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Home >Call Centre > Full Story

Customer Service: Now Just a Call Away
By Mahesh Rathod

Here is all you ever wanted to know about call centers from the technology involved to the latest trends

There is no disputing the statement that call center technology has had a tremendous impact on the conduct of business in the world today. Call centers for selling goods and services, as well as call centers for providing customer care, is going to become a familiar part of the business life of virtually every person.

One might even say that the call center heralded the first wave of electronic commerce—albeit a labor-intensive one. Call centers also pioneered the development of self-service via the telephone, using Interactive Voice Response technology. Now the Internet has emerged in a new wave of electronic commerce, one built on computer-based self-service. The web is rightly perceived as providing a richer and more friendly environment for self-service transactions than the touch tone telephone.

However, there is an increasing recognition that self-service alone is not enough—that the good old-fashioned personal customer service remains an important factor in the success of any business. If Internet-based business is going to provide such service on any scale, it is clear that something like today's call center is an important part of the solution. But what is the technology to support this requirement?

Call Centers - An Overview
A call center is an area where several Customer Service Representative (CSR) agents are located to man a bank of telephones and computer terminals. These agents are specially trained on telephone etiquette, the type of customer queries that may arise and on how to respond to these queries in a quick and efficient manner.

A call center can also be equipped with an Automatic Call Handling System like an Interactive Voice Response System (IVR) so that all routine, repetitive queries can be answered by the system without the customer having to speak to a CSR agent. This approach ensures that the CSR agents are not required to answer standard queries and hence they are free to take care of difficult customers or issues that require specific individual attention.

Functionality of Call Centers
The advantage of establishing a call center with Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) is that there is a co-ordinated transfer of customer information and the telephone call to a CSR. CTI is the most exciting development in the field of

computers and communications. This technology marries the flexibility and ubiquitous nature of the telephone with the power of the computer to open up a whole new vista in voice and data communications.

What this means, in simple terms is that the IVR system would understand that a particular customer has

requested a live agent assistance and hence would transfer the call to a free CSR agent as also initiate a "Screen Pop" of customer information on to the CSR agent's terminal. This ensures that even before the call lands at the agent's telephone, the information screen pops on the terminal. This feature ensures that the agent knows whose call is going to come in next even before the phone rings. This agent can then answer the call in a personalized manner and complete the communication. It is an accepted fact that with automated call handling a higher number of calls is handled as also the efficiency and productivity of employee is enhanced.

The Cost Dynamic Picture
In order to truly understand what motivates the decisions that call centers make, you first need to get a hang of the cost structure of a call center.

It is found from the Call Center report that 65 percent of a typical call center's expense is attributed to the agents or employees who work in the center. Almost 30 percent of the expenses is for transmission, while only five per cent is spent on equipment. Call center managers need to leverage the equipment and the technology to bring down expenses for labor and transmission.

Demand for Improved Customer Service
Today, companies are constantly looking for ways to differentiate themselves from competition and customer service is a primary means to accomplish this. In order to win "Customers for Life," companies are investing more on employees and technology. Where this begins and where success is measured is right in the call center.

Agent Productivity
Since agents are the most expensive resources within a call center, managers are always concerned with measuring agent effectiveness and productivity. These managers must be able to balance the quality of handling customers during the call with the cost/call, based on an agent's productivity and associated network expense. And not unlike our own value equation, employee or "agent" satisfaction, increased by training and empowerment tools, is the key to providing customer and ultimately shareholder value.

Consumer Expectations based on technology
Interactive Voice Response technology has become widely accepted by consumers, resulting in competition among call centers. Increasingly, callers expect agents to posses the ability to quickly access information. Or if callers are prompted to input their account or order numbers, they expect the agent to have the information with the arrival of the call.

Database marketing
When the agent answers an incoming call armed with full account knowledge, the caller doesn't have to waste time or get frustrated giving a history or repeating addresses or account numbers. Callers are treated as individuals and valued as customers. Each call center manager is challenged to provide proactive customer service, allowing the company to more effectively target market segments and create market segmentation of one.

Trends

Movement into Strategic Plan
Though every company may vary in its sophistication and its use of call center-type activities, one thing remains the same: all are including call centers in their businesses' strategic objectives.

Skill-based Routing
To sustain customer satisfaction, companies must provide callers with the most knowledgeable agent who can respond to their requests. Expertise or level of support (e.g., response time) is on the rise, exemplified by computers or software companies that offer "fee-based" support and these determine skill-based routing.

Virtual Call Centers
Multi-location companies, especially multinationals, need to make sure that the customers can use the same toll free number to reach the best qualified person at any location. Call centers also extend the hours of operation by distributing these calls to the location best equipped to handle them, either based on staffing or knowledge.

Call Blending
A new buzzword, this term describes a trend in increasing agent productivity—answering, waiting calls during the busy period and making outgoing sales, telemarketing, or collection calls during slower periods.

Components of a Call Center EPABX
As all of us are aware the call from any PSTN line need to be terminated on to an EPABX so that the preliminary treatment of the call can be handled by the EPABX such as routing, transferring etc. When deciding upon a voice-based call center, the decision regarding a very good EPABX is very crucial.

Computer Telephony Integration (CTI)
CTI is an enabling technology that allows communication between ACDs, host computers containing the customer information or order entry applications, Integrated Voice Response Systems (IVRs), and agent desktop devices. The whole idea behind CTI is to integrate these various elements for an efficient and effective call center, and to make it an easier place to do business. The more an agent knows about a caller, the more responsive he can be.

Basically, CTI makes it possible to retrieve information about a caller or the purpose of the call, and to forward that information automatically to the appropriate agent. Agents use this information to provide much more personalized service to the caller one of the key business imperatives for the 1990s. CTI also helps improve productivity.

Agents no longer have to take the necessary time—typically 15-25 seconds—to ask for a customer identifier (like an account code), enter it to the terminal, and then wait for the system to respond with the appropriate profile. Instead, the "system" gathers the customer identifier either by a service called Automatic Number Identification (ANI) that delivers the caller's number to the call center with the customer responses to the IVR prompts, or by the switch itself, and then proactively pops the customer information onto the agent's desktop as the call arrives at the agent's phone.

Integrated Voice Response

Increasingly, IVR and multimedia messaging technologies are used to augment and complement ACD and call center functions. Callers can use the IVR system to access important information whenever it's convenient, much like how the automated teller machines let a bank's customer perform transactions against their accounts 24 hours a day, seven days a week. IVR systems also qualify the caller's needs and identify by presenting a menu of choices. This information can then be captured and passed at the same time the caller is transferred to the agent. The result? More personalized service and streamlined operations for more productive call centers. Most importantly, IVR offloads most day-to-day repetitive manual tasks, leaving agents available for more complex revenue-generating functions.

IVR in a call center allows:

  • Callers to access information after the call center is closed for the day.
  • Callers to choose how to conduct business, either using the IVR or by talking with an agent.
  • Callers to have an option to exit from a long wait queue, allowing them to conduct business on the IVR or leave a message so that an agent can call back later, during a slow period.
  • Agents to transfer callers at the end of a transaction to perform routine, perhaps private account inquiries, or to conduct post-call customer satisfaction surveys.

Other Major components which goes into the call

center are:

Customer Relationship Management Software
Work force Management Software
E mail Interaction Management Software
Integration with the following:

  • Customer/ product databases
  • Billing hosts
  • E-mail servers
  • Chat servers
  • Web servers

Various types of call centers

Call centers can be of different types based on delivery channels or location.

Deliver Channels based classification
The delivery channels refer to the kind of channels through which the customer can interact with the call centers, namely:

  • Voice
  • Web
  • E-mails
  • Web chats
  • WAP
All of the above or combinations of the above

Features based call centers
The feature of the call centers depends on the components, which has gone into call centers. This basically talks about implementation of the following;

CRMs

  • Work force management solutions
  • Work flow management solutions
  • Computer Telephony Integration
  • Email Interaction Management software

Location based classification
The call centers are classified also on the basis of the location of the target customer. In a captive call center there are chances like the organization running a decentralized call center where in the call center is mostly located in the same location of the customer. Bust in the case of the centralized call centers the call center will be located in a central location and it will serve the customers irrespective of the location of the customer ( i.e, the customer need not be in the same location of the call center).

In the case of Outsourced call center, the call center in most cases is situated in a central location and can cater to:

  • the clients in the same location (same city)
  • the client in some other cities
  • the clients in the same location and other cities
  • the clients in an another country.

Mahesh Rathod can be reached at rathodmp@hotmail.com
Information Courtesy: K.Chandru , Servion Global Solution Ltd.
T.J. Mohan Kumar , Convergent Communications.
 
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