Call Center Show Serves up Critical Advice
Cross-sell at your own peril; get more out of technology and agents.
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The popular attitude is that skillful, tasteful cross-selling both boosts the bottom line and improves customer satisfaction and retention. But is not always so. At the recent International Call Center Management Show in Chicago, Mike Desmaris, president of Service Quality Measurement Group, in Vernon, B.C., presented his company's findings from 100,000 customer service satisfaction surveys over the past year, and analyzed the effects of introducing cross-selling into a previously service-focused call center. SQM found that in switching to cross-selling, the average call center customer satisfaction dropped from 65 to 57 percent, and employee satisfaction plummeted from 38 to 28 percent. It turns out that most call center operations are simply not mature enough to handle the switch. Fewer than half of the 150 centers in the study could route calls to the right agent based on the products or services purchased, and barely one quarter routed on current or projected revenue. Even worse, most call center agents lack the skills necessary to perform both sales and service tasks. What little time most organizations spend in teaching the cross-sell focuses almost entirely on which products need pushing. Desmaris admonished managers to focus on boosting their first-call resolution figures before focusing on large-scale revenue generation. Average first-call resolution, cross-industry, is only 65 percent. He also said that no more than half of all calls are legitimate cross- or upsell opportunities. The Next Big Thing Also at ICCM was a vendor panel addressing the "the next big thing" in call center management. Much of the discussion focused on getting more out of the technology and the agents that already exist in the organization. Matt McConnell, senior vice president of marketing for training/KM vendor Knowlagent, suggested that the contact center mentality must swallow a dose of Ford's old "Quality Is Job #1" slogan. Comparing the huge process efficiencies created by ACD and IVR technology to the early days of the assembly line, he said that the next move will be to "build in" quality for customer contacts through better knowledge sharing at the agent desktop and at the point of contact. Joe Heinen, vice president of strategic marketing for Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories Inc., said the next major improvement will be bridging the gap between the Web and traditional voice communication--not by bringing the Web to handhelds, but by bringing flexible voice-powered search and query interfaces to ordinary phones through VXML. Not all the panelists agreed with his vision, however. Max Fiszer, vice president of corporate marketing for eGain Communications Corp., stood by his company's prediction that half of all customer contacts will come through the Web by 2005. Attitudes towards building call centers large or small tend to be cyclical, said Nancy Treaster, Witness Systems vice president of global marketing. With call center "virtualization," and even fully wired home agents a viable part of the modern call center, the market is definitely in a "small" phase, made more manageable by current technology, she said. Asked to nominate the major training trends for the future, the panel identified familiarity with call center tools, the ability to manage multiple product lines and multiple contact channels, and specifically the ability to communicate via email. McConnell provided the bottom line for the discussion: The best approach to call center management is to help agents help customers, because it frustrates them when they can't. "[Agents] are like nurses--if three out of every five patients die, they are not very satisfied." --Jason Compton
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