Change was the buzz at the ICCM Call Center Management Conference & Exposition last August in Chicago. The introduction of the Internet into call centers has already changed the semantics of the industry: "contact centers" have replaced "call centers" in the lexicon.
Some 90 percent of call centers now offer Web-site access, and 80 percent offer e-mail capabilities, but only 1 percent have integrated call and voice access according to separate studies by the Center for Customer Driven Quality, West Lafayette, Ind., and Blue Pumpkin Software, Sunnyvale, Calif.
"Improvements to access methods can have a dramatic impact on business outcomes," noted David Peterson, president of PowerHouse Consulting, Bedford, NH. "The knowledge about the customer is more assured and grows quickly with e-mail and Web interactions."
An increasing number of companies are including automated responses as part of their strategies to maintain and build customer relationships through responsive customer service. These systems also help companies track customer behavior. Automation systems are starting to become more personal as they employ speech-to-text and voice-recognition technologies, which enable a customer to speak a request rather than typing it or running through a complicated, multi-layered phone menu.
Voice-recognition systems provide customers with access to more services because the capability of systems using digits or yes/no responses are limited, according to Kevin Dunne, speech technology specialist for Nortel Networks, Brampton, Ontario. These systems reduce call lengths, enabling call center agents to focus on higher value interactions.
Wireless Internet applications are just starting to evolve, said John R. Kirst, director of marketing for Edify, Santa Clara, Calif. He envisions companies using wireless customer relationship management systems to send targeted messages to customers. For example, a financial institution could notify a customer about a certificate of deposit special when the customer calls in to check stock quotes. If the customer is using a PDA, the special information could be displayed while stock graphics download.