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October 1998

Build Customer Loyalty With  A Single, Virtual Presence


The biggest challenge call centers face in the next few years is making the transition from judging success on how quickly calls are answered to using customer satisfaction and loyalty as the ultimate criteria. This shift will bring a new type of call center - an enterprise business center - that gives customers a single point of contact for the entire company.

Converting to the enterprise business center model will require most call centers to significantly rework their operations. Some of the next generation call centers will be retrofits, and some will be built from scratch. One of Canada's largest retailers recently began such a retrofit.

Canadian Tire's logo, a bright red triangle topped with a green maple leaf, is a familiar symbol of excellent customer service to customers throughout Canada. This reputation extends beyond the company's hard goods retail operations to Canadian Tire Acceptance Limited (CTAL), a division that offers a credit card, plus extras like financial products, insurance and an emergency roadside assistance auto club.

Unwilling to rest on its reputation for excellence, CTAL wanted to make it easier for customers calling its 20 call centers to conduct more than 200 different types of transactions, and to reach the correct agent quickly and easily. CTAL wanted to converge and integrate its call centers to become more responsive to customer needs and more efficient at providing service.

Meanwhile, Thomas Cook Global Services, one of the world's largest travel and financial services companies, recently found itself in a similar position, but with a very different starting point. It wanted to create a brand new global call center that could assist callers with every part of the company's extensive product line. Thomas Cook offers almost everything a traveler needs, from hotel, plane and car reservations to translation and courier services and even medical and legal assistance worldwide.

For Thomas Cook, customer convenience across multiple continents, cultures and business processes was key. They selected a system from Chordiant Software that was capable of acting like a single call center even though Thomas Cook would have operations in the U.S., U.K. and Asia.

Thomas Cook and CTAL are not alone. More and more large corporations are finding the best way to serve customers is through a single point of contact that not only makes their company easier to do business with, but also saves money through more efficient use of company resources.

The Problem With The Scattered Approach
There are many drawbacks to serving your customers through function-based call centers rather than a single point of contact. The over-arching issue is the larger your company is, and the more complex your products and services are, the more likely something is to go wrong in any customer interaction.

At CTAL, customers tended to call one familiar number, no matter what type of service they needed. Well-trained agents could quickly transfer the call or refer them to the correct location, but those calls represented a waste of time - and more important, customers were less satisfied with the interaction than if they had immediate access.

And at many companies, where call center functions are truly fragmented, the agent cannot "warm" transfer the caller, further increasing costs and the caller's annoyance.

No matter what your call center structure, it is important for agents in one call center to understand the issues and concerns of callers to other centers in your company. Agents who do not have the proper information can't help customers whose problems might fall between the cracks of your function-based call centers. Agents who do not have information about other products and services are less likely to cross-sell. These missed sales opportunities represent both lost revenue and a lower level of customer service.

When call centers are scattered around your company, product and service knowledge is scattered, too. Because turnover rates in call centers traditionally are high, relying on agents to maintain and pass on this knowledge is not practical.

Small, isolated call centers do not use your company's human and technical resources effectively. For example, agents with an uncommon language skill are limited to one function if they work in a function-based call center. Thomas Cook offers services in more than 30 languages. Imagine how difficult it would be to find a sufficient number of agents fluent in some of those more obscure languages to fill a role at separate, function-based call centers.

Your customers wait longer for an agent with a super-specialized skill or knowledge, such as the one agent who both speaks their language and is trained to support the product they use.

A Single Entry Point Is The Solution
While the problems associated with small, scattered call centers can be dire, the solution is simple in concept: create an enterprise business center that offers a single point of contact between your company and your customers.

This enterprise business center starts with an integrated desktop solution that delivers all the specialized knowledge an agent needs to assist customers, plus all the software applications an agent needs to complete the transaction.

A key step in achieving this type of integrated desktop solution is capturing the best practices in all your call centers and automating those policies as part of the agent desktop. Instead of training agents to navigate a maze of applications and menus, a process-driven system automatically guides each agent through each business process.

When agents have all the information they need at their fingertips to handle any transaction, customers are more likely to want to bring repeat business to the company. Well-informed agents can handle several functions in a single phone call, making your call center more efficient by saving money on carrier costs and agent salaries.

An enterprise business center doesn't have to be housed in a single location. Small centers can be connected because the customer profiles and business processes are shared. Through a single, central system, you create a single virtual call center in function, if not in fact. This makes it easier to coordinate information between agents or work groups.

Any agent who answers the phone is always up-to-date with a customer's history and problems, even if that customer's last call was to another work group.

When the information resides mostly in the centralized system, and not in individual agents' heads, agents can offer comprehensive service across multiple product lines without having years of experience or training. When agents have all the information they need on all your company's products and services, they are more likely to be able to cross-sell those products and services to callers.

For example, when a customer calls Thomas Cook to change a plane reservation, agents are able to offer hotel reservations to accommodate the new travel plans. If the change is due to an emergency and affects other travel services, the agent can offer a variety of other Thomas Cook services, as appropriate.

The integrated desktop system offers agents much more than just information to help them through this process. When your company's best practices are built into the desktop system, the system can automatically present the agent with a series of prompts and scripts for the appropriate emergency service when certain conditions are met. With this type of process-driven solution, agents don't need extensive retraining, and changes in policies are automatically supplied directly to the agent at the time of the transaction.

A single, enterprise call center helps your company use its resources more effectively. For the past several years, many of the nation's largest companies have consolidated their call centers to reap the benefits of economies of scale. They have eliminated redundant support and administrative positions, saved on real estate costs and eliminated the costs of calling between centers.

By offering agents an enterprisewide system of integrated company knowledge, agents' specialized skills can be better used. For example, it is much easier to teach a native language speaker a new function than it is to teach a new language to a function specialist.

With agents using their skills with the widest range of customers possible, through the implementation of best practices and an integrated desktop system, call center customers will be served more quickly and with a higher level of skill. These satisfied customers are sure to be repeat customers.

The concept of the single-point-of-contact enterprise business center is not limited just to telephone communications with your company. It can be used for other media, too. Your call center should be able to handle all the media your customers use, including the telephone, e-mail, Internet, data kiosks, ATM and video kiosks.

All the benefits of consolidating call center functions apply to consolidating media access as well. Agents who are fluent in many media are best able to use the training and information they have to serve the widest variety of customers. And customers who know that your company will offer the same excellent service, no matter what media the customer finds most convenient to use, are more likely to continue their relationship with you.

CTAL has cut the number of call centers it operates in half, from 20 to 10. By consolidating its call centers, it was quickly able to reduce the number of calls transferred between centers by 50 percent. With these changes and an integrated desktop customer service system in place, its overall goal is 95 percent accuracy, a worthy target for a company with such an exemplary reputation for service.

Thomas Cook recently opened a single call center that offers assistance with reservations, emergencies and financial transactions anywhere in the world, 24 hours a day, beginning with the telephone, but also enabled for the Internet, interactive television or digital kiosks at airports. It is setting a new standard in service for travelers.

Your company can experience the same benefits. A single enterprise business center that supports customers in all available media provides better customer service, higher customer retention and increased sales opportunities. It is the best call center solution for both customers and your business.

Carol Realini is Chairman of the Board, Chordiant Software, Inc., Cupertino, California. Chordiant provides enterprise-class software for managing large, revenue-producing call centers to global businesses serving millions of consumers. The company's CCS software offers personalized, one-to-one service at any customer touchpoint, whether the telephone, e-mail or the Internet.


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