Faster Call Resolution Is the Key to Cost Center Profitability

By Vikas Nehru

As companies face a backlash against offshore call centers or have simply found it was not the right solution for their particular business, they are bringing service back to the US. This doesn’t need to be cost-prohibitive, however. Nearly 80 percent of the time and cost of providing customer service is spent on service resolution.

The right combination of customer service technology vastly reduces resolution time, even for complex human interactions in the call center. Resolving inquiries faster and providing customers with the satisfactory service also opens the door to up-selling and cross-selling opportunities, thereby transforming call centers into profit centers.

The Pitfalls of Offshore Call Centers: The public outcry over outsourcing jobs, coupled with growing customer dissatisfaction over service quality, have caused companies such as Lehman Brothers to reroute calls back to centers in the United States. Customers complain that agents were unable to solve their problems. Whether this stems from true service issues or ideological views on outsourcing seems to matter little. Justified or not, many customers feel shortchanged when their call is routed thousands of miles away, making it difficult to foster customer loyalty. Therefore, many companies are making the conscious shift to bring back the contact center so customers receive more localized, personal attention and service.

Spikes in call volume compound this problem. The Merchants Global Contact Center Benchmarking Report 2005 reported that 58 percent of centers experienced call center growth of 20 percent per year. Additionally, the number of abandoned calls rose for the third year in a row, with the average caller willing to wait just 65 seconds.

Web and other support channels aren’t minimizing this challenge. According to John Ragsdale, research director at Forrester Research Inc., “Support interactions increase on average 20 percent year over year, so even if self-service siphons off some of these, it won’t handle all of them…. The faster and easier it is to get information, the more people will call with more complex problems.”

What is really needed in the contact center is correct channeling. A customer’s preference for contact and his or her particular inquiry must be matched with the right mode of communication – be it self-service, chat, co-browse, email, or phone.

A Positive Path: Early call center applications focused on call routing and case management. However, this only resolved one aspect of call center interaction. Identifying the question is relatively easy. What is more troublesome is helping agents access the right information to answer these queries.

Typically agents rely on a combination of individual knowledge, online repositories, company manuals, and calls to colleagues to find the necessary data. With no easy-to-follow, repeatable process, customers often wait an inordinate amount of time for answers – and then don’t receive consistent responses to their questions. Moreover, it’s difficult for agents to master a wealth of new knowledge to keep up with product releases and policy changes.

To solve this problem, many companies are using technology that helps agents answer questions more quickly and accurately. Until recently, the components needed for customer service (business process management, knowledge management, and search capabilities) were a collection of point products. It was up to the agent to know when and how to use them.

However, applications have matured and now bring these components together into a single solution that empowers agents of any skill level to successfully resolve inquiries. Moreover, with the right technology in place in a call center close to your own business, it can be seamlessly integrated into the entire business – from front office to back office – and tied in with the overall business strategy.

Since many companies first sought to relocate the call center overseas in order to cut costs, simply bringing it back to the States is not the answer. Fortunately, those companies, if they implement the right technology and strategy, can save money as they repatriate their call centers. Service resolution management (SRM) provides a way for organizations to reduce resolution times across all channels, even for traditionally high-cost, human interactions.

By supporting contact center agents with an SRM solution, organizations can free their customers to choose a preferred means of communication, while ensuring prompt, consistent responses regardless of which channel they choose. This reduces the resolution time and escalation to tier-two support, which is typically a major drain on call center profitability.

Further, by resolving inquiries faster, contact center agents can create cross-sell and up-sell opportunities with existing customers. Customers who are impressed by an agent’s ability to resolve their issues quickly are more receptive to hearing about a new service or add-on product. There is a proven correlation between customer satisfaction and increased sales, and, in many cases, organizations using SRM are effectively able to transform their call centers into profit centers.

A New Profit Center: A major US telecom company learned this lesson early, transforming its contact center into a true profit center. The company realized that it was necessary for its agents to resolve inquiries first to gain each customer’s trust before attempting to cross-sell or up-sell new services. An evaluation of customer issues revealed that most calls involved multiple steps and many channels of communication.

The company trained its agents to use SRM technology to access any information necessary to resolve customer inquiries. The customer service application made it easy to learn about the company’s products, service plans, phones, and accessories, manage accounts, service requests, support relevant promotions, and receive notifications of pending service issues, all in one place.

The company found that customers who were happy with call resolution were much more open to purchasing additional services. In fact, the company discovered that the agents with the highest customer satisfaction rating are now the highest sales producing agents.

A major search engine company was also proactive at keeping its customers happy. In order to become more knowledgeable about its customers and deliver insight-driven interactions, the company needed the ability to access all information about each customer from a single repository. With more than 274 million unique users in twenty-five countries and thirteen languages, this was no easy task. The company decided to deploy SRM technology to resolve customer inquiries faster and more accurately across channels.

The new customer service application provides call center agents with a unified interface for accessing solution knowledge. Through automated, structured guidance, agents are directed through the resolution process to rapidly diagnose and answer customer questions – even through new product introductions, policy and procedures changes, and the addition of new information systems. Detailed search-and-retrieval functionality speeds access to pertinent information.

Agents no longer need to switch between multiple systems or databases to meet customer demands. An integrated customer history allows for improved efficiencies, resulting in an 80 percent first call resolution rate and addressing one of the most expensive and challenging aspects of call centers today.

Instead of tackling the problem by using cheaper labor, these companies have retained more customers and kept jobs in the states by using technology that drives down the overall cost of the call center. By gaining a 360-degree view of each customer, agents have greater insight to solve problems and engage customers with relevant new offerings.

Vikas Nehru is vice president of product marketing for KANA Software, Inc, a provider of customer service solutions.

[From Connection Magazine October 2012]

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