E-Customer Contact Tools

By Gary Blasiar

One main objective of any business’s customer service department is to satisfy and build relationships within its customer base. Customers are demanding that they be served the way they want to be served until they get stuck, at which point they want immediate assistance with a live person. The Internet gives customers a new avenue to conduct their business and consequently, a new way to serve them.

The traditional call center is now a customer care contact center and deploys a variety of communication platforms to convert every online communication into a successful opportunity to serve a customer. Outlined below are a few of the basic Internet-based tools your company can use to enhance customer care. These tools can be purchased individually through third party providers or can be bundled in e-suite customer relationship management solution packages.

The following includes a brief description of each tool, how it is used to complement customer interaction and strategy to get the most out of your investment.

  • Web chat: Web chat is the live text dialogue that will enable your Internet site to interact with visitors. Customers needing assistance simply click on the “Live Help” icon that prompts a window to pop up. This essentially initiates a session and an operator is selected. The customer begins typing messages and receives a response from the agent in real time. Since an estimated 65 percent of customers who begin to order products over the Net don’t finish their transactions, place the “Live Help” button at the top of the shopping cart page of your website. Train your customer service representatives to be sales reps, as they can help customers through the purchasing process.
  • Email: Email provides a communications platform in which a customer can order a product, ask questions and request service at any time of day. Email is a common communication mechanism within most website “Contact Us” pages. Customer care centers use email to respond to order status inquiries, order confirmation, pre sales questions, complaint/resolution issues, up-selling and various promotional offerings. If your customer service center does not have email communications it should be initiated immediately. If your company is one of the many companies investing thousands of dollars in market research, try attaching a customer questionnaire to your emails. Even if you offer a discount to your customers for filling out and returning the form, the savings in postage and data entry make this a cost-effective method of gathering important customer data.
  • Web callback: Web callback allows customers to initiate assistance by requesting a callback from an agent in either real time or a scheduled time frame. Visitors on a website merely click on a “Call Me” icon and enter their number. An automatic switch will put a member of your customer care group straight through to the inquirer. If the visitor asks for a delay before being contacted, the button will ensure that the visitor is called at that specific time. The customer-care representative can then assist the customer with any question or transaction. Use this tool for more complex customer service applications, as it offers “page-pushing” features of live chat; however limited, but with a live voice. In addition, cameras can be used at the service center so an agent can display your product and be able to give visible usage/repair/maintenance instructions.
  • Voice over Internet protocol (VOIP): VOIP is the practice of sending voice or video or both over the public Internet or intranets. VOIP is like using the telephone, but the signals are converted into digital data that are routed over the Web rather than the conventional telephone line. VOIP communications are broken down into discrete chunks of data that are transmitted digitally over the Internet. One of the most significant advantages of VOIP is that it avoids the tolls, taxes and other fees that phone companies typically charge for a traditional phone call. This tool requires your customers to have multimedia computers, a microphone and speakers to enable agents to converse with your visitors. Customers visiting your website can click on an interactive button or icon to speak with a customer-care agent instantly. Many of the VOIP tools can inform the customer-care agent whether the website visitor has multimedia capability. Most VOIP environments are equipped with Internet navigation assistance tools to help agents “push” information to the Web visitor. Computer telephony integration capabilities can offer tremendous enhancements to VOIP. Consult with your VOIP provider or service center for more information. Features to look for: Now that you have decided to service your customers via the Net, here are features to look for when choosing the right tool:
  • Universal compatibility (Web chat): It is crucial that the chat tool you select works with all standard Web browsers and that the agent and customer can access the tool behind corporate fire walls.
  • Dynamic icon placement (Web chat, email, Web callback, VOIP): Since your customer-care environment may have certain hours of availability, it is important that the icon for live help is shown only during coverage hours.
  • Custom and preformatted response capability (Web chat, email): The ability to use preformatted responses can increase efficiencies, reduce agent response time and ensure consistency in response. Custom answers are critical when addressing the more specific inquiries that are bound to surface in the customer care environment. Having a spell check on these tools will also reduce the number of correspondence errors.
  • Auto response and intelligent response (Web chat, email, VOIP): An immediate auto response (confirmation message) communication will assure that your customer contact has not fallen into a black hole. The response can become “intelligent” if a preformatted response is generated based on keywords that are present in the text. Intelligent keyword searches are often used for troubleshooting, order status and frequently asked questions requests.
  • Multiple sessions (Web chat, email): It is important to choose a tool that can increase agent efficiency by allowing multiple email/live chat sessions to be processed concurrently. For quality purposes, an agent should never manage more than three at any given time.
  • Data gathering and reporting (Web chat, email, Web call back, VOIP): You will always want to keep a pulse on customer trends, website user expectations and general feedback. Make sure the tools you use allow you to survey customers at the end of each session. It is also important to look at other forms of gathered data, review dialogue transcripts, analyze call/contact logs and monitor contact duration. Being able to readily access data is critical in getting to know your customers better and enhancing their contact experiences.
  • Prioritization and skill-based routing (email, Web chat, Web callback and VOIP): All forms of contact can be qualified through a few simple questions and then routed to an agent skill set that is trained to accommodate the customers’ needs. This will help you manage your center in a more efficient manner and achieve a higher level of first contact/call resolution.
  • Web page pushing (Web chat, email): This feature will allow your customer care representatives to open up and “push” any URL page to your website visitors to assist with problem resolution or to provide additional information. Some tools even allow the agent to highlight specific areas of text or graphics that may require clarification. The main objective of any customer care environment is to help the customers. Customers need to be able to communicate with your business in a way that is most comfortable and available to them. If you can’t provide the communication platforms they want to use, they will find companies that can. It is those companies that can hear their customers’ suggestions, complaints and buying signals that will excel relative to their competition. The Internet offers some of the best ears to a company and its over-all business strategy.

Gary Blasiar is president of Alert Communications, Los Angeles, an outsourced call center. He can be contacted at gblasiar@alertcom.com.

[From Connection Magazine – March 2001]

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