Putting It Together

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Picture this: A customer finds your company online, selects a product and then-frustrated by the purchasing process or stumped by a product-related question-abandons the transaction before it's complete. Now you've not only lost a sale, but you may have also lost a customer. Does this scenario sound familiar?

"Today you have voicemail and IT systems like the Web and e-mail," says Bruce Bower, president and CEO of the Billerica, Mass.-based Teloquent Communications Corporation. "Getting those systems to work together is a problem for most businesses, and that's what Teloquent's solution is intended to do."

Specifically, Teloquent's Interchange solution facilitates customer interactions on a number of levels. Using a scalable, open-architecture system based on Java 2 Enterprise Edition, Teloquent can integrate a company's voicemail, e-mail and Web site, and also join communication centers at multiple locations to create a single virtual contact center, regardless of dissimilar equipment and type of customer access.

That means a customer from San Francisco can access a company's Web site based in Oklahoma, call the company for more information about the product while still online, and get routed to a customer service representative (CSR) in India-if that's the CSR most qualified to answer a question. "If I'm on a Web page, and it has Teloquent capability, the customer has the option of either e-mailing a question, chatting with a CSR or phoning and asking a question," Bower says.

If the customer is asking the question via e-mail, Teloquent's capabilities allow for either chatting with the customer in real time or responding via e-mail. Teloquent's e-mail service also can create automated responses according to the company's business rules or an "authored" answer that creates a customized response to match customer requests.

The voice component of Teloquent's Interchange incorporates features like an Interactive Voice Response-designed to handle certain types of calls that don't need to be routed to CSR-with a special routing feature that enables calls to be directed to a particular CSR based on the customer's specific needs. The Interchange server not only allows for precise routing of customer contacts, but it also allows for on-site or remote reviews to better quantify and qualify customer contacts.

Teloquent is designed to integrate with a company's existing phone or IT systems, thus saving time and effort unifying diverse systems and disparate locations. "If you look at companies that are in the e-mail business or the CRM business and you go to their Web page, they'll tell you that regardless of their transaction, they will be able to treat them as a single source," Bower says. "But if you look at their vendors, they do not interoperate with each other."

A Taxing Experience

There was a time when Pennsylvania taxpayers were not only having to write a check to their government, but they were also getting lost during the process of finding out who to pay and how much.

"We were getting too many customers calling and getting a busy signal," says Frank Fleishman, who manages the department's newly created Taxpayer Service and Information Center, a 50-person department designed to handle inquiries from the state's 12 million residents. "We were not giving good customer service."

In those bad old days, customers who did get through to one department were also "getting incorrect answers" to some of their queries, Fleishman says. If, for example, a taxpayer calling with questions pertinent to a small business also asked a question about personal income taxes, there was a strong possibility that his question wouldn't be answered accurately, he says.

Worst of all, "We had no way of knowing what we were doing and how we were doing it," Fleishman says. "Basically, those [callers] were our customers, and we needed a mechanism or vehicle to get incoming calls into one call center that would enable us to answer the 23 different types of tax questions we deal with."

A change in Pennsylvania's administration ultimately started Fleishman's department on the road to improved CRM. With former Governor Tom Ridge demanding a new customer focus within state bureaucracy, Pennsylvania's Department of Revenue and Taxation was soon identified as being ripe for improvement. A search committee gave Teloquent the go-ahead, largely because it was willing and able to meet an ambitious timetable-one that would, in a matter of months, establish a single cross-department interaction center equipped to handle the state's upcoming personal income tax season.

The idea was to create a single point of contact for all inquires, regardless of how they came in. Teloquent was able to set up an e-mail system that automatically responds to taxpayer inquires telling them that help is on the way and then tracks the query to the appropriate tax expert on staff.

The results were easy to measure. In 1998, Fleishman's department responded to 3,349 e-mails. At press time, the department's 2001 year-to-date response to e-mails was just shy of 35,000.

Teloquent also helped Pennsylvania's Department of Revenue create a sophisticated call center that allows for flexible staffing so that the department was able to handle a onetime homeowners rebate program that sparked 264,000 inquiries in six weeks at the same time the department handled regular taxpayer questions. "We can easily move one employee from one tax skill to another," Fleishman says. "We can allocate more personnel to answer personal income tax questions in different locations in the building [or] throughout the state."

Teloquent's tracking system means Fleishman's office can easily find out what happened to a missing refund. "We are able to take the call and actually get back to the customer," he says.

Best of all, Pennsylvania's taxpayers do not have to be transferred from office to office to get their questions answered. "It's really hard to compare what we were doing prior to January 1998," Fleishman says. "But what we did notice was the compliments. We actually have people saying, 'Thank you for your help, even though we have to pay taxes.'"

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