• August 1, 2006
  • By Ian Jacobs, vice president and research director, Forrester Research

Culture and Skills: The Right Route

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As a standard part of marketing their wares, all technology vendors like to present the possibilities of a thrilling future driven by their products and services. In the contact center space, one of the most common visions of that bright, shiny future includes exploding the boundaries of the contact center itself. Driven by technologies like VoIP and SIP, vendors of contact routing tools are touting the potential benefits of taking a customer service query, bypassing contact center agents, and routing it to a knowledge worker or domain expert--because, who better to answer an end user's technical support question on a high-end video card, for example, than the product manager for that product line? Or, who better to provide color on a statistical question than the researcher who gathered those numbers in the first place? The vision outstrips reality. While at some level all employees at a company should be concerned with the quality of customer care, there is dubious business value in having a highly paid product manager take the time to answer a standard question on a simple product problem. But, even if the problem is complex and the customer crucial to an enterprise's success, pushing customer support queries to employees with no training in customer service techniques is detrimental to the customer relationship. Until the culture and skills of customer service are extended out to the knowledge experts in an enterprise, routing customer service queries to them might simply cause greater headaches. These workers will have to want to receive customer interactions--even if it is a once-a-quarter occurrence--before such interactions are likely to be relationship-strengthening events. Here's a more realistic starting point for SIP-driven contact routing that goes beyond the confines of a call center: Let's assume I bought a fancy cell phone at a retail outlet of one of the major mobile carriers. In that transaction I dealt with a salesperson who pitched various services to me, each with various price levels and service commitments. When I walked out of the store I was happy with the phone, but the next day I realized that all the options I had been confronted with rattled my brain and I was confused about exactly which services I chose and which services come with additional costs. And, I wanted to know if I could pop out the SIM card in my phone on an overseas trip and pop in a cheap, locally bought SIM card. To get the answers to these questions, I called the 800 number for my mobile carrier. In a traditional setup my call would be routed into a general customer service queue and my query taken--eventually--by a call center agent sitting in a contact center 1,200 (or even 5,200) miles from my location. Although that agent could easily look up my plan, the phone I bought, and answer my question, that transaction would be rather impersonal. However, SIP-driven presence information and application integration could detect whether the salesperson who helped me the day before was busy with another customer--and if not, my call could be routed directly to that salesperson's extension at the retail store. I could then be helped by the same clerk and feel a high level of continuity of service. From the retail clerk's perspective, this interaction would be no different from my having popped into the store the day after my purchase to ask a few follow-up questions. In the situation I just described, because such follow-up care is a normal part of the retail clerk's job, answering my call and solving my issues would not create any cultural or process problems. Such nondisruptive interactions are exactly the types of situations that should be a starting point for enterprises looking to take advantage of the promise inherent in SIP technologies. Ian Jacobs is a strategic analyst at Frost & Sullivan. He can be reached at ian.jacobs@frost.com
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