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Turning your call center into a contact center: the latest Web-enabling techniques. (E-CRM).

While the Internet "bubble" has long since burst, Web-enabled applications are still very much alive and kicking among contact centers whose livelihood depends on giving customers flexible and convenient contact options. Technologies such as VoiceXML, voice over IP and the emerging session initiation protocol (SIP) are making it simpler and more cost-effective to deploy multichannel communications, while consumer trends -- in particular the demand for self-service options such as Web and e-mail auto response -- are further driving these deployments.

While there are plenty of arguments for contact centers to take the Web-enabled plunge, the question is how to approach these deployments to optimize cost savings and enhance customer service.

Know Thy Customer, Know Thyself

The first step toward a successful deployment is thoroughly understanding customer requirements. Contact centers should perform a complete needs assessment via surveys, questionnaires and focus groups. The assessment should also involve internal constituencies such as sales, marketing, product management, documentation and IT to understand how this technology will impact the entire organization. The ultimate result will be a prioritized list of Web-enabled applications that can be used as a checklist when technology evaluation begins. It should also uncover additional opportunities for how the new Web-enabled applications can be applied enterprisewide in order to increase return on investment.

Increasing ROI through lowered costs and improved revenue is no small issue and must be weighed carefully against customer demand. Increasing ROI is influenced by many cultural factors, thus it is critical that contact centers put into place the necessary change management steps required for new technology adoption to occur. These include management buy-in, a documented deployment plan, appropriate training and follow-up sessions to determine if goals were met.

It's important to note that as a contact center's tolerance for risk increases, it will generally require less stringent ROI requirements. Like any other factor affecting ROI, this too must be weighed against customer demand and the potential benefits of the technology.

Know The Technology

Selecting Web-enabled technology has, undoubtedly, become much more complex since the late 1990s when the Internet's popularity first peaked. Today, Web-enabled applications have evolved to include the full spectrum of e-services -- from Web chat, Web callback and collaboration, to universal queue management and knowledge-based Web and e-mail auto response.

Web chat is becoming an integral part of contacts centers because it enables customers to ask a question in real-time during an online transaction without logging off the Internet to make a call. For the vast majority of people who still use a dial-up connection and a single phone line, this can save an otherwise lost customer.

For the contact center, Web chat offers the added benefit of standardizing agent responses by providing answer templates to most frequently asked questions. Combined with a response management library that enables agents to check a question against a knowledge base, Web chat can dramatically increase response time and speed agent training without supervisory intervention.

A close cousin of Web chat is Web callback. For customers wanting to speak to an agent by phone, this enables them to submit callback information for a near real-rime response. For the customer, this can avoid long call wait times. In addition, customers can elect to submit a callback to a specific department, or even an individual for more personalized service.

Collaboration provides agent/customer browser synchronization, which enables agents to do things like assist customers with filling out online forms and see what Web pages a customer has visited. These are relatively advanced Web features most applicable to contact centers that ate already offering a substantial array of Internet-based transaction options. For these contact centers, however, it can prove to be a major competitive advantage in a virtual world where product proliferation has left customer service king.

Universal queue management (UQM) enables contact centers to route and otherwise manage phone calls, faxes, e-mails and Web interactions via a single queue. The ability to "universally" queue and route interactions of all types is perhaps the most critical part of any Web service strategy. This is because UQM eliminates the interaction silo or "black hole" effect so often associated with multi-channel customer service options today.

UQM enables contact centers to flexibly route and queue interactions of all types based on criteria such as most skilled agent, longest available agent, or even the particular time of day or day of month. It eliminates the need for contact centers to create a separate set of routing rules for each interaction type, thus reducing development time. Depending on skill, some agents will also be able to handle multiple Web interactions simultaneously, thus increasing productivity.

UQM has the added advantage of enabling contact centers to perform end-to-end reporting. By reporting on statistics across interaction types, contact centers get a true view of customer behavior, which they can then use to identify ways of improving resource allocation.

Any Web services strategy would be incomplete without some component of self-service. To get the most out of Web and e-mail self-service, contact centers are using "self-learning" knowledge bases. These knowledge bases are used to provide an interactive FAQ button on a Web page so that customers can enter a question and receive an answer in real-rime. The best knowledge bases use advanced linguistic analysis and artificial intelligence techniques to examine inquiries, search for matches, and automatically respond with the most appropriate match. A good knowledge base should also incorporate refinements with each matching session, thus actually getting "smarter" the more it's used. Knowledge bases can also be used to generate automated answers to e-mail messages.

While Web and e-mail auto-response features can offload agents -- which, in many cases can lead to significant cost-savings -- without escalation to live help, customer service benefits may be entirely lost. For this reason, contact centers should always provide easy access to live help when designing self-service applications.

Prioritization of customer requirements aside, Web-enabled applications are most effective when used in conjunction with each other. For instance, while there might be cost-savings and customer service benefits to enabling customers to fill out forms online, imagine a scenario that incorporates all aspects of Web-enablement.

Consider a doctor's office that currently lets patients log onto a Web site and complete a question-and-answer session based on a clinical triage algorithm. The patient is then connected to a doctor in the contact center using Web chat. When the doctor accepts the char, the results of the triage session are displayed on his workstation. The doctor and the patient then conduct an online consultation. The transcript of the consultation is stored in a record system and a copy is e-mailed to the patient.

This scenario dramatically reduces transcription requirements, increases accuracy of information and improves quality assurance, all of which can lead to a reduction of costs and an increase in revenue.

Know The Future

From the example above, it's clear that contact centers must not only be careful to select tightly integrated Web solutions, but also solutions that can integrate easily to telephony components, as well as customer service, customer relationship management and enterprise business applications.

According to analyst firm, Gartner, Inc., this integration is especially critical if call centers are to evolve beyond contact centers into "customer interaction hubs' In a January 3, 2003 report titled "Customer Service Hype Cycle 2003: Strategy Comes First," Gartner states that leading enterprises worldwide will begin planning for the next step in customer service and support, which is the creation of an integrated customer interaction framework, or hub, that provides a real-time, and thorough, view of the customer across channels to all relevant customer-facing employees."

So what can contact centers do today to successfully evolve into customer interaction hubs? Clearly, deployment of open systems is critical. Contact centers should look for Web-enabled solutions that are built on open standards. Technologies such as the emerging SIP standard for VoIP are ideal for contact centers looking to deploy Web applications without being locked into proprietary systems.

Contact centers should also heavily weight the ability of vendors to provide not just Web-enabled applications for the contact center, but applications for the business user as well, such as Web-enabled wireless access. A solution that can easily and cost-effectively be expanded for enterprisewide deployment provides the optimum foundation for the customer interaction hub, as well as maximum ROI.

Likewise, solutions that provide facilities for centralized management are well-suited for this model. Contact centers should look for solutions that include a single tool for managing. administering and customizing applications across communications channels. In addition, this tool should offer a graphical user interface for ease-of-use.

By helping to create a culture that's receptive to new technology, and by laying a technology foundation that's both easily expandable and easily managed, contact centers today are nor only guaranteeing successful Web-enabled deployments, they're positioning themselves to lead the way in the next evolution of the customer-driven organization.

Christine J. Holley is the Market Communications Director for Indianapolis-based Interactive Intelligence Inc. (www.inin.com), a global developer of software for IP telephony, contact center automation and unified communications.

For information and subscriptions, visit www.TMCnet.com or call 203-852-6800.
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Author:Holley, Christine J.
Publication:Customer Interaction Solutions
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2003
Words:1512
Previous Article:Using skills-based routing to enhance contact center revenue and performance. (Call Center/CRM Management Scope).
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