Next-generation customer care solutions.
Posted Apr 1, 2007
Building a customer quote was a laborious process for Ed Burke (not his real name), a sales consultant for SMBs at a major computer manufacturer. To complete a quote he had to search Web sites, check a customer's online sales cart, review the customer's order history, and more. Submitting actual orders required him to enter a complex code for each component. And Burke serves 180 customers across 20 accounts.
Contact center agents like Burke are often an organization's first line of contact with customers, so these employees must be empowered to provide a rich, predictable, and compelling customer experience that maximizes the potential of every contact. Yet too often they operate in a fast-paced environment in which they're inundated with calls, emails, and live chat sessions. They must navigate a maze of systems--as many as 20--to find relevant information for each call. Too often, the tools they're given are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
And the agents in turn are part of the broader customer care arena, which includes interactive voice response (IVR), self-service Web portals, and other customer interaction channels. All these systems must somehow be integrated with the customer care system to give the customer a seamless and satisfying experience. The alternative--the customer dealing with multiple customer service agents and/or having to sit on hold for an unnecessary length of time--is painfully familiar.
Contact center callers, not surprisingly, are fed up. Dimension Data reported that abandoned calls rose for the third year in a row in 2005 to a record 13.3 percent. Companies face a daunting challenge: They must reverse this slide in the customer care experience to create a compelling customer experience while also cutting costs.
Happily, some companies are in fact rising to these challenges. They're doing so by reversing the trend that got their customer care operations into hot water to begin with: Instead of forcing agents and customers to navigate numerous, complex systems and portals, these companies are getting the technology to do the legwork, and to bring an optimal set of information to a single screen on the agent's desktop or to a self-service portal.
The results: Customer issues are solved faster and more accurately so customers are happier and costs are lower; cross- and upselling are more practical so revenues are higher; and agents are more satisfied so turnover and training costs are lower. The technology that makes this breakthrough possible is called service-oriented architecture (SOA). We think SOA represents the future for all customer care operations. Essentially, SOA-based solutions are comprised of bits of software--called Web services--that link existing customer care systems into a single, unified solution.
With SOA-based solutions, a company's legacy systems, modern enterprise applications, and custom systems--regardless of platform--can be brought together seamlessly in a flexible and easy-to-use single, unified view. Whether the customer initiates contact by phone, live chat, Web portal, e-mail, or IVR, an agent can seamlessly provide service from a common platform, because data from many systems is immediately aggregated and brought to the agent's desktop. From the moment a customer makes contact, the agent has a complete picture of the customer's previous interactions. Customers don't need to provide details and agents don't need to dig for information while the customer is waiting. Instead, agents can greet customers by name, better understand customer issues, and immediately work to address those issues.
How real is this? Ask the executives at BT Germany, a global communications provider. When one of its units began offering mobile communications services that originated with various BT Germany partner companies, the company's own customer service agents found they couldn't access all the information they needed to respond to customer queries. With an SOA-based solution in place BT Germany has cut the time to address those customer queries by a stunning 80 percent.
Or ask Ed Burke. Since his company implemented a unified agent desktop, customer interactions have improved. Now, when a customer calls Burke, his computer screen instantly displays everything he needs to know: What products the customer has placed in an online shopping cart, what was purchased in the past, even what products offer the customer the best performance while giving the computer maker the best profit margins. As a result, the average call duration at Burke's company is down by 10 percent. Quotes that took 10 minutes or more to build now are built in 45 seconds and sent to the customer electronically so sales can be closed in a single call.
SOA-based solutions can solve the dilemmas that many companies face in their customer care operations: to deliver more and better information to benefit customers, customer call agents, and the companies themselves. It's a potential that innovative companies are turning into a reality today.
About the Author
Vish Thirumurthy is group product manager for the Customer Care Framework product at Microsoft. Please visit www.microsoft.com/CCF.
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