where the average salary is typically Rs.22,000 per month for new entrants.

Essentially, there are two types of employment in this field — project or permanent. There is ample scope for growth, ability, and devotion to duty can take a new entrant up the ladder from CCE to a team leader, assistant operations manager, project manager, and operations manager. Moreover once a CCE acquires experience and expertise, he/she can even set up his/her own call centre.

Until recently formal training in this field was unavailable. So call centres usually recruited well-spoken freshers preferably graduates, or those with Plus Two certification, and trained them in-house. Now several CRM training institutes have sprung up in Delhi including the following:

North Star, Mastermind (run by the Hero Honda group)

NEXT in Bangalore

KITES Synergy Relationships Management Services, Mumbai

Symbiosis Centre for Distance Learning, Pune

Promoted in June 2001 by Christopher Joseph Rozario, who has a background of 18 years in varied customer service functions, and Preeti Sharma Menon, who has 17 years of experience as a technical writer and trainer, apart from CRM training Synergy also provides contact management, data-base management, training centre, and placement services to its students and clients. In particular, the firm’s Synergy Training Centre (which provides the basic skill-sets and training for CCEs, sales and service representatives, and leadership training for team leaders) prides itself on offering world-class training facilities, well-researched course content, and an experienced faculty.

“In this new era of emerging globe-girdling technologies, the focus is on human interface, on building relationships with customers and nurturing them through customer care services provided by brand stewards. A growing number of corporates are becoming aware of the importance of high-quality contacts with their clients and are looking to outsource these functions to partners whose core activity is customer relationship management. We’re a one-stop shop, offering customers multiple channels of personalised contact, seamlessly integrated at the backend and we also have a world-class training school,” says Preeti Sharma Menon, founder-director of Synergy Relationship Management Services.

An English literature graduate and a computer wizard who writes software manuals, course material and has co-authored a book on computer learning, Menon believes that with global competition becoming a live, on-the-ground reality as national trade barriers collapse, CRM is certain to emerge as a core activity vital to the survival of business enterprises in this century. 

BIG ADVANTAGE. “CRM is a fast-growth industry because even hitherto heavily protected domestic companies have realised the value of a lifetime customer. India has a big advantage — a huge English-speaking and computer savvy population ready, willing and able to work at a fraction of the wages of CRM professionals in the West. While China has taken over the factories of the world, India can take over the back offices of all international companies if a large enough number of professionals are trained to become world-class CCEs. For this to happen the IT industry, government, and CRM training institutes must coordinate,” says Menon.

Though the work culture and alleged depravity in call centres have attracted considerable criticism from conservatives, the importance of call centres in shaping future of youth cannot be ignored. Call centres are here to stay and they’ll continue to be stepping stones to exciting careers!