Information Central: The Contact Center's Next Big Thing

Customer Service
Customer Service
The contact center should be a hub to bring together important pieces of the customer insight puzzle. Here's how to create an information exchange using this unique resource.

Today's contact center should be to customer insight what Grand Central Station is to New York's transportation system: a vital hub. Contact center process and technologies should bring information to agents from marketing, sales, R&D, billing, and the Web, and collect information from the contact center-from agents, call recordings, IVR activity-and deliver it back to all those other "destinations."
Far too often, however, the customer insights generated on a daily basis inside the contact center die there; and at the same time, the contact center is too busy trying to meet challenging call volume metrics to look at the insight the rest of the organization could provide. This is a lost opportunity for sharing information that ultimately can help boost customers' satisfaction and value to the organization.

Some companies, however, do recognize the unique possibilities a contact center can provide when positioned as an information hub. "Everything we do here affects every department in the organization, because the guest stay starts with us," says Bill Peters, vice president of reservation services at hotelier Outrigger Enterprises. "It may end with the guest checking out of the hotel, but the success of the guest's vacation starts with us, here."

Outrigger's Echopass-built contact center tracks customer contacts in detail so decisions can be understood at every level-and not just decisions to book. "We have a complete log of all of our chats, a complete log of all of our email and faxes, and those are reviewed on a daily basis and [sent] to the hotels, so if a customer cancels, the hotel manager knows the reason."

But changing an organization to view the contact center as a key switching station can be difficult. Contact center "managers who have lived and breathed wait-time [metrics] for 20 years have to suddenly view themselves as providing an asset," says Jim Davies, a Gartner research director. And staffers in other departments often feel they have so much data from their own sources that they don't need yet another resource.

Overcoming these obstacles takes C-level support. "We used to push information uphill-feedback was more of a threshold notification, like a 911 emergency call, and nobody wanted to hear about it," says Pati Crowley, director of customer experience at Bath & Body Works. "A couple of years ago our CEO inverted the pyramid, putting the customer at the top, and information became requested rather than pushed."

Getting information into the center...

The contact center may be full to bursting with customer data, but there is still much to be gained from having an open conduit of customer-relevant information from the rest of the organization. "The contact center is a consumer for routing information from the rest of the organization-how should they handle calls based on the information known?" asks Gary Barnett, chief technology officer at Aspect. Information known by sales or marketing can help determine if a caller should be given high-priority status, needs to be connected to the same agent as the previous call to complete a transaction in progress, or should immediately be escalated to a collections or "save" team.

"A few years back our company wasn't performing well. We didn't have a full view of the history that a contact had with the company," says Judith Carr, project manager at Loop Customer Management, part of the Yorkshire Water utility group in Great Britain. "Customers had to repeat what they had told [an agent] previously. It put our customer service managers in a very difficult situation." Working with Amdocs, Loop reengineered its contact center with an improved customer record system, including detailed information from the company's field service and
maintenance operations. "Now, when the customer rings, we are absolutely up to the minute with what's happening [with their service issue], and we know when work has been completed and make an outbound call to the customer, [to ask] if they are satisfied with the outcome," she says. By improving visibility across the company, Loop has doubled its first-call resolution rate since its reinvention began.

Bath & Body Works changes the theme and product mix of its stores every three weeks, and the contact center is expected to be conversant with all of the changes so agents can handle customer calls about new products or initiatives seen in-store. "Our merchants now ensure that we have all of the information and training we need, in a very hands-on way, to ensure the best execution possible," Crowley says. Instead of introducing changes as a memo, merchandisers now frequently hold product introduction demos in the contact center to educate agents. "They bring product samples so our agents can provide testimony on the new products to customers. It's much more personal and experiential to be able to tell a customer, 'I just tried that body wash.' It gives us the detail to be engaged completely with the store's new theme." As a result, the company is able to execute on its aggressive product rollout strategies without leaving its customer care behind.

Medical equipment manufacturer XLTEK coordinates between its field installation group and the contact center using to ensure that the contact center knows the custom deployment and configuration of its brain and sleep monitoring devices in each customer lab and clinical setting. "We document all of the information our support staff needs in order to understand the customer site and arrive at a solution quickly, and keep that ready at hand instead of in an independent support database," says Steven Plymale, vice president of quality and customer care at XLTEK. The comprehensive access to information makes it easier for XLTEK to identify customers who may be in need of additional training services and make offers for them at appropriate times.

When contact center agent have access to information from such other areas as billing, sales, and marketing, their ability to efficiently and effectively service customers improves dramatically. Not surprisingly employee and customer satisfaction increase-and sales often increase as well.

...and back out again

"People are focused on seeing the contact center as a source of business intelligence and strategic insight-a source of the voice of the customer," says Robin Schaffer, senior product marketing manager at NICE Systems. >>

True. But if it was easy to get the wealth of customer insight stored in the contact center out to the rest of the organization, everybody would be doing it already. "The problem is that it is so easy to assume that the customer support department is responsible for customer satisfaction," says Keith Larson, vice president of marketing for LiveVox. "Most parts of the organization are not accountable for customer satisfaction.... Paychecks and bonuses aren't tied to that metric." And since customer satisfaction "isn't the responsibility" of other departments, those groups often aren't interested in information from the contact center.

"In my experience, information is often pushed out of the contact center-kind of from a defensive standpoint," says Joe Galvin, president of contact center consultancy J Galvin & Associates. "There is a lot more push than pull, because marketing has a lot of their own data. But if you're not meeting SLAs or attaining those expected close rates, you have to be able to come back with hard data showing why people aren't buying." And that data may well be available from the contact center.

Detailed customer feedback, for example,
is critical to understanding the success of Outrigger's marketing programs, including the complete Web overhaul the company typically undertakes every two years. "We also present [customer feedback] to the marketing department so they can see where they are being successful, or not, based on the questions customers are asking," Peters says. "Most of the customers coming to us have visited our Web site and that gives us good information to see what may not be clear to the guests on the Web site, so that we can make future changes-and many of the changes to our site come from customer input."

Thinking together
Getting started requires a shift in mind-set-not only that the entire organization is responsible for each contact, but that everything a customer says or does could be interesting to someone. CallMiner CEO Jeff Gallino points out, for example, that the exchange that leads to a purchase can be just as valuable as the transaction itself. Consider a hypothetical airline agent discussing a potential itinerary to Denver, which the customer changes to Colorado Springs after considering the cost and the possibility of renting a car and driving the rest of the way. "All [management] knows is that they sold you a ticket-so they probably think Colorado Springs is where you wanted to go," he says. But the truth is that such a customer accepted an alternative product to the one he really wanted-whether it was an upsell or a less-than-satisfying solution for the customer will likely remain a mystery to the company unless management creates a process for accessing agent insight.

Companies that have been successful at two-way information exchanges have had to accept gradual progress toward that goal. At Mentor Graphics, for example, some of the company's product development and market groups proactively generate their own reports from their access to contact center data. "It lets them see what the defect rate per week is on each release of software, so they can do better trending on the overall quality of the customer experience. And I know that the divisions that pay the most attention to the data tend to score the highest with respect to our annual surveys on customer loyalty," says Tom Floodeen, vice president and general manager of customer support at Mentor Graphics, who notes that pushed reports to other divisions tend to only be reviewed on a quarterly basis. "Ideally, you would like everybody to pull the data, and not have to push it at them."

Mentor Graphics also has bolstered coordination among departments by working with Satmetrix to collect a series of survey data from its customers on a variety of support initiatives, and by doing its own internal analysis of contact center activity as it relates to the rest of the business. "It's always nice when you take a direct customer quote from a company that gives you a significant amount of money, and send that to the management responsible for issues the customer may be having," Floodeen says. "Doing that, we have been able to make improvements in areas other than just customer support," including better assessing the severity and prevalence of reported customer issues, making it easier for software engineers as well as support staff to best allocate their time.

Transforming the contact center into an information hub doesn't necessarily require a lot of complex technology, but it does require an interdepartmental commitment to the free exchange of information. It also requires a
willingness to discover who knows the most about your customers in the organization. It may not be the contact center in isolation-but in combination with the customer insights available to sales, marketing, and the field force, the synergies are tremendous. "It's a big cultural change for call centers," Gartner's Davies says. "They were used to being seen as a necessary evil in the business-now they're an angel."