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Wake-Up Call To Call Agents

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Posted March 22, 2002 By Seng Li Peng     Feedback

A customer's experience with a call agent can make or break the relationship between the customer and the company.

In today's business environment where product quality can be easily duplicated and price wars are of no help in retaining customers, quality customer service is the most likely differentiator between a company and its competitors. This has led to a proliferation of customer relationship management products in the market in the last few years. And a major focus of CRM is linked to an organization's call centers.

According to IDC, the worldwide CRM market is expected to reach US$148 billion by 2005 and more than US$76 billion will be dedicated to e-customer care.

Despite the enthusiasm and the real benefits behind CRM, failure rate of CRM is said to be as high as 70 percent. There are several reasons behind this.

"One of it being that many companies have failed to recognize that CRM is a business concept and not a technology. Before implementing CRM, they should first identify what their business goals are and then find out how a technology can help enable them to achieve these goals," said Oscar Alban, principal market consultant, Witness Systems, a provider of multimedia recording and quality monitoring that enables organizations to enhance quality customer interactions across multiple communications channels.

In addition, the concept of the 'customer is King' in Asia is still in its nascent stage. For a long time, local juggernauts such as those in the airlines, telecommunications and banking and finance sectors faced little foreign competition. Telcos especially, used to monopolize the domestic market in many parts of Asia. Often, the customers were at the mercy of these companies and were passed from one agent to another when trying to make simple enquiries.

Although the situation has improved with deregulation of the telco sector and also with customers becoming more demanding and less likely to put up with sub-standard services, it may still take a while for call agents to understand the concept of quality service.

Quality Analysis System

Currently, more than two-thirds of all customer interactions occur through an organization's call center. The call center today is also no longer seen as a cost, but profit, generating center where agents can successfully conduct cross selling of products. And a customer's experience with a call agent can make or break the relationship between the customer and the company.

The META Group has cautioned that 'untrained agents can severely damage an organization's credibility', while consultancy, Sage Circle, recommends that for every $1 spent on software, $1.50 should go into training.

Alban therefore suggested that once the right business processes and CRM tools have been put in place, companies should also consider a quality analysis system that records an agent's conversation with a customer via the call center as well as capturing the data on the agent's screen.

"By capturing both voice and computer desktop activity and synchronizing them during replay help companies analyze complete interactions as they occurred. It can then help them trace back why certain trends have been happening and rectify the problem from there. They can also identify whether a particular agent is strong or weak in handling certain types of enquiries," Alban explained.

According to Alban, the market for such analysis is growing at 90 percent per year worldwide because "in addition to CRM, companies are now very concerned about the quality in the delivery of service by agents."


Another way of improving service in call centers is to set up more self-service Web pages to answer basic and common questions asked by customers. This way, it allows agents to focus on providing high-end service to higher-level types of customers while helping the organization cut down on costs.

Based on single interactions with customers via the multiple customer touch points, it cost a company an average of $5.01 to service a customer over the telephone, $2.50 via Web chat, $2 through email and $0.04 via Web self-service.

Because of the benefits it delivers, most companies will implement more self-service Web pages in the months to come.

A spokesperson from SingTel has also commented that call centers in the future will no longer be separated from the Web and that the Internet can help companies increase customer service without having to increase their agents.

"However, if they do not do it properly, companies would create two touch points, that is the self-service Web page and the call center, for the same issue and this will increase costs for the company and frustrates the customer," Alban cautioned.

Recent research has shown that 45 percent of customers who defect from their sales/service experiences do so due to poor service and another 20 percent due to lack of attention.

"The frustration faced by many customers today in a self-service page is that the frequently asked questions (FAQs) have not been updated fast enough to meet current demands and as high as 80 percent of the Web visits turn into calls."

So what is Alban's advice? "Again we have to stress on processes before putting up a self-service Web page. Anticipate what customers want on the site and continue to ask them what else they want added on the site. They should also have a system to capture a customer's experience on the site and analyze why they abandon or continue with the site and see what else they can do to increase a customer's satisfaction level."

Last but not least, update the FAQs daily.

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