We have all seen the mounting evidence that when
managed properly, contact centers offer substantial
benefits to customers and companies alike. By
providing both Web and voice self-service channels
combined with the option of transferring to a live
agent, companies can shift a greater percentage of
customers to more cost-effective self-service
applications while reducing lost sales opportunities,
increasing customer retention rates and improving
agent productivity by automatically providing
up-to-date information about a customer's history and
needs. On the other side of the transaction, customers
benefit from shorter wait times, access to more
efficient support channels and more personalized
To achieve these benefits, however, companies must
be prepared to implement several major upgrade steps
to combine and enhance the voice and Web "silos" that
exist in most contact centers. These include:
- Computer-telephony integration (CTI) and
skills-based routing to automatically "pop" all
relevant customer data on the customer service
representative's (CSR's) desktop and route a
caller to the most appropriate agent based on
various customer attributes and CSR skill sets.
- Shared databases between Web and voice
applications so that regardless of where a
transaction is initiated, both customers and
agents can be viewing the same data.
- Browser-based agent desktops coupled with
blended queuing and routing to enable live agent
interaction via the Web with voice chat,
collaborative browsing or instant messaging, and
cross-channel applications such as Web callback.
- Monitoring the ongoing performance of
applications and infrastructure (just as most
contact centers currently monitor caller and agent
Each of these steps establishes significant new
quality of experience (QoE) benchmarks that didn't
exist with separate silos. Failure to test against
these benchmarks can result in failure to identify
critical performance and functionality issues that can
undermine and, in some cases, completely nullify the
ROI for adopting an integrated, multimedia approach to
contact center operations.
Even before they make the move to Web-voice
integration, contact centers using CTI are finding
plenty of coordination and performance problems to
keep them worried about maintaining acceptable levels
of customer service.
For example, a recent performance test on a contact
center for a major online brokerage house revealed
that the CTI was taking a full 12 seconds to send the
correct screen pop to the correct agent -- far too
long to be useful, since the call connection was
completed in less than half that time. Both the caller
and the agent were left waiting for the data, unless
the agent asked the caller to restate the same account
number he or she had just finished patiently entering
on the telephone touchpad. This is very frustrating to
customers and extremely expensive for the company. The
ROI for such CTI systems is often based on shaving
seconds off calls. Waiting for the data to pop can
wash away the entire payback for the CTI investment.
Migrating to a common database for Web and voice
applications creates two new QoE challenges. First,
there is the added potential for Web load to affect
voice performance and vice versa. Failure to test Web
and voice applications under real-world, mixed
operating conditions can result in sluggish
performance that adversely affects both the customer's
QoE and the cost of each call. Second, there is a need
to verify the consistency of data across channels so
customers and agents know that information entered
through one channel is instantly reflected in all
Implementation of browser-based desktops coupled
with blended queuing lets customers interact with
agents via live chat, collaborative browsing or Web
callback. To get the full benefit of live chat or
collaborative browsing, customers must be seamlessly
routed to the correct agent and the applications must
perform under a wide range of load conditions. Web
callbacks need to be timely and routed to the correct
phone number, to the correct agent, with the correct
data and under a variety of mixed load conditions.
Meeting these new QoE challenges is important
because failure to do so can eliminate the very
benefits that were used to justify the investment.
Failed chat sessions can increase rather decrease call
loads. Delayed screen pops can increase rather than
decrease call length. Failed Web callbacks result in
lost sales opportunities.
Even more important is the overall impact of poor
QoE on customer retention. Recent surveys of both
contact center and Web site users demonstrate that a
high QoE generates more transactions, higher spending
per transaction and greater customer loyalty.
Conversely, those who encounter balky CTI and
interactive voice response (IVR) systems -- or
channels that cannot scale to meet demand -- are quick
to look elsewhere.
The bottom line on customer satisfaction is neatly
summarized in the March 2001 issue of the Harvard
Business Review, which offers evidence to support
the argument that every one percent increase in the
proportion of customers who describe themselves as "satisfied"
equates to a three percent increase in a company's
Taken together, all of these factors combine to
deliver three powerful messages to managers of
enterprise contact centers that are anywhere along the
evolution from call center to contact center:
- To succeed in the current customer
communications environment, voice and Web channels
must deliver the same data and consistent QoE
regardless of what channel a customer uses.
- Your customers must be able to switch from one
channel to another without worrying that their
information or transaction will be lost or
interrupted in the process.
- Since voice and Web-based applications will be
sharing common data, queuing and routing, you need
to know how you channels interact with one another
across every device and process in your system.
In a converged, multimedia environment, these
imperatives require managers to stay on top of a host
of new factors. One of these is the scalability of all
applications under real-world load conditions: just
because a center's voice and Web self-service
applications, Web chat, co-browsing and Web callback
applications are all working properly in a
stand-alone, lab environment does not mean that they
will scale together under actual service load
conditions. Even if the initial test is successful,
however, the rapid rate of application change in both
Web and voice applications requires fast, frequent and
thorough retesting to avoid the accidental
introduction of new performance and interaction
problems. Because a true multimedia contact center
depends on multiple systems working together, the
frequent-upgrade problem is exponentially more
For all these reasons, the role of testing and
monitoring is becoming more important than ever.
Manual testing is hopelessly inadequate to the task:
in addition to being extremely labor-intensive, it
simply cannot provide the consistent body of data and
frequency of testing required to keep up with change
in a complex environment. Yet automated testing is
also inadequate unless it can accurately emulate and
measure real-world, multichannel traffic loads.
Until recently, the tools to meet these challenges
in a converged environment simply did not exist.
Often, it has been the customers who have done the
testing -- and they have paid the price in frustration
Today, however, the comprehensive, coordinated test
tools needed to ensure the performance of multimedia
contact centers are arriving in the marketplace just
in time to meet the growing need.
These new test solutions help control costs by
tracking performance at each stage in a multimedia
transaction, allowing managers to look inside what
until now has been a black box. Transactions can be
tracked across each component of the underlying
infrastructure, enabling rapid identification of
performance bottlenecks. They permit coordinated,
automated scheduling and running of tests that contain
both voice and data traffic, and they generate reports
that present multimedia performance characteristics in
a shared framework and format.
Even in traditional call centers using CTI and IVR
technologies, maintaining customer satisfaction is a
major challenge. In the world of converged, multimedia
contact centers, the challenges and the stakes are
higher than ever. In order to meet those challenges,
contact center managers must do a far better job of
integrating their voice and Web applications. They
require automated test and monitoring solutions that
ease, rather than add to, that integration process.
Fortunately, those solutions have arrived, allowing
multimedia contact centers to keep pace with customer
expectations and fulfill the promise of efficient,
cost-effective -- and seamless -- customer interaction
in a converged environment.
Fornell, Claes. "The Science of Satisfaction," sidebar
to "High Tech the Old-fashioned Way." Harvard
Business Review, March 2001, pg. 120. Fornell is
director of the University of Michigan Business School's
National Quality Research Center, which produces the
American Customer Satisfaction Index.
Brian Miller is general manager of the Contact
Center Performance Group at Empirix
Inc., a provider of test and monitoring solutions
for Web, voice and network applications.
To The October 2001 Table Of Contents ]