Archive for October, 2010

How Network-Based Contact Centers Help Small and Medium-Sized Companies

Many contact center solutions are tailored towards the big fish in the market and scaled accordingly. In many countries, however, there is great business potential in the SME market (small and mid-sized enterprises). But just because a company is smaller, that doesn’t mean that they will be satisfied with an inferior product.

Smaller companies may even demand more features and end-to-end data transparency, as often the core of their business literally depends on the level of customer satisfaction they achieve and ultimately the efficiency of their call center agents, or back office staff.

A network-based solution is an ideal starting point for a smaller or medium-sized business, as it offers them the flexibility they need and, if chosen right, the scalability to grow with them. Many solutions offer the right features, but when the solution can no longer cope with increased capacity, it has to be exchanged for the next size up. This can be a costly process.

The scenario which is just as difficult (and expensive), is if a company implements premise-based equipment scaled for the maximum possible capacity, just to cover all eventualities. That’s like driving a bus 365 days a year just in case you have to pick up more passengers than will fit in a normal car.

The term ‘contact center’ may not be used for all ‘call center-like’ operations in small and medium-sized companies (common terms are sales back office, sales center, customer interaction center, etc.), but at the end of the day, that is exactly what they are.

As the English saying goes; “look after the pennies and the pounds will takes care of themselves”, I wouldn’t quite go so far as to say that the big fish can look after themselves, but if you take care of the smaller fish, they may not only grow into big fish, but grow your revenues as well.

What are your experiences in the SME market?

A Voice from the Cloud – Network-Based Interactive Voice Response

One of my favorite ECT products is our Interactive Voice Response (IVR). We use it for various ECT products, for example, as a user interface for Ring Back Tone or for network-based contact centers. Due to the market demand we also sell it as a stand-alone product.

To be honest, IVR has become a commodity and there is an abundance of products on the market, all providing more or less the same user experience. End-users don’t care what kind of IVR they call as long as it gets the result they want.

For a contact center, or any other company that uses Interactive Voice Response, the difference can be huge. Ninety per cent of the equipment in the market is enterprise systems, i.e. premise-based. You buy very expensive equipment hook it up to your landline and configure it. In addition to the price for the hardware and software, there are considerable maintenance costs. So, if you want an IVR, you end up paying for three different things although you bought just one product. If you’re really unlucky, you may even end up having a solution that’s really difficult to configure. All this makes the discussion about ROI purely academic.

Well, I wouldn’t bother you with all this if I didn’t have an alternative to offer, would I? Our Interactive Voice Response comes out of the cloud. You don’t buy it from a company selling enterprise equipment instead you get the IVR as a service from the operator.

Rather than installing enterprise equipment, you set up the IVR over the browser of your PC. No programming skills are needed, just access to the internet. You get a set of pre-defined icons and use these to build the call flow. If you’re a service provider or operator yourself, you then simply make the IVR available to your customers. You don’t need to download or install additional software and you can do everything yourself using any internet browser, so that also saves you money.

If you want to change the call flow, it works just the same way. It’s easy to use, you save a lot of money compared to enterprise equipment. This Interactive Voice Response on demand makes it really easy to add new functionalities. As an end user you order them from your service provider who makes them available to you at the flick of a switch. Try that with enterprise equipment.

If anybody knows of any IVR functionality available with enterprise equipment that you can’t have in a hosted solution, please let me know. Our developers will make it happen…

Social Media for Contact Centers

Social media has changed the way many of us communicate with each other. Naturally, this has an impact on customer relationship management (CRM). With over half a billion Facebook users worldwide and over 50 million messages posted on Twitter every day, companies know that they can’t afford to ignore social media when interacting with their customers.

When I take a look at many company Twitter accounts, a lot of them use Twitter to answer customer enquiries. It’s the same with Facebook, where consumers post their questions and remarks on companies’ walls.

Here we’ve reached the classical domain of contact centers: interacting with customers and answering their questions over multiple channels. Social media ads another channel which contact centers have to embrace if they want their customer communication to be successful.

This means the contact center agent must be able to use social media the same way as phone, fax, SMS or e-mail. If you envision the agent workplace as a dashboard for various forms of contact, over which the agent can handle calls, e-mail, chat, etc. simultaneously, you need to include the social media interface there. It should give you an overview of your Twitter timeline and Facebook wall with the possibility to post replies. Maybe you could even handle multiple accounts on one dashboard. As you probably know, there are already browser-based social media dashboards available. They run in a separate browser window. You could of course open two browser windows – one with the Agent Workplace and one with a social media dashboard, however, for the agent it would be by far more convenient to have this function included in the workplace. Additionally, it would be purely HTML-based.

A social media feature would be not unlike the chat function in our Agent Workplace. Actually, the social media function for contact centers would be like a blend of the chat and the e-mail function and enable you to handle a customer’s enquiry with one or two contacts. Considering that the chat function can reduce contact center costs up to 25 per cent, a social media interface would probably have the same effect.

So what do you think? How should social media be integrated into the contact center agent’s working environment? What do you think are the advantages? I’m looking forward to receiving your inspirational replies.