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Maintaining an Effective Contact Center

Contact centers providing customer services have undergone tremendous changes in recent years. While once they were limited to communication with customers by telephone, now they often incorporate communication using newer technologies such as the Internet, interactive television, and wireless phones. Though this proliferation of communication channels has made contact centers more complex, it also has increased the ability of companies to effectively address their customers' service needs.

What You Need to KnowDo I need to have a contact center that provides customer service by both telephone and Internet, or can I just offer Internet support?

Customers like to have choices in how they receive support from a company. Though some problems may be effectively handled through Internet communications, complex issues in particular are best resolved through discussion with a live person. If possible, it is advisable to provide both telephone and Internet support options.

Can I outsource my contact center to a service provider, while still maintaining control over quality?

You always lose some control when you outsource a service. When evaluating potential service providers, don't make value judgments from quantity-related statistics (such as the number of calls handled); use quality indicators (such as customer satisfaction rates) to evaluate. This will help you maintain the highest possible level of service.

How can I "future-proof" my contact center to respond to new media technologies that become more important to customers?

Consider using a network-based contact center. This service can allow you to respond quickly to new media technologies as they become more central to customers' lives.

What to DoMove Beyond the Traditional Call Center

Though once telephone was the primary communication channel for providing customer service, tools such as Web, e-mail, and text messaging have become increasingly integral to customers' lives. Customers now prefer to be able to choose the method in which they contact a company for service. It is therefore advisable that your contact center provide service options through a variety of communication channels, including both telephone and newer technologies. You can integrate these channels through a Web-enabled system (see below).

Maintain Productivity and Efficiency

In addition to offering choice, it is important to ensure the productivity of your contact center. Employing advanced call routing and management systems will allow you to handle incoming telephone calls with maximum efficiency. For instance, these systems allow calls to be diverted to overflow centers or off-site centers during peak hours. Some systems also will direct calls to the most appropriate agent, with routing based on product line, service need, or customer importance. Personalized customer databases show agents comprehensive, up-to-date customer records on their computer screens. All of these measures can help increase customer satisfaction.

Developing an effective reporting system also is important to maintaining productivity, as it can draw attention to weaknesses and facilitate continuous improvement. If management has the right information, it is easier for them to monitor capacity, develop effective training programs, and ensure the quality of the customer experience. The marketing team also can monitor campaign effectiveness and fine-tune future promotions.

Employ a Web-Enabled System

Model contact centers today integrate traditional telephone contact with a mix of online technologies. These Web-enabled contact centers offer customers a variety of choices: They can access Web pages that list FAQs or provide other self-service support; they can resolve simple questions using text chat or email to contact agents; or they can call a customer support line to talk with a live person. Whatever communication method a customer chooses, it should offer the same level of service quality.

The increase in Web-enabled contact centers is not merely a response to customer demands. Web-enabling has allowed companies to gain efficiency, improve customer retention, and increase online sales opportunities, all good for the bottom line. Another benefit of integration is the vast amount of data available from the various customer channels, supporting customer-focused marketing strategies.

Consider a Network-Based Contact Center

More and more companies are recognizing the benefits of integration. Unfortunately, many simply do not have the infrastructure to support the latest contact center technologies. A network-based contact center is a good alternative in this case: Companies subscribe to a networked service that provides full contact center capability without any investment. All they need is a telephone and a browser.

Network-based contact centers route incoming voice calls, e-mails, faxes, and requests from customers to a server located in a data center in a service provider's network. Once there, the requests are slotted in a single line and then handled based on the subscriber's identified rules through a portal. Operators also can use the portal to view call center performance data and statistical information to increase efficiency.

Using a network-based call center offers significant flexibility benefits. A contact center can be up and running in days and scaled up quickly to meet changing needs. There is no need for managers to estimate infrastructure requirements.

What to AvoidYou Fail to Provide Consistent Service across All Channels

Customers expect a high level of service from companies whether they connect with them through telephone, Web, or e-mail. It is important to provide quick, efficient, useful service regardless of which approach is used. Be sure your contact center offers consistent, quality service across all channels.

You Fail to Integrate

To develop stronger customer relationships, it is important to maintain a complete record of customer contacts across all channels. Agents should be able to draw up a customer's full contact history, even if he/she used multiple channels—for instance, both e-mail and telephone—to contact the company. This will allow agents to provide more personalized, efficient service and be fully attuned to each customer's unique situation.

You're Inflexible

Traditional call centers limit the ways customers can connect with a company. Adding new facilities to address new technologies often leads to poor integration. Network-based contact centers, on the other hand, provide companies with a fully integrated contact center solution and allow maximum flexibility to make changes based on customer needs as they arise.

Where to Learn MoreBook:

Fluss, Donna. The Real Time Contact Center: Strategies, Tactics, and Technologies for Building a Profitable Service and Sales Operation. New York: AMACOM, 2005.

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