Running a state-of-the-art call center means you manage your customers, not your calls.
There is one thing Mike Rouse could do to cause an uproar among the 75 licensed help desk technicians he supervises at Lockheed Martin Energy System's Information Technology Services (ITS): replace the customer call management system, Xantel's Connex.
"My technicians would riot if I pulled this technology out of the company," said Rouse, the help desk manager for ITS, based in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The ITS division responds to thousands of calls each day from its customer base, made up of corporate employees of Lockheed Martin Energy Systems, one of the nation's top defense contractors, and nearby Bechtel Jacobs, which outsources its information technology help desk services.
In all, Lockheed Martin Energy System's ITS division supports more than 16,000 users and manages more than $100 million in computing assets. It plays an important role in supporting Lockheed's work with the U.S. Department of Energy, and Bechtel Jacob's work with the Department of Energy's Environmental Management and Integration contract with the Oak Ridge Operations Office. Lockheed Martin's Information Technology division was recently purchased by Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), a $4.7 billion high-tech research and engineering firm based in San Diego, Calif.
In September 1998, Connex was installed at ITS, replacing an automatic call distribution (ACD) system, Rouse explained. Due to growing customer demands and a desire to offer the most advanced system of call management to their help desk staff, ITS was looking for a better solution to customer relationship management. They discovered Xantel's Connex at an industry trade show.
Rouse said the company needed a technology solution that would allow them to fulfill varying service level agreements with their existing clients, and also help them expand their capabilities to service a growing customer base. Their typical service level agreement--the number of calls handled within a set time limit--is to answer 80 percent of the calls with less than a 30-second wait. This was a minimum level of service, Rouse said, and Lockheed Martin wanted to reduce the wait time, as well as add new capabilities such as quicker call resolution time, skills-based routing, advanced reporting, customer call data analysis and advanced relationship-building features so that customers could reach a specific technician if they needed to.
Improvements to Make
Some of the problems that existed before the Connex system was installed included the following:
- The ACD system routed calls based on availability of help desk technicians. A system for routing based on a technician's particular expertise was needed to more effectively and efficiently handle customer problems, and reduce the need for callbacks. Customers needed to be connected directly to the technician with the skills to handle their problems.
- ITS needed a system that would identify callers based on their company affiliation, so that specific service level agreements would be upheld.
Expanded reporting capabilities were needed to allow ITS to evaluate call volume more accurately, leading to better up-front development of service level agreements in regard to capability and pricing.
- More effective routing techniques were needed to reduce wait times and length of calls, thus reducing long distance costs and allowing technicians to handle a higher volume of calls each day. With the ACD system, customers were ending up in voice mail more often, leading to callback requirements and a lower level of service.
"In today's market, customers are demanding more," Rouse said. "Running a state-of-the-art call center means you manage your customers, not your calls." You can manage your phone calls very well, but if you mismanage your customers, they will not call you back and the value of the call center is diminished if not lost altogether.
Rouse said the new system, which Xantel coins "precision call distribution," addresses the major concerns of reporting, routing and wait times, with a few added benefits. These include the ability to categorize calls into tiers, ranking their importance (and the value of the customer) automatically and dictating how the calls would be handled; allowing techs to communicate through a feature called Connex Notes for real-time collaboration on customer problems and the implementation of a "trouble ticket" system. Using this system, customers are assigned an identifying number for their particular problem and an explanation of that problem goes with the call throughout the solution process. It remains as an identifying marker of the customer and specific problem even when the customer calls a second time, so that the customer never has to re-explain the problem. ITS also is in the process of adding an additional feature to the system, WebClick, which allows customers to obtain real-time interactive technical help--directly from the technicians most qualified to help them--via the Internet.
Bringing the Technology In-House
Susan Wright, Eastern Regional Sales Manager with Xantel, based in Phoenix, was responsible for overseeing installation of the Connex system at ITS. "Lockheed Martin Energy Systems is a huge success story for us," Wright explained. "They faced specific internal and external challenges. They needed better communication abilities among technicians, better reporting capabilities and, the managers needed the ability to see the real-time work group status of their team members, among many other things. Because the work groups and managers were physically spread out, more effective internal communications abilities were especially important to them."
Implementation of the system meant coordinating technicians in several different locations to become Tier One, Tier Two and Tier Three technicians, then training them on the system in groups of seven before going live. Rouse explained that Tier One technicians were the first point of contact for calls identified as requiring the most basic of service. Callers can stay in Tier One for the quickest and least complicated type of call resolution, or be transferred to Tier Two technicians, classified as analysts, who handle calls requiring more specialized help. Finally, Tier Three technicians, or managers, handle the most complicated problems for specific clients. These are the technicians most likely to develop one-to-one, long-term relationships with customers.
Rouse said the training, completed at Lockheed Martin's Tennessee headquarters by Xantel staff, was accomplished over a two-week period, and the system was implemented immediately after training was complete. The Connex system worked with interfaces already existing in the company, and was tailored to meet the specific needs of Lockheed's customers. The tiers form a system of multiple call management that displays incoming calls on a technician's desktop. It identifies callers according to their service needs, and determines which work group should receive the call. This skills-based routing transformed customers from anonymous callers to individuals with specific needs. It allows technicians to get to the root of customer problems much faster, Rouse said.
One of the most stunning statistics resulting from the Connex implementation is the outcome of the Connex Notes feature. Wright says this one feature increased single-call resolution by 70 percent at Lockheed, drastically reducing the need for callbacks. Connex Notes allows help desk technicians to instantly "talk" to each other using a form of instant messaging. These messages can be sent and received while technicians are on a call, and are displayed directly on the desktop. This is especially useful in Lockheed Martin Energy Systems' case, where technicians are located in different buildings and managers on different floors, Rouse said.
Connex Notes is a pop-up message box that allows technicians to bring managers or other specialists in on a call without client knowledge. This "silent assistance" method of conferencing eliminates the need to put customers on hold to get information, and can eliminate the need to transfer a caller to another technician. "It allows me to resolve a customer call the first time by touching all the people involved, or who need to be involved, to resolve the problem," Wright said.
"We use the Connex Notes heavily because it offers so much functionality," Rouse confirmed. "In addition to the instant messaging, we can send faxes from the desktop, voice mail from the desktop, whether you're doing applications support or taking a call through a PC, you never have to take your eyes off the screen."
Another plus of the system, Rouse said, is that because the technology is fully contained in the software, there is no added requirement of purchasing special telephone equipment to augment its capabilities. "The phones don't have to be quite as sophisticated because you're communicating through technology," he said. "You can be using a plain-Jane 'vanilla' Panasonic telephone and get the same results as if you had an expensive, state-of-the-art phone."
While the Connex Notes is the most-used additional feature of the Connex system, Rouse said, the "Follow Me" feature has become vital as well--for use with his most valuable customers. This feature allows a personalized greeting to be programmed in for individual customers, and allows for a specific call to be forwarded to a pre-determined technician. If that technician is not available at his or her desk, the call can be automatically forwarded to another number, such as a wireless telephone. "We've found it to be a big perk--being able to tell the product to call you on your cell phone if a particular person wants to reach you," Rouse said.
Features such as these are used to personalize the system for each client, Wright said. In an atmosphere where customer relationships are a primary goal, as they are with Lockheed Martin, technicians can be available to customers on a one-to-one basis at any time they choose to be. Customers can even be directed to the same technician for every call, if that's what the service contract dictates.
Rouse explained that in the year since Connex has been implemented at Lockheed Martin, they have been able to report a higher level of customer satisfaction on their existing service contracts. "Our volume of calls has increased," Rouse explained, "because the service has improved. We have more people calling us because they know they are going to get an answer, and they know they are going to get it quick." They also have been able to expand their capabilities to include potential new clients.
Lockheed Martin has worked with Xantel to upgrade the system several times in the past year--most notably to add the WebClick feature. "The Web interface allows customers to connect directly into the work group that deals with the technology they have questions about," Rouse said. "It gives our customer a great deal of flexibility in being able to reach who they need to reach directly. They can access a particular service without having to go through a maze of traditional calling trees."
Rouse said Lockheed Martin has continued to work with Xantel to add features to the Connex system because of Xantel's quick response to their requests. "They continue to improve the product at a pace quicker than we can make recommendations," he said. "They are open to our problems, and usually have a solution on hand when we call, even when it's after hours."
The company realized a financial payback from implementing the system in four months, Rouse said, due to better customer service, decreased call lengths and initial wait times, and better efficiency of help desk technicians. And they've been able to integrate call center data into the process of formulating service level contracts with new clients. Now that they know much more data as to how quickly and efficiently calls can be handled, they are able to better estimate internal capabilities and the real costs associated with fulfilling a service contract. Wright added that 32 percent of the return on investment can be attributed to the Connex Notes feature and its ability to reduce call backs and wait times.
According to Janis Foreman, department head for Integrated Customer Services within the ITS division at Lockheed Martin, the company has been able to increase their virtual workforce without adding staff, implement a flexible call flow and offer a faster customer response time and lower call abandonment.
"Our number one priority was to find out what our customers needed to be successful and then deliver quickly," Foreman said. "Xantel simply had the best solution to help us meet this business objective."