Call Centers


Don’t Trade Customer Satisfaction for Call Center Efficiency

Increasing contact center efficiency has always been a clear path to cutting costs, regardless of economic conditions. Increasing productivity and doing more with existing resources are now more important than ever, but cutting call center costs does not have to result in poorer customer service.

Unfortunately, many contact center professionals in the trenches believe that delivering a truly superior customer experience comes with too high a price tag, particularly against the backdrop of a global recession. Efficiency and its associated cost savings are, in fact, perfectly compatible with high satisfaction levels.

Put another way, it’s the inefficiency that causes much of the dissatisfaction in the first place. Here are five tips for raising contact center productivity and improving the customer experience.

Tip 1: Do Away With Copy and Paste

Agents are often forced to copy and paste data across several applications, putting companies at risk for mistakes that cost time and money, trigger serious compliance penalties, and cause repetitive strain injuries to agents.

Automation technologies exist that can streamline a number of manual workflows. Examples include automating repetitive application login processes, automatically synchronizing customer data across systems whenever a customer record is changed, and automatically opening and navigating a knowledge management system for certain call types.

Tip 2: Present Personalized Up-Sell and Cross-Sell Offers

Despite initial enthusiasm for up-selling and cross-selling, these are falling out of favor with contact centers because attempts have been frustrating to both agents and customers. This is a huge missed opportunity. Most customers appreciate it when an agent knows enough about them to offer them something they truly need or that can save them time or money.

Automating the offer look-up process and presenting the offer to the agent in real-time at the proper stage of the call flow can dramatically improve up-sell revenue performance.

When companies start to grasp the potential of this idea, simple but creative solutions can emerge. For example, a retail bank recently decided to extend the processes already defined for its customer Web site to the system that its community of several thousand bank tellers use in the branches. As on the Web site, the system presents the bank tellers with customized up-sell offers for gold-level customers in a pop-up window. Now the tellers can present the up-sell offers without having to research whether customers are eligible based on their status and buying history.

Before this elegant “joined-up” approach became available, the bank was missing out on a massive opportunity to use its large community of tellers for face-to-face selling, which is always more likely to be successful than telephone or online efforts. In addition, the bank’s marketing organization now receives real-time feedback on the success or failure of marketing programs.

Tip 3: Create a Unified View of Customer Data

Contact center agents in almost every large organization need to interact with many different applications in order to properly service customers. Considering that each application has its own unique user interface and navigational logic, and that the vast majority were not designed for contact center agents, it’s no wonder that agent productivity and customer satisfaction suffer in this environment.

In the past, integrating these applications has been complicated, time-consuming and expensive work — which is why, in many cases, it simply hasn’t happened. The technology used to build these applications varies dramatically (Java, .Net, C, C++, C#, PowerBuilder, COBOL, etc.) and the applications themselves often reside in different places (installed on a desktop or mainframe, or delivered via the Web through a hosted system).

Desktop-level integration tools are now available that allow IT professionals to quickly build a single contact center agent “dashboard.” It unites all these applications into a single screen and shares the data across them so information only needs to be entered once, and then all other systems are updated. This speeds access to important customer data, shortens call handling and wait times, streamlines agent training processes and, ultimately, improves customer satisfaction.

This can be especially valuable for outsourced contact centers, which service a number of clients. Instead of training agents on a client’s processes across a myriad of applications, a unified user interface can dramatically improve productivity, especially if there is a need to shift an agent from one client to another.

Tip 4: Automate Compliance Mandates

Complying with company, client or government mandates introduces a number of challenges for agents and organizations alike. Compliance mandates — such as accurately capturing and logging call activity, reading mandatory disclosure statements, and performing necessary credit or other types of verification steps — add complexity to a given customer interaction. They often require an agent to remember and correctly follow defined business rules that may vary from one customer to another. From an organizational perspective, it is often difficult to track the activity of every agent to know that compliance requirements are being met.

The automation of compliance-related agent workflows streamlines agent productivity, improves adherence to important compliance processes, and improves tracking and reporting on compliance performance. For example, a retail customer recently automated the presentation of government-mandated disclosure statements.

Agents previously needed to remember that a statement was required based upon a particular address location and then needed to look up the location-specific statement. Based upon the customer’s address in the CRM system of record, the automation does the necessary look-up and presents the agent with the specific disclosure statement at the proper stage of the call flow. Another automation requires that the agent confirm completion of the compliance process before the call can be closed. The organization now ensures compliance and has the proper backup records.

Tip 5: Auto-Navigate Applications

In-bound support calls result in a significant amount of wasted time and effort. Although computer telephony integration (CTI) or softphone applications pop up with basic customer or telephone information, the agent still needs to launch the appropriate applications and navigate to specific pages within them.

Integrating CTI or softphone applications with the core agent applications (e.g. CRM) and automating the navigation to the correct customer record within an application improves agent productivity and drives customer satisfaction gains.

Following some of these basic tips can help transform a call center into one of an organization’s most efficient departments, while contributing to overall customer loyalty.

Francis Carden is founder and chief evangelist of OpenSpan, which provides enterprises with a platform to integrate applications, service-enable legacy systems, automate business processes, extend functionality and build new composite applications.

1 Comment

  • Its AM azing to me how often people don’t realize the cost of poor customer service. I recently had to deal with one company on the phone over several days. It was AM azing how often I had to give them information I had already provided because "someone had not entered it corretly." CRMs and other data management systems go along way in creating a better user experience.

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