TMCnet - The World's Largest Communications and Technology Community
ITEXPO begins in:   New Coverage :  Asterisk  |  Fax Software  |  SIP Phones  |  Small Cells

E-Sales E-Service Feature Article
February 2002  


Multichannel Customer Contact Centers: The House That Customers Built


Among the survivors will be companies that have implemented a customer relationship management (CRM) strategy: a flexible system that lets companies assess each customer's value and determine appropriate care strategies. Competitors with the flexibility to allocate resources based on a range of factors that determine customer value can come out ahead on all fronts. Among the benefits: enhanced customer loyalty, reduced churn, lower costs, minimized risk and the potential to generate new revenue by using CRM methods to cross-sell and upsell to premium customers.

One key CRM channel in which improvements can yield immediate dividends is the call center. Long captive to voice and IVR technologies, call centers are undergoing radical changes as communications companies explore ways to enhance customer relations via the Web. The result is a new-generation multichannel contact center that offers significant advantages over its predecessor.
Think of the traditional call center as a 1960s-style brick rambler. It was solidly built and suited the needs of its era, but today customers want more modern options: big picture windows so they can see in and out more easily, more doors so they can access their home by the entryway of their preference, and automated features that make the house a more comfortable experience suited to individual needs. A multichannel environment gives you the flexibility to satisfy all these needs, tailoring accommodations to the customer.

How do you build a house like this?

Foundation And Structure
As with any edifice, begin with a plan. Your blueprint should be conceived from best-practice technology solutions and designed around customer needs. The following considerations ensure that the new structure will be solid, open from any point of entry, and leak-proof in the event of stormy weather.

Multichannel. Don't limit yourself to one door. The customer needs a choice of channels ' voice, Web and, in the future, wireless Web. Each channel must give the customer the same good experience and results.

Channel integration. Business processes and systems must seamlessly integrate all channels, so changes in any one area of customer records generate an update of customer information across the enterprise.

Interactive/integrated Web. The provider must have a strong, interactive Web presence that is information-packed, easily navigable, permits online transactions (including payment) and allows simultaneous interaction between customer and agent.

Single view. The customer should have a single view of the provider, and vice-versa. For the customer, single view means simplicity ' one point of entry that can handle questions/issues on all services. For the provider, a single view means having a panoramic picture of the customer's value across all services, including business and personal. The single view is made possible by linking the front office to integrated OSS functions.

Skills-based routing/workforce management. Intelligent, skills-based routing should be employed across all channels to maximize agent efficiency and customer satisfaction. This tool should balance employee availability, personal preferences, specialization and the needs and goals of the call center. In the e-mail arena, response systems should be intelligent with auto-response mechanisms. Even when customer e-mail cannot be addressed immediately, the provider should still use skills-based routing and provide accurate, timely responses.

Enterprisewide reporting. A customer knowledge base generated by an enterprisewide reporting tool must be deployed and then leveraged to evaluate and enhance customer interactions.

Multichannel Interaction: Adding The Web
With the basic structure in place, how do customers get in? In the old days, a voice/IVR front door worked fine. Today it has become necessary to add more doors, and just as importantly, shift traffic to the most cost-effective portal: Web-based access.

Attracting customers to the Web door takes some creativity and a plan. Just because you build it doesn't mean they'll come. You need to advertise and let customers know they have new options, and you should create incentives, such as the ability to pay online or receive discounts, to entice customers to your new Web site.

Once you get customers to the Web door, how do you keep them there to complete their business ' and make them so satisfied with the experience that they return?

In the early days of Web-based care, customer frustration and site abandonment were major problems, and for good reason. Most sites were static and presented only basic answers to common questions, often in random order. Worse, the sites directed customers to a toll-free number for further questions, siphoning traffic off the site and creating a new voice pileup at the contact center.

One solution to this dilemma is to create a dynamic Web site that empowers the customer to initiate an array of self-care and assisted-care interactions.

For example, a dynamic FAQ (frequently asked questions) area lets the customer drive both the content and organization of the information presented on the FAQ Web pages. Information is stored in a self-learning knowledge base which can be rearranged, updated and searched to provide customers with the most useful answers.

Moving beyond the FAQ, why not use the full interactive power of the Web? Your site can empower customers to order services, view bills, analyze call details, dispute charges, pay their balances or update their own customer information.

Or, if you really want to offer premium value, give customers access to sophisticated Web-enabled applications. A few examples that might excite customers are online DSL provisioning help, online self trouble-shooting, network utilization tracking, online exchange with partners and suppliers, flow-through ordering and the ability to define their payment options.

Assisted Care
Assisted care provides an enriched experience for customers by allowing them to interact simultaneously with the site and an agent ' viewing their information, discussing it and taking action. While there is a potential for savings, the real benefit of assisted care is that it represents a great service for your key accounts, and if offered on a targeted basis, can help your company keep the right customers.

Among the assisted care applications that you can offer to valued customers:

Click-to-talk, including click-to-chat and click-to-VoIP. Customers already on the Web site can click a button to 'chat' in near real-time with an agent, using the e-mail chat function. Alternately, a customer could access another capability that triggers a VoIP conversation with an agent while still browsing the Web site. The advantage is that the customer need not log off and make a phone call. Click-to-talk features appeal to customers who are Internet-savvy or who have only one phone line. The benefit to providers is that customers are less likely to abandon the Web site or an in-progress sales transaction. Both click-to-chat and click-to-VoIP can be offered to your best customers as a premium-level service that boosts loyalty.

Click-to-call. With this feature, customers can go online and request that an agent call them at a specific time on a defined topic. By identifying the topic in advance, customers help agents prepare for the call, or route the call to the most appropriate agent.

Co-browsing. Here, the agent and the customer view the same page simultaneously. A more complex variant called 'follow me' allows the customer to watch what the agent does on the Web. Both forms of co-browsing enhance service by improving the agent's ability to quickly identify and respond to questions in an immediate, visible manner, and by instilling confidence in the customer-agent relationship.

Wireless Web And Wireless
A discussion of multimedia contact centers would be incomplete without outlining two other emerging trends in access: wireless Web and wireless.

Although wireless Web access is much talked about, significant obstacles have impeded widespread adoption. These include the absence of a single mobile communications standard for wireless Web, low wireless penetration in some parts of the country, high prices, erratic service, tiny screens and the lack of investment in 3G networks. For now, wireless Web access to your contact center would appear to be far over the horizon.

However, other methods of wireless access may appeal to business customers who need to be informed about mission-critical network events. For example, short message service (SMS), PDAs and pagers can be used to notify customers of network outages and capacity problems, or to provide trouble management features.

Airtight And Weatherproof
Fast forward: You've finished construction of your multichannel contact center and both you and your customers like the result. You now have a flexible edifice that lets you tailor customer access and care based on their preference and value. You're using each channel to maximum effectiveness. By migrating many customer inquiries to the Web, you are driving down costs. Assisted-care Web site functions delight your most valued customers. Everything's automated and running smoothly. What could be better?

Well, maybe you haven't automated everything. Don't forget that agents and customers are human. You can't automate them, but you can improve the effectiveness of their relationship by understanding them. Two tools can help: a powerful, intuitive customer knowledge database, and workforce automation tools that balance automation and agent needs.

A customer knowledge database provides a holistic view of the customer, based not only on knowledge from the center, but from other systems across the enterprise. The database provides detailed information on each customer's desires so you can determine how to value the relationship and work proactively to ensure satisfaction.

Agent workforce tools address the human element in your center and help you leverage and appreciate your most vital asset: agents. These tools can balance employee availability, personal preferences and specialization with the needs and goals of the center. This way, you squeeze optimal results from the center without draining your agents.

Because it is constructed on a best-practices foundation, uses new technologies to diversify access and treatments and continually self-monitors to ensure customer satisfaction and agent optimization, the multichannel contact center will stand firm for the long term. Build it and you will have the security of a solid dwelling that attracts, delights and keeps customers. Stay put and you can watch as customers pass by your tumble-down rambler in search of a modern multichannel facility.

Anne Morrison is a principal in AMS's Corporate Technology Group, responsible for developing e-business and application integration methodologies.

[ Return To The February 2002 Table Of Contents ]

Upcoming Events
ITEXPO West 2012
October 2- 5, 2012
The Austin Convention Center
Austin, Texas
The World's Premier Managed Services and Cloud Computing Event
Click for Dates and Locations
Mobility Tech Conference & Expo
October 3- 5, 2012
The Austin Convention Center
Austin, Texas
Cloud Communications Summit
October 3- 5, 2012
The Austin Convention Center
Austin, Texas

Subscribe FREE to all of TMC's monthly magazines. Click here now.