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September 2002

Teleservices Plus: Multichannel, Outsourced Customer Relationship Management (CRM)


Web-enabled contact centers are today's solution for providing cutting-edge customer service and technical support. Internet-savvy customers and high-tech companies expect immediate services and information from their Web connection, as well as intelligent, informed telephone interaction, and quick response to orders and requests for information. From yesterday's telephone and e-mail response organizations, corporate services have evolved to encompass the complete life cycle of customer care by attracting, acquiring, maintaining and enhancing customer relationships. Contact centers perform customer interaction activities, including sales, marketing, financial transactions, order entry, account maintenance, technical support, help desk activities, service dispatch, scheduling and general information. The evolution to Web-enabled contact centers requires the conversion of traditional teleservices agencies focused primarily on telephone customer service into facilities and processes capable of handling all channels of communication, including chat, e-mail and voice over IP (VoIP). It allows multichannel customer inquiries and order entries to be processed correctly, quickly and consistently via e-mail, fax or telephone.

Conversion is a complex task, requiring massive changes in the recruitment and training process to ensure that every customer interaction specialist (CIS) can professionally and efficiently meet customer needs and performance requirements. The introduction of new skill sets to current, valued employees presents another challenge. All current employees, from CIS to business development professional, are forced to move outside their comfort zones into new territory, learning new CRM software, new monitoring procedures and an entirely new service offering. A step of this magnitude is exciting, but is a constant test. Also involved are extensive technology infrastructure and hardware upgrades, quality assurance scope and capability realignments, additional security considerations and policies, and comprehensive transition plans to smoothly execute the conversion, all while attempting to maintain current service levels.

The addition of online services provides clients with a comprehensive solution. The benefits of multichannel CRM are enormous. Analysis of the valuable data collected in the process enables businesses to make informed decisions concerning market strategies, product development, necessary modifications to business practices and revenue opportunities.

Call Centers To CRM Solutions
One of the most obvious changes is the upgrade of the technology infrastructure, requiring the appropriate software, hardware and bandwidth in each customer interaction center, along with the requirement to interface with existing technologies. This requires a careful evaluation and selection of partners providing all aspects of the operation from switches to backbone to workstations. Cost plays a vital role in this selection, since redundancy, disaster recovery and scalability are so important to a 24-hour support environment. Leveraging the scope of a nationwide virtual private network (VPN) and volume of monthly telecommunications charges may assist in the negotiations for bandwidth and telecom carriers to support requirements in a more cost-effective manner.

Another upgrade involves providing Internet connectivity and the related memory to support multimedia, especially for VoIP. CISs also require larger monitors in order to see the contents of multiple windows, including various databases, responses to FAQs and order information, simultaneously.

Corporate e-mail and chat software can be easily incorporated, but the back-end of these services is not as easily created. Required for both chat and e-mail response programs is the creation of a knowledge database of responses to frequently asked questions. Here it is clear that the more comprehensive the response, the less time to correctly answer the customer query, making the CIS far more efficient. The entire e-mail and chat service selection needs to be in place from the beginning of the enhanced services, requiring a thorough implementation phase for database development and refinement.

Quality assurance activities grow substantially: outgoing e-mail and chat sessions now require monitoring in addition to telephone conversations. Monitoring of chat sessions and viewing e-mail responses can be built into the software, so that only setting of quality standards and training of supervisors are necessary. Also needed are policies curbing employee use of the Internet and e-mail, along with tracking mechanisms to prevent abuse. The standards for providing quality service do not change, only the means to monitor the standards.

Focus Today
Effective CRM solutions rely on professional, well-trained CISs ' there is no substitute for a real person. State-of-the-art automated systems assist the CIS in responding quickly, whether by telephone, e-mail, mail, fax or online.

Initially, each CIS must undergo extensive training ' to learn the product or services being supported, as well as the tools and systems to provide that support. Customers are looking for intelligent answers to various questions ranging from product ingredients and service specifics to billing questions. Questions concerning billing may require access to the client's internal billing database. Knowledgeable CISs may be instrumental for a cross-sell and upsell initiative, significantly increasing sales revenues.

Outsourced services providers today have a variety of enhanced tools that allow for a well- integrated CRM platform. They include:

  • Telephone services: A sophisticated call processing system of data-directed call routing that can immediately scan available CISs and route calls to the most appropriately skilled agent.
  • Self-help initiatives: Automated e-mail response, interactive voice response (IVR) and fax-on-demand as cost-efficient alternatives to processing customer requests without the assistance of a CIS.
  • IVR: To allow customers to access data by speaking or pressing the appropriate digits on a telephone key pad, providing the means of handling thousands of simultaneous transactions. Integration of the IVR with the automatic call distribution system enables seamless information transfer to the CIS with the appropriate skills.
  • E-mail response: An e-mail management software that can automatically respond to customer e-mail without a service representative's intervention.
  • E-fax-on-demand: Another self-help initiative for customers needing instructions, receipts or other documentation. Routing to the appropriate menu and means to input a 10-digit fax number enable an immediate transaction.
  • Personalized e-mail response: Custom response solution services for inquirers when standard answers are not sufficient. The system routes inbound customer e-mail inquiries to the most appropriate CIS and also suggests answers to facilitate a quick response.
  • Click2BCalled: The customer enters a telephone number to receive a call from a CIS. The customer may request an immediate call back or may request a time for the call back.
  • Click2Chat: The customer clicks an icon (on your Web site) to chat online and exchange instant messages with a CIS. The CIS also has the ability to 'push' pages of information to the customer.
  • Click2Speak (VoIP): Customers can speak directly over an Internet connection with a CIS (requires Web site visitor VoIP capability).
  • Transaction processing: Secure payment processing software is used to authorize and process all major credit card information. Funds can be authorized, processed and downloaded directly into the appropriate account. Customer service is available online, by e-mail or with a toll-free number.
  • Fulfillment services: This is a system that provides a seamless link between order processing, payment processing, inventory, shipping and returns. Inventory is received and verified, the right items are picked by location using a system-generated pick list, then packed, shipped and billed. Charges, orders and products are automatically reconciled and returns are automatically credited by the system. For exchanges, the system creates a new shipping label for the replacement and ships the next day. Information concerning inventory levels, delivery schedules, back-order status and out-of-stock items is instantly available to all authorized personnel.
  • Shipping: Daily service by all major shippers, using the latest bar code technology.
  • Inventory management: Clients have the ability to monitor all aspects of fulfillment, including inventory levels and order status, as well as selecting and printing their own reports from the Internet.

The systems and processes above not only assist the service or product customer, they provide valuable insight into a client's product and marketing focus. The effective analysis of customer profiles and customer and program characteristics can help a client fine-tune its approach and maximize lifetime value from every customer. Analyses often include examining advertising sources, demographic profiles, buying propensity, sales cycle profiles and profitability. Capturing and analyzing customer and Web site visitor interaction can help customize a targeted approach to each customer.

In addition to the inbound services detailed above, analysis may lead to an variety of outbound customer care programs that would increase revenue, decrease expenses and create loyal, lifelong customers. Examples include outbound calls to welcome new customers, follow-up resolution of concerns, verification of services and contact information, offerings of related products according to purchase history and general inquiries concerning customer satisfaction.

A Look At The Future
CRM is an ever-evolving suite of services, based on customers' needs and capabilities. The needs of businesses also dictate the direction of CRM, with businesses just beginning to realize the value of information collected during customer interactions. Collection and analysis of demographic data, purchasing information and general feedback gathered during all multichannel customer contact helps businesses understand their customers so they may better meet their needs.

Future enhancements to CRM solutions will include real-time caller analysis and video over IP services, where customers can see the agent on their monitors in real-time video, transmitted as data over the Internet connection.

The transition from traditional call center to Web-enabled multichannel contact center is challenging. It involves changes in personnel recruitment, training and expertise; hardware and software upgrades, with the necessary technology interface considerations and requirements; introduction of new services and capabilities; modification of quality assurance, monitoring and reporting practices; and a tremendous shift in service focus. However, it is a change demanded by today's businesses and their customers. It is a challenge that must be met.

Doug Palley is co-founder and president of CyberRep (, a provider of outsourced customer service, technical support and customer relationship management (CRM) solutions. CyberRep, headquartered in McLean, Virginia, is an outsourced customer interaction center and CRM solutions provider for customer service, technical support and sales solutions. Founded in 1991, CyberRep is one of the region's largest employers and operates eight customer interaction centers throughout the U.S.

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