MEETING THE CHALLENGES OF CHOICE With IP Telephony.The pursuits of efficiency, productivity and cost reduction are driving businesses to an increasingly self-service mode. Many advances in technology enable self-service, and the Web revolution is one of the most powerful and dramatic movements in this direction. Businesses that succeed in the self-service era will be those that recognize that self-service alone is not enough. Sooner or later, customers need to speak with someone. While customers want multimedia options that define how they buy from or interact with an organization, the only service option customers want is excellence and consistency.
Choice adds challenge, however, since the Internet multiplies the ways in which customers can communicate with companies. It's tough for companies to pinpoint and plan for the exact medium from which the customer will choose to initiate contact. Multimedia customer service can be integrated via a variety of technologies -- hardware, software, servers, traditional PBXs and ACDs, and Web technologies such as chat and e-mail. This makes accurate capacity planning Determining the required future configuration of hardware and software for a network, datacenter or Web site. There are numerous capacity planning tools on the market used to monitor and analyze the performance of the current hardware and software. for a multimedia contact center challenging and necessitates a flexible technology platform to accommodate this unpredictable demand.
Online Support: Improving, But Not There Yet
Over the next five years, the Years, The
the seven decades of Eleanor Pargiter’s life. [Br. Lit.: Benét, 1109]
See : Time growing acceptance of the Internet for doing business will lead the majority of enterprises to Web-enable their contact centers. This is a welcome trend, as online customer care is still a glaring inefficiency in many businesses -- whether they are pure-play Internet companies or "click and mortars." Consider the following statistics:
* Businesses lost $3.2 million in 1999 by failing to Web-enable their customer service operations (Datamonitor).
* Only eight percent of the 69,500 call centers in the U.S. are currently Web-enabled (Datamonitor).
* Less than 1 percent of all e-commerce sites offer live customer assistance (Datamonitor).
* Only 24 percent of e-commerce sites have instant messaging Exchanging text messages in real time between two or more people logged into a particular instant messaging (IM) service. Instant messaging is more interactive than e-mail because messages are sent immediately, whereas e-mail messages can be queued up in a mail server for seconds or and only 28 percent even acknowledge that an e-mail inquiry was received (GartnerGroup).
Fortunately, the tide is expected to shift. Datamonitor predicts by 2003, 40 percent of all call centers in the U.S. will provide multimedia customer service, with the online customer support market growing from $150 million in 1998 to $2 billion by 2003. So if Forrester Research's forecast that online sales will escalate es·ca·late
v. es·ca·lat·ed, es·ca·lat·ing, es·ca·lates
To increase, enlarge, or intensify: escalated the hostilities in the Persian Gulf.
v.intr. to $6.8 trillion by the year 2004 materializes, this growth is well-warranted.
One of the most important catalysts for successfully handling new requirements in the contact center is Internet Protocol See Internet and TCP/IP.
(networking) Internet Protocol - (IP) The network layer for the TCP/IP protocol suite widely used on Ethernet networks, defined in STD 5, RFC 791. IP is a connectionless, best-effort packet switching protocol. (IP). IP in the call center is increasing, thanks to a host of benefits including cost-efficiency, flexibility and the ease of a common communications platform to handle both voice and Internet calls. Deploying IP networks also makes it possible for new providers to offer communications services, which was previously the domain of incumbent telephone companies.
IP can provide a robust, scalable and versatile platform for multimedia customer service, Voice over IP (VoIP) promises a simple mechanism for Web/call center interaction, reduction in voice costs and tighter integration of voice and data in the call center itself. IP-based automated call distribution (ACD (Automatic Call Distributor) A computerized phone system that responds to the caller with a voice menu and connects the call to the appropriate agent. It can also distribute calls equally to agents. ) is another enabler experiencing rapid growth; Frost & Sullivan expects IP-ACD to be a $388 million market by 2006. Some of the benefits of IP-ACD include allowing customer contact centers to conduct all customer service activities (telephone calls, voice and video over the Internet, keyboard chat, voice mail, e-mail and all forms of collaboration) through all media (PC, regular phone, TV and wireless devices) with only an IP or Internet-based connection to the agents.
tr.v. per·son·al·ized, per·son·al·iz·ing, per·son·al·iz·es
1. To take (a general remark or characterization) in a personal manner.
2. To attribute human or personal qualities to; personify. Service: Getting It Done
Smart businesses seek to make every type of interaction -- whether it's over the phone, in a chat or even via videoconference vid·e·o·con·fer·ence
A teleconference using video technology, such as closed-circuit television.
vid -- an opportunity to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty and boost revenue. Adopting an individualized in·di·vid·u·al·ize
tr.v. in·di·vid·u·al·ized, in·di·vid·u·al·iz·ing, in·di·vid·u·al·iz·es
1. To give individuality to.
2. To consider or treat individually; particularize.
3. , "have it your way" approach to each customer's challenge is an important criterion for success. At present, businesses wishing to offer their customers real-time, personalized service over the Web have four options.
Text chat. Perhaps the simplest to deploy; the visitor and an agent type messages to one another in real-time. Text chat is still popular, probably because many home-based Web surfers have only one phone line and no alternative method of communication with an agent when they are online. As VoIP, which a visitor with only one phone can use, becomes more dominant, textbased support is expected to drop off. Still, text chat is expected to remain popular in help desk settings, where an agent can "push" relevant documents that aid in problem solving problem solving
Process involved in finding a solution to a problem. Many animals routinely solve problems of locomotion, food finding, and shelter through trial and error. to the customer.
Web callback The initiation of a call to a call center from a Web page. The user clicks a button on the page, and the response can be processed in several ways: (1) it can link the customer to a form that is filled out to schedule a callback, (2) it can generate an Internet telephony connection . The agent calls the visitor on a separate phone line. Ovum Research estimates callback An authentication technique that calls the sender back. After connection is made, the receiving side breaks the connection and calls the sender to ensure that the logon was made from the authorized computer. Callback prevents a stolen ID and password from being used on a different machine. is likely to be the most popular communication method over the next two years.
Voice over IP. Here, the customer is connected to the agent using a voice connection from his or her multimedia PC. Conditions for accepting VoIP -- at least over some segments in the public Internet -- are close to being met. IDC projects that IP will grow to 2.7 billion minutes by 2004.
Video. A VoIP connection is made with the addition of a video image of the agent. Video contact is still in its nascent state (Chem.) the fleeting or momentary state of an uncombined atom or radical just separated from one compound, and not yet united with another, - a hypothetical condition implying peculiarly active chemical properties; as, hydrogen in the nascent state is a strong reducer s>. , used primarily in enterprise Intranets for applications such as booths in bank branches that provide links to financial services The examples and perspective in this article or section may not represent a worldwide view of the subject.
Please [ improve this article] or discuss the issue on the talk page. experts. In these settings, two-way video contact can serve as a valuable catalyst for enhancing customer trust. Online, organizations are beginning to use one-way video over IP to offer a "real person" presence to customers. It can also allow a CSR (1) (Customer Service Representative) A person who handles a customer's request regarding a bill, account changes or service or merchandise ordered. Agents in call centers are known as CSRs. See call center. to "show and tell" for more frequent sales of higher values.
VoIP: Catalyst For Cost Savings And Talent Retention In The Contact Center
Investments in real estate and technology are often the two biggest capital expenditures for a contact center. A recent report by Datamonitor examined the reasons to distribute CSRs to remote locations, and the contact center solutions available today that support such an alternative. The report stated, "the next logical step in a remote CSR implementation would be to combine the voice and data link to the headquarters infrastructure via a single connection and the utilization of VoIP packet-switching technology...a physical phone would not even be needed at the remote site as both voice and data would travel over the ISP (1) See in-system programmable.
(2) (Internet Service Provider) An organization that provides access to the Internet. Connection to the user is provided via dial-up, ISDN, cable, DSL and T1/T3 lines. or virtual private network IP connection." With the inroads inroads
make inroads into to start affecting or reducing: my gambling has made great inroads into my savings
inroads npl to make inroads into [+ of IP, the need to aggregate CSRs in one physical location becomes greatly diminished, if not eliminated.
Customer support, whether in a business or consumer environment, is a highly stressful occupation and historically has a high rate of employee turnover. With the cost of agents' labor typically hovering hov·er
intr.v. hov·ered, hov·er·ing, hov·ers
1. To remain floating, suspended, or fluttering in the air: gulls hovering over the waves.
2. around 30 percent of call center expenses, giving CSRs the flexibility to work from home may prove to be a valuable tool for retention. In addition, these organizations can also tap talent across the globe, increasing the pool of available workers and creating a truly global customer service outfit. Looking ahead, IP-based, networked contact center environments will no longer be anomalies: Ovum Research predicts that by 2005, nearly 35 percent of call center seats will be network-based.
Here is an example. A franchise travel company currently supports 1,400 travel agents across 350 different sites with a single toll-free number and Web site. With IP-based automatic call distribution, the company's CRM (Customer Relationship Management) An integrated information system that is used to plan, schedule and control the presales and postsales activities in an organization. software unites consumers, travel agents and employees, fusing online and offline business processes via its Web sire, customer care center and network of traditional travel agencies located throughout North America North America, third largest continent (1990 est. pop. 365,000,000), c.9,400,000 sq mi (24,346,000 sq km), the northern of the two continents of the Western Hemisphere. . Customer leads are routed to the appropriate agent based on various criteria, including the franchise's geographic territory, product expertise, store hours and language skills.
Calls can come over on the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) The worldwide voice telephone network. Once only an analog system, the heart of most telephone networks today is all digital. In the U.S. , or over the Internet via char, VoIP, e-mail and collaboration channels. Switching is accomplished via the managed IP backbone. The agents do not need or use telephones. They interface exclusively with their multimedia PCs, which are equipped with headsets. All calls are answered or originated from the agent PCs.
Supervisors, also located anywhere, can coach, monitor calls and interrupt when necessary. They can draw real-time reports and gain access to histograms, analysis and an abundance of decision-support information for effectively managing their globally located CSRs.
Business benefits to the travel agency include more qualified leads, accurate targeting, improved sales close ratios and superior customer loyalty, resulting in an estimated 20 percent increase in revenues annually. Finally, one deployment serves all 1,400 agents. Agents can work at home or be located in offices throughout the world, which makes it easier to support a 24-hour customer service environment.
Wait... What About Wireless?
Just when businesses are starring to get comfortable with the idea of Web-enabling the call center, along comes the m-commerce revolution. With 700,000 new mobile users added each day, wireless phones will soon surpass wireline phones in usage worldwide. GartnerGroup predicts 78 percent of mobile users will access online data in 2001 -- whether through phones or PDAs and pocket PCs outfitted with wireless modems A modem and antenna that transmits and receives over the air. Wireless modems support several technologies, including 802.11, Bluetooth, CDPD, DataTAC, Mobitex and Ricochet. There are wireless modems for laptops, handhelds and cellphones. . Extending its projections,
GartnerGroup says that the worldwide value of consumer transactions initiated from a consumer's personal mobile device could reach $1.8 trillion by 2005.
The wireless point of contact is emerging as a critical piece in the overall communication cycle for customer sales and support. As the acceptance of the wireless Internet grows, businesses will need to employ the same live help technologies to capture critical customer information. Customers require the same attention regardless of how and when they choose to contact you. Customer service to mobile customers (m-care) is more than enabling a Web site with wireless applications protocol (WAP (1) (Wireless Access Point) See access point.
(2) (Wireless Application Protocol) A standard for providing cellular phones, pagers and other handheld devices with secure access to e-mail and text-based Web pages. ). Customers need caller-specific, live assistance.
Presently, customer support communications options in the wireless environment include self-service (through menu-based prompts), live help (through callback, inbound voice calls and e-mail call prompts) and e-mail messaging.
As wireless Web usage goes mainstream, companies that provide enhanced services Enhanced service is service offered over commercial carrier transmission facilities used in interstate communications, that employs computer processing applications that act on the format, content, code, protocol, or similar aspects of the subscriber's transmitted information; via the wireless communication channel will realize great competitive advantages and better, more durable relationships with their customers. Value-added services A value-added service (VAS) is a telecommunications industry term for non-core services or, in short, all services beyond standard voice calls and fax transmissions. enabled through wireless PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) A handheld computer for managing contacts, appointments and tasks. It typically includes a name and address database, calendar, to-do list and note taker, which are the functions in a personal information manager (see PIM). or browser-based phones will be a key differentiator for companies in maintaining customer loyalty and influencing future purchases. It gives customers the ability to interact in any way they want, taking full advantage of the bandwidth opportunities that will come with third-generation wireless markets.
People still buy from people and still need live interaction with others, The real challenge for enterprises today is to find efficient, productive and cost-effective ways of providing multimedia live customer care -- ways that integrate and harmoniously blend self-service technology with the timeless value of live personal interaction.
Bennett Klein (firstname.lastname@example.org) is vice president, Global Marketing at CosmoCom Inc. CosmoCom (www.cosmocom.com), headquartered in Melville, New York Melville is a hamlet and census-designated place in the town of Huntington in Suffolk County on Long Island, New York, in the United States. As of the 2000 census, 14,533 people resided there. , provides IP-based unified contact center solutions for both e-business and traditional brick-and-mortar enterprises.