The Informed Agent

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I am proud to say I survived a dreadful home mortgage refinance experience and learned a few valuable lessons for companies along the way. I've been with my bank for a very long time--not out of loyalty, but out of convenience as there is a branch within blocks of my home. With them, I have a checking account, a savings account, several CDs, and they have held my primary mortgage for the last 10 years. When I started to think of refinancing my mortgage, the first place I looked for current rate information was my bank's Web site. But I was surprised to find out there wasn't much information on the site, so I called the bank for their rates. And, later that day when I visited my branch, I was quoted a substantially lower rate, which I took, and signed up for automatic payments. This was pretty painless--after three tries. My first payment was due on a day when the bank was closed. Online, I saw that my payment had not been made, and there was no notice of when it would be made. So, I called the bank, and after navigating the automated phone tree menu, I was connected to an agent who told me that nobody could help me on a weekend. She gave me the loan department's direct dial information but when I called the number on Monday morning, it took 10 minutes of navigating the phone tree again to be connected with an agent who told me that she could only help me with my home equity loan, a loan that I do not have, and not my mortgage. When I asked to be transferred to someone who could help me, I was told this was not possible--all she could do was route me to the correct phone tree that would eventually connect me to a human. At this point, if I could have switched banks, I would have done so. Instead of being frustrated with the agent, I started to consider what was important to me in my interactions with my bank--like a $5 a month fee to speak to a human every time I called, instead of getting lost in a phone tree. Or for the bank to know the types of accounts I hold with them and my banking preferences. I wanted them to know me and to consider that my time was valuable--to understand that their job was to quickly and accurately answer my questions, and to enhance the experience by suggesting offers that were applicable to my particular situation. I wanted to be able to use my bank's Web site to find answers on my own, and to have the option of connecting to a live agent, through a chat session, email, or a phone call, who would have a record of my searches so I did not have to repeat myself. And I wanted to be able to ask a question, either over the phone or over email, and get the same answer every time. Call centers really do need to pay attention to this wish list. Today, industries such as banking are becoming commoditized. Customers have little brand loyalty and shop by price, typically on the Web. But like me, customers are also searching for a good service experience and oftentimes will pay a premium to be assured of such service. Good service builds trust and loyalty. And only when you have a receptive customer base can you be successful at marketing to them. The technology is available to make this all happen. Integrating knowledge bases with traditional CRM solutions, however, is not enough. Agents also need access to sophisticated knowledge retrieval methods that narrow search results so that they aren't overwhelmed with too many solutions. Tools such as decision trees, interview guides, and clarifying questions must be used in conjunction with search to quickly target the right answer. An agent's desktop should display similar questions linked to the solution under consideration as well as the latest service alerts so that the agent can easily anticipate and answer follow-on questions. New and changed content in the knowledge base should also be proactively pushed to the agent's desktop. An agent should be empowered to add new content so that knowledge of a company can grow organically in step with customers' changing needs. If the agent cannot answer a question using this plethora of knowledge retrieval tools, he should be able to escalate the issue to second-level support and preserve the session history so that the customer does not need to repeat the discovery process. Using these tools customers would be guaranteed to have consistent, accurate answers to their questions, regardless of the channel. This positive experience can lead to trust and future sales. If my bank had this customer service software, I would be really happy and perhaps even refer a friend or two. About the Author Kate Leggett is the director of product management for the Knowledge Management product line at KANA. Please visit www.KANA.com
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