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April 1999

Establishing Web-Based Collaboration Between Field Sales And The Call Center


Imagine...one of your most valuable customers browses through your company's Web site searching for information on a product he would like to buy. He does not find all the information he needs, so he enters his name, phone number and product of interest on the company Web site then presses the button to initiate a callback from your call center. A call center rep from your company who is skilled in the area of the customer's inquiry returns the call. Unable to answer all the questions to the level of technical detail requested via the Web, the call center agent invites one of your field sales reps, who is located in the customer's area of the country, to take part in the discussion. The sales rep directs the prospective customer to a Web site to give a customized presentation over the Web. The prospect asks if his technical person at another location can join the meeting, and she is quickly connected, as well.

As the field salesperson demonstrates the product, the prospect and technician ask questions. To answer the technician's questions, the sales rep calls up a data sheet outlining the technical specifications. The salesperson then directs a Web tour of the competitor's Web site to demonstrate that their product is not comparable.

Asked about the price of the product, the salesperson opens a spreadsheet outlining pricing options. When the prospect decides to purchase the product, the salesperson helps him complete a form on the Web to complete the sale. No travel costs were incurred, the customer received immediate, high-quality assistance and the sale was closed.

Your Company's Focal Point
Call centers are the strategic hub of a company's business. Successfully fielding incoming requests from potential and existing customers is paramount to an organization's basic existence. The field sales organization is also a primary and critical point of contact for customers, and the two branches must work in unison to effectively service the customer. However, quite often these two important contact points are at disparate physical locations and also lack the channels for proper information and communication exchange.

New technologies such as Web-based collaboration application servers are helping to alleviate this problem. But before reaping the benefits of increased productivity, revenue and customer loyalty, companies must first understand the technology infrastructure required and the plethora of services that comprise a total customer care implementation.

International Data Corporation (IDC) sized the total customer relationship management (CRM) market at $564 million in 1997 and the total Internet commerce market at $12.4 billion. By 2002, the total CRM market, which is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 51 percent, will reach $4.4 billion and the Internet commerce market as a whole, which is growing at a compound annual rate of 102 percent, will reach $425.7 billion. Although IDC has not yet sized the market for collaboration application servers, the strong synergy between this technology and the anticipated high spending associated with the Web suggests that products in this category are sure to be in strong demand.

Stephen Hendrick, vice president of Application Development Tools service at IDC, believes that the principles of conducting commerce, or business, across the Internet are the same as conducting business anywhere - communicate with customers, respond to their needs and address their problems. What was missing, until now, was the ability to communicate effectively enough to do this over the Internet.

Hendrick is convinced that the solution to this issue requires a system that provides a naturally easy way to use the phone and an Internet browser in combination. Furthermore, he believes business needs require that the solution be integrated with all the current forms of customer communication - sales, support, etc. - that businesses use today. This means the solution must work with automatic call distribution (ACD), teleconferencing and every manner of Web-based interaction.

Providing The Human Touch
A 1997 Cybercitizen Report from Yankelovich Partners of Norwalk, Connecticut, a strategic research firm dedicated to the concept of marketing intelligence, showed that over two-thirds of cybercitizens and non-cybercitizens alike prefer more human-oriented transactions when they shop, timely answers to questions, product recommendations based on their tastes and preferences and personalized interaction. According to Yankelovich, replicating this very "human" experience is the key to success on the Internet. Additionally, 62 percent of cybercitizens and 73 percent of non-cybercitizens agree that they will not buy online unless they can receive the same interaction they now experience over the telephone or in person.

Using Web-based collaboration software to integrate field sales with your call center is rapidly emerging as a viable solution to reduce travel costs, increase productivity, generate more sales and better service customers. Although e-mail may be effectively employed to service customers making purchases for less expensive, less complex products, companies offering more complex products require dynamic, real-time communication with potential customers.

Aberdeen says companies are specifically creating solutions to extend outside the walls of their organizations (intra- and inter-enterprise) so that they can easily embrace customer interactions. The sessions can span firewalls, inclusive of the application and document-sharing features. The only client requirement is a browser (Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0/4.0 or Netscape Communicator 3.0/4.0), which is standard fare for today's customer desktops.

Extending The Web For Collaborative Customer Service Solutions
Aberdeen Group believes that for businesses looking to deploy Web-based customer service or sales solutions, the range of functions available today are well worth consideration as part of a complete customer care deployment. Actual delivery of such solutions would need to come from system integrators, since development is required to define the business rules and other elements that integrate collaboration into the customer environment. Many solution providers looking to target customer care could leverage collaboration as a key point of differentiation.

When deciding what type of integrated field sales/call center best meets its needs, companies should evaluate seven core service components that can be used independently or collectively to create customized collaborative applications. The core components, available in part or as a whole from various developers of Web-based collaboration software, include:

  • Interaction manager - enables spontaneous resource allocation and interaction set-up, with various configurable levels of security. This function also provides directory services and enterprise business object integration.

  • Automatic workflow distribution - enables unified call and message queuing, resource management, intelligent call/message routing, call center ACD integration and a customizable workflow authoring system. After determining a user's needs, the application can then query its database to find persons with expertise in the area of the customer's needs and it can further determine their availability. If there is a qualified person available at that moment, the Web site can instantly create an audio conference call and visual Web session between the two people, thereby giving them the highest degree of interactivity available today.

  • Distributed data collaboration - provides multiparty server-based data collaboration services, including presentations, document reviews, Web tours, interactive forms, application viewing, application sharing, whiteboarding and remote control. Ideally, this function should seamlessly support the Microsoft NetMeeting client and incorporate T.120 standards with sophisticated HTTP tunneling.

  • Distributed telephony - enables complete browser-controlled telephony functions, such as teleconferences, invite, forward, meet-me service and PBX integration.

  • Threaded messaging - provides managed messaging capability with Web-based access and management, routing, tracking and control as well as e-mail integration supporting standards, such as POP3, IMAP4 and MAPI. This provides a threaded message mailbox so that customers can drop messages in case no one is able to service a real-time, Web-initiated call. Messages are sorted by groups and anyone in the group can take ownership of a message, reassign it to another group or respond to it. Customers will get automatic e-mail when the question or issue has been resolved.

  • Web client services - provide thin-client capabilities for spontaneous multiparty data collaboration with advanced telephony control. This client should allow the instant viewing and sharing with others of any document or application from a desktop through corporate firewalls.

  • Management and administration services - provide a variety of capabilities, including interaction registration, time stamping, recording, billing and usage tracking.

Furthermore, any solution should provide an extensive set of powerful APIs, which allows collaboration to be tightly integrated with enterprise business applications as well as extensive customization services to meet company-specific needs.

Geoffrey Bock, senior consultant and contributing editor with the Patricia Seybold Group, concludes that with the rapid growth of the Web, we are now in a time of dramatic transformation. We need to leverage our existing Web-based infrastructure - Internet connections, desktop browsers, and ubiquitous access to a wide range of servers and interactive business content - to foster effective synchronous information exchanges.

In the not-too-distant future, we and our customers will become impatient with the limitations of voice-only communications. We will come to realize that our use of a Web browser is as fundamental as our use of the telephone.

Subrah Iyar has 15 years' experience in sales, marketing and business development at Intel, Apple and Quarterdeck. With the vision of creating a company that could leverage the Web as a meeting place for enterprisewide business, Iyar co-founded ActiveTouch in 1996. ActiveTouch offers people a way to share information via their PCs and telephones in real-time. The company designs and sells the ActiveTouch Server, a collaboration application server designed for Web-based e-commerce, customer care and conferencing applications.

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