Integrate E-Business Into Call Centers

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Converting from a call center to an e-business-enabled center requires new technology, processes, tools and skills, presenting a multitude of challenges for the call center.


The future is bright for organizations that can effectively incorporate the e-business model into their centers.


Consider the following 10 steps that incorporate the plans, processes, tools and technologies required.


Step 1: Develop the e-business strategic vision statement. The most important step is to define the organization's strategy for e-business customer contact. This vision should be a written statement of the organization's e-business strategy and the role of the contact center. Developing the strategic vision should be a shared, cross-functional responsibility to ensure buy-in and support from all levels of the management team.


Step 2: Analyze current customer access and transactions. One of the hardest parts of making the conversion to a customer contact center is anticipating the most effective self-service applications for the Web. Though e-business provides self-service opportunities that change the "how" of customer contact, it does not fundamentally change the reason for the contact. For the foreseeable future, customers will shop and buy goods and services, and continue to contact the organization for problems and support.


Start the process by analyzing the reasons for customer contact. For call centers, the majority of that contact is typically by telephone. However, all forms of contact should be reviewed, including interactive voice response, e-mail, fax, mail and face-to-face service. Since the highest contact volume offers the greatest potential for self-service, this group is analyzed first.


Step 3: Define a phased Web-based application plan. The purpose of this step is to develop a phased plan of targeted Web-based applications. This process begins by prioritizing the high-volume contact maps using a comprehensive list of weighted factors such as added value, self-sufficiency, increasing loyalty, efficiency, cost savings, process integrity and other business priorities. The result is a priority listing of contact types for Web-based self-service applications.


The features, functions and capabilities desired for each application are defined for each customer segment in a phased timeline. This includes defining the experiences that make the application unique and the embedded processes that make the application attractive and easy to use as well as the level of customer interactivity.


Industry benchmarks also should be used to further refine the priority, timeline and level of customer interactivity. It is important to identify the phases for each application, beginning with basic functionality and working up to more complex interactivity. As the organization gains experience with Web-based applications and call center interface, more complex self-service interactive features can be added.


From a customer's perspective, it is important to ensure consistency between the IVR and Internet channels, since many customers use both. The last part of this step is to review the targeted Web-based applications against the current or proposed IVR applications. Companion IVR applications are those that provide the same or similar customer information or function. The companion IVR applications should be noted in the overall Web-based application plan and reviewed for consistency as each Web-based application is developed.


Step 4: Telephony and e-business architecture. A requirement for the e-business service model is an e-business portal with the functionality of a multichannel automatic call distributor or private branch exchange to handle blended routing and reporting for phone, voice and Web-based inquiries. The Web-based technology suites typically include functionality such as automated e-mail response, chat, "call me," push-pull/escorted browsing, Web/fax on demand and voice over Internet protocol.


As the volume of e-business contacts grows and shifts, greater reliance will be placed on support from the automated Web-based applications, such as intelligent e-mail response management systems. The Web-based application plan will be invaluable in driving the specific requirements and functionality of the Web-based tools.


Increasingly, when customers opt out of Web or IVR sessions, they expect the agent to know who they are and what they have done. Computer telephony integration also should be reviewed. Using click-stream pop functionality for customers opting out of a Web site and screen pops for opting out of the IVR, customer account information and session history can be presented or popped to the agent.


Step 5: Define the customer relationship management support requirements. One of the most exciting aspects of the e-business model is the opportunity to establish closer relationships with customers. This requires robust CRM. A combination of Web-based tools and CRM allows the organization to create automated personalized marketing and sales messages when the customer returns to the site, or to create unsolicited proactive outbound messages. When CRM is coupled with computer telephony integration, upper-tier customers can be identified and extended priority treatment by being handled first.


Agent desktop functionality needs to become more robust in the e-business contact center. The access that customers have to information provided by the Web-enabled functions needs to be duplicated on the agent's desktop. Often, the entire desktop needs to be redesigned to accommodate CRM requirements and the Web-enabled customer functions. Typically these functions include interface with back-end systems, knowledge tools, access to legacy databases, applications and systems, as well as automated queuing, work flow and escalation processes. Additionally, the agent desktop should be reviewed for Internet access and e-mail as well as real-time data requirements.


Step 6: Define the contact center technology architecture. Two important components of the contact center technology architecture are the work force management and voice/data monitoring platforms, which also need to be reviewed against the Web-based applications requirements. In e-business-enabled centers, both voice and electronic contacts need to be factored into the scheduling and forecasting models. Work force management software will be even more important to plan adequately for blended staffing in which both voice and electronic contacts are handled.


Voice/data monitoring technology also should be reviewed to monitor voice and e-mail contacts. If the contact center is using blended voice and e-business contacts, the technology needs to record both voice and electronic contacts in an integrated manner.


Step 7: Develop contact center service metrics. An important planning aspect is to define the customer contact service metrics required for each phase since they drive application design and staffing. Because of the newness of the technology, it is recommended that the metrics be reviewed in each phase. An acceptable e-mail response time today may not be acceptable 18 months from now.


E-business metrics need to be developed in three areas: customer facing, productivity and quality. The customer-facing metrics involve standards for e-mail response time, including initial acknowledgement and time to resolution. Also, channel-specific customer feedback tools need to be developed. That is, for e-mail and chat contacts, an electronic/e-mail feedback system is used. Current wisdom suggests that the feedback mechanism should match the contact channel. In that case, it is recommended that electronic customer feedback be implemented with the first Web-based application so comments can be solicited and changes made quickly before major problems occur.


E-business productivity estimates and metrics also will be needed because they affect staffing, and staffing affects response time and service levels. Typical metrics include e-mails and chats per hour. Finally, quality standards are needed as a basis to monitor electronic contacts to ensure that the content, grammar, spelling and response times meet established standards. Benchmarked best practices data are often used to help define the target metrics.


Step 8: Staffing and training requirements. New agent skill and competency requirements need to be defined for each phase of the Web-enabled application plan. However, several strategic issues must be addressed, including requirements for universal skills and blended agents as well as operating and support requirements for a 24/7 business model. Once the support requirements are defined, the training curriculum can be developed for new hires and existing staff.


Reliable estimates of forecasted shifts in contact volumes from phone to electronic are required to develop estimated staffing for each phase. Detailed staffing projections will be needed for both anticipated phone and electronic contact to ensure customer service levels in both channels.


Step 9: Conduct the gap analysis. A gap analysis is conducted to define the shortfalls for each step, including technology, staffing, training, support and applications. Detailed plans are then developed to bridge the gaps. These plans become the working blueprint for funding requests.


Step 10: Develop the business case and cost/benefit analysis for the plan. Strategically, the new customer access and self-service applications that have been identified are outlined in the plan. The linkage to business objectives is documented, including the targeted timeline and benchmark competitor data.


The required technology is outlined to support the applications plan and phases are identified. Also, the specific process improvements are identified with estimated savings in productivity and self-service. Finally, the costs and benefits of the proposed Web-enabled center are quantified, including:


• Increased marketing and sales opportunities.


• Increased customer loyalty and customer longevity.


• Improved agent productivity.


• Increased efficiencies through self-service.


• Enhanced performance of the staff.


• Increased efficiencies as a result of redesigned work flows.


This e-business blueprint is designed to be a dynamic business planning tool to guide the planning and implementation of a multichannel customer contact process. As customer expectations change and new technology and applications become available, the blueprint is designed as the foundation to reflect those changes. The blueprint is designed to communicate and manage the long-term vision and plan for an e-business-enabled customer contact.


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