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April 2000


Your Competition Is Only A Click Away! Ensuring The Quality Of Your Multimedia Contact Center


Today there are many ways to research, review and purchase products, as well as seek support and service once the initial sale takes place. How we opt to carry out those communications is ultimately our decision -- and now, more than ever, the choices are plentiful. Traditional sales, support and service have taken place through the telephone -- the medium that triggered the term "call center." But with the advent and technological advances the Internet has brought to our personal and professional lives, many new channels for customer interactions are now available. With this surge in popularity comes the affordability and ease-of-use that Internet-based communications provide. As a result, many of us have turned to the Web due to its efficiency and responsiveness in meeting our needs -- whether we are on an information gathering mission, making a purchase or investment or simply reaching out for help. While these Internet-based mediums offer great, new advantages, they also carry certain drawbacks, the largest being an assurance for timely, consistent, quality service.

In delivering customer service through telephone-based communications, the vast majority of organizations have a workable model in place -- one that focuses on such standards as length of call (the ability to handle sales/service issues in a timely manner), one-call resolution (the ability to meet customer needs the first time around), knowledge (the ability to service based on an understanding of the offerings and customers' need) and service delivery (the ability to deliver top-notch service in a helpful, professional manner). All of these have close ties to a single goal -- ensuring quality and meeting customers' needs. It's made the initial IVR welcome greeting that many centers use, "this call may be recorded for quality," a standard nearly everyone has heard. Today's challenge is to extend those same standards to Internet-based communications and truly optimize performance and quality across the board. Your competition is now only a click away!

Building A Multimedia Contact Center
Just because you have mastered quality for telephone service does not necessarily mean you have the infrastructure or knowledge in place to mirror that success and replicate it for the Web. Telephone customer service and support was the standard for as long as most consumers can remember. You expected to have a person answer your questions and place your order "real-time." When compared to newer mediums, however, telephone-based service is costly. Often, you are placed on hold in a "queue" waiting for the next available agent. Technology investments, training and customer sales/service representative (CSR) skill advancement has successfully countered many of those issues. Workforce management solutions help balance the workload. Skilled-based routing helps ensure the best-equipped CSR is servicing the most appropriate customer interaction based on the ACD's ability to forward calls. Universal call routing ties multiple centers together, creating a unified front and the ability to fully maximize internal resources. IVRs provide customers with the option to perform self-service for automated information, such as checking your bank account balance.

The fact that a growing number of people have embraced Internet communications vehicles to help meet their needs has made a profound impact on many businesses, and on their call centers in particular. Internet-based customer touch points, which include electronic mail, collaborative Web chat and Web self-service, have challenged call centers and had a direct impact upon their evolution into what we now call "contact centers." As Internet capabilities have matured, customers have many options -- some of which have challenged contact centers to extend their capabilities, step up their technologies and introduce new processes and training programs. We, as consumers, have changed how they do business -- and in response, they have had an impact on how we are serviced. While many sales/service centers have perfected quality service over the phone, they are only now challenged to mirror that success and extend it to Internet-based communications, creating a true competitive differentiator.

With contact centers come a great need for industries across the board to revisit their service readiness from multiple vantage points. It raises important technological and human resource issues that previously unheard of and it leads to many preparedness questions. Is your center technically equipped? Are you integrating your technologies to ensure quality? Do you have a performance optimization model in place? Have you developed your multimedia sales and service strategies? What is your CSRs' readiness level -- are their skills up to par? Have you instated a method to deliver and measure quality, consistency of service and customer loyalty?

A "yes" to each of these questions means you are ready -- your multimedia contact center is bound for success. Yet, while many centers work diligently to equip their contact centers for the next e-mail or instant message, their greatest challenge is how to achieve consistency across all mediums and service inquires in a timely manner. With quality service comes repeat business, customer loyalty and great word-of-mouth, creating new possibilities and great opportunities for your contact center to thrive. Industry analysts support this belief, stating that today's customers will be demanding "next-generation" tools to improve the overall performance of their contact centers across many functions, including the monitoring of quality, agent training and evaluation and call center performance analysis. Online, written communication -- as seen through e-mail, Web chat and instant messaging -- have created the need for new quality checkpoints. Today's businesses cannot afford the inefficiencies multiple service channels can yield. The time to reexamine and fine-tune your CRM strategy has arrived.

Redefining Your People, Processes And Technologies
Industry experts agree that customer relationship management (CRM) is a business strategy that can help improve profitability, revenue and customer satisfaction. Developing and maintaining long-term customer relationships is critical to the success of businesses operating in the competitive global marketplace. The rapid growth of the Internet and e-commerce has increased the importance companies place on their customer relationships. Because the Internet enables consumers to easily evaluate products and prices from a wide range of geographically dispersed vendors and quickly change vendors at relatively low cost, it is becoming more difficult for businesses to develop long-term relationships with their customers. As Internet usage expands, the need for personal contact will be increasingly important to ensure quality customer experiences.

Examine your infrastructure. Technology is your first consideration. Look to the tools you have integrated and how they are being maximized today. Then, consider those in which you should invest to ensure effective Web-based communications. Many of us have felt the force of poor online customer care. It's a recently oft-heard saying, but it's true: Your competition really is only a click away.

A technology investment that is imperative in today's integrated climate is e-mail response management. Consultants estimate that you should evaluate e-mail solutions if your contact center receives 50 or more electronic messages per day. E-mail response management solutions allow you to manage the influx of electronic mail by automatically replying to and/or suggesting responses to incoming messages based on the business rules you set up. A good system manages and tracks electronic communications from arrival through response, routing messages to the most appropriate personnel along the way. Companies using this technology are doing so to track e-mail communications throughout their course, providing customers with alternate communications channels and reducing contact costs by directing inquiries to the most profitable medium whenever possible.

With estimates that two-thirds of businesses will use instant messaging within the next five years, evaluating the quality of those interactions is quickly becoming essential as companies adopt this technology. For the growing number of Web interactions, collaborative chat systems are another worthy investment. These applications enable CSRs to interact "live" with customers by passing instant messages, Web pages, documents and scripts. Some applications can even take control of the customer's browser to help direct him or her to information on the site. By communicating this way, companies can dramatically reduce the volume and talk time of calls to CSRs, as well as increase sales closure rates at the point of contact. Setting up an effective Web and e-mail communications process is vital. If customers try to use these mediums to meet their needs and find they cannot get the information they need, invariably, they will revert to a phone call -- making the interaction more costly for your center and frustrating for your customers.

Enhancing Performance Through Process Engineering And Training
The second and third pieces of the CRM optimization puzzle include inspecting the processes your management teams have introduced and how well your people carry them out. Multimedia customer service has ushered in a brand new era and a need to examine your practices. CSRs who have mastered service over the telephone may not carry the same consistency in their ability to service over the Web. This challenges centers to adopt new practices in hiring and training. Should they focus on having specialized representatives that handle specific interactions only? Or should they move to a new model -- the "universal agent" who can handle interactions from multiple communications media with proficiency? Is a universal agent even feasible? Both models will impact the type of job candidates you seek and the training programs and coaching initiatives you will need to introduce.

Internet-based customer service (e-service) is an imperative for any enterprise wanting to compete effectively today. Recording and evaluating customer interactions in multichannel contact centers have become popular tools for quality assurance. It can do so across all mediums -- voice and data, e-mail, collaborative chat and Web self-service. A multimedia customer interaction recording technology allows you to impact your agents' service capabilities, morale and motivation. It helps ensure consistency across customer touch points. It solidifies the effectiveness of your processes and it ensures your customers receive seamless, top-notch service regardless of how they choose to communicate with you.

Companies must ensure multimedia communications are responded to in a timely manner, that responses are consistent and that agents meet customer needs on first contact and in a professional manner. For this reason, especially now, monitoring is critical. Users of monitoring technology can trigger recording of voice/data telephone interactions, e-mail and Web chat communications randomly or through user-defined business rules. For Internet communications, a company can record based on specific "begin" and "end" commands and then data can be analyzed to measure results against pre-defined goals and companies can proactively explore opportunities for performance optimization. These advanced applications offer integrated solutions with many compatible technologies, such as e-mail response management and collaborative Web chat systems. By capturing entire interactions, recordings can be reviewed later to gauge the effectiveness of the processes, the CSRs' knowledge level, their ability to maximize and navigate the tools at their disposal and their ability to service customers effectively.

With the knowledge that your competition is only a click away in today's multimedia sales and service environment, the stakes are high. But so are the benefits if you effectively optimize your people, processes and technologies by evaluating your CRM strategy, enhancing your quality assurance tactics and ensuring your ability to deliver consistent, quality service regardless of customer touch point each and every time.

Oscar Alban serves as product consultant for Witness Systems, Inc., an Alpharetta, Georgia-based provider of recording and performance analysis software for the contact center market.

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