6 Steps to Multichannel Contact Center Success

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No matter how your marketing campaigns reach your customers - through print advertising, direct mail, e-mail or Web banners - their long-term success may well depend on how many ways you offer customers to get in touch with you and the quality of their experience when they do.


A 7 percent response to a direct mail campaign might look pretty impressive, but wouldn't it look even better if 80 percent of those who respond buy, and better still if 15 percent of those who buy become repeat customers whose relationships with your company last for years?


For long-term success, a marketing campaign has to be backed by an effective contact center. Today, the most effective contact centers are built around contact server software that lets customers choose the contact channel - telephone, computer or wireless device - that then supports customer relationship management strategies for promoting customer loyalty.


Here are six ways you can use state-of-the-art technology and best practices to make your company's contact center a powerful tool for turning a high response rate into long-term customer relationships:


Offer multiple channels and integrate them into a single system. A state-of-the-art contact server does more than blend contact channels into one seamless system. It also links contact-handling systems to customer databases, enables agents to handle more than one kind of contact and passes information freely among contact channels. In this environment, critical CRM functions take place that multiply the advantages of marketing campaigns many times over:


• This system can identify customers as soon as they make contact, no matter what channel they use.


• It routes contacts according to business rules based on customer entitlements, the value of each transaction and agent skills.


• Information that customers enter goes to a central data repository, where it is accessible to all contact center resources if a customer transfers from one channel to another or one agent to another.


• Agents have instant access to information such as customer profiles and case histories, no matter what contact channel is in use.


• Customers get a consistent experience, no matter how they get in touch.


• You can measure the effectiveness of each contact channel.


The multichannel contact center also makes it possible to cross-sell and upsell and to promote repeat business and customer loyalty.


Consider adopting Internet protocol contact center technology early. The convergence of public switched telephone network-quality voice and data over a single network makes it possible to replace the hardware-based telephony switch, the foundation of traditional contact centers, with an IP-based, software contact-routing application that performs the same functions. Such a switch-free contact server yields several benefits that apply directly to marketing campaigns.


Most marketing campaigns offer toll-free numbers for customers - numbers that are free for the customers but represent a major expense to the company in charges paid to PSTN providers. The IP-based contact center lets customers with Internet telephony-enabled computers contact your company over IP lines rather than toll-intensive PSTN lines, reducing the overall cost of your campaign.


In addition, an IP-based contact center can reduce infrastructure costs by consolidating voice and data contacts in a single system, reducing hardware requirements and eliminating costly tie lines that connect multiple sites. Perhaps most important, an IP contact server makes it possible to deploy powerful new customer-facing applications that merge Internet capabilities like e-mail, text chat, graphics and video with the personal voice of sales and service representatives for more effective cross-selling and upselling.


IP is the next big step in contact center technology. The only question for most companies is "now or later?" Companies that adopt IP-compatible contact center solutions today can gain an insurmountable head start on competitors that hesitate.


Automate intelligently, with a focus on simple customer transactions. Marketing campaigns are ultimately more profitable if you can cut costs by automating the process of handling responses. The trick is to automate intelligently. Ask yourself which transactions your customers can perform most conveniently without assistance. Automate the simple and the routine. Integrate self-service applications such as interactive voice response systems with enterprise databases to give customers direct access to information. And leave the transactions that provide opportunities for cross-selling, upselling and promoting customer loyalty to live agents.


You can further increase the advantages by synchronizing automated and live contact center systems so that customer-entered information travels with the contact from one resource to another. Have you ever entered your account number in response to an automated prompt, then been transferred to a live agent who asks you to repeat the information? It is called "corporate amnesia," and it does not promote customer loyalty. Synchronization eliminates corporate amnesia, and it cuts costs because transactions are shorter, toll charges are lower and agents handle more transactions during a shift. You also get the advantage of consolidating information from self-service and live-service transactions for analysis and reporting.


Give top priority to your best customers. Every customer who responds to a marketing campaign represents a different amount of potential profit. Some will inquire and not buy. Others will make a single purchase. Some will make multiple purchases or return to do business with your company again and again. An effective contact center makes it possible to give your most valuable customers special treatment by employing these tactics:


• Use the information-gathering potential of your contact center to identify the customers who buy most often or make the largest purchases.


• Craft applications to identify premier customers, as soon as they make contact, every time they make contact, and give them priority over less frequent customers.


• Use advanced routing technology to give special customers special treatment - live service instead of self-service, specially trained agents instead of new employees or agents with limited skill sets.


• Tailor outbound campaigns to the needs and preferences of your best customers.


Be sensitive to your customers' desire for privacy. The information-gathering potential of the multichannel contact center is a marketer's bonanza, but do not forget that your customers may be put off by the amount and type of information you have about them. Do everything you can to reassure them that you respect their privacy:


• Post a clearly written privacy policy where they are sure to see it, on your Web site and possibly on printed marketing pieces.


• Use industry-standard encryption methods to protect information you ask your customers to give you online. And make sure they know that you are securing their data.


• Think twice before you share customer mailing lists with other businesses. The gain might well be offset by lost customer loyalty.


Base your marketing strategy on teamwork. Do not forget your sales team. As you open new contact channels, you will be creating new functions and making organizational changes that can create conflict. Agents experienced in using traditional contact channels may see the workers who staff new channels as a threat.


The challenge is to forge old and new sales groups into a single-purpose team with a shared goal. Try new compensation schedules that reward teams, rather than individuals, for reaching sales goals. And let agents cross-train and develop cross-channel skills to break down "tribal" barriers.


The technology itself can also foster teamwork. The key, again, is integration and synchronization. A well-designed system can bring your team together in several ways:


• By collecting and consolidating information from all channels and distributing it in real time to all team members.


• By making it possible to focus on customers' preferred contact channel, giving all team members the shared goal of catering to customers' needs.


• By linking communication channels and the groups that staff them so that loads can be balanced across channels and contacts can be transferred seamlessly from one channel to the next.


• By using advanced, intelligent routing and integrated agent desktops to allow agents and agent groups to handle more than one contact channel.


Today's contact center technology offers new ways to get closer to your customers, better ways to learn their habits and preferences and powerful ways to streamline processes, increase productivity and make better use of human resources.


Today's economic climate offers the opportunity to pull ahead of competitors that fail to match their technology solutions to their business goals or - worse yet - ignore the potential of multichannel contact center technology entirely.
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