• February 25, 2009
  • By Graciela Tiscareño-Sato, senior global marketing manager, unified communications, Siemens Enterprise Communications

The Gopher Effect: Improve Agent Retention and First-Call Resolution

Are the experts your agents rely on to solve customer problems always inside your contact center? If yes, then you understand the "gopher effect"-agents popping up to see who's available to help a customer on the line.

But if your organization is like most, the answer is no. Subject matter experts (SMEs) are typically elsewhere. As contact center staffing increasingly mirrors the patterns of our mobile and dispersed workforce, the SMEs your agents need are rarely in the building.

Without the right application strategy to connect agents with experts, first-contact resolution (FCR) rates remain low. FCR is the metric measuring an organization's ability to resolve a customer's inquiry in one call. Additionally, customer defections skyrocket and agent satisfaction plummets. The result is lost revenue from poor customer retention and expensive operational inefficiencies.

The integrated SOA cockpit

Enter the era of unified communications (UC) architected on services-oriented architecture (SOA) and built on open standards-software designed for maximum integration into applications and business processes. These new solutions provide agents a single view of all customer databases, access to corporate directories and enhance communications, regardless of location.

What's the value of embracing SOA to enable new services within the contact center, the enterprise, and between the two? The componentized nature of SOA means code is reusable. IT staff can design new ways to link services that deliver innovative approaches to address business process and workflow requirements.

For example, today's familiar agent desktops can now serve as an intuitive SOA-based customer interaction cockpit into which audio conferencing services and real-time availability are displayed. Agents can easily collaborate with SMEs even when neither is inside the center.

When a contact center is virtualized this way, knowledge can flow quickly and accurately to address customers' questions. FCR rates become a competitive advantage.

The FCR challenge

Rick Tillotson, assistant information technology director for telecommunications, at the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB), previewed these new capabilities.

TASB is one of the strongest school board associations in the country, serving all 1,036 Texas school districts. Among many other services, TASB offer members property-casualty, unemployment, and workers' compensation coverage. Their risk management unit fields most of the 190,000 annual calls into their centers.

In 2004, TASB installed a presence-enabled Siemens contact center solution to better serve their membership. TASB has excellent, real-time visibility of agents, supervisors, and managers within various centers for voice contacts plus home-based agents throughout Texas. However, Tillotson said, "Agents continue to be challenged when they need access to mobile managers and experts who sit outside the center."

Tillotson continues, "Many of our callers are educators who make quick calls and return to the classroom. FCR is very important to us and that means getting all the resources fast. With training, hearings, and travel, we can't keep our experts tied to a desk."

Seeing the value of SOA today

Tillotson was shown how a professional services staff could bridge the contact center and the enterprise using SOA components by embedding open, enterprise-class, UC software into contact center agents' desktops.

An agent's desktop with embedded UC capabilities like instant messaging (IM), audio, or Web conferencing, will deliver excellent customer interaction with expanded ways to reach SMEs. Tillotson recognized the value of this integration was two-fold.

First, measurably higher FCR rates, shorter call handling times, and higher customer satisfaction become immediately possible. "With this level of integration, it's just as easy to contact remote managers and experts as it is to reach agents within the centers," Tillotson said. "They can connect with experts using these new capabilities embedded in our software."

If the expert is unavailable, the agent sets a "tell-me-when" alert, tracking his voice or IM availability status using a sophisticated presence engine. When the expert becomes available, the solution initiates a chat session or voice call to their preferred device.\

Secondly, virtualized contact centers deliver valuable personnel benefits for recruiting and retention in a highly competitive market, Tillotson explained. TASB agents and claims processors demand flexible work arrangements so TASB utilizes work-at-home options in their retention strategy.

But how to satisfy the agents' need to see who is available to help them in real-time during a call? "With this type of SOA application, agents can connect with available experts who will help them help their customers," Tillotson said. "Experts at home, in hearings, in training, traveling, or just away from their cube are still accessible. It's the value of the ‘gopher effect' within their intuitive desktop-very exciting!"

The link between SOA strategy and achieving measurably improved FCR is now clear-agents can be equipped with blended UC solutions to resolve customer inquiries on the first attempt, within the familiar environment of their existing tools. Plus, when agents are able to work from home or remote offices, they become more loyal and retention rates markedly improve.

About the Author

Graciela Tiscareño-Sato (grace.tiscareno-sato@siemens.com) is senior global marketing manager for unified communications with Siemens Enterprise Communications. She has a unique global perspective on how and where UC solutions, architected on SOA, are being successfully implemented by organizations around the world. For more information on SOA applications from Siemens, please visit www.siemens.com/open.

Please note that the Viewpoints listed in CRM magazine and appearing on destinationCRM.com represent the perspective of the authors, and not necessarily those of the magazine or its editors. If you would like to submit a Viewpoint for consideration on a topic related to customer relationship management, please email viewpoints@destinationCRM.com.

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