Internet Reducing Phone-Based Customer Service

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NEW YORK - The Internet, used as a means of providing customer service and sales, will have a profound impact on traditional teleservices channels in the next few years, according to a presenter at the Internet & Electronic Commerce Conference & Exposition 2000 here earlier this month. The changes that Internet communication vehicles - such as voice over Internet protocol, e-mail and Web-based chat - will have include fewer service calls to companies and the elimination of the automatic call distributor, or ACD, as the heart of every call center, according to Donna Fluss, research director at the GartnerGroup, Stamford, CT.

"The ACD as king of the empire is dead," Fluss said in her presentation, called "Customer Service Over the Internet: Migraine or Miracle?"

She said the new technology for call routing, called a universal queue, will make the ACD obsolete as companies will need to integrate their knowledge bases with all of their communications vehicles in real time. An agent who answers a phone call will know instantly that the caller had recently send an e-mail query, for example.

In addition, she said, customers soon will expect to receive the same level of service regardless of which channel they communicate through. Although she said customers are still willing to wait up to an hour to receive an e-mail response, in the future this will not be the case.

"In e-mail services, soon response times must match or exceed those of phone-based services," she said.

She also said that collaborative, Web-based chat, used now by only a small percentage of Web sites, will be the norm by 2002, and marketers who do not offer this service on their sites will be considered sub-standard. A few companies, she said, have begun using Web chat as an outbound channel, contacting customers as they appear ready to leave a site.

The emergence of these channels also will reduce the need for customers to pick up a phone, she said. In the next two years, she estimated, business-to-business customer service telephone calls will decline by 15 percent, and consumer-to-business customer service telephone calls will decline by 10 percent. n

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