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Looking for reasons to record? Now there are more than ever.

If you're a contact center manager, you probably have one of the toughest jobs on the planet. In many ways, your company's success rests on your contact center and the actions of your agents. Your contact center agents wield tremendous power. Each time they pick up the phone and speak to a customer, they are--for better or worse--"your company." What they say and how they say it can drive sales, or drive customers away. Your contact center is also, in many ways, the voice of your customers--a place where customers freely express their opinions, desires and dissatisfaction. Organizations that capture this "customer voice," listen to it and use that knowledge to adapt will ultimately succeed. Companies that ignore it risk a slow death and possible extinction.

In the midst of all of this, contact centers must also pay attention to a growing list of legal regulations that govern doing business over the phone. Suffice it to say, if your contact center is looking for reasons to record, today there are more than ever. This article explores how contact centers can use recording and monitoring technology--together with new tools for workforce relationship management--to improve agent performance, harness customer intelligence and ensure legal compliance.

Optimizing Agent Performance

In a survey conducted by the Aberdeen Group, almost half of senior managers, directors and C-level executives interviewed rated the contact center's strategic importance as "critical" to their enterprise. Most customer interactions take place through the contact center, and they can be defining moments for both customers and companies. By one estimate, some 90 percent of contact centers employ some form of monitoring program to ensure that agents are providing quality service, and recording technology is the cornerstone of many of these programs. Usually, these programs involve a familiar three-step process of recording agent/customer interactions, reviewing and evaluating those interactions and then coaching and training agents based on those results.

Today, contact centers can benefit from new solutions that combine traditional recording and quality monitoring platforms with workforce relationship management software. Workforce relationship management software provides a comprehensive set of tools for optimizing agent performance in the contact center, including modules for agent recruiting and screening, learning management and training, and agent assessments. The software works in concert with the contact center's quality monitoring system and links the contact center's recruiting, training and assessment programs through a common competency model.

Competency models have been widely used in business by human resources professionals for decades, but they have only recently been applied to contact center quality programs. In essence, competency models help contact centers formally recognize and articulate the competencies that are important to an agent's success on the job, and systematically apply these competencies to their recruiting, training and assessment programs. They create a shared understanding of the knowledge, skills and abilities agents need to achieve success on the job. The agent's role, responsibilities and tasks are clearly identified, along with the specific competencies needed to perform each task effectively.

A contact center competency model assumes that in order to do the job well (perform the tasks within a certain expected level of operational performance), the agent must have certain competencies (developed to a specific level of proficiency). For example, an inbound customer service representative in the lost-card division of a credit card company might be required to perform these types of tasks when taking calls: customer screening, case management and back-office administration. To perform those tasks, the agent would need to have certain competencies: communications skills (or more specifically, the ability to handle stressed customers); empathy (the ability to empathize with the customer and his or her predicament); process knowledge (to explain the company's process for handling lost cards and what that means to the customer); and system knowledge (to effectively use and update the systems for lost-card inquiries).

Once the competency model is established and validated, it can be applied to a contact center's recruiting, training and assessment programs, using the combined technologies of recording and workforce relationship management. This enables contact centers to prescreen and recruit agents based on specific competencies that are required for the job, monitor recorded agent/customer interactions and assess agents based on core competencies that they use in handling these calls, and provide focused training to agents based on their individual areas of weakness (competency gaps) identified through the monitoring and assessment process. Ensuring that agents have the skills, knowledge and abilities to succeed on the job ultimately translates into improved agent performance and better customer service.

Harnessing Customer Intelligence

The average contact center handles hundreds, if not thousands, of calls each day. Hidden in these recorded customer interactions is a treasure trove of information about what customers are thinking, doing or planning to do. The challenge for the contact center is finding these hidden nuggets of information in a virtual mountain of recordings and then getting that information into the hands of individuals within the organization who have the power to effect change.

Imagine being able to identify business practices that negatively impact customer satisfaction or retention, or being able to salvage a long-time customer who (because of one bad experience) was about to defect to a competitor, or being able to locate information in your voice recordings that would help your marketing organization better understand what customers want. Phonetic search engines, available on some recording platforms, empower contact centers to do just that. Phonetic search engines convert selected audio (voice recordings) into searchable phonetic tracks. Once the recordings are indexed, numerous searches can be performed simply by typing in different key words or phrases. For example, you might search for calls from customers who are likely to defect using key words like "problem" or "cancel" or phrases like "not satisfied." You can retrieve these recordings, listen to them and perhaps even identify the customer (by viewing customer data captured in the call record or the recorded data screens from the agent's desktop) so that appropriate action can be taken.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Phonetic searching can also be used to ensure that agents are following scripts correctly (by identifying the presence of key words in a script). It can also be leveraged to determine whether agents are taking advantage of upsell opportunities, by referencing key phrases like: "Are you aware that we offer ...?" It can even be used as a marketing tool to identify new features or services customers desire by searching for strings of words such as: "Do you have ...?" or "I would like ..." Phonetic search engines can help contact centers derive intelligence from recorded customer interactions so that information can be shared with individuals within the organization who have the power to effect change--for instance, C-level marketing personnel, product development executives, even the CEO.

Ensuring Legal Compliance

Whether inbound or outbound, doing business over the phone can be risky business these days. Failure to comply with any number of state or federal regulations can result in significant fines and even legal actions against your company. If you are not recording calls, you may not be adequately protecting your contact center and your company from this potential liability.

If your contact center's function is primarily to sell goods and services over the phone, or if you have a low threshold for risk, a full-time recording solution that records 100 percent of the calls, 100 percent of the time, is the ideal solution. However, today's recording technology is also flexible enough to record only certain types of calls, or portions of calls relative to specific types of transactions. For example, agents can selectively start and stop recording simply by clicking on an icon on their desktop, or hitting a pre-programmed function key on their keyboard. Alternatively, some systems enable you to set up recording triggers to initiate recording, based on specific applications and activity on your agents' desktops. These selective recording capabilities can help ensure that your contact center is complying with key stipulations of the TSR (Telemarketing Sales Rule) involving "free to pay" conversion offers, novel payment methods and calls that involve upselling.

Training is also critical for ensuring compliance. It is not enough for contact center management to be versed in the latest telemarketing regulations. Agents need to know what the regulations are as well, and how to follow them. Understanding the relevant regulations should be a key competency, against which agents are monitored, measured and ultimately trained (should it be determined that they lack that knowledge).

In the context of new regulations, training is important not only for compliance, but for enhancing agent performance and business results. With tens of millions of Americans now signed up for the national "do-not-call" list, agents need to learn how to employ upselling and cross-selling to maximize the value of each and every calling opportunity, both on inbound and outbound calls. Cross-selling and upselling require a whole new set of skills, knowledge and abilities. Workforce relationship management combined with monitoring can help contact centers hire, train and assess agents with an eye toward building a contact center equipped to succeed in this brave new world.

So with so many reasons to record, will the familiar phrase "This call may be recorded for quality assurance" be replaced by a new mantra anytime soon? Don't bet on it. But one thing is certain; contact centers not only have more reasons than ever today to record, they have better technology to do it.

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BY John Kaiser, Dictaphone Corporation

John Kaiser is vice president of marketing, Communications Recording Systems, for Dictaphone (www.dictaphone.com).
COPYRIGHT 2004 Technology Marketing Corporation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Call Center/CRM Management Scope
Author:Kaiser, John
Publication:Customer Interaction Solutions
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2004
Words:1636
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