On Web or Phone, Focus on Customer

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More and more people are using the Web to conduct everyday transactions such as paying bills, banking, even grocery shopping. For companies to stay competitive in the world of e-commerce, they will have to offer their customers a variety of communication options for both customer acquisition and care.

Blending outsourced Web service and traditional call center functions in a broadband world is the next phase in providing superior customer care. The key to this type of customer care will require not only the latest customer relationship management software applications and technology but also educated and knowledgeable customer service representatives who understand the technology, the company and advanced customer service skills.

Reaching out to an outsourcer or service bureau that understands CRM technology and customer service is a benefit to any company. The cost benefits for companies that use an outsourcer as part of their customer care solution will include not only the cost of implementing the software applications in an existing call center platform but also the cost of hiring and training reps to be the customers' point of contact.

Providing customers with a variety of communication options with the companies they do business with is becoming a requirement to meeting customer relationship demands. The trend is to move away from a channel-centric approach -- Web vs. face-to-face vs. voice -- to a customer-centric model.

With a range of options that include Web-based chat, e-mail, voice-over Internet protocol, interactive voice response, audio/video streaming, push-page support, fax and voice in a seamless, simultaneous contact, these customers can communicate on their terms, leaving them with the feeling that their business is important and they are valued.

This development -- from call center to Internet customer care contact centers that have the ability to interact with the customer and change forms of communication seamlessly -- will allow for real-time solutions, which can heighten customer loyalty and retention. Businesses that can handle Web chat in addition to the more traditional call center functionality of voice will be the survivors in the e-commerce industry.

Businesses must provide service on the customer's terms. Web-savvy customers who feel comfortable with the technology will enjoy the convenience of Web-chat customer service. Customers who are not as comfortable with the Web or who might not have access should still have options available to them in contacting a customer service representative. More and more, if a customer wants to discontinue the Web chat and speak to a live agent or do both simultaneously, a seamless integration must be available.

Developments in technology move at such a frenetic pace that it is beneficial for an outsourced service bureau to use a main platform that can have overlays of different software to allow for seamless integration of services and solutions. However, the technology is only as good as the platform on which it rests. A business should choose an outsourcer that has a platform that is able to work well with different and multiple customer care situations.

While the technology is important, the representatives who are interacting with the customers must know how to use the technology and must have advanced customer service skills to maximize the value of each customer contact. Comprehensive training is critical.

Businesses that take advantage of a service bureau that combines Web-enabled functions with traditional voice services will be better positioned in their e-commerce business solutions than those that do not.

Those companies that do take advantage of this new breed of customer contact centers will be better off than the companies that received poor marks for customer service during last year's holiday season. The old adage holds true that one disgruntled customer will tell 10 friends, and in the world of e-commerce, that works at Internet speed.

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