Integrated Call Center Solutions for the Enterprise
Early, Cloud & Company
An IBM Company
Thanks to CRMXchange.com
Corporations are paying more than just lip service to the need to improve customer service. When it comes to investing in new computer technology for customer service, companies are making major strategic investments. Literally, billions of IT dollars are being spent annually. According to a 1995 study by Computer Sciences Corporation entitled, “Critical Issues of Information Systems Management,” customer service as a functional area is the number one area slated for budget priorities among IT executives in North America and Europe. In addition, several market studies over the past five years have established the fact that the higher customer retention rates companies gain by providing high quality customer service lead to increased profitability, regardless of industry.
Many large organizations today manage most of their customer service contact functions via their telephone-based “call centers.” A call center is any group of agents and/or automated voice response units (VRUs) that support customer contact functions over the telephone assisted by computers. A major focus of call center automation is on such activities as customer service, order entry, reservations, help desks, dispatch systems, telesales, telemarketing, collections and other inbound and outbound applications. Experience with now-ubiquitous 800 numbers has shown that improved call center integration can increase agent productivity and information access, enhance revenues, reduce costs, and enable higher quality, more personalized customer service over the telephone. With all of these benefits, it is no wonder that businesses are investing heavily in computer technology designed to improve enterprise-wide call center integration.
Large-scale call centers today face many market and technology pressures. The trend toward distributed, client/server computing is compelling, as is the desire for new, easier-to-use client applications built with modern graphical user interfaces (GUIs). Despite the fact that large-scale call centers have traditionally been the exclusive domain of mainframe applications, the move to migrate to client/server-based systems is in full swing, especially at major organizations that are undertaking downsizing, rightsizing or business process re-engineering projects.
What is an Integrated Call Center Solution?
Call center solutions can include customer contact management systems, interactive voice response (IVR) units, integrated fax, automated dialing capabilities and workflow management systems. Many companies are now using computer telephony integration (CTI), which links the call center telephone switch to a host computer or server, and enhances these applications with new capabilities such as automatic transfer of customer information to an agent’s workstation when a call is forwarded to that agent. This provides additional gains in productivity, profitability and service levels. In addition, business workflow that automates the communication among agents or multiple departments can dramatically reduce paper trails and their associated costs.
Benefits of Enterprise-Wide Call Center Integration
Call centers implemented at the workgroup level are very limited in the scope of business benefits they can offer an organization. They can and often are built using only PC-based technologies in a LAN environment. An enterprise-wide, integrated call center solution, in which a single, large-scale center or group of regional centers meet all of an organization’s needs, requires a set of capabilities and technologies that can meet several stringent requirements:
-preserve investments in legacy applications and data through integration of legacy applications and data with new client/server systems;
-enable seamless integration of client/server and host environments;
-offer the benefits of object-based computing, asynchronous processing, and message-oriented middleware;
-move beyond mere connectivity to true workflow automation, allowing the building of enterprise-wide systems that support the implementation of business rules and their dynamic evolution;
-comprehensive reporting and monitoring facilities;
-provide an ideal platform for high-quality, enterprise-wide customer service that leverages the benefits of a mixed client/server and host-based environment.
Today’s heavy investment in call center automation allows many companies with large-scale call center operations to improve the bottom line. The payback period for new call center equipment and applications can be quick — even one year or less.
Call center integration specifically allows companies to:
-improve the quality of customer service by providing the information instantly on the agent’s screen;
-shorten the length of telephone calls (and increase the number of calls handled per agent per day);
-increase productivity among agents, and thereby either reduce head count or increase the level of services without adding incremental staff;
-reduce the amount of agent training time required each time a new product or service is offered, or when a new computer system, peripheral or application comes on line;
-reduce the reliance on slow, unwieldy paperwork;
-increase customer satisfaction by delivering prompt, courteous and knowledgeable service that does not require callers to repeat their questions as they are routed through the organization;
-increase revenues resulting from cross-selling opportunities; and,
-facilitate complex business functions by providing the necessary electronic business workflow and message-based routing and querying functions.
While all companies hope to increase productivity and minimize costs, for many the main objective was higher quality customer service. This is because superior customer service in today’s competitive business climate is a strategic advantage. Companies evaluating new call center solutions are looking for the following benefits, in order of priority, according to a recent IDC survey: improved quality of service and customer satisfaction, 91 percent; increased number of calls per agent, 69 percent; reduced telephone costs, 66 percent; lower agent training costs, 56 percent; reduced costs of sales, 47 percent; and increased revenues, 38 percent.
Building the Enterprise-Wide Client/Server Call Center
The challenge for call center managers today is to take the best of the old and the new: i.e., to build an integrated, enterprise-wide solution that supports legacy applications and data, yields high-volume on-line transaction processing, and seamlessly supports new GUI-based client applications on the agents’ desktop. Systems in which host-based data and applications act as the enterprise server — in cooperation with workgroup servers and client PCs on the agents’ desks — can provide enterprise-wide client/server call center solutions. Such systems improve the productivity of call centers in many industries, and offer companies the path to the ultimate large-scale call center –one in which agents get the information they need instantly, enabling the company to meet or exceed customers’ expectations for time convenience, immediacy of response and instantly-available information.
Call Center Market Segments
Market researchers have identified three segment levels as a way to define the call center market: formal call centers, informal call centers and personal productivity/telephony. Generally, these three segments correspond to three distinct levels of solution complexity:
FORMAL call centers are facilities at which all calls are handled by a group of agents, the business activity is highly focused (e.g., inbound/outbound telemarketing, customer support or order entry), and the telephone is the primary means of conducting business. Historically, formal call centers have been the province of large, complex operations, where major organizations manage multiple sites and lines of business by deploying highly customized mainframe-based solutions.
The INFORMAL call center concept refers to the enabling of call center-like functions delivered to the desktops of professional/clerical staff to enhance customer service. This includes, for example, providing CTI capabilities for subject matter experts, such as engineers, who offer services such as technical support for either internal or external contacts. Informal call centers occupy the middle ground, generally comprising a single line of business with a moderate level of complexity and sometimes following the client/server model of computing rather than mainframe hosts.
The PERSONAL productivity/telephony level is represented by desktop telephony applications for individual professionals, including such features as personal phone directories, incoming call management and outbound call scheduling. The personal productivity/telephony type solution, which is still an emerging segment, is primarily a workgroup or departmental–rather than enterprise–solution, which is characterized by LAN-based platforms and simple, shrink-wrapped solutions.
Beyond the Call Center:
Building Tomorrow’s Customer-Centric Environment
Based on the above, the call centers of the future, and the networks that support them, must eventually be transformed into a Customer-Centric Environment (CCE). The CCE must have the following features:
-The network that connects customers to a call center will be “virtual” and on-demand, based on a combination of private and public networking facilities;
-Call center resources will be connected over this virtual network; and,
-Call centers will be physically distributed but operate as logically integrated through a network-based virtual call center model.
Several key attributes drive the concept of the CCE model. First, the infrastructure must support expedient customer access to appropriate resources regardless of location, and enable those resources to deliver solutions that effectively meet the customers’ needs. The infrastructure must capture, retain and leverage customer data while enabling full information access through complete voice-data-image-video transfer across geographic and cross-functional boundaries. Also, the CCE must maintain standardized support levels to ensure consistently high-quality customer service.
The CCE must support multiple means of customer interaction with the organization. This includes the telephone as well as other points of interactive contact, such as on-line services and the Internet, video kiosks, and interactive television. Thus, the CCE must incorporate new and emerging technologies to meet customer needs in addition to leveraging the lower cost channels. This will enable businesses to capitalize on the opportunity to reduce expense levels for sales, general and administrative activities while simultaneously improving overall service quality.
The CCE approach provides benefits for both the supplier and its customers. It will streamline customer contact points, enable reliable information gathering, and improve revenue opportunities for products and service. Cost savings and efficiency improvements generated across the infrastructure through operational consolidation, network-based call volume, load management, and streamlined business processes and workflow automation. In summary, the customer satisfaction can be maximized, customer value can be optimized, sustainable competitive advantage can be built and a corporate image of customer service excellence can be achieved.
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