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Doyenne of the Australian contact centre industry and Auscontact CEO, Fiona Keough, gave this exclusive interview to Matchboard.

What do you believe are the greatest threats – and opportunities – for the Australian contact centre industry, moving into 2016? 

There is so much opportunity in this great industry we are in. I believe it’s an incredibly exciting time of technology innovation, professional growth and new approaches to customer engagement. You could almost describe it as customer intimacy. In my time working in the contact centre environment, I can’t recall a time of more customer dialogue and engagement. The customer need and experience is very much driving development and forging new fields of excellence, as it should.  Listening to, and anticipating, our customer need is the best way to continue to innovate and lead.

These developments bring great opportunity and also a warning to those stuck in ‘how we always do it thinking’. There is no room for complacency or standing still.  There is no place for old style organisational arrogance that dictates how the customer experience will be delivered based on the company’s agenda or goals.  We need to listen, respond and deliver to an ever changing customer environment. We need to be nimble.

The value contact centres offer here in Australia is the capacity to excel in the area of customer experience. Relationships are key and we do this well.  At every point of engagement a customer is evaluating their commitment and loyalty to your brand and your organisation. Customers are more empowered than ever with knowledge and choice. Fail to meet expectations and they will leave. 

The area of digital and mobile solutions is exciting and the multi-channel experience demands the expertise and integration of many different knowledge areas. This challenge brings opportunity for growth, jobs and continues to elevate the status and role of the contact centre. The contact centre is now universally understood and respected as an integral, if not often the primary, interface between the business and customer.

There is always talk and debate about onshore and offshore. I don’t buy into that ‘fear and threat’ mentality, and I particularly don’t engage in ‘demonising’ the offshore choices made by local businesses.  What I see is a complementary collaboration of onshore and offshore operations, working together, to deliver the best customer experience. Australian contact centres will always lead and innovate in these partnerships and Australia is an integral part of the mix of service pathways.

How does the industry in Australia compare to other countries? Are we ahead of, or behind the game for global best practice? 

I am incredibly proud of the quality and leadership of practice found in Australia.  I travel extensively throughout Asia Pacific and have sat on panels for many industry award programs. This has afforded me a privileged window into the scope of practice out there and I can confidently say that what we deliver and produce in Australia is exceptional practice, if not leading edge, and in many ways, we are at the forefront of establishing the ‘next practice’ approaches.

The calibre of our Auscontact Awards participants also excites me and affirms Australia’s position out in front. I would argue that any centre wanting to establish its global competitiveness and credentials should absolutely participate in our 2016 Awards program. It is a thorough, rigorous experience and highly respected.

It was also obvious at our recent conference in October 2015, which included both local and international speakers, that we have a domestic industry that truly is globally competitive.

You’ve arguably transformed Auscontact into one of the top contact centre industry associations in the world. What is your future vision for Auscontact? 

Thank you.  I’ve had a driven Board, a skilled team and passionate Member volunteers contributing to the transformation that needed to happen to allow us to remain relevant and effective for our membership.

Our vision moving forward involves both small steps and big leaps.  We need to continue to do the things we do – training, development, leadership – but do them even better.  And we need to also innovate in step with our membership.

Our flagship Awards Program is a very important platform to engage our members; demonstrate the depth, breadth and excellence in our industry; and continue to inspire innovation and leadership.  Our Conference too is a vital meeting place for ideas, sharing and professional community. Our intention is to grow and expand both these member privileges and continue to refine their delivery to best serve the needs and scope of our membership.

Another goal for the year ahead is to engage more deeply within our existing Member organisations and extend the participation at events, workshops and training at each level of the contact centre profession.  Not only do we want to see our regulars at events, but also welcome the newly arrived young professionals starting their careers into the Auscontact family. We aim to deliver a complete continuum of knowledge and business value – from the frontline to the senior management – with a full suite of information, training, networking, research and events.

What has been the crowning achievement in your career so far? 

The majority of my career has been in the contact centre industry. I’ve loved the fact that it’s such a people-focused industry and I truly value the diverse and amazing people I’ve met and worked with.

Each job has prepared me for the challenges and thrills of the next one.  I’d like to think that each step along the way I’ve been able to lead and develop people to be the best they can be.  I see many people from my time in the industry also still in the business and continuing to reach new career heights, and that is very satisfying.

One of the things I’m most grateful for in the career I’ve enjoyed is the depth of professional development and scope for skills and management growth that it has offered.  The contact centre industry is equal to, or perhaps greater than, many other industries for the capacity to offer a fully rich and holistic approach to career development. There are just so many different pathways and opportunities it can, and has created, not just for me, but for anyone who is fortunate enough to join this industry. 

I do feel though that at Auscontact Association I have now arrived at a place where all my skills and experience is being utilised in the best way and it enables me to give back to the industry that I love and which has shaped and supported me so wonderfully.  This role has been the most challenging and rewarding of my professional career so far.

What advice would you give to anyone starting a career in contact centres? 

Well it’s interesting you ask me that because my son has just begun his career in the contact centre business and I can assure you I have had no influence there. It was completely his own doing, he usually rebels to anything I say!  And much to his surprise, he is loving it.

The amount of training, development, support and reward he has experienced is quite staggering. This is an industry that truly understands success is based on the quality of the employee experience.  If customer experience is our ultimate measure, the employee experience is the foundation for that success.

A career in contact centres offers so much scope – sales, marketing, HR, IT, management, project management, mentoring, coaching, strategic developing, training….this list goes on. There are many avenues for experience and specialisation, and almost every company has a contact centre whether it be large or small. Truly, it can be the doorway to a lifelong, ever evolving and fulfilling career.

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