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High Priority!
July 2004

Rich Tehrani Leave The Box Behind And Just Think

By Rich Tehrani
Group Editor-In-Chief, Technology Marketing Corporation

We are all in a rut. I've decided that it's that simple. (I haven't lost my mind, really'just bear with me for a moment.) We are in the contact center business, aren't we?

'Well, not really, Rich,' you may say.

'I'm in manufacturing, distribution, real estate, finance, insurance, etc.' I will tell you categorically that you aren't in the business you think you are. You're in the business of pleasing customers. Everything else is secondary. In fact, if you aren't pleasing customers, you aren't doing anything except waiting in line to collect an unemployment check. With all due respect, if you work for a big oil company, Microsoft, Intel or Cisco, you have a total, or at least partial, monopoly. You don't really need to keep reading. Put this magazine down, and go count your money.

For the rest of us, there are real-world issues to deal with: serious competitors; daily volatile geopolitical events and a host of other problems that keep us awake at night.

I propose that we all forget thinking outside of the box and kick the box back into 1998, where it belongs. Start thinking into the future. One day, we will delight customers in so many ways that it will defy belief. I suggest we start thinking ahead and implementing tomorrow's ideas today.

Customer retention is crucial and probably one of the most overlooked tasks of any company. A few simple steps could substantially increase retention ratios. We are in business to make money, aren't we? If you run a contact center, you are the most important person in your company. You are the first line of contact. If your department is disorganized, the majority of your customers will consider your company disorganized. A first-rate contact center makes customers think the company is first-rate, even if it isn't!

Time Keeps On Slipping Into The Future
Scheduling is one area where we don't pay much attention. Many of us use Outlook and don't think twice about it. We should. Outlook does a great job at basic, linear scheduling in situations where you have lots of time and make few, if any, changes.

But the times they are a-changin' (to continue with the lyrics theme). Time is like money. Everyone wishes they had more of it. We all have busy lives with multiple priorities and no time to rest, either on our laurels or our sofas. We are in a Google economy and an MTV mindset, both of which demand split-second responses. For this new generation of business, waiting in line is so five years ago.
A company called Voicelink has an application that contains a scheduling engine built into it. Simply stated, using this technology, you can more easily allow your customers to use self-service to schedule resources and services to suit their own time needs.

Voicelink's products can be used to notify customers of a pending appliance repair. Customers can call in and effortlessly speak the date by which they want to have something serviced or delivered. The software does the heavy-lifting of determining the closest available date and working out the details with the customer.

Interestingly, this system can serve as a workforce management solution for a small contact center or company.

Users can link to the Web via XML and take advantage of a reporting module. Pricing starts at $250 per port or $1,000 per seat.

Imagine your marketing department acquiring the fact that you can now allow customers to schedule by phone using an automated system? Of course, some people will still prefer to speak with a live person. But for the majority who will be happy to use automation, the date of a service call or delivery can be changed in a fraction of the time and effort as a traditional customer service call (during which the caller waits on hold forever, then speaks with an operator who takes forever to help answer questions).

What's Ahead For Headsets?
Most of you probably don't think about headsets any more than you think about copier paper, but you should. I recently was given a Plantronics DSP-400 headset, which has DSP (digital signal processing) circuitry built into it. As I write this article, I'm using it to listen to music, and I find the sound amazing. During a recent TMC University live online course, other people on the call marveled at how great my voice sounded (the conference was pure VoIP). Most contact center calls aren't pure VoIP yet, but they likely will be very soon. The future of headsets is digital. The DSPs-400 is not really a contact center headset, but it could easily be used as such. It's actually designed more for the VoIP enthusiast who enjoys great sound quality.

GN Netcom recently announced its release of the first completely digital amplifier in the U.S. In this case, the DSP is in the amplifier, allowing for more functionality, such as inbound noise canceling. As more inbound callers use mobile phones, it is crucial that headset technology adapt and improve to accommodate. The amplifier can compensate for the varying volume of calls, ensuring all calls are at the same volume. Using such an amplifier, companies can make sure they are in compliance with international standards that dictate employees not be exposed to noise louder than a weighted average of 85 decibels. This amplifier should, theoretically, sound every bit as good as the above-mentioned DSP-based headset.

Did you think way beyond the box when you read the above? Let me tell you how I see it. You purchase digital amplifier technology for your contact center and then promote this asset in your ads. Tell the world all of your agents (whether they are stock brokers, insurance representatives, etc.) use the latest in digital amplifier technology for the clearest, most realistic sound available. Use your call center as a differentiator. Make more money from what your CFO sees as a cost center. Turn the tables on the whole company, and be the profit center.

Let's go one step further. You have high-value customers who use your Web site frequently. Stock brokers come to mind. Send each of your customers a DSP-based headset. Brand the headset with your logo. Then put a click-to-talk button on your site. Assuming your customer has broadband (though technology exists to have great quality conversations over dial-up), you will have amazingly clear conversations, a happier customer and your logo permanently attached to your customers' heads.

What could be more ahead of the box than that?


Rich Tehrani
Group Publisher, Group Editor-in-Chief

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