The Value of Blending eServices and the Contact Center

Today’s consumers have the Internet and smart mobile devices at their fingertips. If businesses want to attract these modern-day customers, they have to be able to offer the types of electronic “non-voice” services and interaction channels that appeal to tech-driven lifestyles.

In the contact center, particularly, successfully meeting the demand for such eServices comes down to effectively managing electronic channels and the routing, monitoring and reporting processes behind them. First, though, decision makers must determine the right eServices channels to deploy and when to deploy them. They must staff agents accordingly. In blending eServices into their contact center operation, decision makers should understand the dynamics of eServices themselves, if they hope to fully realize their value.

Why eServices matter

The initial reasoning behind e-commerce and, ultimately, eServices, was convenience for consumers and lessening the live interaction volumes for service agents. That reasoning still applies.

In the era of Web 2.0, however, business has become a culture of the shopper, the Netflix enthusiast, the avid Facebook (News - Alert) user. It’s being able to get virtually anything online — in an instant. Empowered with laptops and smart phones, consumers have a whole new set of expectations for how they want their customer service and buying needs met. They want total services availability and responsiveness any time of day, from wherever they are, using the electronic channel of their choice.

The evolving definition of eServices

Current definitions of eServices vary but, in a contact center context, eServices suites generally include: email response management, Web chat, collaborative Web browsing, SMS and multimodal communication, and a knowledge base for self-service.

Social media has made an impact on eServices, too, especially with its ability to reach the global masses online. To build brand recognition and customer loyalty through social networks, many businesses are adopting software in their contact centers to route, queue and report social media events.

Fax as an eServices channel? Fax response management is nearly forgotten in eServices circles, although it shouldn’t be, since many contact center software platforms route fax interactions via email format. While the goal of eServices is to provide a timely response to customers, the bottom line with fax and email is they’re non real-time interactions, and can be handled during off-peak periods, unlike voice or chat.

eServices best practices

Considering how much technologies and competitive pressures vary from one contact center to the next, eServices are far from a one-size-fits-all solution. Yet, even as diverse as contact center operations can be, following a few common best practices can make most any eServices launch successful.

Choose only those channels your customers demand. A company’s industry most often determines which interaction channels customers prefer (as does simply asking customers). For example, at National Pen Company and FORUM Credit Union, chat was the most requested channel for services and inquiries, while at MCAP, Canada’s largest independent mortgage and equipment financing firm, it was email, due to the correspondence required for mortgage and loan processes. For all three companies, social media was not in the initial eServices mix, although it’s now squarely on the radar.

Handle eServices with care. Gone are the days when eServices could be considered a measurable differentiator. For instant, virtually every company MCAP competes with processes email and fax — the price of entry to the market. Therefore, the issue becomes: Is your contact center handling channels such as email and fax as consistently and efficiently as voice calls and maintaining satisfactory service levels? By all means, deploy the channels your customers demand, but monitor, record and adjust each channel as you move forward to optimize its value.

Hire from within. The agents best equipped to handle new channels are likely already employed in your contact center. In fact, most eServices agents started as voice agents and know your business. Moreover, eServices positions are often seen as a perk and go to senior agents who’ve earned the assignments.

Dedicate agents to channels. Written channels require a different mindset than handling calls. Many agents at National Pen, FORUM Credit Union and MCAP found it difficult to switch from voice to a written channel, especially when chat and email interaction volumes were heavy. Dedicate agents for each specific channel, however, and the agents, your business and your customers all benefit.

Don’t be shy about integrated all-in-one solutions. Best of breed eServices solutions are best of breed for a reason. They also usually come from multiple vendors for multiple eServices channels. As FORUM Credit Union discovered, an integrated all-in-one solution provides the essential functionality it requires for chat and Web services. A bigger benefit is the same all-in-one suite also provides integrated monitoring and reporting for continuous eServices improvement — all from one vendor.

Treat your eServices channels like voice. The key to blending eServices into your contact center is to treat non-voice channels just like your voice channel when routing by skills, monitoring, recording and reporting. Do so, and service will remain consistent, regardless of the channel, something many eServices customers look for in judging their service experience.

Always seek advice first. As one decision maker at National Pen noted, “In my experience, email and chat are more difficult to deploy than inbound/outbound voice channels, given the complexity of measuring agent performance, forecasting and staffing, and getting a handle on KPIs.” Don’t be afraid to engage experienced consultants or industry analysts to help you plan your eServices strategy.

If you don’t have a strategy for eServices in your contact center — especially as new generations of consumers turn to smart mobile devices to conduct business — you’re already behind.

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The Value of Blending eServices and the Contact Center

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Edited by Stefania Viscusi