article

Wowing the Customer

Posted: 01/2001

Wowing the Customer
Contact Center Needs to Leave Lasting Good Impression

By Roberta Tamburrino

After
the Telecommunications Act of 1996 passed, the seeds of a service revolution
were planted in the new marketplace.

The fruits of those seeds were supposed to be that customers no longer would
wait on hold endlessly to speak to a service representative. No longer would
their dollars equate to whether or not they received personalized service. No
longer would they face rude, angry, indifferent and undertrained service
personnel.

Customers would receive world-class customer experience, all for a percentage
discount over the RBOC standard pricing.

Of course like so many grand initiatives, the idea of providing world-class
service at no extra charge quickly was replaced by price battles, provisioning
issues, and infamous melees with incumbent carriers whose intentions to provide
service on a wholesale basis were nearly nonexistent.

All these circumstances forced the customer contact center–a key area of
contact in which a customer judges your capability as a service provider–into
the same mode as the RBOCs before them. Once again, customers came away feeling
frustrated and angry at what they perceived to be undertrained representatives
who provide indifferent service because of a lack of tools, culture and,
ultimately, support.

Today’s environment and the terms of engagement are much different. Pricing
remains a factor, though years of competition have made price nearly a nonissue
with the average consumer. Now, the same frustrations that plagued consumers in
1996 are the ones they look to avoid. Good, caring, competent customer service
remains a Holy Grail to most customers in our marketplace.

Aside from recruitment, training and cultural issues–all of which are
critical in the establishment of a service environment–the lack of proper tools
and logistical knowledge to run a proper customer contact center remains a
stumbling block for many companies in the industry today. Ultimately, the
flexibility and customer focus implemented into the customer contact center
operations will make the difference in loyalty versus disenchantment.

When commencing or rebuilding a customer contact center, five key areas need
to be investigated thoroughly before buying any software or telecommunications
platforms. This investigation should forecast at least five years ahead. You
should anticipate what your internal and customer needs will require at that
time. What will work five years from now may be overkill today; however, that
level of flexibility will accommodate your growth and the changing tastes of our
fickle marketplace, allowing you the strategic service advantage.

The first area centers around the phone system selected to run the customer
contact center. Traditional, standalone automatic call distributors (ACD) remain
prevalent. However, they are falling out of favor with the Internet-driven
generation. New, server-based platforms are replacing older versions, allowing
for all critical transactions to be managed on a single platform.

Examples of the new, integrated platforms include the eQueue 4000,
Millennium, and Enterprise models from eOn Communications Corp. (www.eoncc.com).

These systems link voice, e-mail and Internet applications on a single
platform. The systems allow for traditional queuing of calls based on
application and skill level, but also incorporate those same rules into e-mail
routing and chat room routing. Therefore, customers receive individual care
whether they choose to call, e-mail or display a chat room window from their
home or office.

Giving your customers the means to contact you any way they wish without
sacrificing quality of that contact is a clear advantage.

The second area to investigate is access to information. The mentality of
sequestering the contact center into a minimal access environment limits
representatives’ ability to service their customers. This results in frustration
and unnecessary escalations. In this labor market, intelligent, capable customer
service representatives seek environments that will allow them to achieve the
objective of ensuring customer loyalty. Their ability to make informed decisions
is paramount.

Even in this web-enabled business age, service representatives often are
denied access to the Internet. Network administrators often find themselves
threatened by the sheer number of representatives, and they believe that
allowing these people access can become a security issue.

While this is understandable, the mentality restricts the representatives’
ability to research, view and facilitate information to and from their
customers.

Representatives will be more successful if they understand their customers’
business, market and clientele. The personalized service that customers crave is
not possible if the representative treats the customer simply as a billed
telephone number (BTN) because they know nothing more about the account.

While a customer contact center’s logistics can be oversimplified, difficult
challenges will ultimately drive the center’s output. Because of this, the third
area to investigate is a logistics tool such as scheduling platforms that
eliminate the guesswork in forecasting, adherence and overall planning.

Blue Pumpkin Software Inc. (www.blue-pumpkin.com),
like its predecessors and current market dominators IEX Corp. (www.iex.com)
and TCS Communications Inc. (www.tcscomm.com),
provides comprehensive forecasting and scheduling solutions.

Linked real-time to the ACD, Blue Pumpkin accumulates and interprets data
based on business rules input by the call center administrator. Unlike its
predecessors, Blue Pumpkin is designed for ease of use, with a Windows-based
platform, well- digested information presented in charts and forecasts, and
comprehensive reporting.

Blue Pumpkin’s flexibility reflects an attitude shift from previous
platforms. The administrator does not want a predigested output; it needs a tool
that allows it to make staffing decisions based on anticipated customer needs.

The combination of history, forecasting and ease of use makes the platform a
popular piece of the new customer contact center.

Because integration is an issue with many centers, it is the fourth area of
discovery. Most centers are built piecemeal. One element is layered over
another, until the representatives are faced with researching internal
information in a multitude of systems–order tracking, billing, trouble
reporting, BOC and carrier interfaces, even paper files.

Integration of these elements eases the way into a world-class service
environment.

Increasingly popular with provisioning departments are the gateway systems
Telcordia Technologies Inc. (www.telcordia.com)
and similar providers offer. The gateways allow for one interface at the desktop
for service order transmission via fax, GUI, electronic data interchange (EDI)
or other platforms.

Gateway systems allow provisioning departments to move from the multiple-icon
interface toward a simpler, more efficient way to provision orders. The same
system also is transferable to a service environment.

Another advantage is that gateways may be customized to transmit trouble
tickets to multiple carriers using the same methodology.

With some innovation, gateway systems may even transfer tickets to internal
field personnel via a transfer to that system. The simpler the access to
information and to transmit information, the more efficient service becomes to
the end user.

Finally, companies should consider incorporating their procedures and product
information into an online help aid for their service representatives. This can
reduce the learning curve and allow for consistency in how they answer calls.

Many contact management systems, such as Goldmine, allow for implementation
of scripts for easy reference. Others provide online help for access to product
news, procedures, et al., with a mouse click.

Considering the environment that most service providers face (multiple
product lines, carriers, partners and territories serviced by a single center),
reason dictates that the average representative cannot maintain proficient
knowledge in all products and services. Designing an online knowledge base
searchable by keywords is easier than rifling through a procedure manual that
may not be current.

Whether designed as a separate database accessible via an intranet or
implemented into a contact management system, a knowledge base provides
representatives with the ability to deliver based on the customer expectations.

Ultimately, the successful customer contact center focuses its hiring,
training, procedures and systems around customer needs and desires. It is
critical to understand the market, empower the representatives to serve that
market, and provide them with the tools required to do the job.

The better the tools, the more efficient the center–resulting in shorter
hold times, higher resolution rate and increased customer satisfaction.

Roberta Tamburrino is president and CEO of Customer Solutions (www.customersolutions.net).
She can be reached at +1 877 938 7246.


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