Call Center Agent Gets the Call

Workforce optimization has become CRM's latest calling card. A recent report by London-based researcher Datamonitor shows a growing trend in using technology to make the call service agent more efficient. Unlike traditional call center investments that leverage technology to reduce the human role by driving traffic to the Web, this new wave of CRM spending aims to enable real workers. "Companies are shifting away from obscure CRM technologies and are beginning to focus on more concrete call center solutions," said David Spindel, Datamonitor analyst, in a statement. Enabling the call-center agent isn't easy. Recently, an agent's job has expanded from answering telephones to servicing various communications channels (such as email and online chat), using new call-center applications (such as interaction management and information retrieval), and assuming the role of salesperson for cross selling and up-selling. The latter, experts say, represents a giant cultural shift, considering many customer service representatives abhor the act of selling. It's no wonder retention levels among call center agents are steadily decreasing, claims Datamonitor. According to a call center compensation survey, blended inbound and outbound customer service and sales agent turnover in North America increased to a whopping 94 percent last year, up from 61 percent in 2000. All of which points to a need for technology to better manage this vital yet fickle work force. Two-thirds of all call-center costs are directly related to the customer-service agents, according to Datamonitor. And over the next five years, companies are expected to spend nearly $1.5 billion on technologies used to improve agent performance, such as e-learning, agent analytics, workforce management and quality monitoring. The chart below shows how each of these application segments will carve up the market in 2007.
Quality-management and workforce management software vendors are jockeying to own this new workforce optimization market, says Datamonitor. Moreover, the lines between each standalone application segment are blurring. Integration with enterprise systems is also becoming critical. "Effective workforce optimization requires coordination among people, processes, and data dispersed throughout the enterprise," said Jon Derome, program manager for market researcher Yankee Group's business applications and commerce division. Blue Pumpkin, for instance, unveiled today Blue Pumpkin Fusion, a work-force optimization platform based on J2EE. This will allow companies to integrate telecommunications, CRM, human resources, and other enterprise information systems with work-force optimization applications for a 360-degree view of the agent, Blue Pumpkin claims. Additionally, CRM vendor E.piphany launched its customer-relationship management software E.Piphany Service 6 today, which supports complex, case management environments. The software puts customer information at customer service agents' fingertips, as well as ties into other CRM applications, back-office systems and analytics software. Tom Kaneshige also writes for Line56.com
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