CompUSA Shortens Calls, Adds Outsourcing Clients

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Computer products retailer CompUSA, Dallas, has incorporated new technologies into its call center that allow phone operators to view customers' purchasing, servicing and billing histories while consulting with them on the phone.


The technology was adopted not only to help CompUSA to better serve customers on its Dial-A-Tech support line, but to help facilitate the third-party outsourcing business the company has begun.


"By employing all of the technology we have so far, we are getting better scores in customer satisfaction because we are able to take more calls," said Harold Vance, director of information services for the call center. "We have the technology where we are shaving one to six seconds per call, sometimes more, which is enabling more calls to come through here so productivity has increased, call volume has increased, and we've been able to keep about the same head count."


The technology is cutting up to a minute off some calls, the company said, although first-time callers, who must be interviewed and entered into the database, extend the average call time, which is between 10 and 14 minutes.


The system works by identifying the caller electronically, routing the call to the proper representative and then prompting the correct screen to appear on the representative's computer. The center uses Genesys-brand middleware to provide skills-based routing so calls are directed to representatives who can handle the level of technical assistance required by the customer. The Siebel Call Center software then causes the correct screen to appear on an agent's terminal.


If a customer already is in the database, the system recognizes the caller's phone number and displays a history of calls, purchases, service contracts, current hardware and software and suggests appropriate upselling opportunities for agents.


The company's 1,000-seat call center, located near its Dallas headquarters, primarily handles inbound calls from business and household consumers requesting technical assistance for products they purchased from one of the chain's 210 retail outlets.


Callers to the Dial-A-Tech line enter a personal identification number, which the software uses to route the calls. Most of the calls the center handles are from the Dial-A-Tech service, which consumers pay for - either by the call or for unlimited service within specified time periods - to receive technical support that extends beyond what either manufacturers or CompUSA's stores offer.


Increasingly, the center is taking on new business from third-party companies who outsource some or all of their call center operations. Most of that business involves inbound "help desk" calls, although the company also provides limited outbound calling for two clients totaling less than 3 percent of the center's business. The facility handles 5,000 to 10,000 calls per week, according to Blake Wolff, senior director of the call center.


"One of the great things about Siebel is that it can be configured quickly and easily in support of new operations," he said.


CompUSA hopes to capitalize on its reputation as a service provider and the trend for companies to outsource call center services.


"When we first started looking at outsourcing, we went to our corporate customers first," said Clark Hausmann, director of sales and marketing for the call center. "Then we went to the vendor community, to those people who we are customers of, and we made them one of ours."


One of the fastest-growing segments of the call center's customer base is Internet service providers, he said.


"With thousands of people logging onto the Internet every day, the ISP market is just rocketing," said Hausmann. "Many of those companies don't want to invest the capital it takes to support those customers."


The software also is being rolled out during the next several months to the company's 1,500-member sales force, who operate from the chain's retail outlets.


Ron Meyer, a partner in Inforte Corp., Chicago, which consulted with CompUSA on the technology implementation, said the company had outgrown its previous systems.


"The systems they had to handle customer service and inbound-outbound calling had been put in place when they were a much smaller company, and were, to some extent, bursting at the seams," he said. "They had a number of systems that didn't talk to each other, and didn't talk to CompUSA, for that matter."


Now, he said, the company has "the ability to get a full picture of you as a customer."


The call center became one of the first to install Siebel Call Center '98 software last year and also was one of the first to incorporate it with the Microsoft SQL Server 7.0. n
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