Innovations and contemporary best practices.
Posted Dec 4, 2007
The concept of transforming contact centers into profit centers has been around for some time and the aim is simple enough: reduce costs and generate revenue. However, some contact centers are better than others in doing this. Let's discuss four innovations and practices used by such companies.
1. Institute cross-channel memory with a customer interaction hub (CIH)
Customers are communicating with businesses using more channels than ever before -- email, chat, Web collaboration, Web self-service and other e-channels to complement the phone. If the contact center does not have a 360-degree view of past customer interactions across all channels and customer service representatives, agents reinvent the wheel, creating friction in service resolution and frustration among customers. Forward-looking companies are therefore implementing unified multichannel customer interaction hubs (CIH) to eliminate these issues. A concept advocated by Gartner, a CIH centralizes interactions, knowledge bases, business rules, integration frameworks, analytics, and administration in one place. These hubs reduce service costs while improving customer experience. One leading bank is using a CIH to provide a superior customer experience across email, chat, Web collaboration and self-service. This company has been able to handle a 220% increase in customer contacts without expanding its contact center staff through efficiencies enabled by the CIH.
2. Manage costs with eService
Customer service provided through electronic channels -- such as email, chat, cobrowsing, SMS, and Web self-service -- is often called eService. Studies have repeatedly shown that e-channel interactions, when done right, are more cost-effective than the phone. While eService demand is driven by the "pull" from generational shifts in interaction preferences -- for example, younger generations tend to use e-channels more than older ones do -- companies can also proactively "push" e-channels through proactive awareness generation and incentives such as faster service levels to increase eService adoption.
Furthermore, it is important that eService be fully integrated with the phone and the branch office/store, using a CIH approach. Branch offices and stores can benefit from contact center interaction practices, while creating additional business value by handling overflow inquiries. This approach requires deep eService integration with VoIP infrastructure and presence management.
3. Generate profits with knowledge management (KM)
Exploiting a common knowledge base across agent-assisted channels and self-service reduces costs, improves service quality, and enhances customer experience, ultimately generating profits for the business. A knowledge base can help improve key performance indicators (KPIs) such as call handling time, first-contact resolution, and customer satisfaction. For example, one leading Canadian telecom company was able to reduce call handling time by 17 percent by deploying a guided-help KM solution, while a leading wireless company in the United Kingdom reduced escalations by 30 percent with the same solution.
Some companies have used KM to address areas beyond the aforementioned KPIs. For example, a premier telecom company reduced unnecessary handset returns by 38 percent through better phone-based problem resolution, using guided-help KM, saving millions of dollars in the process. A major household-appliances company has saved $50 million to date by reducing unwarranted "truck rolls" through more-effective contact-center problem resolution with the same tool.
Knowledge bases can be especially powerful, when extended to agents or self-service with multimodal access methods -- such as dynamic FAQs, search, browse, guided help (for example, using inferencing technology), and chatbots -- instead of a "one-size-fits-all" strategy. A rigid approach to information access does not work well for a broad range of user demographics and inquiry types. User adoption and profit generation increase when clients implement multimodal Web self-service and agent-assisted service, with intelligent escalation from self-service to agent-assisted service.
One leading bank uses natural language chatbot technology as an innovative access method to reduce incoming calls. The solution deflects 30 percent of phone calls at a 96 percent success rate, while enabling a branded customer experience. A leading telecom company uses guided help to aid consumers in product selection through an intuitive, lifestyle-based dialogue, maximizing online conversion.
4. Add to top-line revenue with point-of-service marketing
Marketing is under siege with regulations such as "CAN-SPAM" and "Do Not Call." Making matters worse, overly aggressive SPAM filtering chokes off 98 percent of all incoming email offers, resulting in a measly 0.4 percent open rate for emails!
Point-of-service (POS) marketing refers to the act of selling, cross-selling, and upselling at the conclusion of a satisfactory service interaction. This approach can be an effective revenue-generation tool, especially in today's marketing environment. A leading international bank uses POS marketing solution to cross-sell and upsell offerings when small businesses open new accounts. One major prescription-services company generates revenue by embedding contextual offers in event-based proactive customer service alerts across email, voice, and SMS.
In summary, contact centers can transform themselves into profit centers by exploiting new approaches such as POS marketing and CIHs, and by embracing evolving best practices in eService and knowledge management.
About the Author
Anand Subramaniam is the vice president of global marketing for eGain, a leading provider of customer service software for on-premise or on-demand deployment. Prior to eGain, he served in senior marketing and product management positions at companies such as Oracle, Intel, and Autodesk.
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