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Industry Imperatives
August 2001


Increase Customer Loyalty And Profitability -- Call Center Technology Explosion


I love this country. You know why? When I call and order a pizza nowadays, all the delivery guy has to do is ask me if I want the same thing I ordered last time, and I say "yes." Thirty minutes later, he's at the door holding my piping hot large thin crust with everything on it but onions. It doesn't get much better than that.

I love pizza, but it's no coincidence that customer service is getting just as easy. Thanks to the development of call center technology, businesses are able to track my phone number, my order preference, and my address without having to ask me for that information every time. As a regular customer, my life is made easier because I don't have to waste time doing that anymore.

End result: I stay loyal to the pizza guy who knows what I like.

One of the byproducts of this increased convenience, however, is that I am becoming more demanding in having my needs met just as rapidly about other matters, whether I want to order a sweater out of a catalog, or need to have some troubleshooting done on my computer. Customer profile tracking isn't necessarily new to the world, but you now begin to realize the role it plays in your life. Not only are these management tools -- long deployed by call centers -- being used to communicate directly with customers, but also within a company, for inventory control, contact management, and internal help desks. And they are being used by knowledge workers outside the formal call center. After all, just by taking an incoming business call at your desk, you are in many respects acting as a customer service representative in an informal call center. What's more, workgroups use the applications that blend telephone and IT operations for collaboration.

Given the current state of the economy, the desire for quality customer service is something that cannot go ignored -- and clients tightening their operations on the demand side are particularly sensitive to having their needs met. However, this is a great opportunity to examine your company's QoS strategies and to achieve market differentiation. Several current developments in customer relationship management (CRM) software, partner relationship management (PRM) software, and workforce education, among others, are not only boosting call center markets by enhancing capabilities and enhancing user expectations, but also broadening the scope of applications for these solutions. As a result, you will continue to see steady and broader growth in the deployment of call center solutions to improve CRM. According to the annual MultiMedia Telecommunications Market Review and Forecast published by TIA, the number of call centers is expected to increase at a 13.9 percent average rate through 2003. Look out for the rate of growth in informal call center applications; they will grow at a 26.6 percent rate over the next two years.

Six New Developments Boost Brand Loyalty And Profitability
Depending on the human and fiscal resources your company has available, you may have already adapted or are currently considering the following features to ensure the most efficient customer service possible:

  • Responding to e-mails and phone calls interchangeably. With the proliferation of new Web-enabled solutions, your company can have the ability to respond to inquiries over the Internet or by phone. This allows your customers to elect their preferred option for conducting transactions with you, and it's a foolproof way to strengthen your presence online and supplement your use of the traditional phone-based solution. The growth of e-business has placed added pressure on call centers to provide features such as collaborative browsing, Web chat, fast e-mail responses, and call back technology. While giving your customers all the options possible, Web-enabled solutions give you the ability to handle calls beyond the telephone in either an inbound, outbound, or blended capacity, so you can keep tabs on your customers at all times.
  • Training your workforce. Recently, emphasis has been placed on training and certification in the telecom industry, and call center managers are no exception. Many call centers are using employee education programs to elevate staff capabilities. Never before have there been so many tools for training. Some call center management training packages are now available online to allow you to upgrade your workforce. Today, the most successful companies maintain customer loyalty because they understand how important it is to invest in skilled employees -- employees who know their products and know their customers.
  • Routing calls to the most appropriate agents. As I expressed earlier, nothing pleases me more than to have my needs addressed the first time I call. Many companies are successfully using intelligent call routing now to steer people like me to the person with the necessary skill sets to address my problem promptly. Suppose I need my phone company to add call waiting to my billing plan. When I dial them up, their system recognizes that I just ordered new phone service the other week, and my call is immediately routed to the New Accounts office. Instead of being transferred several times, the automation takes me to the right person the first time. No hassle.
    In addition, customers who need to speak with someone in Spanish may now have their calling number identified as individuals who need assistance in their native language. Also, insurance companies can have their
    software direct calls to employees who file claims or help customers take out policies. Your call center really can be as sophisticated as your employees are specialized.

    Another development in call routing applications involves interactive voice response (IVR) technology. IVR solutions have been around for years, but companies now can respond with spoken words and even complete sentences. Anyone with rotary dials can take advantage of this technology, too -- not to mention drivers on cell phones. In the next two years, the Market Review and Forecast suggests that 30 percent of all IVR applications will use voice recognition.
  • Customizing customer profiles. As we have identified earlier, a number of solutions can be used to gather information about customers, including speech recognition, CRM software, agent monitoring, computer-based training software, e-mail management, and workforce management. A recent survey by Purdue University reveals that CRM software and e-mail management could be two priority buys for call centers next year. All of these can be used in the interest of building a customer's profile, personalizing their experience and converting transactions into relationships.
  • Providing software that enables your employees to work from home. A growing number of companies now give data access to their agents at home with Web-based software. Individuals working remotely can use the Internet to access a server located in the company's main office and download software with all the call-handling capabilities that the company's call center normally delivers. The technology can support Web-enabled services like e-mail, too. This process allows large companies to achieve economies of scale across call center networks so that call volumes can be balanced during peak periods. All the while it is still possible to supervise calls and gather statistics of transactions even when your agents are working from a remote location.
  • Improving Operational Efficiencies. Your company can steer customers to a particular solution by offering incentives online, like a phone company offering reduced rates to a customer if he pays his bills over the computer or an airline that gives discounted fares and additional mileage points to Internet customers. Efficient use of your limited human resources can be simplified by having them focus on customer service over the Internet.

After All, What's Not A Call Center?
Just as CTI customized responses to callers when that market exploded in the 1980s, we have moved to a time where convergence technologies that revolutionized call centers are used for a far broader range of business transactions. Individual workgroups now interact with each other and share customer information internally.

Certainly, it is important to note the sales potential if you have a medium that does more than transmit voice. If you can bring together a variety of contact channels, i.e., telephone, Web, e-mail, fax, and chat, you increase the range of options customers can enjoy. Through Web-enabled technology, you have the ability to exchange e-mail messages with customers, engage in text-based real-time chat sessions, and even talk with customers still linked to the Web.

Plus, public networks are moving from a traditional circuit-switched variety to a more flexible, packet-based network, which will create greater ease and efficiency in linking Web sites to call centers. In the coming years, the versatility of Web-based solutions will propel the growth of call center operations. According to the Market Review and Forecast, Web-enabled call centers will constitute over 40 percent of the call center market by 2004. Moreover, the deployment of converged IP and circuit-switched technologies now enables service providers to host Web-enabled call centers for growing businesses. In the early stages of call center technology, only the largest companies could pay the costs. Consequently, service providers can now enable smaller businesses to afford features and functions previously out of reach.

As you can see, new convergence solutions in the call center are supporting many mechanisms to deliver the message that you care about your customers. And the great thing is that, Web-enabled or not, call center technology is increasing in functionality while its costs to implement are decreasing. The Market Review and Forecast reveals that enterprise-centric CTI station prices alone have fallen by about 35 percent over the last five years, so greater affordability, paired with greater productivity, and enhanced customer service have become compelling motivators for companies to adopt it. When you develop your retention strategy, regardless of the methods you choose, remember that a successful company is one that has made the effort to know what you like on your pizza.

Walter Wilowatyj is a partner at Wood Walters, LLC and is the chairman of TIA's eCRM Working Group.

TIA is a leading trade association serving the communications and information technology industry, with proven strengths in market development, trade shows, domestic and international advocacy, standards development, and enabling e-business. Through its worldwide activities, the association facilitates business development opportunities and a competitive market environment. The association provides a market-focused forum for its more than 1,100 member companies that manufacture or supply the products and services used in global communications. TIA represents the communications sector of the Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA).

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