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E-Sales E-Service Feature Article
March 2002

One Size Does Not Fit All: Targeting Your Contact Center Services For Better ROI

By Brad Wilson, E.piphany

To begin, let me congratulate today's call center professionals and information technology executives. Over the past decade, they have created solid and stable customer service systems using rudimentary tools. But as we move into the next millennium, these same executives have their work cut out for them. The call center will undergo sweeping changes, bringing both good and bad news.

The bad news first: the call center is becoming more complex. In today's economy, call center managers need to lower costs while extending the call center's reach by integrating new communication channels and revenue-enhancing services.

Now for the good news: new technologies in customer relationship management (CRM) and converged networking can move call centers from 'one-size-fits-all' customer service to targeted one-to-one service. This delivers value by improving customer satisfaction and boosting revenue, as in years past when local businesses offered personal service because they knew every customer.

One key strategy in moving the call center forward is customer value-based call routing. In conjunction with load balancing or skills-based routing strategies, customer value-based routing helps businesses do a better job of matching customers with specific needs or propensities with the agents that are best able to meet those needs.

A good way to understand how this works is by comparing traditional call centers with the modern 'customer contact centers.'

Communication channels. In most call centers, discrete and often proprietary solution elements handle a particular customer channel, such as the voice response unit, the private branch exchange (PBX) or automated call distribution (ACD), and the Web server for online interactions.

Far more effective is the modern customer contact center, in which new technologies merge all channels into a single communications platform that handles voice, automated voice, chat, agent-assisted chat, e-mail and the Web. IP-based infrastructure puts all communication channels and customer data into a single communications backbone, making it easier to implement and less expensive to maintain than today's disparate, multichannel networks.

Customer data. Traditionally, multiple groups within a company have managed customer data, creating a fragmented view of each customer. Customer data has usually been organized by division, by group and by application, making it difficult to see a single view of the customer. Groups that manage call centers, the Web, e-mail or other channels have thus far worked with a limited view within each specific channel.

By contrast, modern multichannel contact centers are architected for intelligence. They provide integrated customer information in real-time to respond to requests efficiently and make value-added recommendations of products or other information. The ability to generate a real-time customer profile through a combination of offline data aggregation and real-time application integration is critical to making a multichannel contact center both efficient and effective. Real-time statistical analytics are also now available that allow every customer interaction to be personalized with a high degree of accuracy and very little overhead.

Business logic. Today, customers expect their suppliers to interact as a single enterprise consistently across all channels ' a major challenge considering the multiple stand-alone applications in the typical call center. Business logic for serving customers has been hard-wired into applications such as e-mail, call center and interactive voice response (IVR) with little or no integration. If the e-mail response system is separate from other applications, how can an organization consistently decide whether or not to waive a late fee for a good customer, or determine which calls should be routed immediately to an agent?

The usual answer is to duplicate business rules across all systems, creating a nightmare of coding, revisions and upgrades. The modern contact center, however, delivers value by featuring consistent, centrally administered business rules across all applications, and shared customer information that allows agents to be matched with customers according to their value. This approach easily provides answers to questions such as: Which customers should be referred immediately to experienced agents and which should be routed to an interactive voice response system? How should we handle customers who are likely to churn? Who should receive special offers? The result is greater customer satisfaction and organizational effectiveness.

Performance monitoring. Traditional call centers have monitored performance by tracking metrics such as number of interactions, call handle times and time in queue, and the focus has been on making simple automated tasks faster and more routine. This has been important in the past and will continue to be important in the future. However, the modern contact center also needs to improve organizational effectiveness by working smarter: understanding cross-channel customer interactions and reporting cross-channel results. Once cross-channel reporting is in place, a company can get a better view of each customer's account, history and buying patterns, as well as the resources that are being expended on behalf of that customer. In other words, a company can discover the value of each customer, which is key to rationalizing the investments being made across a service organization, as well as optimizing the potential value in each customer interaction.

Customer Value-Based Routing
By integrating communication channels, customer data, business logic and performance monitoring, the modern contact center has the tools to perform customer value-based routing. The optimal matching of staff resources with customers fulfills a key business imperative for every call center.

Although businesses would like to provide great service to every caller, it's an expensive proposition. If you learn which customers deliver the most value and which the least, you can align each customer with the appropriate level of service. This has been done in the past with rather simple offline segmentation schemes. Value-based routing achieves this at a more fine-grained level and does it on the fly, ensuring fast routing to the right agent or resource, regardless of agent location or communication channel. As a result, the most knowledgeable agents will be focused on working with the highest-value customers. Because customers are better matched with the right contact center resources, the contact center can save money while boosting overall customer satisfaction and retention. Such routing also boosts the morale of call center agents, as they can specialize in ways that offer them more satisfying work and new ways to advance their careers.

Architected for intelligence, customer value-based routing uses real-time profiling and analytics to suggest cross-sell, upsell and churn avoidance strategies, based on detailed customer data, behavior and preferences. Better routing and more personalized offers and information help customers get what they want, faster. A retail-banking customer, for instance, could be identified in real-time before the call has been routed as a good candidate for a mortgage refinance offer, and could then be routed to an agent who has been trained in mortgage products as well as in handling general requests like a funds transfer (which was the reason why the customer called).

Most contact centers want to cross-sell, and most make some attempt. If you're already making the attempt, using more precise targeting strategies can generate tremendous revenues with very little incremental costs ' it's 'free money,' so to speak, as the returns far outweigh the incremental investment. As an example, consider a telecommunications company that receives 50 million calls per year, where the value of a successful cross-sell has a marginal value of $50. In this situation, every one percent of calls (in this example, 500,000 calls) that can be cross-sold is worth $25 million. Moving a cross-sell success rate by a few points can have a huge impact.

Another benefit of value-based routing occurs in customer retention. Calls from dissatisfied customers ' for example, those who have two or three open service calls ' can be routed to a 'save' unit, where specially trained agents try to win them back. By reducing customer churn and keeping valuable customers longer, contact center managers can improve the company's bottom line.

As with so many things in the contact center, it's a numbers game. When you have a lot of customer contacts, even small improvements in cross-selling and customer retention can pay off on a grand scale.

Action Items For Call Center Managers
What, then, should call center executives do to evolve their technology and staff toward the vision presented here?

Keep in mind that you don't have to upgrade the call center all at once. Instead, you can improve your contact center incrementally by building a single view of your customers by implementing a converged communications platform or by leveraging real-time analytics within a site or across an enterprise. This can protect and extend existing technology investments until you're ready to trade up. If you're ready to move faster, a hosted Web-based, multichannel contact center can be brought online immediately that provides a consistent view of the customer, uses shared business logic and uses real-time analytics to get the most out of every interaction.

Make sure you work with vendors that share your vision and offer some compelling technology that makes implementation and maintenance as easy as possible. Modern technology can enable you to go further, with less effort, than you may be used to. Watch out for 'sheep in wolves' clothing,' or vendors with outdated technology that have done little but update their data sheets with the latest marketing buzzwords.

Since many call centers alternate between flat and peak periods, the contact center solution you implement should be able to scale up or down easily. Being able to grow or shrink your contact center through the use of strategic outsourcers and application host partners can be a good strategy, particularly if your call load is seasonal or otherwise irregular.

Business strategy and technology platforms are key concerns, but just as important are organizational and staff issues. You can't make effective use of your resources without tackling some serious management, training and compensation issues. You may build and deploy a very solid contact center solution just to watch it fail if agents and supervisors aren't trained correctly or provided with the right incentives to cross-sell or perform other important functions.

One of the most overused marketing phrases in this industry has been that you can 'turn a cost center into a profit center.' It's largely been unachievable, due to a combination of immature technologies and unclear customer service strategies. The good news is that if you can bring your customer service strategy and objectives under control, the technologies now exist (such as Web-based applications and real-time analytics) that allow you to lower your investment while driving real top-line revenue. Customer value-based routing is one technique that will extend the usefulness of your current call routing technologies in place today and that offers the possibility of staggering returns for many large enterprises.

Brad Wilson is vice president of Product Marketing and Platforms for E.piphany. He joined the company as part of the RightPoint Software, Inc. acquisition. E.piphany is a provider of next-generation customer relationship management software for the customer economy. E.piphany E.5 blends Web-based analytic and operational CRM to unify all inbound and outbound marketing, sales and service customer interactions. The company's worldwide headquarters are in San Mateo, California.

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