Live chat is little used now--only 2 percent of Web sites offer it, according to Robert Mirani of the Yankee Group. But customer contact centers are quickly recognizing the need for it, says Bob Burgin, president and CEO of Westminster, Colo.-based Finali, which provides customer contact center agents in a variety of industries. Mirani expects significant growth in live chat and voice over IP in the next 12 to 18 months.
"The challenge that any company faces is transitioning from agents who handle telephone calls to ones who can use the Web to provide customer support," says Mirani. If companies are successful at all in making this transition, it is usually with the people side or the technology side, but rarely with both.
Firms that can support both sides will be in large demand, as live chat comes into wider use to help reduce the estimated 67 percent abandonment rate for Internet shopping carts, Burgin explains. But for a customer contact center agent to effectively use live chat without ignoring a ringing telephone, faxes or other e-mail, the agent's company needs a way to manage all contacts in real time by routing communications to appropriate agents.
To fill this need, in May, Finali and eConvergent of Pleasanton, Calif., formed a strategic partnership combining eConvergent's hosted eCRM solution, called CRMS, with Finali's contact center agents, called eSpecialists.
CRMS blends applications from partners including Octane Software, E.piphany, Kana Communications, Interactive Intelligence and Cisco Systems to run as a single, pre-configured CRM system. The eSpecialists are trained in using the Internet and e-mail in customer service applications.
Few companies have been successful in upgrading both their contact center agents and their technology, Mirani says. Most companies concentrate on one or the other. The Finali/eConvergent partnership is significant because it offers customers a way to do both at a single source.
"It's hard to combine both and do it well. It's still very early, but it looks like a good partnership," says Mirani, who expects other competitors to try to offer similar arrangements in the future, calling the partnership "just the tip of the iceberg."
"As eConvergent grew, I had been concerned about how the company would meet the demand for people and IT resources," adds Karen Smith, analyst for the Aberdeen Group, Boston. "The company who wins is the one that can put together the best marketing message and map it to a business point, which is what they're doing with this partnership."
"This is a milestone for eConvergent; it's the first time a company focusing on managing people is using us in their infrastructure. They can stay focused on what they do best without building a large IT department," said Clyde Foster, CEO of eConvergent. He expects the partnership to be the first of many for the company.