Web-Enabled Centers Help E-Billing

Web-enabled call centers have the potential not only to set new standards for customer satisfaction but also to make e-billing more appealing than ever.

Web-enabled call centers are facilities where customer contact is handled through the Internet. Service can take on many forms, from simple e-mail responses to multimedia interaction between customer service representative and customer.

The basic workings of Web-enabled call centers are easy to understand. On the low-tech end, service can come in the form of questions and answers through e-mail, where CSRs reply to customer queries. Instead of waiting on hold for 15 minutes or longer, customers now can simply send an inquiry and get an informed response within 24 hours. The need for calling during office hours has become a thing of the past.

But what has garnered attention to these centers is the high-tech capabilities of conversing with consumers directly through a Web browser. Once on the Web, customers can contact a CSR right through the site, either by instant messaging or by oral communication (with the computer’s microphone and speakers acting as a telephone). CSRs can then answer any questions, “take over” the customers’ browsers and guide callers through its Web site to the appropriate page.

While the technology for this has been around since 1992, it is just now becoming popular. Web-enabled call centers are surging in popularity mainly for two reasons: many more people have Internet access and shop online; and with the increase in high-speed Internet access, more customers can use the “speech” capabilities of their computers.

E-billing and Web-enabled call centers are made for each other. Both are born from advanced Internet technology, both focus on keeping the customer happy while helping the bottom line, and both are seen as integral parts of a company’s marketing program. They even have similar requirements, as e-billing and Web-enabled call centers both depend on large-capacity data storage. Companies offering electronic billing presentation and payment need to store more than seven years worth of records electronically for their customers to peruse online, while CSRs at a Web-enabled call center require as much information as possible to be effective.

For instance, companies increasingly are offering e-billing, not only because of the added convenience for customers, but also for the cost savings. Companies save billions of dollars they would spend printing and mailing across the United States. Web-enabled call centers also offer fiscal savings. By contacting a CSR through the Internet, customer contact is much cheaper because the call center saves hundreds of thousands of dollars on long-distance charges and toll-free calls.

While e-bills allow for other cross-selling opportunities, Web-enabled call centers can allow CSRs to engage the customers when they would be most willing to buy. One of the “problems” inherent to e-commerce is abandoned shopping carts. Many times these carts are not taken to the checkout because of questions that customers want answered before they buy. Web-enabled call centers can answer these questions.

Along with having similar purposes, goals and needs, Web-enabled call centers have benefits for e-billing clients:

Customer contact. While e-billing is popular, experts say many are hesitant to transform their snail-mail billing system into one that functions online. One reason is simply an inability to break old habits. Customers may get a confirmation number when paying a bill online, but doubts still linger. Did my payment really go through? Simply having the option of speaking to someone live on the phone can be the security blanket that wins over potential e-bill customers.

Better-informed customers. Since e-bill customers can look up many past transactions and bills themselves, a certain percentage of customers (as many as 20 percent) will have no need even to use a call center’s services. Those who still need assistance will already have a solid background of information.

“One-stop shopping.” It is no secret that the Internet has raised customer expectations. Not only do consumers want their service to be faster and cheaper, they also want greater efficiency. Today’s CSRs working in Web-enabled call centers are equipped with more information than ever before. CSRs can assist customers with everything from address changes and billing questions to making decisions on what products or services are more appropriate for their lifestyles.

Do Web-enabled call centers really work? They do, but they are not for everyone. Many times, call centers use technologically superior solutions instead of what will work best for them. Companies need to align their goals with the proper technology.

These questions will help you before looking for a Web-enabled call center:

• Are you prepared to have service available 24 hours a day, seven days a week? The Web is always open; offering Web-based service some of the time may not be enough.

• Do you want to build this capability inhouse, or will hiring an outsourcer be a better solution? Outsourcers have added Web customer service to their list of offerings.

• What level of service are you prepared to support – e-mail, chat, voice, co-browsing? Each level has increasing complexity.

• Do you have phone representatives who can be cross-trained for Web support? When writing skills were not part of the hiring profile, a job writing e-mails and chatting may not be a good fit.

• How sophisticated is your customer base? Will they have microphone-equipped PCs for online chat, or do you need to be lower tech?

• How much quality control do you need over Web communications? Phone conversations are gone once you hang up, but e-mails provide a ready audit trail showing what the company said.

• Are your current supervisors and managers equipped to deal with multimedia? Having “techno-comfort” is important when coaching a techno-rep.

• Is your telephone system ready to support data as well as voice? Are you looking at an upgrade or a forklift?

• Does your technology allow you to use home-based Web agents? It’s a great way to accommodate after-hours support needs.

• Are you ready to have your customer service contacts increase 15 percent to 40 percent? Many Web interactions are incremental and do not replace a phone call.

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