Contact Centers Chatting to Success

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As part of the ongoing effort to making contact centers more profitable, upselling and cross-selling to customers have frequently been the focus of attention. But not all customers are created equal, and not everyone likes to interact with contact centers in the same manner. Companies have had to respond by making themselves available via phone, email, Web self-service, and now even Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs, chat, forums, and wikis.

“Clearly you look at the older generations, and in a lot of cases, they want to pick up the phone and talk to a live person because that’s what they’re accustomed to,” says Rob Bois, research director at AMR Research. “Increasingly, it’s the consumer generation that’s demanding more and more technology to be incorporated [into] how they’re serviced.”

Nowhere is this more prevalent than in Generation Y—born between 1977 and 1994 and representing approximately 72.5 million people in America, according to Census Bureau data, only slightly fewer than the 75.8 million Baby Boomers. At destinationCRM 2008, CRM magazine’s annual conference this past August, Tim Bajarin, president of consultancy Creative Strategies, explained in a keynote presentation that “Generation Y’s worldview is digital; they grew up with nothing else and have no correlation to analog anymore.”

John Ragsdale, vice president of technology research for the Service and Support Professionals Association, says that companies are finally starting to understand chat’s potential. “People are realizing that chat is an important…money-generating channel,” he says.

Bearing this in mind, companies such as Agoura Hills, Calif.–based live and automated Web-chat provider Conversive are looking for ways to combine commerce with pleasure for Gen Y. “There’s no question that having Web chat available appeals to end users who are classic Generation Y because they text all the time,” explains Conversive Chief Executive Officer Bob Williams.

Williams argues that his company is taking chat a step further with Conversive Live Automation, combining automated and live chat—thereby allowing technology to handle simple inquiries and escalating difficult questions to agents. The solution, he adds, doesn’t presuppose whether a customer will get an automated or live response—it’s an organic decision determined by the situation. When a customer submits a question, an automation engine provides a customer service representative with a potential response and a confidence factor, indicating how sure the engine is of the answer. If confidence is high, the rep can simply press enter and send the message. If not, the agent can then take over the chat and find the correct answer.

Other vendors, such as customer service solution provider RightNow Technologies and customer interaction management provider Talisma, an nGenera company, claim to be taking chat to a proactive level. Rule engines allow agents to start a conversation with users based on, for example, time period, number of searches, customer profitability, or agent availability. Talisma Chief Executive Officer Dan Vetras likens it to a concierge service. “We’re reaching out and trying to help,” he says. “That could be traditional customer support, but also cross-selling, upselling, and revenue generation as a result.”

Another benefit to chat in the contact center is that, as customers become more comfortable with this Web 2.0 technology in their own lives, the newest class of agents—predominantly Generation Y—are equally conversant in its nuances. “Just because you’re a fantastic phone agent doesn’t mean you’ve got the quick or appropriate typing skills by text,” Ragsdale explains. “That’s one place younger workers coming into support centers today have the advantage. They grew up chatting and understand the channel really well.”

Ragsdale also notes, though, that these agents must be trained specifically to chat in a professional setting and should be monitored. “Just make sure they cut the cute shortcuts and acronyms,” he writes in his blog. “‘LOL’ and various emoticons do not belong in business chat.”

Several of the stories in this month’s Insight refer to information and presentations from our recent destinationCRM 2008 conference. For more of our coverage from the show, please visit http://snurl.com/dCRM08.

Every month, CRM magazine covers the customer relationship management industry and beyond. To subscribe, please visit http://www.destinationcrm.com/subscribe/.

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