Web-Enabling Your Call
Center: A Strategic Evolution
BY SERGE HYPPOLITE
Initially designed as a solution to deliver phone calls to
customer service representatives, call centers are emerging as competitive
tools in the global economy. The Internet has been the catalyst for a
profound shift in the role of the call center. It has introduced new
communications channels to the enterprise, including e-mail, self-service,
and online interactive sessions. Incorporating these channels into the call
center has become vital to a companyï¿½s success. According to Datamonitor (www.datamonitor.com), businesses lost
$3.2 billion in revenues in 2000 by failing to offer live online customer
service. The addition of Web-based interactions has positioned the call
center as an essential and strategic business tool ï¿½ a means to increase
customer loyalty and retention by delivering superior service.
The term ï¿½Web-enabled call centerï¿½ is defined as a
center that is linked to a Web site and allows customers to execute
real-time interactions with customer service agents while online. One of the
critical challenges for businesses seeking to Web-enable their call centers
is to leverage existing infrastructure investments while incorporating the
necessary Web elements.
The new customer interaction channels, as introduced by the Internet,
vary by cost and customer intimacy (Figure 1). Contact
types vary, ranging from the self-service functionalities (IVR, e-mail
auto-replies, Web self-serviceï¿½) to one-to-one synchronous communication.
Businesses are becoming increasingly more aware that customers drive the
method of interaction, and therefore, businesses must implement a customer
interaction management (CIM) solution that manages all interaction channels.
As evidenced by the abandoned shopping cart phenomenon, Web self-service
alone is not sufficient to address customersï¿½ needs. Hence, the
Web-enabled call center emerges as a means to deliver service
differentiation and improved customer satisfaction.
In a Web-enabled call center, the customer can interact with an agent
via one of the following methods:
1) Text Chat
Text chat enables customers visiting a Web site to engage in real-time
text communications with an agent. The chat session can be initiated through
a ï¿½Chat Nowï¿½ button embedded on a Web page. The chat request, along with
pertinent customer information, is routed to the appropriate agent based on
specified business rules implemented by the enterprise itself. Once the
agent receives the session, they can interact with the customer on the same
Web page. The agent can pull from a knowledge base to provide the
appropriate response to the customerï¿½s inquiry. In the case of an
eCommerce transaction, the agent can use text chat to guide the customer to
a buying decision.
2) E-mail Management
One of the key indicators examples of service inconsistency is the way
that businesses manage the influx of e-mail from their customers. In a
traditional voice-only environment, customers have become accustomed to
receiving a fairly immediate response to their inquiries. In the case of
e-mail, a response may take days, if it comes at all. The ability to
properly control and route inbound e-mail has become an essential feature
for a Web-enabled call center. When a customer e-mail inquiry is received,
it can be routed to a customer service agent, or be automatically responded
to through natural language processing. Agents can also utilize a knowledge
base of suggested answers to expedite the response to customer e-mail
3) Web Callback
A customer browsing a Web site can schedule a callback from an agent
through a callback button embedded on the Web page. The customer can specify
the appropriate number and time that they would like to receive the return
phone call. The system then triggers an outbound call to the customer and
connects them to an agent at that specific time. In a multimedia
environment, the agent receives pertinent customer information and proceeds
to the Web site to best address the customerï¿½s issue.
4) Web Collaboration
Web collaboration is an interaction where the customer and agent are
simultaneously navigating through a Web site. The agent and customer
browsers are synchronized, allowing both parties to view the same
information while online. The agent has the ability to assist the customer
in the navigation by pushing the appropriate URLs to their screen. The agent
can also monitor the customerï¿½s path through the Web site and direct them
to the appropriate pages.
5) Assisted Forms Filling
Assisted forms filling is an enhanced method of collaboration where the
agent can assist with entering information into an online form that the
customer is completing. A key concern of many online customers is Internet
security. Through assisted forms filling, the agent can decrease the
customerï¿½s hesitation and guide them as they complete the transaction.
6) Web Call-through
The Web call-through feature utilizes voice over IP to enable the
customer to converse with an agent via their PC. This function eliminates
the need for multiple phone lines at the customer premises. It also enables
customers and agents to engage in a voice conversation while simultaneously
navigating through the Web site.
7) Web Self-Service
Web Self-Service is a set of online tools that enables customers to
utilize a knowledge base and independently find answers to their inquiries.
The knowledge base consists of a series of frequently asked questions and
answers that can be dynamically updated by the business. Through the use of
natural language processing and artificial intelligence capabilities, the
knowledge base can deliver the most relevant response to the customer.
Whiteboarding is an electronic backboard that enables an agent and a
customer in different locations to view the same information on a computer
screen. The agent has the ability to analyze any desktop application the
customer may have problems with and direct them to a resolution.
Video allows a customer and agent to engage in an interaction that
includes the benefits of both visuals and sound. This functionality,
although sparingly used at present, will increase in application as
bandwidth improves at the customer premises.
Web-enabling the call center involves several technological challenges.
A traditional call center environment typically consists of numerous
elements that provide the necessary functionalities to manage phone calls.
These range from the Private Branch Exchange (PBX) and Automatic Call
Distribution (ACD) system for routing inbound calls, the Interactive Voice
Response (IVR) system for self-service, the Predictive Dialer for outbound
calls, the Fax Server for handling high volumes of customer faxes, a
recording system, several reporting engines and a Computer Telephony
Integration (CTI) element for functionality such as screen pops.
The Internet adds new complexity to the already delicate
call center environment. In order to provide all of the functionality
necessary for a multimedia solution, additional elements such as a Web
server, e-mail server, and collaboration server must be incorporated.
Managing and operating this complex environment is extremely difficult.
Attempting to successfully accomplish this while delivering consistent
service levels to customers is a near-impossible task. To address these
challenges, businesses are looking towards comprehensive CIM solutions with
a single interface for managing the numerous contact typesthat manage all
forms of customer interactions.
In order to address the demands of the Web-enabled environment,
businesses need a method to adequately staff for the various customer
interaction types. One method is to segregate agents into groups by
functionality, including inbound-only agents, outbound-only agents, e-mail
agents, collaboration agents, and chat agents. However, this approach has
two main shortcomings. First, in the current economy, it is extremely
difficult to acquire and retain new employees, especially in the contact
center. Second, segregating agents by contact type yields tremendous
inefficiencies in agent productivity and inconsistencies in customer
service. Businesses are looking, once again, to multimedia multi-channel
solutions for resolving this issue.
Multimedia multi-channel solutions allow all interaction
types to be blended to each single desktop. This means that one pool of
agents can handle telephone calls, e-mails, faxes, and all Web interactions
ï¿½ tremendously decreasing the number of agents required in the Web-enabled
center. In addition, agents are consistently more productive because as the
volume of one type of message drops, they are able to handle other contact
types. For example, as inbound voice traffic slows, agents can fill time by
responding to e-mails or launching outbound voice campaigns.
A common objection to a multi-channel solution is that not
every agent is capable of handling every type of interaction. However, this
is not required. Our studies have shown that if even 20 percent of agents in
a center can handle two or more interaction types, that provides enough
flexibility to dynamically shift priorities and responsibilities based on
interaction traffic to simultaneously optimize customer satisfaction and
Call center managers, traditionally trained to manage the
phone systems, must now expand the scope of their operations to include all
of the Web-based functions. These managers are tasked with operating the
Web-enabled call center environment and ensuring that customers receive the
appropriate level of service, regardless of the communication method they
utilize to interact with a business.
Web-enabled call centers have emerged as the key to
delivering superior service and improved customer satisfaction. Call center
managers must look closely at the technological impacts of integrating the
call center and the Web. As they do, they will turn to comprehensive
multimedia multi-channel solutions technologies to solve the growing issues
at hand. Companies that implement a Web-enabled call center will have a
competitive tool that increases customer satisfaction and loyalty and
enables their business to thrive in the global economy.
Serge Hyppolite is a product manager for Concerto
Software, a provider of customer interaction management (CIM) solutions to
more than 1,100 businesses worldwide. The companyï¿½s solutions are designed
to enable businesses to more effectively manage their interactions with
customers via voice, fax, e-mail, and the Web ï¿½ therefore improving
communications, reducing operating costs, and delivering superior service.
For more information, visit them online at www.concerto.com.
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