• May 5, 2005
  • By Coreen Bailor, (former) Associate Editor, CRM Magazine

Customers Gather 'Round Virtual Contact Centers

Top of mind for the roughly 300 business leaders, customers, and analysts attending Witness Systems' Driving Innovation user conference in Las Vegas this week was virtual customer contact. Key, current customer touch point behaviors were underscored, most prominently by David Gould, chairman and CEO, in his keynote at the ninth annual gathering: Businesses are starting to record customer interactions outside of the contact center, such as in branch offices. The philosophy, he said, "is anybody that touches a customer should be considered part of this virtual customer interaction." Much of the interest in creating a virtual contact center (VCC) is in its ability to incorporate agents outside of a traditional contact center hub, and adding resources like outsourced locations and home-based agents. Elizabeth Ussher, an industry analyst, said that in the recent past, "the advantage and flexibility of home-based agents [had been] recognized, but IP telephony wasn't there yet and the ability to train and monitor [these agents] was difficult" Now, however, "we've got built-from-the-ground-up monitoring tools [specifically for IP telephony]. The last hurdles to cross is the culture, and whether or not your organization is ready for the change." Gould also made a splash by using a device that captured attendees' responses and generated those results. He posed a series of questions to gauge listeners' opinion, revealing, for instance, that 37 percent said their organizations outsource call centers beyond the United States; 9 percent expect to in the next two years, and 54 percent indicated no plans to do so. Only 16 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with those centers, however; 29 percent were somewhat satisfied; and 55 percent were unsatisfied. Regarding plans to deploy IP telephony in the contact center, 15 percent said they already are implemented; 17 percent plan to do so in the next year; 27 percent in the next two years; and 41 percent have no plans. In another conference session, Gian Brackin, director of systems at New York Life Insurance Company (NYLIC), presented a first-call resolution issue, "Bringing It All Together: The Factors for Success." First-call resolution is a metric, according to Brackin, which NYLIC has struggled with: The company uses a Genesys T-Server 6.1, eQuality's Balance 6.4.9, and Blue Pumpkin's Director Enterprise 4.2, and direct markets specifically to AARP membership. That organization asked NYLIC to benchmark itself against the 23 other providers that deliver services for the AARP membership to see how it ranked alongside them. "We found that we were not doing everything that our peer group was doing. We wanted to be able to drill down and capture information, and benchmarking was part of that," Brackin said. The company's key metrics include a service level of answering 80 percent of calls within 25 seconds, abandonment rates of less than 3 percent, and adherence to schedule of 90 percent. Part of the problem surrounding first-call resolution, she says, is having a claims department and an underwriting department that don't like to take phone calls. "We take a lot of the front-end calls....They will make calls back out to the customer and actually leave our front-end number and say, Call us back, and then we have to transfer it. This is why we get dragged down in first-call resolution." Another highlight of the conference was Nancy Treaster, senior vice president of global marketing at Witness, presenting a workforce optimization maturity model. In a level-by-level breakdown of how organizations are using workforce optimization technology in their contact centers, she said, "The question is, where you are in terms of being ready to use all that technology, because if you're not ready to use it you need to figure out what it is you're trying to accomplish and how you're going to get there." A breakdown of the model follows:
  • Level-zero organizations, at the bottom of the model, "still mainly use...tape recorders or spreadsheets for their forecasting and scheduling," Treaster said.
  • Level-one companies are focused on productivity, operationally making progress and adding value to functions within their organizations by automating processes.
  • Level-two businesses have begun to go beyond basic efficiencies and are implementing technology to focus on broader issues like first-call resolution.
  • Level-three businesses are where a call center begins to challenge itself to become a strategic asset to the organization by examining metrics like root-cause analysis, sharing information with other departments, and renewing its focus on agent satisfaction.. "Think about your visibility," said Kathleen Peterson, founder and chief vision officer at PowerHouse Consulting, who urged contact centers to move from purely tactical activities to blending those activities into a strategic objective. "If all you report on is productive measures...we cannot be surprised that we're looked at as a factory. How you report has to be linked with strategy."
  • Level four is the visionary category: Organizations begin to take advantage of the promise of VoIP. "There's the opportunity to take knowledge workers outside of the contact center and use them to create an extremely high level of customer service," Treaster said. She knows of no customers at level four yet, but insisted that "it's coming," and "you need to think about this." Related articles: Convergence in the Contact Center Autonomy Plans to Acquire Etalk NICE Buys Dictaphone's Recording Systems Business
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