Channel Surfing
Customers' expectations for service options are driving changes to contact centers.
Posted Aug 9, 2002
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Customer contact centers (CCC) are undergoing a revolution. This revolution is being driven by a growing number of customers demanding Web-based customer self-service and by new technologies that offer consistent customer service across communication channels. There are now more than 500 million global Internet users, and this figure is growing in excess of 20 percent per year. These users browse online, buy online, and expect to receive services online. So companies must offer an effective online knowledge management engine on their Web sites that is both easy to use and comprehensive. And they had better provide a "speak to a live CCC agent" on their screen, prompting a real-time, voice over IP communication, for times when the company's Web-based customer self-service functionality fails to answer customers' questions. Many customers now expect this. Although Web-based customer self-service has its risks--users' potential dissatisfaction with an inefficient self-service offering, for example--the Web-based customer self-service value proposition is strong. By allowing customers to do business with you "their way," and by lowering your service costs through the reduction of customer support and IT staff expenses, it's a win-win scenario. In fact, according to Forrester Research, the average call to a CCC costs $12 per incident versus $6 for an email incident and 4 cents for a Web session. Our research shows that customers who are engaged quickly and efficiently, regardless of the communication channel they use, tend to be more loyal to a company. This drives customer retention and profitability in the long term. Increasingly, customers expect to be able to phone you today about the email they sent to you earlier this week, which was in response to last week's Web chat session that resulted from the letter they sent you via mail last month. Today's sophisticated customers expect your CCC agent to know about all of the contacts they have had with your company, and they expect your agent to be ready to assist them accurately in real-time--regardless of the communication channel they are using. How you realize consistent customer service across channels is your concern, not theirs. By training your CCC agents to handle multiple channels, such as telephone, email, Web chat, and co-browsing, companies are realizing a reduction in agent frustrations and turnover. This is a serious problem in most CCCs, which face up to a 50 percent annual turnover rate. Achieving consistent customer service is indeed a concern for most companies, since it may be technically complex and costly. You may need to rethink your existing customer-facing processes and extensively retrain your agents, who initially may be resistant to changes to their current processes. Nonetheless, companies that successfully realize consistent customer service across channels will be the winners in today's increasingly competitive marketplace, where competition is but one mouse click or phone call away. Barton Goldenberg is the founder of ISM, Inc., a CRM consulting company based in Bethesda, Md. He is the author of CRM Automation (Prentice Hall, 2002) and publisher of The Guide to CRM Automation. Contact him at bgoldenberg@ismguide.com.
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