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From Meltdown to Breakout
The financial services industry overhauls its customer service.
Posted Aug 8, 2008
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The meltdown in financial services is fueling an overhaul of the industry's customer service departments as companies seek competitive differentiation and customer retention.

Companies can no longer afford to move customer service offshore -- the costs of customer defections outweigh the money saved -- and, as a result, many are turning to contact center technologies to improve customer service in today's cost-cutting environment. Of course, some technology-implementation models are more efficient and cost-effective than others.

Customer Service Overhaul
Option 1: Existing hardware/software vendor, new solution.
Incumbent technology providers may be able to improve the customer service experience, but they typically do so with costly new hardware and software. Additionally, customer service processes often need to be re-engineered; the implementation can take 12 months to 18 months; and upgrade costs can climb to $10,000 per agent.

Option 2: New hardware/software vendor, new solution. Besides the cost and time issues involved in Option 1, new vendors mean new technology. Unfortunately, most companies have eliminated the highly skilled staff needed to implement -- and support -- a new contact center solution. The cost of hiring staff can top $200,000 per person per year, adding 20 percent to 30 percent to overall costs.

Customer service initiatives have been on companies' priority lists for years but get axed when the costs above are considered. Capacity planning is another concern: On-premises systems require companies to buy all their capacity up front, even if they currently need a fraction of that capacity.

The Perfect Host
Option 3: No hardware/software vendor, software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution.
A hosted contact center provides on-demand contact center services -- with technology, and often personnel, off-site. The growing adoption of other SaaS solutions is mitigating concerns about moving customer data outside corporate firewalls and fueling the growth of hosted contact center services, which offer:

  • Flexibility. Companies buy the capacity they need, when they need it. Customer service staff can scale up to handle business spikes and scale back during lulls.
  • Rapid deployment. A hosted solution can be up and running in 90 days or fewer -- fully integrated with a company's existing customer contact applications and voice or data technologies.
  • Advanced features. Companies have access to state-of-the-art features as soon as the service provider implements those features -- no need to update software on company or client servers.

Better still, a hosted contact center turns a capital expense into an operating expense. The Voice-over-Internet-Protocol technology can make a geographically distributed workforce appear as a unified customer service team. And SAS-70 certification ensures adequate controls and safeguards for hosting and processing customer data.

Portrait of a Breakout
Hosted contact centers eliminate the need to buy, manage, and maintain hardware, software, and the associated staffing requirements. In turn, they can be quickly implemented and improve customer service without adding staff.

For example, customers at Provident Bank of New Jersey used to wait on hold for between four and eight minutes -- only to spend up to four more minutes talking to a customer service agent. Worse, customers could be transferred to several agents before reaching one with the background or tools to help them.

To address the situation, Provident planned to add 15 agents to the 50 agents already in its contact center. The hitch? The technology running the bank's contact center could not support 15 more agents.

Provident had to improve customer service by making its existing 50 agents more efficient and effective. Using a hosted contact center, Provident now routes each incoming customer call -- based on the customer's phone number -- to the appropriate agent. Key customer information is also routed to the agent and displayed on screen as soon as the agent takes the call.

As a result, Provident now answers 80 percent of its calls within 20 seconds. Better, the bank routes each customer call to the most appropriate agent, so more customer inquiries are resolved on the first call. And, most important, customers are getting better service even though they're spending less time -- one minute, on average -- talking to agents.


About the author
Vincent Deschamps is chief executive officer and chairman of the board for Echopass -- experts in on-demand, always-on, hosted contact center solutions. Learn more about Echopass at www.echopass.com, or contact Deschamps at Vincent_Deschamps@echopass.com.


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