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PROFILE

NIHAL AKHTAR

COLUMN FOR THE RECORD
SOCIETY 1- Q & A
2- Call Center
INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY E-LEARNING: DESIGNING TOMORROW'S EDUCATION
CORPORATE PROFILE KALPOINT.COM

 

CALL CENTER: PRESS 1 FOR CUSTOMER SATISFACTION


Call center may be defined as a place that has a dense inflow and outflow of telephone calls


By ASHAR NASEER
Senior PS Consultant, Teradata, a division of NCR

Aug 25 - 31, 2003 
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In today's fast-paced environment, for an organization to reach its customers effectively is not only a basic requirement but also a major challenge. This aspect comes at a time when customers are demanding than ever, and are completely aware of the level of service that they well-deserve for the business that they do with you.

The way successful organizations are surviving the competitive environment is by ensuring that a contact with their customer is as effective as possible. The worlds biggest market research firms advocate the need for an above-expectations customer experience when dealing with your organization. The alternate they propose is to not make contact at all, or to do so when it is absolutely necessary.

With the rapid advances in telecommunications technology coupled by the high growth rate of telecoms in our country, people are now finding it more and more convenient to call up an organization. The customer has learnt that organizations are obliged to provide service to them without them having to go directly to them. Thus organizations have started looking towards alternate mediums to providing customer service to their valued clients.

The other media available today range from the telephone to the Internet. The customer also realizes that an organization that has nine contact numbers, five people to deal with and to know who to call when, is an organization that is probably not worth their money. Thus the concept of call centers has emerged and with great popularity is becoming a buzzword until recently heard in corporate sectors, is now being used commonly in the private and public sector too.

Very simply, a call center may be defined as a place that has a dense inflow and outflow of telephone calls. It may be categorized as a place for customer services where a customer may call up to place order, get more information about the product or even complain about it. In other words, it is a convenient meeting channel for a business and its customers/partners. The traditional image of a call center maybe a place where you find hundreds or in some cases even thousands of individuals with telephones sending, receiving or connecting calls.

In today's environment, each business has realized that not only do they need to invest in expensive and attractive customer service centers, but equally important to invest in a state-of-the-art call center. In most cases, organizations have been known to cut costs for many such expensive service centers by creating sophisticated call centers. This is a truly win-win situation, since the organization save on much operational cost and at the same time delights its customers. Ideally organizations should put people, technology and processes to ensure the call center provide an equal if not greater level of service, as opposed to a customer service center.

The dawning of the Internet era brings with it the need for organizations to extend their reach through newer channels such as e-mail, web and chat. Businesses are looking to leverage the already existing Call Center setup, and integrate it with Internet media. This is the natural evolutionary path; since it would best leverage the existing investment.

INTEGRATING THE BEST-OF-BREED

The high volume call handling capability of a call center differentiates it from other inter-business communication mechanisms. A typical call center is set up as a room with a many agents, workstations that include telephone sets (or headsets) connected to a large telecom switch and one or more supervisor stations. Such a call center may be isolated or connected to other call centers in a multi-site setup.

This is made possible by the technologies available today in the marketplace. We can discuss those in more detail to understand how they contribute to the effectiveness of call centers in today's world. However, before selecting the right products you have to develop a strategy for an effective design. The recommended approach to follow is to build a call center based on a modular design that can offer best-of-breed functionality, as well as a robust design to leverage the initial investment.

The alternate approach of setting up a call center is using a single server platform, and running proprietary applications on it. The advocates of this approach develop their own applications on this platform acting as a black box and containing all functionality in a single component. For a mission-critical setup such as a Call Center, such reliance would create a single point of failure. While this approach offers an attractive initial investment, organizations must realize how scalability and additional functionality enhancement shall suffer in the future. The other downside of this is that if an organization later decides to go towards a modular approach and integrate standard telco-grade platforms in the existing environment, it becomes a greater challenge.

The modular call center approach grants power to choose world-class products and integrate them over industry standards to create a scalable and robust call center. The various components of the call center are described in greater detail as follows.

 

 

AUTOMATIC CALL DISTRIBUTION (ACD)

The Automatic Call Distribution feature is part of a complex switching system that is built upon PABX systems. The ACD is a sophisticated system that caters for all the telephony needs of a Call Center. It is capable of interfacing with the PSTN and distributing calls to a number of agents. ACD environment are generally assigned to a split or skill, which is a group of agents handling the same type of calls. Basic ACD features can be assigned by split or skill to meet the different needs of diverse agent groups. A telephone number can be linked to an ACD split/skill by associating a published number, often an 800 number.

COMPUTER TELEPHONY INTEGRATION (CTI)

CTI defined as "the functional integration of business application software with telephone based communications". With CTI systems, firms get increased productivity and efficiency, increased return on technology investments, improved business performance through better customer service and enhanced remote communications. The CTI software application automates the intelligent distribution of interactions throughout the enterprise.

As an interaction arrives at the contact center, the CTI uses dynamic enterprise information such as agent availability and queue statistics, customer preferences and service levels collected from enterprise databases, agent-profile data, and defined strategies to determine the best agent for an interaction. With this solution, companies can seamlessly integrate and manage voice and other interactions such as e-mail, chat, VoIP, Web collaboration, and wireless, to create a centralized, Internet-ready contact center.

The CTI funnels all incoming interactions from various media channels into a single universal queue. Managers can easily define strategies with point-and- click actions that automate interaction routing from the universal queue to the most appropriate agent based on factors such as the type of inquiry, the value of the customer, and the media channel.

Using this solution solves the business manager's objectives by improving customer service and lowering operating costs. For the technical manager, the CTI solution provides an environment that is quickly deployed, easily managed, and extremely flexible. Implementing CTI solution is an open, highly scalable and available solution that meets today's and tomorrow's customer contact center needs.

INTERACTIVE VOICE RESPONSE (IVR)

Another interesting feature of most call centers is Interactive Voice Response This feature offers the caller several options (through prerecorded messages/instructions) without a human agent actually being present there. For example, on calling a Call Center, we hear a prerecorded message that gives us options like "Press 1 for Account Balance Info" or "Press 2 to recharge your card" etc. This is an effective way to save costs for the firm, as they don't need to have agents to answer calls relating to typical inquiries such as balance information etc. In addition, for Call Centers that are not run 24x7 this can provide for an automated function for the caller to get information easily.

CALL CENTER RECORDER

The Call Recorder facilitates the Call Centers operations. The recorder can record the conversations that are taking place within the call centers. It allows the supervisors to keep a close track of the inbound and outbound call conversations indexed with call parameters and stored in a database for future retrieval. With CTI integration, additional fields can be stored against the call that can allow a wide range of call querying, and can be used by supervisors to monitor agent performance or even keep proof of transactions performed on the phone.

 

 

INTERNET INTEGRATION

The evolution of the Internet as a customer contact channel has profound implications on the way business can be conducted. The ability to handle these new customer interactions is tied to the understanding of the business benefits of multiple customer communication channels. Most companies have developed management strategies where Internet communications are handled separately from their traditional contact center interactions, leading to customer frustration, fragmented customer information and a lack of coordination.

The Internet Solution should be based on an integrated approach to customer relations' management. Building Internet capabilities into the existing contact center reduces duplication, brings world-class customer contact technology and consistency to each transaction regardless of the communication channel. Customers are able to interact in the way that makes the most sense to them while receiving a consistent, unified level of service from a company. Companies can offer support for a variety of Internet-based customer communication channels and reap the benefits of a single customer view and consistent management of all interaction types.

In addition to the above components, there are various other options such as Outbound Predictive dialers, Workforce Management, Multi-site integration, Multi-tenant integration and virtual call centers. The benefits of a sound modular design are very evident and ultimately give the flexibility to organizations for them to adapt their call center strategy against their customer demands. Ultimately, the true key to success when implementing a call center lies in your focus on the customer.