Contact Center Best Practices
Do customers cringe at the thought of calling your contact center? Are your agents possessed by the frustration of lacking the right tools to deliver better service faster? Fear not! There are three key best practices that analysts and consultants agree can help to keep you from starring in yet another horror story featuring expensive contact center software that never did what it was supposed to do.
The first is clearly defining the business objectives and the payback expected. Although it sounds simple, it is too frequently overlooked--and can make the difference between valuable software and expensive shelfware.
The second is wisely employing some form of knowledge management. This need not be esoteric or involve yet another expensive piece of software, but it does mean you need to think about the kind of internal, corporate knowledge that your contact center agents need to do their job effectively and efficiently.
Finally, know your customers. If you don't have a handle on customer behavior, how can you expect to automate your response to it?
TaylorMade-adidas Golf, BMC Software, and Alaska Communications have successfully employed these best-practice strategies, and have found that the only scary thing about them was the thought of what might have been had they not used them.
TaylorMade: Define the Job
When Rob McClellan joined TaylorMade-adidas Golf two years ago, one of the systems he inherited was the consumer response center, a rather unsophisticated email system. "Our agents would typically cut and paste responses to commonly asked questions: specifications on golf clubs, warranty issues, etc.," McClellan says.
But there were also some highly technical questions about golfing equipment that had to be routed to TaylorMade engineers. "I had no visibility into the process," McClellan says. "Things like quality of response and timeliness were a complete mystery. We could have a consumer on the cusp of making a big purchasing decision, and I had no way of knowing whether we delivered the right information or thoroughly annoyed the person."
McClellan knew he needed to upgrade the email support system, but before he went shopping for software he made sure he understood what he was trying to accomplish. "We had some clearly defined criteria," McClellan says. "We needed to track performance and productivity. I had to have visibility. I also wanted to validate ROI in less than twelve months. Without that I would not have been able to get approval for the capital request. And, finally, we needed a feedback loop in place that could validate the effectiveness of the system."
McClellan chose Kana Software due to its strength in email customer service. "Kana is particularly good in email management and Web routing," says Elizabeth Hurrell, an analyst with the Giga Information Group.
TaylorMade implemented the software in July 2001, and so far McClellan is pleased. "We have a 100 percent increase in productivity and we have recouped 100 percent of our investment."
He justifies these figures with the fact that email volume has doubled and TaylorMade can handle it with the same staff of two full-time agents. These are hard dollars, easy to measure, but he also thinks there are more soft dollars in savings and increased profit that are harder to quantify.
McClellan credits much of this success to the software, but he also says that if you do not attend to the primary directive in best practices, the best software in the world will not help you much. "Set your objectives," he says. "If you don't have the discipline to do this then you could end up using Kana the same way you use any email client, and then you have just bought a very expensive email system."
BMC: Manage Your Knowledge
Weaving corporate knowledge into your solution is one of the most important contact center best practices, according to Ike Mitchell, principal consultant at CSC, the consulting and outsourcing giant in El Segundo, Calif. "Knowledge management is a huge part of CRM and contact centers," Mitchell says.
And this is especially true for a company like BMC Software Inc. The Houston firm sells several different lines of enterprise software. It takes a deep knowledge base to support this kind of complex product line.
Typically, as was the case with BMC, the knowledge about such products and services is there, somewhere inside the company, but making it available to the right person at the right time is a challenge. "This is one of the reasons we chose Attenza," explains Ken Skinner, vice president for customer support at BMC. "They helped us find the knowledge items that our customers need to solve common problems."
BMC rolled out its first Attenza customer support site in February 2002. It is Web-based, support software that runs in a full application service provider (ASP) hosted mode. "We liked Attenza's ASP model," Skinner says, "since this put a minimal impact on our IT organization."
The site, which provides service and support for BMC's backup and recovery product line, SQL Backtrack, took about six weeks to implement. The software is fully branded so BMC customers never know they are leaving the BMC Web site when they start looking for answers.
Preliminary ROI figures are in. "We have seen the caseload on SQL Backtrack [cases handled by live customer service agents] decrease by ten percent, since we went fired up the site," Skinner says.
Skinner also hopes to get some more compelling ROI statistics. "We would like to verify that a Web interaction really did prevent a call to a live agent. This is hard to prove, but Attenza has analysis tools to help us do this."
Alaska Communications: Understand the Customer
A few years ago Alaska Communications Systems Group Inc. (ACS) took a closer look at its call center. "We had our CSRs log the types of calls they take over a two month period," says Michael Jones, senior manager for business solutions at ACS, "and we found that about twenty percent of them were billing questions."
Jones believed these questions could be routed to an automated system and that the savings in labor could quickly pay for the cost of implementing the software.
"We calculated that a reduction of just four percent in billing questions would generate a 100 percent ROI in twelve to eighteen months," Jones says.
These numbers helped Jones get the project approved, and in the fall of 2000 he went looking for vendors. Santa Clara, Calif.--based Edify Corp. got the job. "We chose Edify for their flexibility and because we liked the bid," Jones says.
ACS used Edify's professional services to help with the implementation. "They met the deadline and came in under budget," Jones says. "We went live April 2001."
And the numbers proved themselves. "Without any advertising we now have six percent of calls going through the automated menu system," Jones says.
The ACS call center upgrade was relatively painless, and Jones credits a very simple best practice as the reason. "We took the time to do a study up front and find out what kinds of calls our CSRs were really getting. You need to quantify this with hard numbers, and not rely on legends and rumors." As a result ACS was able to quickly implement both a strategy and a software that has already paid for itself.