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Customer Care Feature Article


March 15, 2006

Telemessaging: Your Customer Care Assistants

By TMCnet Special Guest


Gary A. Pudles
President and Chief Executive Officer, The AnswerNet Network
 
Contact centers are not the only resources you can utilize to provide customer care, customer service, help desk services, or to sell products and services.
 
Telemessaging: telephone and email answering, appointment scheduling, voicemail, and paging and dispatch services can supplement, and for some applications substitute, formal contact centers, as we will see later.
 
Telemessaging predates formal contact centers by over a century. Telegraph, later telephone operators, took down messages and handed them or had them delivered to recipients. Automated fax machines were introduced on Western Union’s telegraph service in 1938.
 
What is telemessaging, and why does it make sense?
 
Telemessaging is the answering, triaging, recording and the retrieval of messages that have been transmitted by any communications means, such as the phone, email, text and by fax.
 
Agents (still referred to as operators in many companies) process telemessaging contacts in a variety of ways; they can warm-transfer calls or put them into voicemail, send voicemails as emails and emails as faxes, and sort, prioritize and forward emails.
 
Agents also handle contacts the old-fashioned way: transcribing calls (now on computers, but in some cases still with pen and paper) and reciting messages to the recipients when they call in.
 
Agents can alert recipients through paging, instant messaging (IM), text messaging, email and by calls to private numbers.
 
Additionally, telemessaging staff can arrange for customers to meet with businesses in person, or through conference calls or web sessions, by setting up appointments with robust online scheduling tools. This software avoids overlap, and can also issue automatic email reminders.
 
Telemessaging is not all inbound. Agents can also make outbound calls to remind customers of appointments or of manufacturer-recommended servicing.
 
The key benefit of telemessaging is that it enables enterprises to better serve their clientele and be open for more business whenever customers need them, 24/7.
 
Fully automated systems such as answering machines, telco-provided voicemail and standard email intake and response cannot alert you of an important matter, such as a sales lead or a customer service problem. Nor can they assure customers.
 
Only courteous, empathetic and well-trained live agents, who can think out of the program, can provide that vital customer care functionality.
 
Telemessaging versus contact centers
 
There is an important difference between telemessaging and contact center functions. While contact centers provide customer care, service and sales to the extent they can, telemessaging enables these functions.
 
Telemessaging staff processes calls and contacts; they do not handle the substance of these inquiries. They escalate issues to qualified staff, such as doctors, lawyers, contractors, senior management, product/sales experts, client representatives and technicians. In many instances, such as providing a product demo or hardware support, these individuals handle the matters in person.
 
Telemessaging calls and contacts are brief. A simple call, wherein agents identify callers and direct them to someone or to a system to best help them, takes a mere 45 seconds and 60 seconds, compared 3 minutes or so for an average contact center interaction.
 
Also, email triaging, screening and directing emails to the right inboxes, takes much less time compared with writing back to customers, even with cut-and-paste templates.
 
Telemessaging applications
 
Telemessaging assists contact centers by making initial customer contacts, screening calls and directing them to the right people. These functions establish rapport with customers, speed up service and save time and money.
 
One example is virtual receptionist. Many organizations have a single inbound number, linking callers to a variety of departments, such as customer care.
 
Telemessaging agents answer, identify and direct calls to customer care, support, or sales. They can also alert the staff by IM that calls are on their way and from whom. If one of those personnel is not available, the agents can give callers the choice of paging, scheduling callbacks, or having their messages placed into voicemail.
 
Another increasingly important telemessaging application is email response. Businesses and nonprofits, as well as consumers, are swamped with email. Individuals spend an hour or more each workday sifting through them, causing productivity losses.
 
Yet many important messages, such as a sales lead, are overlooked until it is too late. Some emails automatically end up in the trash because spam filters are not perfect; this forces people to look through deleted files, thereby consuming even more of their scarce time on email handling.
 
Telemessaging agents sort through inboxes and deleted folders for sales leads, service questions and other urgent messages that would have been missed lost or discarded. These staff can also alert, page and dispatch representatives.
 
With telemessaging-enabled email response, customer response times, along with satisfaction and revenues can be improved. That, in turn, enhances email as a customer contact means both in popularity and in justifying continued IT resources to support it.
 
Some typical contact center functions are actually telemessaging, and vice-versa. One example is the dealer locator service. Typically this service is telemessaging, as it enables retail sales; but the agents are not doing the selling.
 
Yet if the agents are being asked to convince callers to visit the store (such as by making sales pitches and offering coupons), then that is inbound telemarketing, a contact center function.
 
Telemessaging as the only customer care option
 
There are many businesses, organizations and professionals where telemessaging is the only practical customer care means because the tasks to deliver services and resolve issues are literally hands-on. Popular examples include building and maintenance contractors, doctors, home/nursing care professionals, lawyers and vehicle repair.
 
Contact center agents can answer basic questions, set up appointments and enter orders. They cannot fix, say, your house’s pipes, repair your back that you had pulled in trying to plug the leaks before calling or give legal advice if the plumber or physician had left your house (or you) in a worse condition than before.
 
Enabling telemessaging
 
Implementing telemessaging is relatively easy, in theory. Most organizations already have it in place, provided by their office receptionists.
 
These individuals undertake the same tasks that telemessaging agents carry out; they answer, triage and direct calls.
 
Existing contact centers may not be set up, or have the right tools, to efficiently process and measure telemessaging, so equipment investments are very important.
 
The contact centers' switches must have scripting, voicemail, paging and multiple-message retrieval options that include email, text, fax, and phone to support telemessaging. This is in addition to automatic call distribution and reporting.
 
Call recording is a requirement, both to protect enterprises if disputes arise and to check on agent performance.
 
Outsourcing to service bureaus that have telemessaging equipment and experience is a viable option to setting up and managing an in-house program.
 
Most of these firms also offer contact center functionality, such as skills-based routing, IVR and reporting; they also offer services including order entry, inbound and outbound customer care, customer service, help desk, inbound and outbound telemarketing and collections.
 
These outsourcers provide after-hours handling, flexibility and expertise at affordable prices. They are web enabled to supply services such as online appointment scheduling and email response. They have auto-attendant and the ability to link their centers' databases into those of clients' for seamless telemessaging.
 
When looking for a telemessaging outsourcer, determine your needs and budget. Undertake the same due diligence as you would for any other vendor; Shop around, visit vendors’ and trade media websites and get references.
 
Consider, for example, whether and how much disaster protection will you need from your vendor to support your customers.
 
Some outsourcers’ telemessaging centers only have battery backup, which is enough to ride out short power outages, but will not get them through major events like hurricanes and tornadoes that tear down poles and lines.
 
Other suppliers’ centers have onsite generators that enable them to withstand long power interruptions. They may also have multiple networked sites that they can shift calls to if the primary facilities have to be closed.
 
With effective, courteous telemessaging available 24/7, you will be enhancing your customer care and retention.
 
 
 

Customer Care


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