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Call Center/CRM Management Scope
April 2003

Quality Monitoring And Customer Interaction Recording

By Oscar A Alban, Witness Systems

Customer interaction recording -- or quality monitoring -- has emerged as the contact center's most basic system of checks and balances. Designed to ensure that organizations are running efficiently and profitably, quality monitoring has become the foundation of many organizations' customer service initiatives. However, there's much more invested in a quality assurance program than meets the eye. The impact today's contact centers have on staff development and retention, customer intelligence gathering, information sharing, revenue growth, cost cutting and customer satisfaction is really quite amazing. 

Today's customer interaction recording market is still thriving. Research indicates that three percent of the U.S. population works in a contact center -- equating to some eight million people. Whether conducting business in a tough economy, as we face today, or a thriving environment, customer satisfaction and retention have become top priorities. A recent survey reinforces that focus, reporting that 84 percent of the CEOs surveyed cited their most important function for business growth as customer retention and service quality. This challenge -- and great opportunity -- involves coordination and cooperation throughout the entire organization, starting at the top with the executive level. To do so requires an enterprise solution that not only optimizes workforce performance, but also takes the pulse of what's going on in the marketplace with consumers. 

Exploring The Evolving Role Of Contact Centers
In many cases, a company's contact center serves as its most customer-facing public entity, the one best able to build customer satisfaction. Today, 60-70 percent of all interactions a company has with consumers takes place through these centers, which has helped them shake the label of 'cost center' to the more appropriate description of 'profit center.' At last, contact centers are being recognized for the strategic value they deliver: the part of the business most capable of creating positive customer experiences and repeat business. 

In many cases, a company's contact center serves as its primary brand extension, playing a critical role from a sales, support and customer retention standpoint. Many times, the contact center is the only point of contact a company has with its customers. Therefore, organizations must ensure that consistent, quality service is delivered to keep customers returning time and time again. In today's more challenging economic environment, companies are focusing now, more than ever, on customer retention. Studies have shown that it costs up to five times more to attract new business than it does to retain existing customers, which has led businesses in search of new strategies, technologies and processes to strike that fine balance. This is a phenomenon that companies are taking to heart, and one that has changed the way organizations view the customer service function.

Investing In Workforce Optimization Technology
Companies have found that the technology behind customer interaction recording offers even more than training and development for agents, which years ago was its primary focus. By recording customer interactions, companies also can gain valuable insight into how well their processes are working. If management finds that average call handle times are continually up across the board, they might quickly learn that staff performance and training aren't the issues at all'rather their business processes might need an overhaul. The effectiveness of screen navigation systems is a great example. If customer sales/service representatives (CSRs) are struggling to find pertinent information while assisting a customer, perhaps they need more training on the technology -- but another option might be that the navigation needs to be re-vamped so it's faster to get from point A to point B. 

Robust workforce optimization software suites that include customer interaction recording, performance analysis and e-learning have triggered a revolution in the contact center -- taking it to a new level and making it much more valuable and respected by the organization as a whole. Because these technologies have evolved to a browser-based architecture, the 'silos' contact centers once embodied are no longer. Now, the contact center serves as the strategic hub of business intelligence into the enterprise. More information flows through these centers in a single day than through any other part of the company -- raising their importance and strategic value. As customer interactions are captured in the contact center and shared throughout the organization through the browser-based technology, individuals, groups and departments outside the center now have access to first-hand customer feedback. With this valuable intelligence, executives can make more accurate projections, engineering can respond more effectively to product issues and document future requirements, and marketing/sales can better gauge the success of their campaigns and special offers. 

With a higher commitment now than ever before, companies are looking for ways to strike the fine balance of revenue growth, cost reduction and customer satisfaction with an acceptable ROI. To do this, they're having to look at their customer relationship management (CRM) strategy in a whole new light. The key is to invest in technology that yields greater value. Customer interaction recording, or quality monitoring, systems address the people side (staff training, development and career pathing, as well as retention), the process side (gauging and measuring business process effectiveness) and the technology side (ensuring the effective use of available systems). However, there's much more they deliver in the way of strategic value, such as access to customer intelligence and competitive information. Today, companies are looking at the bottom line, which means getting intimate and measuring what really matters.

Establishing Key Performance Indicators; Measuring What Matters
Customer interaction recording technology can take on many flavors and methods. Some companies record in scheduled blocks of time; some capture random samples of agent-customer contacts each month; some leverage agent-initiated monitoring, allowing CSRs to trigger recording directly from their desktops; and some capture 100 percent of specific types of interactions. Most, however, focus on capturing what's most important to their business -- and the way they do that is through 'business rules.' For companies to be truly successful, they must first determine what they wish to measure, establish those parameters, determine what results are attainable -- and most importantly, map those metrics back to their already established business, performance and customer goals. 

By establishing user-defined 'business rules,' customer interaction recording systems capture what matters most -- such as interactions tied to a key customer profile, those associated with a particular product or service offering, or contacts tied to a newly launched marketing campaign. By tracking specific, pre-defined criteria, companies can measure success, make proactive adjustments along the way and benefit from a more streamlined, fine-tuned approach to meeting their goals. Revenue and operational costs are two primary areas of measurement'but there are others.

Revenue generation. If a percentage of revenue growth is cited as a key corporate milestone, the entire enterprise must work in tandem to meet that objective, including the contact center, where the majority of customer sales/service interactions take place. By capturing contacts through customer interaction recording, companies can learn a great deal directly from consumers -- including their interests, their objections, what they're happy or unhappy with, the items they are willing to purchase and the reason behind those decisions. This type of feedback is critical in enabling companies to improve offerings that don't meet customer needs and continue those that are compelling. 

Captured samples of customer interactions can also quickly alert contact center and corporate management regarding specific customer behaviors -- such as customer defections ' enabling them to make rapid adjustments or arm staff with counter-offers to retain the business. Monitoring can help management on the CSR development side, as well. If agents are having a tough time upselling or cross-selling, additional training can be directed to them -- in the form of e-learning, for example -- enabling staff to more confidently determine customer needs and hone their closing skills. 

Cost reduction. Companies can reduce costs by increasing productivity'and customer interaction recording technology plays an important role in the process. First and foremost, they must ensure their CSRs have the right training and skill sets to quickly respond to customer needs, as well as the know-how to maximize the technology resources at their fingertips. One traditional measurement metric for contact centers is average handle time. If staff can effectively maneuver their desktop systems, they're less likely to have customers on hold, driving up the call time and frustrating the customer. Equally important, though, is the need for CSRs to be knowledgeable about their products/services their organization offers, so they can address customer inquiries in an accurate and timely manner. 

If customers don't get the help they need the first time around, they'll call back (if the company is lucky) or move on to another organization that can meet their needs. First call resolution is an important goal for contact centers today. As companies have increased their service focus, first call resolution has experienced significant gains, and customer interaction recording has played a pivotal role. Similarly, this type of technology has been instrumental in lowering average handle time. 

Competitive advantage. Another area in which customer interaction recording is advantageous is on the competitive side. If a customer calls to cancel his/her credit card for example, citing that another financial services organization has a better offer of lower APR, this intelligence can be captured. Management teams can then either implement a more compelling offer to remain competitive, or provide CSRs with scripting focused on overcoming objections and retaining that important business. 

Customer satisfaction; staff retention. Today, companies across all vertical markets are already benefiting in multiple ways from customer interaction recording. For instance, the technology not only helps companies increase customer satisfaction ratings, it also assists with staff training and retention. Some companies have linked quality scores with staff payback, rewarding staff with paid-time-off hours each time they score a certain mark on their evaluations. CSRs recognize the value these types of systems deliver -- not just for reward-based performance programs, but also in the area of ongoing development and career pathing, which is designed to help them realize they are important contributors the organization's ongoing success.

Taking The Plunge Into Multimedia Customer Sales/Service
In the early years, quality monitoring focused almost entirely on the coaching and training of CSRs -- a fundamental, yet still critically important role. Only by recording the contacts agents have with customers, along with the corresponding computer screen activities taking place the CSR desktop (such as screen navigation and data entry) can management fully understand how well interactions are unfolding and how well staff are servicing customers. As multimedia channels -- such as the telephone, e-mail, collaborative chat and self-service mediums like the Web -- have given consumers more choices of how to communicate, the evolution of these channels also has forced them to take a closer look at how to respond to consumer needs through these newer media. How will they train their staff to master multimedia channels and ensure the delivery of consistent service? How will they evaluate their effectiveness? Investing in customer interaction recording technology is one sure-fire way to take a temperature check and determine how well cross-medium service is really working. 

Be it through telephone monitoring -- where both the voice and data portions of the agent-customer interaction is captured, synchronized and later replayed at a supervisor's desktop -- or through e-mail and collaborative chat recording -- which integrates with the market's leading e-mail response and Web management systems -- organizations can learn much about how service is delivered. These channels require new processes, the ability to master different technologies and the skills to address the needs of a more knowledgeable, tech-savvy and demanding customer. The companies that will truly succeed will be those that successfully integrate assisted service and self-service channels -- and then capture samples of their effectiveness. 

Today, some forward-thinking companies are even taking the quality monitoring concept one step further. Analysts project that the number of consumers seeking online customer service is expected to jump to 67 million by 2005. This figure includes chat and e-mail, as well as emerging media, such as corporate Web sites and IVR systems. Many now prefer Web self-service as their preferred interaction channel. Shopping on the Web means having access to information anytime and almost anywhere. Just as with any other touch point, companies need to monitor its effectiveness by capturing a sample of how consumers interact with the site: how easy is it to use, can information be accessed quickly, is navigation smooth, and is it an effective channel to easily gather information and make purchases? If companies operate truly effective sites, consumers will be able to serve themselves, thereby eliminating the need to interface with CSRs directly and cutting operational costs substantially. 

As this channel comes of age, many organizations are moving Web responsibility to the contact center, rather than where it has traditionally resided, with the IT and marketing groups. By aligning all customer touch points under one department, companies can better ensure consistency of service. It's important to know that if a customer tries to make purchases via the Web site, then requires help and speaks with a CSR, that the agent be proficient in how his/her company's site operates, mitigating the risk of the customer knowing more than the CSR. 

Customer interaction recording is clearly entrenched as an effective technology for optimizing workforce performance -- and importantly, delivering strategic value to companies and their bottom lines. For every assisted or self-service customer interaction, capturing and analyzing contacts is crucial to ensure consistent, quality service. Equally important is having the right staff on-board and a system that effectively links performance and business goals to what is being monitoring and how that captured customer intelligence is being used. Using robust workforce optimization systems -- that combine customer interaction recording, performance analysis and e-learning as a suite of integrated solutions -- helps companies maintain an accurate reading on their business: what's working, what's not, what opportunities exist and what trends can be leveraged. These systems are the only true methods available to provide that critical window into customer feedback, allowing businesses to grow, improve and continue to build customer confidence and loyalty.

Oscar A. Alban serves as principal market consultant for Witness Systems, a provider of performance optimization software and services for the contact center market. 

[ Return To The April 2003 Table Of Contents ]

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