Web Support Improves Performance

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A Web-enabled call center combines the best of bricks-and-mortar and dot-com marketing, fusing the high-touch customer service of bricks-and-mortar strategies with the incredible customer reach and low distribution cost of the Internet. The marketer can enjoy the reach/cost benefits of the Web while serving customers through personal interactions.


In a Web-enabled call center, there are three categories of interaction:


* real-time, such as phone and Internet chat, Web callback and voice-over Internet protocol;


* delayed, such as e-mail interactions;


* utility, including outbound marketing and Web-based training.


Real-Time Interactions


Real-time interactions require immediate response. In the realm of real-time, one-to-one interactions, phone calls get top priority. The reason is cost. If there's a 30-second wait before an agent can answer the call, there's a cost to maintain an open line while the customer holds. There is, however, an Internet-based solution to this problem called Web callback. Through a form on the Internet, the customers can request a callback. When agents become available, they call back the customers. The customers never wait on hold.


In addition to the cost advantage, Web callback also can be a helpful sales tool. When customers request Web callback, they can be advised of the estimated wait time. If it's longer than they want to wait, they can have agents call back at a scheduled time and number. The agents make the callbacks, demonstrating a level of customer service that most traditional call centers cannot achieve.


Like voice, chat is a real-time interaction but is generally a text-based conversation across the Internet. This difference causes a chat session to present its own challenges. Chat sessions can be lengthier than a similar voice conversation, and contrary to popular belief, most agents can handle at most two simultaneous chat sessions. In addition, people are much more prone to walk away from their computer in the middle of a chat than they are to leave the phone.


Because chat sessions and Web callback are initiated through the Internet, agents can engage in collaborative browsing, or co-browsing, with customers. During the voice or chat conversation, the agent and customer can share Web content by virtually "controlling" each other's browsers.


With co-browse, however, two important decisions must be made. First, allowing a customer to control an agent's browser can present problems. Often companies will permit co-browse to work from only the agent to the customer. Secondly, giving agents carte blanche access to the Internet can present liabilities. This issue can be overcome by using configurations or browser designs that restrict agent access to select Web sites.


Another real-time Internet option is VoIP, a technology that uses the computer and Internet connection to transmit voice. Currently, VoIP quality, which often resembles a poor cell phone connection, is not good enough for many marketing applications. Bad voice quality reflects poorly on the marketing company, even if the cause is simply Internet traffic. For now, chat is a better real-time alternative.


Delayed Interactions


The most common delayed interaction is e-mail. Beyond a speedy auto-acknowledge, customers don't expect instant response to e-mails. Response times to e-mails typically vary from four to 48 hours. E-mail inquiries can be serviced when real-time interaction volume is the lowest. The result is better staff efficiency and superior call center management.


This example follows an e-mail through a well-designed system: Customer John Doe sends an e-mail asking a company for help. The system instantly sends him an auto-acknowledgment of his inquiry. Next, the system scans his e-mail to determine whether any auto-response is possible. If so, the system answers John's question automatically with a standard response.


If the auto-response is wrong, John responds. This time, his e-mail is queued for an agent. The system checks for an agent who is available, with no voice calls in the queue, no chat requests pending and a skill set compatible with e-mail and the customer's problem. The system discovers that Sally Agent meets these criteria and pops the e-mail to her workstation screen. Sally uses a combination of standard templates, online references and text auto-suggested by the system to compose a response to John's inquiry.


Utility Interactions


Utility interactions keep agents busy when there are no inbound customer interactions. They include voice and e-mail outbound interactions as well as training. Outbound interactions may be telemarketing, customer satisfaction surveys or even new customer welcome calls. Web-based training is an efficient way to deliver incremental training and continually upgrade an agent's skill set.


Through much of the above, blending of interactions, also called universal queuing, is assumed. Configurations with an agent group dedicated to e-mail, another dedicated to voice and a third doing only chat will not be unable to achieve all the efficiencies or use all the tricks mentioned.


Blending means all interactions are routed through a central point in the system for decision making. Using set business rules, the system decides which interaction is the next most important and which agent should receive it. These activities and a host of other queuing and routing strategy decisions generally occur in the computer-telephony integration layer of the system. Only a few commercial CTI packages can accomplish this important task for a Web-based call center.


By Web-enabling the call center, marketers can improve their response to customer inquiries and their call center management. Peaks and valleys of activity are smoothed out, creating a more predictable, manageable work flow for the agents. The result is a happier staff and enhanced customer service.
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