|Web-Enabling The Call Center: Your
Customers Are Only A Click Away
BY STEVEN HAINES
The Internet is changing the way companies do business. It provides a new, flexible,
and effective channel for marketing, sales, service, and distribution. The Web also gives
rise to a number of powerful customer contact opportunities and is, by its nature,
interactive. For these and other reasons, many companies are looking to combine the
Internet and the call center into a rich new means of interacting with customers.
Integrating the call center with the Web gives rise to exciting possibilities for
customer interaction, including e-mail and online chats. Others include collaborative
browsing, in which the Internet browsers of both the agent and the customer become linked
and can be controlled by either party, and Voice over IP (VoIP), in which voice is
transmitted over a data network.
While the convergence of call center and Internet technologies offers tremendous
benefits, it also presents several challenges. Software technologies for Web-enabling call
centers are becoming readily available however, call center managers and agents may
not initially be able to effectively harness the new functionality afforded by the
Internet. Additionally, customers may be reluctant to try Web interaction, especially if
they have had difficulty using the Web in the past. Several key technologies and
techniques, including queue management and work blending, reinforced by the collection of
real-time statistics and business intelligence, can pave the way toward faster technology
adoption and accelerate an organizations efforts to successfully leverage both call
center and Internet technologies.
Call centers have been gradually evolving over the past few years from the simplest
switch-only solutions to those incorporating detailed computer-telephony functionality.
According to Datamonitor (www.datamonitor.com), a market research and consulting firm
based in New York and London, For companies wishing to combine the customer focus of
a call center with the business potential of the Web, a Web integrated call center or
multimedia contact center is the next logical step of development. In the US,
Datamonitor predicts that penetration of Web-enabling technologies will rise to 32 percent
KEY BUSINESS DRIVERS
A Web-enabled call center allows a business to differentiate itself from
competitors by providing new and useful services. Efficiency improvements can help boost
company performance through reduced costs, or higher revenues for equivalent expenditures.
For example, transferring expensive repetitive telephone-based operations to the Web can
clearly reduce call center operating costs. Using a new distribution or service channel
can provide new marketing opportunities, and capture new market sectors that the company
has previously been unable to service or supply. The combination of Internet and telephone
technologies can also provide around-the-clock customer sales and service, and improve
customer loyalty and satisfaction, leading to an increase in repeat business and customer
retention, directly influencing revenues.
Call-center-enabling the Web site also offers significant benefits. According to
Datamonitor, Many e-commerce functions report that around 70 percent of customers
who enter a site and fill an electronic shopping basket abandon the contact before any
transaction has taken place for one reason or another. Adding Web call
me and other human interaction can help close these sales. Agents will be able to
reassure customers about security issues, and perform cross- and up-selling, thereby
improving the revenue-generating function. Capturing some of these deflected customers
will greatly improve online revenues and help improve call center efficiency.
HURDLES TO OVERCOME
In spite of these benefits, according to Datamonitor, Web-enabled call center
penetration only reached about 10 percent last year. One reason call centers have been
slow to integrate Web functionality is the significant time lag that can occur between
implementing the new technology and the ability of call center managers and agents to use
the Internet. For instance, agents who may be highly adept at selling on the telephone may
not be able to rapidly and accurately type a skill that is necessary for sending
e-mails and conducting online chats. It is imperative to hire the right agents and train
them appropriately to ensure that whatever technology is chosen is exceedingly easy to
Another challenge is the difficulty consumers have in using the Internet. For many
consumers, simply connecting to the Web presents a dizzying array of challenges. Moreover,
unless users have separate Internet and telephone connections, the technology can not
really be utilized unless they are using VoIP. Then, once they are on the Internet,
many consumers find online shopping confusing. Unreliable connections and browser software
crashes may further frustrate customers. Being able to successfully rescue agitated online
shoppers will be key to retaining customers.
THE POWER OF BUSINESS INTELLIGENCE
Within the call center, there are several ways to maximize the potential of Internet
technology and to reduce the latency period between software technology availability and
the propensity to learn and use the software by call center agents and managers. Agents
must first be armed with sufficient business intelligence. They must be aware of every
customer interaction (any contact between a single customer and a human or automated agent
within the enterprise) that has taken place across all interaction channels. Without this
knowledge, an agent may not be aware that a customer is already agitated from having an
unsuccessful online shopping experience. The agent who knows if the customer is ready to
buy or highly frustrated is the agent who will be successful in selling products, or
improving customer loyalty by resolving an issue.
Further, business intelligence should utilize key indicators for managers to measure
performance against specific business targets. When a central repository is used across
CRM applications, it becomes easier to correlate operational performance in the call
center with business results.
INTEGRATION IS KEY
Technologies focusing on universal work queues and sophisticated work blending
applications are being introduced that will readily adopt new media types via a standard
media access interface. This will enable applications to operate with less
focus on the details of a given medium, and allow software providers to focus on improving
business application functionality that supports customer interactions. The media access
interface will manage each media system for the agent application, whether it is a
telephony, e-mail, or Web collaboration system. The architecture will also support
flexibility in incorporating new media as they become available.
Ensuring that the Web site is fully integrated with the companys call center is
as important as integrating with a companys other business systems (e.g., IVR,
self-service applications, back office systems for shipping information or contract data).
Without full integration, invaluable customer information could be lost or not fully
leveraged. But with CRM applications linked to repositories of business intelligence, not
only can customer information be used to its fullest, but also call center managers can
better analyze and understand trends in customer interactions. This will enable companies
to understand what types of skills agents will need today, and in the future.
The benefits of Web-enabled call centers are clear. They are poised to dramatically
change the experience of interacting with companies for both customers and agents. Because
the Web lets customers serve themselves for simple activities such as requests for
information, agents will have to handle fewer repetitive, routine tasks. This alone could
help to reduce turnover among agents. By taking advantage of self-help systems, companies
will also be able to reduce costs and improve sales.
Steven Haines is senior director of product management for Oracle Corporation.
Oracle software runs on PCs, workstations, minicomputers, mainframes, and massively
parallel computers, as well as on personal digital assistants and set-top devices. As more
and more companies transform themselves into e-businesses, Oracles Internet-enabled
solutions provide a cost-effective way to expand market opportunities, improve business
process efficiencies, and attract and retain customers. For more information, visit
Oracles Web site at www.oracle.com.