Are Your Customers In Call Center Hell?
By Jay Henderson, Vertical Networks
Branch offices and retail stores are still the primary customer interfaces '
and the main revenue drivers ' for many enterprises. However, few enterprises
realize that their call center systems may, in fact, be doing more to harm local
customer relationships than to enhance them. One of the main problems is the
inability of remote offices and stores to collect, track and share intelligence
about incoming customer calls with either the main call center or other remote
locations. Another is that many enterprises have not adequately mapped all of
the call flow scenarios that bring callers into remote sites, which prevents
these sites from appropriately routing calls, or tracking them after they are
automatically routed. Finally, a lack of connectivity between branch telephony
infrastructure and corporate inventory, CRM or customer databases isolates
remote locations from critical data. The result? A customer experience that most
companies could only wish on their competitors.
Here's a retail example that starkly illustrates what's happening to customers
thousands of times a day, unbeknownst to many retailing businesses and IT
executives. A customer calls the local number of a store with which he or she
does business to determine if a certain size and type of jeans is in stock.
However, the system transparently routes all calls to the main call center in
Idaho or Kansas (to enable in-store staff to focus on in-store customers). The
caller has a specific question for the local location, but the agent at the main
call center has no identifying information about where that call came from, or
what that customer might be looking for. In fact, the main call center agent
will not have any idea whether the store in Paramus, NJ has those jeans in stock
in the customer's size.
So after waiting in queue, and then not receiving the
desired information, the customer is transferred back to the store, where a live
operator routes her to the sportswear department. There the phone rings for five
minutes before anyone answers it. The salesperson, after going to the aisle to
check, returns to say they do not have the item in stock at this store. "Do you
have it at your mall location?" asks the customer. "I don't know," says the
salesperson, "you'll have to call there."
The scenario above is not an isolated incident. According to a recent survey by
Begley Consulting, in calls to the nation's top 27 retail chains there is a 1 in
4 chance that the caller will either be cut off after being put on hold, reach a
busy signal or fail to reach either a person or machine.
In addition, all of this transferring of calls adds up, even when long-distance
rates are low. Not only are these situations occurring with alarming frequency,
but worse, companies are not tracking, capturing and reporting on them.
It's not hard to imagine how both the top line and the bottom line of a business
would be significantly improved if these calls were handled and routed
effectively at the local site. Intelligence about the call would be made
available to the resource at the main call center, or alternatively, at the
local site the store clerk or automated system would do a look-up in the
corporate inventory database and route the caller to the nearest store that had
that item available.
So how can this be accomplished? It's accomplished by implementing call center
capabilities on site in the remote locations, and by tying distributed
intelligence from those sites to back-end enterprise applications. While large
call centers have had the technology to do just this for some time, small sites
have been shut out.
Of course, you have to have technology at both the main call center and remote
sites to support a distributed model. We'll get to that in a minute. But it's
not just about technology. Here are the steps for successfully implementing a
distributed call center:
1. Know thy customer.
The organization must map out and understand: Who is calling? Where is the
customer calling from and to? Why is the customer calling? This information
often already exists in corporate databases, ERP and other enterprise
applications. If it does not exist, enterprises should create a SWAT team to
call a sub-segment of customers to understand what is happening when they call.
Only by analyzing customer calling patterns can the enterprise design a highly
efficient and effective distributed call center.
2. Understand whether your organizational structure is making the problem
Where does the expertise or particular talent in the company reside? In many
cases, callers are not being directed to where the appropriate resources
3. Investigate the dynamics of existing call flows.
What percentage of your customers are successfully completing a transaction
in one call? What percent have to talk with two or more agents? How you staff
your distributed call center will depend upon what you learn.
4. Determine which call center capabilities are required at the branch.
An Integrated Communications Platform (ICP) with robust call center software
needs to be deployed at each branch. There are many competing systems in this
category. This approach enables branches to continue to leverage local phone and
network services, but also to benefit from tight links to strategic corporate
databases. Connectivity allows calls to be automatically routed to the most
appropriate location. A call from a known credit risk (based on a lookup in the
corporate database by the local agent) could be automatically transferred to the
corporate credit department rather than handled locally.
Critical call center functionality for branch sites includes:
Flexible call routing and queuing. Based on the number dialed (DNIS), the
originating number (ANI) or touch-tone digits entered, the call center
application on the ICP system routes a caller to the company representative with
the right expertise.
Interactive voice response. Enabling self-service frees local staff to
handle more complex requests. Flexible script-based applications should be
available to customize an unlimited number of nested menus and prompts. By
integrating the IVR system with enterprise databases, branch locations can
quickly route calls based on the caller's individual account information.
Integration with enterprise applications. The ICP software should
integrate with back-office applications via ODBC, COM and other standards-based
APIs to enable detailed customer information lookups. In addition to IVR input,
calls can be directed using a wealth of data including: inventory levels, store
hours, staff availability, holiday schedules or call queue levels.
Monitoring and reporting. Call center capabilities at the remote site
should provide a high degree of visibility into day-to-day operations at all
remote locations ' for tracking customer contact data to identify peak calling
times and call abandonment patterns ' by department and facility; measuring
staff productivity by monitoring call handling and queue statistics ' by
individuals and groups; and analyzing trunk traffic and network utilization
across all sites.
In addition, centrally located enterprisewide management is imperative for
provisioning, managing, controlling, monitoring and reporting on applications
running on distributed platforms. According to Gartner, "Networking capabilities
[for managing multisite call centers] introduce resource efficiency savings of
at least 15 percent."
The neighborhood store or branch location continues to be the customer service
"front line." Enterprises are just beginning to learn how distributed call
center technology can be deployed to help to impact the top line.
Jay Henderson is director, applications, for Vertical Networks (www.verticalnetworks.com).
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