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Feature Article
July 2000


Managing Multimedia Communications For Contact Center Success


Call centers are obsolete. Try to find one -- I dare you.

Today's call centers have been replaced with contact centers or customer interaction centers. To be successful in the fast moving "e-world," businesses must have a multi-channel contact center, not a one-dimensional call center. In order to provide superior service and enhance customer loyalty and retention, businesses must provide customers with a variety of media choices for their interactions with the company.

The Solution Of The Future
Gartner Group states that in 2002, only 20 percent of call centers will have integrated live Web contacts or e-mail response with their voice-based agents. However, by 2005, that number will more than triple to 70 percent (Enterprise Network Strategies Research Note, April 14th, 2000). Therefore, this trend requires enterprises to look for solutions that will enable them to seamlessly integrate other channels of communication into their contact center. Enterprises must look for solutions that can support e-business initiatives while maintaining or improving the level of service of their traditional business and contact centers. As a result, businesses face significant challenges in managing and optimizing traditional voice and new Internet-based customer interactions.

It is important to understand that call centers have already set a rather high standard when it comes to service and sales support. Customers who pick up the phone expect a very quick response. They expect the customer service representative to be knowledgeable -- CSRs must be able to identify the customer and origin of the call, and anticipate its nature. Enterprises must recognize that a change in communication channel does not signal the acceptance of change in the service. The challenge is to ensure that customers who choose a different channel of communication receive the same high level of service as they do with a traditional voice call.

The Rise Of eCRM
Over the years, companies have increased their focus on building customer segmentation and retention strategies. Time and effort were invested to ensure that customers were serviced with the highest quality. These undertakings took technological innovation, a strong investment in a solid customer service strategy, and most importantly, an investment in Customer Relationship Management (CRM). CRM has emerged as a primary strategy for business. CRM applications have paved the way for enterprises to build strategies for attaining and retaining customers. Now what about the relationships with these new e-customers? Can businesses draw on the experiences they had in the call center to ensure they build the right eCRM strategy? The problem cannot be solved by simply tacking new technology onto legacy systems. Instead, it must be done through the construction of a strategy that includes a sales and service infrastructure to support both traditional and new e-business channels. It requires the implementation of an integrated application that enables contact centers to manage multiple communication channels in a unified fashion.

The Evolution From Call Center To Contact Center
Let's consider Company A. Company A has a well-established sales and service infrastructure and a solid CRM strategy. The company is identifying and managing their traditional voice interactions in a way that best suits their customers' needs. They have established business rules that allow for their best clients to be prioritized and handled first.

Enter the Internet. The Internet has increasingly become an important sales, service, and communications medium that is altering the way companies manage external and internal relationships. Analysts estimate that the number of Internet users will increase from 140 million in 1998 to 500 million in 2003. In addition, the amount of money spent to purchase goods and services on the Internet is expected to increase dramatically. Analysts also estimate that spending on the Internet will increase from $50.3 billion in 1998 to $1.3 trillion in 2003. The Internet also adds a new dimension to the company's CRM strategy: It has created a whole new set of competitors that are just one click away.

What Company A has to do is build a sales and service infrastructure to satisfy these new e-business customers. E-business initiatives require the seamless integration of new Internet-based forms of customer interaction, such as e-mail and Web, with traditional voice contact centers. According to analysts, almost half of online consumers indicate that they would be more likely to complete a transaction online if Web chat or callback were available. Company A needs to integrate these requirements into their CRM infrastructure. Should they simply add e-mail and Web management applications? This will probably satisfy the demand of customers, but will it help the company manage their customer relationships? The company must be able to identify their long-standing clients no matter what media they choose. A solid solution enables a company to manage its customer interactions on a real-time basis, across a variety of communications media, and through a single, business rules-driven interface.

The Solution
In order to meet these challenges, the interaction management solution should contain the following attributes:

  • A single, business rules-driven interaction engine to manage all communication channels. A solution must allow the management of all interactions through one set of business rules. If different engines are used to manage the different channels, companies will lose the flexibility to manage each interaction based on its value. This is the heart of CRM -- managing the relationship with each customer based on their value to the business.

  • The delivery of information to gather insight on customers and the market. Understanding the customer's preferences and behaviors are requirements. The contact center is the best place to get this information. The chosen solution must provide integrated information on all customer activity in order to understand and grow a business.

  • Technological flexibility. The chosen solution should provide flexibility to work with any existing communications and data infrastructure, and allow for seamless migration to the new technology. The solution should work with both traditional voice communications platforms (such as your PBX), as well as emerging IP-based platforms. In addition, the solution should work with any CRM or eCRM application. Choosing this type of solution can provide a single interaction management system across the enterprise, resulting in an overall lower total cost of ownership.

The Key To Success
In order to provide superior service and enhance customer loyalty and retention, businesses need to provide customers with a variety of choices for how they interact with their business. The real-time management of multimedia customer interactions within a contact center should include traditional voice interactions, e-mail, and Web-based forms through a single, business rules-driven interface. Multimedia contact centers will succeed with an integrated approach to managing multiple-channel customer communications.

Jody Wacker is vice president of Apropos Technology. Apropos was founded in 1993 with the goal of developing the first network-based, client/server call center solution. The company has built a strong reputation as an interaction/call center solutions-oriented company by combining leading-edge technology, continuous innovation and an unmatched commitment to customer service. Today, Apropos has delivered more than 140 systems to major Fortune 500 companies around the globe.

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