As contact centers grow, so too do the challenges associated with managing a growing team of agents and the technology that enables them to be as efficient and productive as possible. Not only are call centers tasked with delivering the best possible customer service quality, they are increasingly being called upon to save money and even generate sales to go from being cost centers to profitable parts of a company.
Larger contact centers have always been at the forefront of technology because they can afford the expense of new technology and the vendor community has always seen them as the bread and butter customers, building solutions to scale and meet specific needs of each large contact center.
Small companies, too, have been able to take advantage of IP-based contact center solutions that have been designed to run off commercial off-the-shelf PCs, but that do not really offer the opportunity to scale up to larger numbers of deployed agents.
So itï¿½s the middle market of contact centers ï¿½ those around 200 agents or growing through 250 and beyond ï¿½ who face the biggest challenges.
Among those challenges, agents remain the highest cost element of many companiesï¿½ customer service mechanisms. And while self-service technologies and speech recognition/text to speech advances are increasingly being put to use to service customers, it all comes back to offering consumers choices. Frequently, a customerï¿½s first choice is to speak with a live agent. In fact, Richard Shapiro of the Center for Client Retention in Springfield, NJ, commented that roughly 40 percent of consumers calling a companyï¿½s toll-free number immediately dial 0 to speak to a live agent. So, to that end, technology has to be put to use to aid a call center agent in an attempt to better serve clients, all the while being as cost effective and efficient as possible.
Among the challenges contact center managers face, keeping the technology of the contact center up to date is one of the biggest headaches. Constant upgrades, and keeping on top of the latest trends is proving to be an ongoing struggle. And they need to do this and stay on budget at the same time.
For one, there is the issue of improved connectivity and return on investment through CTI (computer telephony integration). A good contact center solution will offer hooks to tightly integrate screen pops with the database, in order to save precious seconds on each call. For those unfamiliar with the term, a screen pop is a feature that ï¿½popsï¿½ up a customer record automatically on the contact center agentï¿½s screen when a call is received.
The technology has been very successful in improving customer service and it also allows the agent to spend more time working with the customer rather than wasting time looking for a particular record. Whatï¿½s more, it affords the agent the opportunity to up-sell or cross-sell the customer based on the details of the record, such as call history, etc...
These days, screen pop technology is actually being used during outbound campaigns, in order to save even more time, by popping an outbound record or customer profile on an agentï¿½s screen while the system dials the phone. So you see, agents need only focus on their core competency. This makes the whole process more efficient. Some of todayï¿½s latest applications actually generate lists of customers to contact, and then wait to dial based on an agentï¿½s status. As soon as an agent becomes available, the screen pops the next record and connects the two parties. In addition to being efficient, this is a valuable tool that can be used to generate revenue by streamlining processes and maximizing an agentï¿½s time and talents.
Another headache for contact center managers is the need to integrate the contact center application with other back office systems and enterprise applications. In the past, many enterprise business processes were kept separate from the communications infrastructure. Nowadays we are seeing a trend that ties together all the disparate business processes with a companyï¿½s communications applications in order to create a more complete application bundle allowing the enterprise to work more efficiently across the entire length and breadth of the value chain.
Agents and systems can now dial up customers straight out of accounting applications. When a screen pops up a customerï¿½s record there can be a total view of the customer into each and every element of how they do business with your firm. This ï¿½holistic viewï¿½ of a customer allows agents to best serve them by providing complete and total ï¿½360-degreeï¿½ view of the existing relationship.
Doug Hutchinson, product manager of Contact Center Solutions at NEC (News - Alert) Unified Solutions stated; ï¿½NEC customers have demonstrated the need for scalable, customized solutions that can be easily integrated into their existing networked systems, delivering improved productivity for agents and a solid Return on Investment. Our complete suite of contact center solutions can grow with the customerï¿½s organization, allowing for new software and application upgrades, while still protecting their initial technology investment.ï¿½
Perhaps the best news for the bean counters is that these types of technologies offer investment protection by easily tying in to existing ACDs or automatic call distributors. Contact center managers can upgrade all the surrounding applications but keep the expensive ACD components until such time as it becomes necessry to upgrade those as well.
The opportunity for vendors to serve the mid-size market (around 200ï¿½250 agents and up) is huge. This group has been underserved, and increasingly is faced with options such as investing huge sums of money to grow, outsourcing to make sure they are able to maintain a high level of customer service, or some combination of both. Solutions such as the eTHOS Contact Center offering from NEC (profiled in the accompanying sidebar) can go a long way to satisfying the needs of this market. IT
Greg Galitzine is Group Editorial Director for TMCï¿½s IP Communications group of publications, including Internet Telephony, IMS, and SIP magazines.