Inside the Australian Contact Centre Industry with Auscontact’s Fiona Keough

Contact centres are on the frontline when it comes to delivering great customer experience (CX). To find out more about the trends that shaped the industry in 2018, Fifth Quadrant spoke with Fiona Keough, CEO of Auscontact.


FQ: What were some of the dominant trends you saw in Australian contact centres in 2018?

FK: For last year, much like recent years, the focus has been on CX. When you have 78% of CEOs saying that they’re going to differentiate their organisation based on CX, that permeates the whole industry

What we are seeing as a dominant trend is that people seem to be chasing a number, score or target rather than the actionable insights that actually move the CX dial.

FQ: So things like First Call Resolution (FCR)?

Fiona Keough - AuscontactFK: There is a little bit of a cloud over FCR. Some believe it drives improved customer satisfaction and there are others who say they are not inextricably linked. The key things that people are measuring in terms of CX are things like the Net Promoter Score, CSAT, and Net Easy Score. There are some organisations that are measuring all of them and some that have their own metrics.

FQ: And are there qualitative measures?

FK: Yes, and these are more subjective of course. They are more about what the customers are saying and where organisations have opportunities to improve. The smarter organisations are not using a number to drive the change. Instead they are using insights that tell them where the pain points are for their customers. It is also identifying what they’re doing really well and continuing to improve on that.

FQ: And where does this data come from?

FK: A lot of it is analytics and these days many organisations are recording 100% of their interactions with customers and using smart tools and technologies that then enable them to get to the real heart of what's going on.

The challenge is it is not a “set and forget” - even if you buy the tool, you still need to use it appropriately. When the really mature organisations solve issues they actually go back to the customer and tell them that the insight from an interaction had helped improved things.

FQ: What technologies had a big impact in 2018?

FK: There is a significant amount of ‘hype’ out there, Artificial Intelligence (AI) was going to have a massive impact. I think when we look at the uptake numbers we see that while many people are talking about AI and automation, the adoption rate is significantly below that.

I think what makes people a little ‘gun shy’ is when they see it or experience it executed poorly. They don’t want to be on the bleeding edge, they want to be on the leading edge of technology.

FQ: Because the bleeding edge will have teething problems.

FK: Yes typically, but be a fast follower.

FQ: How did contact centre CX and EX improve last year?

FK: What we’re seeing more of is a focus on bringing the customer into the design through things like customer journey mapping or human centred design. Where the smarter organisations are operating is overlaying EX with CX so that they are one.

If you’ve got an employee that is able to deliver what they inherently know is going to be a good CX for the customer, their frame of mind is going to be positive, and that's contagious. So the focus on EX and creating the right culture within an organisation is incredibly important.

FQ: So if the plain old telephone is the still the dominant channel, which channel is rising the fastest?

FK: Chat, and particularly with regard to self-service (chat with a bot), which is becoming increasingly prevalent. However, there is still a little hesitation due to some examples of poor execution, as I mentioned earlier.

For chat to work well for you it requires critical mass. So if you have say five people in a contact centre, it probably doesn’t make sense to add automation. You need people to train and work with the bot to get the right outcomes.

FQ: So at how many seats does it become viable?

FK: It depends on the organisation but you need a fair amount of volume to make it viable. There is not an absolute number or magical number I can give you.

FQ: How do you think Australian contact centres are doing in this rising omnichannel environment?

FK: To be frank, omnichannel has been rising for a decade at least. It is something that people are attempting to do, but we still are not seeing a massive, high quality execution of it. It is still a struggle, and for some, part of that is understanding what omnichannel truly is. It is not just a case of having multiple channels, it is about both the organisation and the customer being able to switch between them seamlessly. It’s multichannel on steroids.

FQ: Which vertical is doing it best? Financial services?

FK: Of course. At the risk of stating the obvious, they tend to have the deepest pockets and therefore have the ability to invest – both human and technological – into enterprise-wide programmes. To be successful in omnichannel requires participating from the whole organisation and some financial institutions are still undergoing that transformation.

FQ: Would the other sector making significant improvements be government?

FK: Yes, if we look at the Australian Tax Office (ATO) for example. For what could be perceived as the most rigourous, compliant government department, they are without a doubt one of the most innovative and keen to modernise that you will find. I would even say that in some regards they may be ahead of the Big Four banks.

FQ: Do you think Australia is a leader or laggard in the global contact centre industry?

FK: As I said before, we like to be on the leading edge not the bleeding edge. So we are happy to let other countries go ahead. The other thing is what is culturally acceptable elsewhere, might not be OK here. While Australians have a love of smart devices, they don’t always have trust. We’re a little more risk adverse, which tends to guide what we do.

FQ: How about outsourcing? What is the trend there?

FK: The good news is that Australians are no longer afraid of outsourcing. What they prefer, however, is to outsource onshore. So in Fifth Quadrant’s research produced in early 2018, 24 per cent of contact centres said they were happy to outsource, but 78% of them said they would only do so onshore.

FQ: And is it true that Brisbane is the nation’s contact centre capital?

FK: I’m not sure who started that rumour. It is actually becoming more diversified. About 40 per cent are in New South Wales and around 20 per cent apiece are in Queensland and in Victoria. The remaining 20 per cent is in South Australia and Western Australia. We’re also seeing some impact based on differing labour rates, which you can read about in our upcoming Fifth Quadrant-conducted salary survey.

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity and length.

 About Auscontact

Auscontact Association is the united voice for the customer contact industry in Australia, connecting people, industries and organisations, locally and globally, to deliver excellence in customer contact experience.

To learn more, visit

Ready to talk CX? 

Stefan Kostarelis

Written by Stefan Kostarelis

Stefan is the Content Manager at a Sydney-based investor relations firm, and a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Techly, Paste Magazine, Lost at E Minor and Tech Invest.

Topics: CX Articles & Insights

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