Short Message Service (SMS)

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October 2010 | Volume 28 / Number 5
CRM, BPO & Teleservices

Short Message Service (SMS)

Moving Your Contact Center Forward

By Brendan B. Read,
Senior Contributing Editor

Customer care: from acquisition to billing can be compared to a vehicle. If so then customer relationship management is analogous to the engine, routing to the transmission, differential, and axles, and customer interaction management to the wheels. Business intelligence and knowledge management systems provide the data and information to the other components, and to the drivers.

If customer service is to run smoothly, in all kinds of conditions, performing well in the twists and turns all of these components must be integrated so that they work together automatically and in response to driver actions. More firms are counting on reliable operation as they realize that their best prospects lie in maximizing lifetime value from existing clients rather than seeking new ones at up to 10 times the costs.

CIM tools especially are becoming more versatile. Syntellect’s CIM version 7.0 includes more than two dozen enhancements, including to agent applications, interaction management lifecycle reporting, and outbound application integration. CIM 7.0 is optimized for Syntellect’s new Outbound Communicator solution for proactive outbound campaigns; it carefully monitors agent availability and has automatic throttle control for call pacing. Combined with CIM, Outbound Communicator allows for predictive and progressive dialing to send calls based on agents skills and availability.

“Contact center/CRM integration provides a full view of what is going on with the customers/prospects/leads: activity history, bought product, problem or enhancement request tickets, opportunities, and participation in marketing campaigns,” explains Bernard Drost, chief technology officer of Innoveer. “There is minimized data double entry and improved data quality. There is also increased customer satisfaction by integrating with CTI/IVR for screen pop to avoid repeat questions and by integrating with different channels such as the Web and SMS.”

Driving Issues
Unfortunately the customer service vehicle has not been running as well as it can be. There is poor integration at the routing or infrastructure level between voice and multichannel agents and between the CIM and CRM, reports Johan Jacobs, Gartner CRM eServices analyst.

There is also a lack of connectivity between KM for self service and phone-based service; in too many cases firms have installed separate solutions for each channel and have not synched them. This often results in customers receiving inaccurate and sometimes contradictory information.

There is too often no integrated customer interaction histories of what customers had done in the various live or automated channels. What typically happens is that a customer who has been on a firm’s Web site but has a question or is unable to complete the interaction online then phones the contact center, says Jacobs. Only to find that the agent has no clue that that person has been on the site, let alone what they did on it.

At the same time there is also little integration between voice and web channel activity recordings to back up the interactions and enable quality assurance. This requires time-wasting toggling between calls and written communications to monitor and track performance and identify and respond to issues.

The price for this lack of integration from existing solutions is steep, and in more ways than one. Longer and unnecessary live agent calls drive up expenses while firms risk losing revenues from annoyed customers. Jacobs estimates that to achieve effective contact center multichannel deployment, firms must pay up to 45 percent extra in consulting and custom application costs beyond the hardware and software license and standard installation expenses.

Moreover each new product added to the technology stacks comes with their own CIM databases. You end up with multiple databases across the suite making analytics and interaction management extremely difficult.

“If we lift the screen on some of the CRM systems’ multichannel functionality out there it is actually very poor,” says Jacobs. “The same goes for some of infrastructure vendors, some of whom still do not have chat/co-browse products while others do not have consolidated messaging for multichannel. There are only a few products out there that have an integrated multichannel suite to enable a true 360 degree view of the customers.”

Innoveer’s Drost sees other issues including data structures that are different between the applications and channels: CRM, enterprise resource planning, marketing systems, and the Web, which causes long data mapping exercises and complex transformations. There are often proprietary protocols from older system that do not support Web services, which may require a one-off integration instead of using more generic methods like Web services or integration hubs/buses.

“There could be too many exceptions and too many rules governing processes that then lead to too many human interventions to resolve them,” adds Drost. “This bogs down the process and integration, raising costs.”

Chris Mills, general manager of Servion, sees faint signs that this integration could happen. This is being driven by savvy, top-echelon enterprises, investing in projects that show consumer behavior, drive higher loyalty and increased wallet share.

It is now evident and supported by substantial research that customers form opinions about their vendor organizations based on the experience they have when they interact with the organization, he reports. The CIM solutions have large hands to play in delivering a great customer experience and in so doing, building loyal, churn-proof customers.

“The enlightened practitioners are now beginning to understand and believe that the power of each is enhanced by the other,” says Mills. “For the simple reason that the only way a consumer experiences a vendor organization’s CRM practice at the touch points is through the CIM layer. Once this understanding proliferates and acquires urgency we will see more and more intensity and effort being put into the integration.”

Ready For Multichannel?
The most critical component in driving contact centers forward is the ability of the driver. You can get behind the wheel of a Porsche or a tractor-trailer but unless you have the skills to operate them you could be wasting your money and risk crashing and burning your customer service.

?This is what is happening with written channels e-mail/SMS, social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Web chat. Customers, especially the new generation, increasingly want organizations to communicate through them.

Yet most contact centers do not have agents who can handle written and voice interactions well, observes Gartner's Jacobs. Consequently quality, response rates, and customer satisfaction becomes very poor. He recommends hiring and assigning separate written channel agents instead.

“Companies need to get it right on multichannel because customers expect it; if you build it they will come,” says Jacobs. “If firms do not provide a positive experience the quality drops and the customers will leave not only the channels but could well go to competitors.”

Utilizing social networking requires a strong level of management control. While these media present unprecedented opportunities to listen to and gain feedback from and respond to customers, the ROI from investing time and resources in these applications has still not been universally proven. Also the comments made could be inaccurate but take on the sheen of truth if the tellers are believed, which could damage corporations’ reputations.

nGenera is developing responsive social media capabilities for its next release, nGen CIM 9.0. With it businesses will regulate the extent of community involvement and participation externally as well as internally, enabling easier adoption and access. It will mesh the social concepts of community, wiki, content and user reputation modeling with nGenera’s existing knowledge management and customer interaction management tools.

“Businesses are wary of embracing the power of social networking for fear of the loss of control and the lack of a hard ROI,” explains Tara Sporrer, vice president of marketing and sales operations, nGenera Customer Interaction Management. “Our next release is a step toward our vision to marry the positive concepts of social networking with the business requirements of the enterprise, specifically with the contact center and support space.”

To make contact center/CRM integration happen requires seamlessly meshing in self-service channels. eGain has done just that with eGain IVR that it says enables superior phone self-service experiences by adding intelligence to IVR and unifying it with other interaction channels, including web self-service.

eGain IVR uses case-based reasoning technology to capture agent expertise in the knowledge base and prompt customers with appropriate questions in a way that the best agents would, until an answer or the ‘next best step’ is found. Interactions are flexible and efficient, avoiding the rigid and long paths that are so common in traditional IVR scripts. The solution also offers context-aware escalation to multiple channels, including live agent channels such as phone and chat, and asynchronous agent channels such as e-mail.

“When IVR customer service is part of a unified customer interaction hub, businesses are able to offer exceptional IVR and cross-channel customer experiences in a cost-effective manner,” says eGain Chairman and CEO Ashu Roy.

Integration Solutions
The first step in getting your customer service to run smooth is to look at your needs. You should examine your customer base and how they communicate. Just like when you decide to buy or upgrade to a vehicle you examine the types of driving you will be doing and the numbers of passengers and amount of payload you will be carrying.

If you are with for example a cereal manufacturer you will not likely need a fully functional multimedia contact center with CRM software to stay in touch with the product users. Yet you may need multichannel to sell and work with your distributors.

Gartner’s Jacobs recommends that you take a hard look at your existing CIM, CRM, or infrastructure routing solutions and see which ones have the untapped features that can give you that seamless multichannel functionality you require. Use as much what is there as opposed to buying new multiple point solutions and trying to make these talk to one another.

He has found that about 60 to 70 percent of his contact center clients already have products that have some form of multichannel capability. If you have to buy go for suite of solutions with pre-integrated components that you can grow over time as opposed to buying a whole stack of point solutions that are expensive to get them to talk to each other.

“Your customer service management solutions are your crown jewels,” explains Jacobs. “You need them in a single repository to give you a comprehensive view of customer across all voice and non voice channels. In order to have this you need to have an integrated product and to do that you need to exploit as much functionality from the same vendor's solution set that you have.”

Suppliers can do much more to make integration happen. Servion’s Mills believes the answer to this is to train a completely new breed of sales staff who understand and position CIM solutions correctly.

Servion’s consulting practice calls for an integrated approach to designing and deploying a CIM solution/strategy that brings together all stakeholders within the buying organization into the creation process. This approach also then ensures that the CIM solution is designed around the existing CRM practice for maximum impact.

“Our belief is that once the CIM strategy is seen as an extension of brand strategy, it will force the integration of the CRM strategy, which is also an extension of brand strategy, as well into the big picture, and ultimately the integration of the CIM and CRM practice,” says Mills.

nGenera says its nGenera CIM solved this issue in its 8.3 release by supporting a vast library of connectors as a result of its partnership with integration provider, Cast Iron. It can now offer customers seamless, low cost integrations of the nGen CIM Suite with existing applications such as from SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, BMC Remedy and

“nGenera CIM has always offered this integration; however in the past is has involved professional services and development resources which has been costly and has distracted us from our core competency,” explains Sporrer.

Employing performance management tools can enable contact center/CRM integration by monitoring and measuring how agents interact with their many software applications, such as CIM and CRM systems. Knoa’s Experience and Performance Manager sits on top of the applications, monitoring activity and providing metrics. It captures transaction response times and application and system quality metrics that identify and eliminate impediments that technology is presenting to the agents. It also taps user workflows, user errors, and process compliance metrics that give managers insight into the problems with agent performance that are impacting business results.

“In order to boost ROI and efficiency from contact center/CRM integration, it is crucial that agents are using customer facing technology effectively in a way that drives the overall business,” says Lori Wizdo, vice president, marketing, Knoa Software.

The following companies participated in the preparation of this article:


Innoveer (News - Alert)


nGenera (News - Alert)


Syntellect (News - Alert)

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