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November 1998

The New Age Of Monitoring: Managing The Customer Experience!


"The single most important thing to remember about any enterprise is that results exist only on the outside. The result of a business is a satisfied customer. Inside the enterprise there are only costs."

- Peter F. Drucker, The New Realities

It's a harsh reality. According to an often-cited article in the Harvard Business Review, U.S. companies lose half of their customers every five years. A harsher reality still, according to TARP (Technical Assistance Research Program), it can cost five to seven times as much to gain a new customer as it does to retain an existing one. It's no wonder companies are investing billions of dollars on every front in the battle to win and keep their customers, including, of course, the call center. And that equates to all sorts of technology - from ACDs and VRUs to EDI, CTI and Internet technology.

Then there's the human component - the agents who use all of their skills and know-how - together with all that whizbang technology, to take good care of the company's customers. By one estimate, call centers on average spend close to two-thirds of their budgets on human resources, collectively around $180 billion annually.

But for all of the technology and resources call centers have at their disposal to enhance the customer experience, they often still lack one thing: a single, comprehensive tool to help them to see if what they've invested in is really working toward that end. Statistics and reports from telephony systems fall short in measuring the customer experience, as do traditional call monitoring techniques.

Fortunately, a new breed of quality monitoring technology is changing all that, by giving call centers a tool they can use to recreate, measure and manage the entire customer experience.

Recreating The Entire Customer Experience
Over the years, call centers have used various methods and tools to monitor agent calls. Most monitoring systems - which record agent/customer conversations together with the agents' data screens - are efficient devices for measuring agent performance. But they are not effective tools for understanding and managing the customer experience.

What's the difference? By simply monitoring a single agent's conversation with a customer, a manager can gauge whether or not a particular agent did a good job, but he or she cannot infer that the customer's overall experience was positive. In fact, the customer might have been stuck in the call center's VRU, been on hold for 20 minutes and been transferred numerous times. Now ask yourself what really matters at the end of the day - the cause or the effect? That your agent did a good job? Or that your customer had a bad experience?

The customer experience isn't what happens to the customer in a single conversation with a single agent. It's what happens to the customer in totality...from the time the customer enters the call center until the end of the call: the customer's interaction with the VRU system, how long and how often he or she is put on hold, the manner in which each agent - the first, the second or even a third agent - handles the call. The customer experience is, in fact, a reflection of how all of the call center's systems, processes and human elements come together to care for that customer.

Just listen to this collection of customer experiences from a recent Internet forum and you'll see what I mean. "I tried to get support from (a well-known software company) once, and after answering at least a dozen questions - being transferred each time - I was given a different number to call. After going through the same question/transfer game all over again, I was told to call the first number."

Or this from still another infuriated customer: "I remember being on hold forever with the most irritating recording being played over and over. When I finally reached a live person, I was told, 'I'm sorry, we don't handle that in this department. Let me transfer you to the department that does.' In doing so I was disconnected. Just thinking that I may have to call one of those centers again diverts me from shopping through the mail."

Or how about this unfortunate customer's experience with a call center's VRU system? "I got stuck in endless loops where none of the choices fit my situation. And then I ended up with someone who couldn't transfer me to whom I needed to speak."

While these stories are meant to be illustrative, research shows that such negative experiences can actually have a profound effect on customer satisfaction and loyalty. According to a study by TARP ("Key Success Factors in the Use of Automated Response Systems"), "If the customer feels he has had a problem with gaining access to the company, his loyalty (in addition to satisfaction) is decreased by 10 to 15 percent. Therefore, a poorly designed ARS not only fails to produce cost savings, it also produces a measurable decrease in long-term revenue."

Fortunately for today's call centers, new customer-centric monitoring technology puts the focus on monitoring the entire customer experience, rather than just monitoring individual agent calls. How? The key is CTI (computer-telephony integration). By interfacing with sophisticated open architecture middleware or directly to an ACD, switch, VRU or legacy system, the monitoring system can capture a whole host of data about each call. This could include numbers keyed into a VRU, hold times, transfers to various extensions, agent IDs and myriad other information relating to the call or the customer.

All of the data is stored in an Oracle database running on a Windows NT server on the call center's network, so when a supervisor reviews a call, it's possible not only to hear the conversation and see the agent's data screens, but to retrace the entire customer experience through the call center.

Monitor What Matters
Now you may say, "That's great. I have all of this wonderful data that tells me what my customers are experiencing, but I certainly don't have time to review each and every call." The good news is - you don't have to. In fact, that's another benefit of marrying voice recordings with CTI data.

Traditional monitoring systems use CTI for random monitoring of agents' calls. You can program the system to monitor a certain percentage of each agent's calls, and then the system will automatically go out and record a sampling of calls for review, based on whether or not the agent is logged in and on a call. The problem is that by randomly monitoring, say, 2 percent of each agent's calls, you could be missing 98 percent of the problems.

A more sensible approach is to use CTI data to proactively identify those calls that are most likely to be problematic, or alternatively, represent the biggest potential opportunities for the company. By capturing CTI data to store along with the call, or using that data to selectively record the calls you want, you can monitor what matters most to you.

One way to apply the technology would be to monitor calls during which the customer was transferred multiple times. Another TARP study ("Major Models for Telephone Customer Service Units for Companies with Multiple Products/Divisions/Functions") shows that "multiple transfers cause 10 to 25 percent of customer dissatisfaction," not to mention increased call handling costs. So, using a simple query, you might want to search for all calls that involved more than one transfer. Then, you could systematically review the calls to determine the root cause of the multiple transfers. For example, is the customer simply not reaching the right agent (a call routing issue)? Or does the agent simply not have the skills to handle the problem (a training issue)?

Here's another example of how to employ CTI to proactively manage the customer experience. Let's say you know that 20 percent of your customers represent 80 percent of your company's revenue. Doesn't it make sense to focus proportionately more of your time and effort on keeping these customers happy? Using CTI, an application can be developed that will identify calls from your "gold" customers. By cross-referencing a customer number entered into a VRU system or the customer's ANI with a "gold" customer look-up table, for example, the monitoring system could selectively record calls from your most important customers for your review and follow-up.

These approaches empower call center managers to stem the tide of lost customers and, inevitably, lost revenue. Because customer information is stored along with the call, the call center manager can identify potential problems and opportunities, and more important, take action before it's too late - for instance identifying a customer who had a negative experience and calling back the customer to fix the problem. Research shows that a proactive approach can pay off. According to TARP, customers who experience a problem, but have the problem resolved to their satisfaction, are actually more loyal than customers who never experienced problems at all.

Measure What Counts
No monitoring system is complete without a method for measuring customer interactions. Recognizing that technology is only part of what's needed, some communications recording companies are forming strategic alliances with consultant organizations that specialize in the art of communication and customer service. By forming such alliances, monitoring technology vendors can offer an all-inclusive package to call centers - including the technology and the know-how needed to monitor, measure and manage the customer experience. Call center managers benefit by learning about the principles of customer interaction, as well as effective coaching techniques. Considering that the result of a successful business is satisfied customers, the right combination of customer service know-how and customer-centric monitoring technology makes sense.

Linda DiLauro is a senior marketing manager for the CRS division of Dictaphone Corporation, headquartered in Stratford, Connecticut.


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