Contact Centers Are Win-Win Situation

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The term "contact center" has replaced "call center" in recent months. In an era with dozens of new buzzwords and acronyms introduced every week, this new terminology may not seem significant, but it is.


Contact with customers is no longer limited to call centers and field representatives. The Internet has emerged as a powerful customer-care medium with a new generation of Web-based, customer-care solutions leading the way.


This convergence has created an entirely new set of challenges, or opportunities, for successful interaction with customers. The lines are blurring between what we'll refer to as offline (traditional voice, fax and mail) and online communications.


As customers become increasingly comfortable purchasing products and services on the Internet, they also expect companies to provide Web-based customer service following the sale. Companies can't afford to ignore this remarkable customer-care transformation.


Just as many customers prefer the Web for purchasing products and services, they also prefer the Web for sales support and customer service. Many leading companies have responded to the preferences of their Internet savvy customers by implementing Web-based contact centers.


Don't think that it's only the customers that are driving the decision-making process. It's a win-win situation. The customer benefits from the access to the information and services that they need, when they need them. The company benefits from the increased revenues and decreased costs, which are results of the increased efficiency and customer satisfaction (loyalty) that Web-based contact centers achieve.


But don't be fooled to believe that the Web is the single answer to your marketing, sales and customer service needs. Even the dot-com businesses are discovering that the Web is not the only mode of communication preferred by their customers. Companies such as Amazon.com succeed with a combination of online and offline contact centers.


Blended media contact centers present a whole series of technical and organizational challenges. If you haven't begun looking into your customer-care strategy and how you will address this new environment, then I hope you are selling to the government on long-term military contracts. Seriously, there are some things you should plan for now that will make a huge difference as you shift to the contact center model of customer care.


Simple techniques such as e-mail systems that provide automated responses to certain queries are moves in the right direction. Moreover, a mapping of your customer-care goals to a deliberate contact-center strategy will ensure that at every entry point to your organization customers experience a consistent and high quality transaction.


Software developers have created innovative technologies to combine telephony-based systems with Web-based systems, but the combination of online and offline contact centers creates an important question: How can the traditional, telephony-based call centers and next-generation, Web-based contact centers be integrated? This question needs to be answered by an experienced customer-care consulting and systems-integration company.


Prepare a mission statement for your customer-care organization, such as, "Our goal is to complete all transactions in one call" or "We will provide customers with a quality experience."


A solid set of business requirements for your customer-care organization is a must. Write it down, get it documented and communicate it with everyone affected, even customers when possible. ROI based on traditional metrics won't fit a contact center model. Those metrics need to be built first.


Architect the solution now. Here a few of the touch points to consider:


• Automatic Call Distribution: Still mission critical, but not the only part of the solution.


• Interactive Voice Response: Hugely important in voice transactions, but new capabilities and integrations are key.


• Computer Telephony Integration: Not just screen pop, this is an absolute must in the solution. It provides the foundation for blending, measuring, routing and integration of CRM for all current and future media types.


• Customer Relationship Management: Desktop applications and supporting services and databases are critical to overall management of transactions and queries.


• Customer Intelligence: This is foundation stuff. It is a critical technology for reporting and getting to the kind of metrics that mean something. Think about measuring average response time on e-mail or sessions in which an agent helps and browses with the customer.


• Portal: Allows customers access to user-specific information. Huge implications for customer satisfaction. Must be integrated with CI, CRM and CTI for success.


Project methodology for implementation and solid leadership are key to the effort. Many projects never get the support they need. As a result, an otherwise great solution becomes a nightmare.


Implement in bite-size pieces and implement early. Today's tools often are very good right out of the box. You can start realizing value early and learn from the lessons as they come. That doesn't mean letting your scope creep, but it does suggest that you don't know what you don't know. Improvements can be incorporated in future phases. A good project methodology will account for this and allow for modification going forward.


Test as much as you can before rolling into production. Testing methodology needs to be extremely thorough. These are big projects with lots of potential failure points. Time spent here will pay back huge dividends in stability.


Last but not least, have a support model of cross-disciplined pros that know the technologies and your business. Convergence is a complex solution, which doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. What it does suggest is that you are willing to step up to the table with resources to support it. If you can't staff it, outsource it with a reputable solutions-based company. Make it part of your criteria for success.


In the new economy, call centers are not dead. Rather, a new class of integrated contact centers are thriving. In this exciting era of e-business, e-sales, e-services and every other e-word imaginable, companies need to remember that the most important e-word of all is "easy."


In this increasingly complicated and rushed world, the value of time has never been greater. Customers want their relationship with a business to be very easy. To accommodate the needs and desires of today's demanding customers, a company must provide a consistently valuable customer experience with multiple points of customer contact.
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