I've complained recently that
innovation has left the call center space due to a cycle of inactivity. As a
refresher, the slowdown in spending during the last few years led to layoffs
of engineering talent and smaller research and development budgets. As a
result, we have had fewer new and exciting products in the space; and today,
we are starting to see an impetus to budget for new products and services.
I predict we are at an innovation trough that we will slowly but surely
climb out of in the next few months. I say this because I am beginning to
see the emergence of some really innovative products. Furthermore, the VoIP
space is seeing a tremendous amount of growth right now, and many
traditional contact center vendors are IP-enabling their solutions. In doing
so, they are creating many new features and increased functionality levels.
Finding Needles In E-Stacks
Without a doubt, the Internet is one of the best ways to research anything.
There is more information on the Web than any human could view in a
lifetime, and the volume grows at exponential rates, creating the necessity
for first-class search technologies. Google is one of the companies in this
space, while Microsoft and Yahoo have both announced their intent to lead
the search category in the future. This is a multibillion dollar market and
process is full of distractions. Quite often, while looking for information,
we find we end up spending more time on ancillary tasks than the original
problem we set out to solve. This is counter-productive for a sales
department combing the Web for leads. Salespeople need to be productive at
all times. The good news is, I have found a product that will allow much
better Web-based lead searching.
BroadLook Technologies (www.broadlook.com) offers a software package that
scours the Internet, looking for leads from any company with a Web site.
When pertinent material is found, the information is returned to you: data
such as e-mail, title and location. Once a search is complete, your
salesperson can choose which contacts he or she wants and then import them
into a CRM application such as GoldMine, ACT!, Maximizer or even Excel.
Real Business Intelligence
Other interesting features of the software are the ability to leverage the
search engine to find other nuggets of information while it's scouring. If
you're looking for companies that are about to hold a conference, just
received funding or are hiring, you can specify that the software look for
this information. You can also put together lists of company affiliates and
partners, suppliers and/or parent companies. The product is able to
effectively sift through the Web using relational searches that would be
virtually impossible to conduct manually.
This is a software solution, not a subscription model. In many ways, it's
better than available databases as it is more up-to-date. Executive/bio
information on a Web site is usually updated in real-time and as such, so
are the results of your queries through the applications in the BroadLook
Suite (various applications can be purchased individually or in suite form).
Turn Up The Volume
The software works on a company-by-company basis, but also works on lists of
companies, which can often be found on the Web. Using a software module
called Eclipse, users can point it at such a list and begin spidering it.
This can also be done with an Internet table that contains items such as
URL, city, state, company name, etc. Users can further spider capsules
(pages that have a business capsule that summarizes a company). For example,
a finance site may have a list of companies that contains links to their own
site, where each company is profiled in depth in a capsule. Eclipse can
spider these capsules by parsing and determining where common data reside,
such as growth rates, size of company or anything else. You can import
whichever contacts and columns you like. The cost for this software is about
$1,000 per person, with 100 queries per day allowed per user. I believe this
technology to be absolutely critical to the selling process of any company.
I predict we will see this application and others like it as common elements
of our desktops in the upcoming years. Give it a try for yourself.
Fixing A Broken System
CRM, ERP, financial, HR, SFA, supply chain, home grown ' how many of these
applications do you have in your company? Worse, how many of these do you
require your call center agents to use throughout their day? Do you know
that 66 percent of call center agents use 3 or more applications, while 27
percent use 5 applications or more?1 Does this strike you as ridiculously
complicated? (See Figure 1.) By the time we train agents to use all these
systems, guess what? They're gone! Is this smart? Absolutely not'but we
weren't in a position to think about this much until now.
The reason I say that we weren't in a position to do anything about this
situation is that quite often, the contact center is a beneficiary of
various corporate systems (all listed in the previously mentioned acronyms).
What is beneficial to the company can sometimes lead to chaos in the contact
center. After all, call center agents have enough problems dealing with
customers, let alone having to learn the nuances and intricacies of multiple
systems, many of which were designed without nice GUI interfaces and with
arcane menu trees. Contact centers don't always drive corporate policies, so
you don't see too many contact center managers upgrading ERP and financial
systems. Agents and supervisors are basically stuck with what the CIO gives
them. Worse yet, software is expensive and sometimes difficult to upgrade.
Even the most accommodating CIO in the world may not have the budget or
manpower to upgrade systems.
A company called Jacada (www.jacada.com) can help fix this problem with the
ability to non-intrusively connect to and integrate applications from
multiple vendors. Jacada has two products: Fusion, which allows users to
fuse multiple applications together into a simplified interaction (see
Figure 2.); and WinFuse, which allows non-invasive access to any Windows
client-server application. The result is a product that allows companies to
build simple interfaces from applications that rely on the Web, Windows and
even host applications (typically legacy mainframe or Unix systems).
Let's look at the situation objectively. Agents are expensive, regardless of
where in the world they are located (even Indian agents are relatively
expensive when you factor in training). Agents are about 60 percent of the
total call center cost. Fusing multiple applications into a more simplified
interface reduces agent training time, potentially reduces turnover, reduces
the skill level of agents who need to be hired, allows agents more time to
build relationships with customers and finally allows the agent to spend
more time cross-selling, upselling and overcoming objections. Customers
waste less time on the phone and are happier with the overall interaction.
A separate but crucial issue is data accuracy. As desktop complexity
increases, a natural correlation in data entry errors ensues. I haven't done
hard research on this assumption, but it seems very logical to me. Reducing
system complexity and redundant data entry will certainly increase data
accuracy, which is critical.
Jacada needs to be involved in the initial integration of applications, and
subsequently gives users the tools and training to be self-sufficient. Let's
go over how this works. The company helps you map out the perfect
interaction. They then work with you to understand the process that is
required to make the perfect interaction happen. Finally, they build the
perfect interaction using Fusion. Current applications don't need rewrites
The resulting program is a thin-client and as such, can be used anywhere
Internet access resides. Users can use BEA Weblogic Portal or a Java
interface, among others. This can really help with vitalizing call centers
and allowing them to be more easily offshored or 'at-homed,' to coin a new
phrase. Offshoring is a touchy subject, but the reality is that most contact
centers are looking at the potential of offshore locations to reduce costs,
and Jacada helps make this possible. The company is currently targeting
centers that are 100 seats or more in size and the system payback can be a
matter of months, depending on a company's situation.
Contact centers have been around for ages, but there are still many areas
for us to improve. The two companies I have highlighted will no doubt
increase productivity, reduce costs and improve sales. They should be on
your list for consideration. I look forward to sharing more contact center
innovations with you in the future. Do you have an innovation in your center
you think should be featured in this column? If so, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Group Publisher, Group Editor-in-Chief
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