Are You Being Serviced?
Call centers, contact centers, customer interaction centers … What are we talking about? The call center of yesterday evolved into the contact center of today and will become the customer interaction center of tomorrow. Technological advancements have changed communications and interaction types. The reception of the Web, VoIP and cellular communications has broadened our means of communication and increased our business opportunities. As a result, Internet technology revolutionizes the call center into the next-generation customer interaction center.
The next-generation customer interaction center is characterized by:
- An IP network-based infrastructure – extending the variety of communication media with VoIP and Web-based, as well as traditional means, like phone/fax/e-mail, all on the same infrastructure
- Globalization – using IP telephony to create a virtual call center, reducing hardware, software and call center costs
- Personalization – using CRMs, data mining and personalized customer service representatives to provide a service that is fine-tuned to meet each customer’s individual needs and characteristics
- A change in focus – moving from cost-center to profit center by redefining the call center with service, support, information and sales capabilities
Web-Enabling the Service Environment
The traditional call centers are evolving into customer interaction centers. With the growth of electronic commerce and customer relationship management initiatives, businesses must offer multimedia interaction centers that offer their customers complete convenience, choice and ease of use. It is important to meet these needs, because in today’s Internet age customers can easily locate and turn to your competitors. The differentiator between you and your competitor is excellent customer service, which increases customer satisfaction and, in turn, customer loyalty.
Customers are demanding interactive, Web-based contact and organizations with next-generation customer interaction centers will be equipped to fulfill this demand. Moving away from closed proprietary call center systems has allowed the integration of Web technologies with business applications, PBX platforms and back office databases. Customer interaction centers can offer multiple customer access channels from one IP infrastructure.
Web sites are becoming more widely seen as a vital complimentary technology. As the Web grows and gains power, so does its tools. Call center providers need to realize that although in today’s society the Web site compliments the contact center, tomorrow, it will move into a whole new direction. The next-generation customer interaction center supports the theory that in the future the call center may compliment the Web site. Offering Web-enabled services, such as chat, e-mail and Web collaboration (application sharing so that the agent and customer can browse Web pages simultaneously) is critical to providing better communications means. Additionally, Voice over IP and Video over IP are becoming increasingly more popular and customers are seeing its value.
Web-enabled call centers can increase customer satisfaction while decreasing call center costs. There are significant cost savings to using the Internet rather than initiating live calls via the PSTN. Also, next-generation customer interaction centers present organizations with the ability to reduce the cost of each interaction and maximize agent effectiveness in providing better customer services.
Using VoIP in the Customer Interaction Center
Voice and Video over IP mark a change in the way people can conduct realtime communications. With Voice over IP turning the Internet into a virtual phone and Video over IP changing the idea of face-to-face, it is an understatement to say that our sense of communicating has evolved. In next-generation customer interaction centers, organizations can use this electronic form of face-to-face to enhance service, support and sell.
VoIP is the most sophisticated form of live Internet interactions for customer/agent communications. The two can speak directly through a multimedia PC that is equipped with an Internet phone that accepts VoIP calls. Using this technology the agent can simultaneously speak with the customer and use shared browsing to enhance the contact.
IP Telephony and Globalization
Incorporating IP telephony into an organization creates a single network system that can handle all types of media without using exchanges. It is a singular infrastructure that supports all data, voice and video technologies within its own network. Hardware and software are compact and affordable and the addition of devices is significantly reduced. Additionally it is a lower capital-equipment investment, ensuring the reduced total cost of ownership for the system.
The business benefits of an IP telephony structure range from enhanced productivity and profitability through new IP-based applications to a near infinite solution scalability from single site to multi site network service providers services. The IP-based applications support the integrated multimedia queuing while also allowing enterprise-wide contact management based on a single set of business rules. With rapid solution deployment, much faster than traditional PBX solutions, organizations significantly enhance their competitive advantages.
Through the omnipresence of IP transport, organizations using this infrastructure can afford geographic independence of both agent resources and IP-based application servers. In laymen terms, organizations can have a location free contact center that is based off of the IP infrastructure. All hardware and software need not be in one building. Agents can be dispersed all over the world, while their managers can still keep track of their work productivity. All that is needed for complete globalization is an agent with a Web-enabled PC. Organizations can begin saving costs on overtime by hiring people to work in specific time zones; or save on the support staff by using a single network, eliminating the overhead of multiple diverse data, voice and video networks. Additionally, using a single network reduces the price of redirecting calls to remote agents or agents in international contact centers.
Becoming a Profit Center
To become more of a sales center, call center managers are planning a large increase in outbound calling, and even with the end of cold calling (telemarketing), organizations are expecting to reap profits. Why? Businesses will employ data mining technology to review, understand and strategically use historical customer information from the organization’s databases. Studying the caller’s personal information, previous call activity and service and sales trends, the organization can allocate each caller a personalized customer service rep that best suits the caller’s profile, as well as assign a specific communication media based on the caller’s preference.
Once the call center system places the outbound call, it will be the agent’s responsibility to use the information derived from data mining to make a sale. The idea is for the agent to make the call relational as opposed to a sales call. A relational call requires the agent to focus on who the customer is rather than what the organization is selling. By matching the needs of the customer’s profile, the agent keeps satisfaction high and creates a sales opportunity. Initiatives, like up selling and cross selling, will become more like action items as opposed to theories. Agents will impressively increase sales numbers by selling (up or cross) to the organization’s existing and new customers.
Incorporating tomorrow’s contact center will help organizations focus on business and not technology. It will require less hardware, software and IT support, while providing the means to sell, service and support at lower costs.
Adam Gur is President and Chief Executive Officer of Composit Communications International. He has more than 20 years of experience in management, research and development, and marketing in the software industry.