*ICCM Attendees Seek Tools to Improve Agent Productivity

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CHICAGO -- Call center operators at the International Call Center Management conference here last week were seeking to overcome a labor shortage with new technologies that will make their agents more productive and allow them to improve customer service.

David Vanden Bosch, vice president of customer care at Cogeco Cable Inc., Burlington, Ontario, which has a 210-seat call center providing service, sales and technical support, was impressed with training platforms for agents that are delivered via the Internet.

"I think that kind of training has a lot to offer," he said. "It allows you to do one-on-one, individual training with agents rather than putting them all together in a classroom."

He wryly noted that nearly all the technology vendors on the show floor touted their products' ability to perform customer relationship management.

"Even the headset guys say they are CRM," he said. "It's a pretty widely used acronym."

Former presidential candidate Steve Forbes delivered the keynote address on Aug. 2.

"When you have these kinds of shortages of skilled labor, it forces you to work smarter," he said. "That's not to say you have to work more, but, as managers, you have to learn to use your people better."

Forbes focused on the growing role of contact centers in the wired world.

Most attendees appeared to be interested in technologies that would enable them to incorporate Web usage into their call centers.

"We want to learn more about the Internet in the call center -- things like text chat, collaboration, e-mail management," said Valerie Jones, operations manager of new initiatives at Carlson Marketing Group, Minneapolis.

Bev Stoos, call center operations manager at Carlson, said the company was also looking for software tools to make the agent-monitoring process more efficient. She said one of Carlson's clients, British Airways, is seeking analysis and trend information from the call center.

She noted that monitoring software can help improve productivity by providing tools that can be used to train agents and improve their performance.

By employing new technologies, call center operators hope to serve customers better by using their agents for calls that require extra attention.

Trade show officials expected attendance at the event to be between 6,000 and 7,000. Approximately 6,000 people pre-registered for the conference.

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