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To be sure, managing any business entity during slowing economies is extremely challenging, to say the least. And managing call centers or CRM centers is no exception.

Having said the above, once again, we have decided to conduct a survey of industry leaders to bring you several different perspectives on how to better manage your call center through difficult times. In this editorial, I have provided you with a synopsis of some of the comments that various leading companies have provided us. In addition to reading this editorial, I urge you to also read the complete comments by industry experts in an article on page 30 written by Tracey Schelmetic, Editorial Director of Customer Interaction Solutions magazine.

As you read what follows, you will notice that a variety of technologies, strategies and methodologies are offered by the leading technology and teleservices providers to help you better manage your contact/CRM centers during a slowing economy.
First things first:

Obviously, it stands to reason that in any economy, customer care and customer service, including customer satisfaction, are paramount requirements for any business. In fact, as I have stated in many of these editorials, “Companies live or die from repeat business and repeat business comes from customer care and customer satisfaction.” Therefore, it is vital to make sure that you offer the best possible customer service and customer satisfaction so that you can maintain your present customers.

Lead generation is also vital in slowing economies, or any economy for that matter. During any type of economy, companies can lose as much as 50 percent of their existing customers simply by natural attrition. This percentage could go even higher in slowing economies. Therefore, common sense dictates that lost business must be replaced by new business. And the only way to obtain new business is to continuously pursue a program of creating qualified sales leads in order to bring in new business.
Having said all of the above, I would like to share with you excerpts from comments made from leading technology and teleservices providers of our industry. These comments are presented in alphabetical order by company and the Web sites of the companies in question are provided at the beginning of every company’s comment:

Altitude Software North America (www.altitude.com) –Mark Lepko, President
“Today, there is a clear shift in contact center operations, with contact centers focusing on first-call resolution as a priority, aiming to reduce costs and maximize agent performance. Studies indicate that, in some situations, 50 percent of calls could have been avoided if correctly handled on a first call.”

Aspect Software (www.aspect.com) – Tom Chamberlain, Director of Business Process Marketing
“In a slowing economy, companies are clearly focused on increasing efficiency and maximizing resources in all operational areas. In the contact center, this means automating the right processes to enhance service levels, not hinder them; leveraging automation technology like predictive dialers and voice portals; taking advantage of other applications that can increase first-call resolution.”

Avaya (www.avaya.com) – Lou Ann Jones, Director, Customer Contact Solutions
“Self-service with speech is key – we can serve a customer effectively while minimizing human intervention which is a substantial cost saving and has a rapid return on investment, and increases agent productivity and agent satisfaction. We know that “voice” is king. Getting and maintaining customers is a competitive necessity – well executed technology like self-service and proactive outbound contact help keep the competitive edge while keeping an eye on the bottom line.”

IEX Corp. (www.iex.com) – Rick Glew, VP of Marketing
“Customer satisfaction and keeping a watchful eye on the bottom line are no doubt important in both good economic times and bad. Operational expenses seem to undergo extra scrutiny. In the contact center, that often means taking a fresh look at the organization’s biggest expense – the agent population – whether or not the team is operating at its full potential. After a thorough evaluation of scheduling, service and skill gaps, many organizations turn to automated workforce management (WFM) tools for improving staff scheduling and agent management, from enhancing agent productivity and boosting morale to lowering costs and increasing customer satisfaction. WFM tools offer substantial bottom-line savings.”

Infocision Management Corp. (www.infocision.com) – Steve Boyazis, Executive VP
“There are two investment areas; the first area involves items that build operational efficiency. The second involves the customer relationship tools that help you build a connection with the consumer over multiple interactions. Since about 55 to 65 percent of a call center’s cost is in operations, the first choice should be to make sure you are utilizing operating resources as efficiently as possible. Then, if you have a customer base with which you expect to have a long-term relationship, the real ROI comes from business intelligence and anything that helps you build lasting client connections.”

Interactive Intelligence (www.inin.com) – Matt Taylor, Product Marketing Manager
“A particularly valuable technology to call centers in a slowing economy is workforce management. It’s crucial that when inbound demand slows, call centers are able to quickly and easily adjust staffing requirements by either re-allocating or reducing staff. To maximize the value of WFM, customers should be sure that their system gives them tight integration to their ACD so they can receive accurate and real-time data, thus enabling them to most effectively plan schedules and make changes on-the-fly.”

Loquendo (www.loquendo.com) – Paolo Coppo, Marketing & Business Development VP
“The necessity of at least partial automation of customer support via CRM (mostly due to economic reasons), is anything but new [and vital in a slowing economy]. There are a huge number of companies that have considerable costs and resources dedicated to call/contact centers and that depend on them for a significant part of their business and support.”

Oracle (www.crmondemand.com) – Ed Margulies, Senior Director of Product Strategy, CRM Service Products
“The most valuable technology in call centers in a slowing economy is hosted infrastructure technology and the software-as-a-service (SaaS) business model that goes along with it. Three big issues; 1) “Try Before You Buy” approaches are often adopted in the area of testing and validating call center technology; 2) “Capital Budget Constraints”; 3) “Workforce Flexibility” – for contact center managers, both recruiting and managing the workforce during economic downturn is crucial. For example, some contact center workers are feeling the pinch of commuting costs and the costs of meals when they are not at home. The cost of gas alone gives prospective employees pause in determining ‘where’ they want to work. With many SaaS solutions, remote agents are enabled, therefore, providing a lower-cost alternative for workers – and especially their employers.”

Touchstar (www.touchstar.com) – Brian Smits, Global Director of Marketing
“We are also offering trials of three technology solutions that can immediately drive profitability. The three solutions include: A new Best Time to Call application, a world-class onsite or hosted predictive dialer, and a new affordable unified communications solution: ‘Touchstar Unify.’ ”

Verint Witness Actionable Solutions (www.verint.com) – Oscar Alban, Principal Global Marketing Consultant
“In today’s economy, it’s more critical than ever for organizations to focus on not just what is happening, but why. By enabling root-cause analysis, speech and data analytics and customer feedback surveys can help organizations transform customer data – structured and unstructured – into meaningful information. Armed with data, not hunches, organizations can better understand customer service issues and take appropriate action to optimize workforce performance and operational effectiveness.”

Plan Now to Attend Call Center 2.0
Plan now to attend Call Center 2.0 from September 16 to 18, 2008, at the Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angles, CA. It will be the industry’s preeminent technology conference and expo for contact centers and CRM. Call Center 2.0 traditionally brings nearly 1,000 contact center attendees, which represents the highest number of qualified attendees of any competing conference.

As always, I welcome your comments. Please e-mail them to me at [email protected].
Nadji Tehrani is Founder, Chairman & CEO of Technology Marketing Corporation


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