Setting up an online contact centre: what you need to know

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Having a tip-top call centre is all well and good, but in this day and age, most organisations need a robust online contact centre too. Ian Davis looks at the technologies that make for better online contacts, and offers some advice on the things you need to consider when building such an entity.

Increasing call volumes, high expectations and tight budgets all contribute to the headaches of today’s call centre agents. Unfortunately, these problems are not likely to go away any time soon, which is why many businesses are turning to the web.

“low quality service is damaging to your brand
and will result in loss of sales”
The web is that magical lower-cost service channel that every business has been searching for, but if adopted, your company needs to ensure its service is up to scratch. Irrelevant online search results and a half-hearted web-based service will only frustrate your customers and send them back to the phone.

Even worse, low quality service is damaging to your brand and will result in loss of sales. Today there is a wide variety of technology available that will help you to embrace the web as a service channel and integrate it with your existing call centre, cutting costs and inspiring long-term customer loyalty.

What technologies make a good online contact centre?

So what are these technologies and how should your businesses implement them? I have outlined below some

Top three things to consider when building an online contact centre for the first time1. Integrate channels

An online contact centre will work best when effectively integrated with your existing call centre. Rather than viewing the web and phone as two separate channels, they should be seen as parts of one cohesive multi-channel business. Using technologies such as click-to-call will ensure that customers have the ability to search for answers to problems, or purchase products online when they choose, but also can easily contact an agent if they should need to.

2. Share information internally

Make sure your technology uses a natural language search engine, essential for agents quickly looking for information when trying to solve a problem in a live call situation. Information should also be searchable from anywhere within an organisation, and from any format, including Word documents, PDFs and HTML pages. Call centres must also have tools in place to capture new information on customers and allow this to be shared with agents in real time.

3. Personalise customer interactions

Personalisation is the key to providing the most relevant customer service experiences. By developing a profile based on customers’ preferences and behaviours, a call centre can react to each and every incoming customer enquiry with greater speed and effectiveness. To do this, businesses need to collate and combine all incoming and existing information they have for each individual that gets in touch with the company, regardless of which channel this has come from.

of the key tools to consider when creating an online call centre, highlighting the business benefits of each.
1) Web self-service

Web self-service is an approach to automating customer care. It allows users to type in their own questions online while technology works to search your company website and provide customers with a correct and comprehensive answer to their query.

It does this by collecting real-time information on your customers in order to customise the online experience of each visitor based on their previous and current purchases and activities. For example, a buyer of a digital camera can access information about the care and use of the specific camera purchased based on information provided when the buyer completed the warranty registration. Once identified by the personalisation system, the buyer doesn’t even have to know the particular product model he or she purchased.

Similarly, a customer can go online to resolve a continuing problem and the system will automatically know what the problem is, what has been done to date, and proceed from that point without asking the customer the same questions time and time again. The system will even be able to identify customers that qualify for speedier service based on the value the organisation places on its relationship with them, greatly enhancing the experience for each individual.

The first step in implementing web self-service is to ensure that your organisation has sufficient customer data to effectively personalise and customise the web experience. Although a full, 360 degree view of the customer is ideal, it is not required as long as the personal information that the system does have is relevant.

Your organisation also will need to have current, accurate product and support data. Once this is in place you can deploy a web self-service application to help solve your customers’ queries online.

While web self-service is not intended to entirely replace phone-based agents, it can relieve the call centre of a significant portion of its workload. Indeed, with the right tools, most routine customer queries can be solved online. This technology empowers customers and allows agents to spend their time dealing with more complicated queries, delivering improved customer service, and helping a business to save significant money by harnessing the web channel.

2) Click-to-call technology

Click-to-call technology allows a consumer to click a button on a website, e-mail or banner and initiate a conversation with a salesperson or customer care agent, via either the telephone or computer.

The technology works by identifying web behaviour towards the end of a buying cycle that indicates a customer is indecisive about purchasing, and recognising at which stage your business should intervene and offer support.

The idea of involving a real person in the online buying process is to increase a shopper’s confidence and reduce shopping cart abandonment, which analyst house Forrester estimates runs at over 50%.

On implementing click-to-call, buttons will be embedded within any online communication you choose, such as your website, e-mails, or search engine listings. Customers can either place a call over the computer using voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) technology or request an immediate call-back by entering their phone number. Click-to-call also lets you monitor and control when and where online visitors migrate from the web to the phone sales channel.

Some may fear that click-to-call will increase call volumes in call centres, but in fact the opposite is true. Agents will have a wealth of information on the customer before they even pick up the phone, meaning call handling time can be reduced by up to 60 seconds.

In addition, the fact that click-to-call is only offered at a certain point in the buying cycle, and not plastered all over a site, ensures that only customers with sincere problems or intentions to buy will come through to your call centre agents. Ultimately, click-to-call helps consumers go from browsing to buying, boosting conversion rates and profits for the company.

3) Response management

Customers increasingly want to communicate with companies via a growing number of channels. If they contact you via e-mail, a web form, or even text message, an effective response management system will assess the inquiry and either send an automated response or route the inquiry to the agent best skilled to handle the issue.

Using message queue management controls and automatic responses, incoming enquiries are scanned and assessed according to content and sender. In addition, agents are monitored for availability and assessed in terms of their areas of expertise. The enquiry is then automatically categorised and put through to the best available agent.

Response management technology can be bought as a licensed solution, or hosted by a specialist. On implementing, your call centre can set policies which will route incoming enquiries automatically, meaning the centre no longer has to spend time deciding which agent is best equipped to deal with them. The systems can also produce customisable response templates, to ensure agents provide customers with accurate and thorough answers every time.

By improving response and resolution times to all queries, your call centre will raise its service standards, helping you to comply with existing service level agreements (SLAs). Customers not only get a faster response to their query, but by proving that every incoming enquiry will be handled efficiently, customers can interact with your business via their preferred channel, again ensuring a more personalised and satisfying experience.

Customers who prefer to use the web receive as fast and effective a response as those who choose to phone. In addition, the web is available 24 hours a day.

Now you’ve got the low-down, make sure you have the knowledge

All of the above technologies will work together to integrate your web and phone services, and provide an impressive online contact centre offering. However, if you are embracing the web channel for the first time, shifting such a large proportion of your call centre business online can seem like a daunting process.

While all these elements are invaluable to a multi-channel organisation, the first step is to ensure you have implemented a great knowledge management system that will allow agents to collate and share crucial information on their customers.

This will provide agents with all the essential information on the customers they are dealing with and ensure that whether customers choose to interact with a business via phone, e-mail or the web, agents are prepared to give the most appropriate and thorough responses.

Ian Davis is director of product strategy at ATG
The following comments have been posted relating to this article:

It’s a shame that many call centres do not link root cause analysis back onto the website. The call centre often seems to pick up weaknesses in the website – perhaps with key information not being provided. All too often this is locked in the call centre and not added onto the website. (posted by Jonty Pearce)

Author: Jonty Pearce

Published On: 5th May 2007 - Last modified: 19th Dec 2018
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