A story about Contact Center Software

Friday, December 02, 2005

What is the purpose of your call center - part 2

Three questions remained open from the previous blog, namely  "How do you manage your call center on a macro and micro level?",  "How do you turn your agents into knowledge workers?" and  "How to improve their performance and morale?"
To recap, a summary of the previous blog.
If your call center does not have a precise defined purpose, you will never be able to optimize it. You need a mission statement. Not only you, but your (co-)supervisors and agents must know that there is one and they must act accordingly. That is the first point. Next, they must listen very carefully to your clients, and use that knowledge to help your R&D department - they should be the first ones to hear about product defects and provide valuable input for new products. As you can read in the first part, these are important to archieve a world class performance.
Now let's answer the next questions.
How do you manage your call center on a macro and micro level? Let us cut this one in two. First managing a call center on a macro level. This is all about understanding what your global group of customers want. You can divide them into segments and look at it from different perspectives. Are VIP customers treated right? Do we have good SLA's for the new campaign? What is a team's performance of the last week? All this information is highly usefull to steer your call center in the right direction, long term. Note the 'long term' there; macro level management is always used for long term. Be sure that you get the right Key Performance Indicators to get a good 'Gut Feeling' on what is going on in your call center.
Second half: managing a call center on a micro level. Sometimes instant problems arise and need to be taken care of. Often immediate - they are more often that not burning problems. For example, you have an angry customer that wants to talk to the boss of the boss of the agent; an agent is performing very bad during the last two days; your IVR is not working due to technical problems. All these issues need to be taken care of directly. You don't get the time to think things over - you need to react directly. In the blink of an eye. The trick here is to try and delegate as much as possible. When you don't do that, you end up doing only micro-management without having time for your macro-management.
Try to delegate more and have your team-leaders, (co-)supervisors and agents report back to you how they did it and what the result was. When you hired those people, you hired their hands and got the brain for free - so use it! You'll be surprised of their abilities. And, when the result is less then expected, steer them in the right direction for the next time.
Turn your agents into knowledge workers? Is that a new fancy word for the same people? No. Not really. Actually, absolutely not. Knowledge management is about people and capturing what they know. When you have agents they will do the same work over and over again, no matter if it is repetitive or not. When you have a knowledge management system in place, those same people can edit, adapt and create knowledge in a central repository and everyone can benefit of it. Think of it as a enterprise wiki. Have a look at wikipedia for instance. Thousands of people have contributed to it resulting in a huge website full of information about anything and everything. You can do the same for your organisation. The instant-knowledge that your people (I won't speak of agents anymore, of course) acquire should be turned into company knowledge by capturing it via a knowledge-style application.
You do have a FAQ for your agents, do you? Right. They can edit those FAQ's themselves? No? I thought so. The classical way of thinking is that agents can't think for themselves and if you would let them edit the FAQ's it would become a mess and no-one would find anything anymore in three business days. So only supervisors can edit the FAQ. With the result that knowledge has to pass from caller to agent to supervisor to FAQ. With a lot of intermediar steps where it can and will go wrong or just plain stop. Perhaps the agent has a good idea, but fails to tell the supervisor - because he is just too busy. Perhaps the supervisor really wants to put it in the FAQ but just does not have the time right now (and forgets about it afterwards).
In short, look at expensive enterprise knowledge management systems and at their price tags and at a wiki as (often) open source alternative. Include this in your call center and tell your agents that they should put their collective knowledge in there - to be able to search it afterwards. Reward the agent that has put the most (useful) information into the wiki. Do whatever is necessary to make capturing knowledge into the corporate repository a thing that everyone just does.
Improve the performance and morale. That's easy. Just empty a room, put a pool table there and the morale will rocket. Sky high. You don't believe me? Of course, you say, but nobody does such a stupid thing. Well, let me tell you a different story. I'm currently writing this blog in a hotel room. I returned to one of my favorite clients that had some performance problems with their database after 5 million calls or so and I'm in the process of solving it. They have this room. With a pool table. And a television set. Sofa's. The works. So, there is at least one call center that does this. At first - now three years ago - I was surprised. 'You are really spoiling your agents', I told them. 'No', they replied, 'Just make the calculation'. And they went on telling me what a room and pool table cost and what hiring and training an agent costs. 'So', they continued, 'when we retain the agent X months longer, we break even. And we do better than that'.
As a small sideline, this call center is in a bank. A big, well known brand-type of a bank. And it is not in my home country (.be) - it is in a country that some 10 years ago was behind the dreaded 'Iron Curtain'. Can you imagine that?
Of course, morale and performance go side by side. But you should not improve the morale and wait for a possible performance increase - you should also push for the improvement on that side. This is seen as a difficult point amongst supervisors I meet. How can I improve the performance, they ask - I can't tell them to speak any faster, can I? No you can't. But what you can do is apply some auto-management. This comes back to the delegation I described above, but now you are delegating the management of the agent to themselves.
Listen very carefully - I will say this only once.
Put a nice window on their screen indicating all sorts of figures regarding the call center / campaign, calls in queue, first call resolution / average talk time / average handle time / number sold / SLA / etc. / etc. / etc. and this for the call center and for the agent, either relatively to his or her baseline (as explained in an earlier blog) or in absolute figures. This will help them to see how their performance is currently (let's say in the last 30 minutes), during the day and the week, compared to the rest. It shows also how busy the call center is, so they will know whether they can chat a little with the client, or if the need to hurry up. Not having these ministats, they won't know that, and when they have a talkative client, they will perhaps take the opportunity to talk a little outside of the regular business. Which is fine when the load is low, but potentially disastrous when there are lots of calls in queue and the SLA is not met for the last hour...
So have the agent motivate themselves via this window - be sure to put the right figures there. Don't put those there that YOU think is interesting, but talk with your agents and see what they perceive as important values. Then add yours in the mix and it will be fine.
Again, not a small blog. And yet still much to say about it. What do you think? Post your feedback or send me an e-mail. Your feedback is appreciated.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

What is the purpose of your call center

A good question. Have you ever asked yourself this question? And did you came up with a satisfying answer? I mean, an answer, more specific than "helping our customers" or "selling products"? If you can't define the purpose of your call center how can you measure the performance of your call center? How can you improve? In other words - if you don't know where you are going how do you know when you get there?
Let me ask you some additional questions: Is your call center at the forefront of service and product development? Can you translate your purpose into measures and methods? Why are these important to achieve a world class performance? How do you manage your call center on a macro and micro level? How do you turn your agents into knowledge workers? How to improve their performance and morale?
Difficult questions, difficult questions. The answers aren't really simple - but it all starts with the purpose of your call center. Remember - if you don't know where you're heading, you don't know when you're there.
Let us take an example, an inbound call center that provides computer services for small and medium enterprises. The purpose of the call center could be: The management of information technology for businesses is like legal advice, accounting and the like - not a do-it-yourself product. Smart business people need quality support for their company IT issues. XYZ strives serves its clients as a trusted ally, providing them with the necessary telephone, e-mail and on-site support where needed, with maximum efficiency and reliability.
Now we know where we are heading. So your call center actually needs a mission statement. Yep, that's it - it needs a mission statement because it has a mission. That is the purpose of your call center.
One down, more to go.
Not only the call center manager needs to chant this mantra every day, also the supervisors will need to know this by heart. Really. They are the extension of the call center manager, so, they also need to know and act accordingly. And (you felt it coming) agents need to know the mission statement. Or purpose. Or however you want to call it.
So be sure that you make it not too blown up, otherwise your agents will say: "what a load of crap, they (the management) don't believe it themselves". Make it plain and simple and have them believe it. And act like it. Be sure that you are able to measure it. Look up some previous blog entries how to.
Next one, please.
Call center at the forefront of service and product development? What do you mean, you so? Are my agents going to do product development? Those people are there to help my customers. Right. Indeed they are there to help your customers. And they listen to your customers, they listen to them, to what is good and what could be improved. When you do it wrong, your agents will only solve problems - and you will have a high turnover in agents. When you do it right, they can provide valuable input to your R&D guys - and the agents feel important, as they help defining the next version of the product or service.
Can you translate your purpose into measures and methods? Another difficult one. Think of it - now that you have an actual mission, a strategy so to say, you must be able to measure it. Not in terms of number of abandoned calls but in well though out Key Performance Indicators (KPI's). Those KPI's will give you the ability to measure what is happening over time in your call center. Are your customers happy; Is a product selling more or less when a marketing campaign is launched; i.e. are we successfull?
From that, you can derive methods to improve upon the current way of working. This, of course, depends greatly on what the purpose of your call center is, but you should always keep in mind that the methods to improve should be inline with the measures. When you try to improve upon something that is not measured, well, it will not be measured, so you will never know its result. So be sure that it is measured in order to know its success.
Why are these important to achieve a world class performance? Well, I think this is obvious now, isn't it? You need to know where you go (purpose) and you need a way to see how far you went (measures) and plan for ways to go further (methods). Only then you can reach your goal to achieve a world class performance. Simply put, you cannot reach a world class performance without measuring and adjusting; this is absolutely necessary to reach your ultimate goal - the best possible call center with the resources available.
I will leave the questions "How do you manage your call center on a macro and micro level?",  "How do you turn your agents into knowledge workers?" and  "How to improve their performance and morale?" for the next blog - it is long enough as it is.
When you agree or disagree with these statements, or have something else to say, please do leave a comment. Or you can reach me via e-mail here. We could talk about how to implement or optimize your contact center with the use of our software.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Why are some call centers a success and do others drag along?

A good question, isn't it - why are some call centers a success and do others drag along?
I have seen many a call center and it seems that some of them are a big hit - highly visible in the company, wildly successful, and loved by their customers, while others are terrible - bad stats, disgruntled agents and customers running away, screaming. Let us explore some of the challenges that play an important role in creating a successful call center.
We will start with looking at it from the outside. I always like that - look at it from a customer perspective. When would you say that you have received an excellent service? I mean - when would you recommend a call center to your friends?
Hmm, let me think - I'd say that a call center is excellent when they answer me fast and good. Yeah, that is it. No more and certainly no less! Fast and good.
There you have it. Throw away the 5 pages per-agent-statistics you get on a daily basis, and start over again. Fast & Good. That's the spirit. But what does that mean, Fast & Good? How can you measure it?
It is not that hard to measure it. To measure Fast & Good - you measure fast and you measure good:
  • Fast: Pick up yer telephone before the 3rd or 4th ring (or 20 seconds waiting music)
  • Good: Solve all issues at the first call
Now, we know that this of course is not possible. We cannot pick up all telephones that fast, and we certainly can't solve all problems directly? But you can aim for the impossible can't you? So, your SLA should be something along the lines of:
  • We answer 90% of our calls within 20 seconds (answered by a person, that is)
  • We handle 90% of our calls to satisfactory completion (by the customer that is)
So Speed of Answer and First Call Resolution, are important - agreed?
Now why did I say again that you should throw away the 5 pages of statistics you get every day? Because they don't mean shit. Sorry - I mean, they don't mean very much. They provide you with how many calls were abandoned and the average wrap-up time; call volumes and longest waiting time - very good if you have a black belt in statistics - but what you don't get out of there is what your call center is doing for your business. Is it a cost center or a profit center? What is the bottom line - are you adding or substracting to the general pot of gold?
If you don't know that then you get the wrong reports!
You need to think business.
Now, getting back to business :-) why is First Call Resolution paramount? Let me explain it to you:
  • If you can't resolve it on the first call you are adding extra work for yourself - because
  • You need to schedule a call back
  • You need to research the issue
  • This research is for the current client only (Why? There must be more clients with the same issue - it should be in the FAQ's)
  • You need to call back the client (with the possibility missing it and again scheduling a call back, adding even more work)
  • And of course, the client, who is already aggravated, will call back (even more work, because the two cases need to be linked) or not buy your services / products (loss of money).
Thus when there is no First Call Resolution - you lose money. If the case would have been done at the first call, all this work could have been prevented... Hence the importance of the FCR!
So, KPI #1 (answer 90% of the calls within 20 s.) actually depends on KPI #2! When you resolve more issues on the first call, you will be able to answer more calls within the service level time. Life can be amazingly simple, can't it?
Let's get briefly back to the customer. What is it that he wants again? Fast & Good. Let's also add Personal there. I'd not like to be passed around from person to person in a company - I want one and only one person to handle my problem. What does the call center representative need to be able to do this?
First of all, he will need a good system that allows a 360° view of the customer. He will need to know all the ins and outs about this customer that are available in the different computer databases.
Furthermore the representative should know the company culture, rules and procedures by heart. Needless to say that he or she already knows the products and services that the company offers and is kept up to date whenever changes arise.
Communication training! For those who don't believe that it works I have one question - why are you reading this article? Everything (including this article) is communication and you(r agents) should learn how to do it. Communication is the skill they should use 110% of the day - so train them and let them exercise it!
Let your representatives quickly cut through the red tape in your organisation - give them authority to cut across functional areas and resolve a case quickly. This seems simple but is one of the difficult ones to do right. Let me repeat that. This is the hard part. Those corporate 'rules' are put in place because management knows what best is for the organisation, and most of the middle managment functions are created around managing these rules.
I'm not advocating that every representative should be able to do whatever they like - but in a lot of cases the agents know from their experience what will happen in a certain scenario. Wouldn't it be in the clients' interest when they can take this decision? After all, the call center is there so serve them, right?
Team leaders and supervisors will need to check on how these cases have been resolved, of course, so that they can adjust the decision of the agents - but do this after the resolution, not before. You will probably lose more money when constantly transferring calls from an agent to a team leader when a minimal decision needs to be taken. Unless, of course, your call center handles multi-million dollar bank transfers.
Think of it. Agents will feel valued, so they don't quit; Customers feel valued as decisions are taken instantly and Team leaders are free to do the task they should do - leading their team. This brings me to the next point.
Pick your team leaders and supervisors with care, and support them with adequate training. Don't 'promote' the agent that is there the longest to become a team leader, just because of that. I certainly don't hope your company doesn't do the same when picking a CEO... Being a team leader has serious responsibilities - he should guide the team, discuss the previous week, analyse the stats and look at the decisions taken by his agents.
Put in place a quality monitoring programme to evaluate individual agents and teams and publish these results. This is a touchy subject as we are entering here; it is easy to become lost in the I-am-better-than-you evaluation and certain agents will always be better than others. What I propose it to establish a baseline for every agent and for every team and to monitor and to publish the deviations from the baseline. An example. Agent Alice has a baseline of 0,7 meaning that 70% of the issues are resolved on the first call. Agent Bob has a baseline of 0,64. In the past week Alice has had 87 calls, of which 57 were FCR calls. Bob had 86 calls of which 56 were FCR calls.
A small calculation shows that Alice performed not so good: 57/87=0,655% divided by 0,7 = 0,94, i.e. 6 percent under her normal performance while Bob performed quite well: 56/86=0,651%, divided by 0,64 = 1,02 so 2 percent above his performance.
The absolute figures need to be retained for salary increase and quarterly one to one meetings, they don't need to be public. The relative numbers (Alice -6%, Bob +2%) can be published either as is or weakened (as in Alice - Bob +)
And of course an awards program (think of it as a frequent flyer program for agents) for those agents that have a high First Call Resolution behaviour and attitude. When you think long and hard enough you will come up with something that will fit in with your company culture. A dinner for two, a balloon flight, a golf course, whatever you think they would like. Or better yet - let them decide. Make the budget and let them come with suggestions.
What is in it for me? Or rather, for my call center?
When you implement these measures you will find that you will get:
  • Up to 15 % less calls - because an amazing 15 % of people will call again when they did not get the answer they were looking for
  • Less complaint calls. Did you know that a complaint call (handled by the supervisor) costs 4 to 5 times as much as a normal call?
  • Less claim calls. Needles to say, claim calls (without the cost of the claim) already cost 6 to 7 times the cost of the normal call. Plus that customer is lost. Forever.
  • Less unhandled inquiries. An unhandled inquiry costs 3 to 4 times as much as an issue that is handled on the first call.
Other people are estimating that 25 to 30 % of the call center operating cost is spent on issues that do not have a FCR. I believe them. An amazing amount of money wrongly spend. Just imagine that you wouldn't need to spend this money. Or - let's be realistic. Let's imagine that you would be able to solve half of those issues on the first call. This would effectively that
  • It would look like your budget would increase 10 - 15 %
  • Your clients would be happier
  • Your agents would be more satisfied
A dream scenario, isn't it? Some people will tell you that this is impossible. They can be in your organisation. The first thing to do is to ignore them. It is possible. I have seen it.
Here is how you go start. You need do two things. First, you need to make a detailed map of all the processes that exist in your company (or all the processes that, even remotely, touches your call center). Second (and I mentioned this already above, you need to have a unified view of your customer. Because it is so important I will state it again.
Unified. View. Of. The. Customer.
Let me tell you a small story - make that two. Let me tell you two small stories of telephone calls I made. Once was recently and the other one was some time ago, but they are still valid.
Story #1. I ordered some goods on a website and something went astray. I ended up with something I didn't want and couldn't remove it - in short, I needed help. So I called the call center. I was greeted by a friendly voice and I explained my problem. The lady told me that indeed she saw it, had no idea why it went wrong, but she could remove the goods so I could start over again. I told her to do so and after the telephone call, my basket was empty and I continued shopping.
Story #2. A year ago I decided to change energy providers. After some research I chose one and filled in my data on their website. After pushing the final submit button I got the confirmation e-mail and saw that I made a mistake; I applied for the wrong tariff. I looked at the website again, but I couldn't find out how to make changes, so I called the call center. The friendly voice in the other side told me that "he couldn't see that order and I needed to call back tomorrow, or the day after", because, "It sometimes takes a couple of days before we can see the order". I called again, within a week. To cancel my order, of course.
Unnamed company #1 has a unified view of their customers while unnamed company #2 does certainly not have it. Perhaps their employees also only have a number... I'm sure that with those stories the importance of having a unified view of the customer has become clear.
Now, to come back to the detailed map of all of the processes. You (and your agents) will need those when an issue needs to be resolved. They need to be aware of all those processes - they don't need to know them by heart, but they need to have them readily available, so that things can be put in motion. In stead of answering the customer "I don't know, I will ask (and hope for the best)".
Furthermore, you will need to extend your quality monitoring and call evaluation system towards a quality management system. With such a system it is a breeze to convince your management of the importance of the First Call Resolution and the Actual Value Created for the business. Without such a quality management system? Forget it.
Do you want to improve your call center? Have a chat with me.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Have you ever thought about how the customer thought about you?

What do your customers think of you(r call center)? You don't know? Well, why don't you ask them? What do you say, you don't want to spend resources on that? Silly you - you don't need to spend valuable people on that. Listen to me and learn a method on how to ask your customers about the quality (or the lack thereof) your call center and have them answer honestly.
It is very important for you to know what your customers think about your call centers. A client of me has the following proverb above his desk: "What you don't know, you can't measure, and what you can't measure, you can't improve." I guess he's right. You need to know before you can measure and improve.
So how can you know, measure and improve the quality of your call center without spending tons of resources on it? Normally to assess the customers attitude you don't need to ask them a lot of questions. Three or four will be enough. Also, in order to be able to make calculations over the results, there should be no free fields. Lastly, the customer should feel free to answer, and not be hindered by the agent he just talked to. Now, how can we combine all these requirements?
It is easy actually - let the IVR do the work. Let me explain myself. Normally you use an IVR at the beginning of the call to gather information and devise a routing strategy. But the IVR could also be used at the end.
Let me say that again. We are not going to use the IVR at the start but at the end of the call. So in stead of hanging up the call, the caller is transferred to an IVR where he can answer some questions about the quality of service. People will reply more honest to an IVR than to an agent. Of course, you don't need to do this for all of your callers; a certain percentage would be OK.
We have done this for a customer; it works as follows.
Someone calls to the call center and the IVR picks up. Based upon some calculations, it decides that this call should or shouldn't go to the IVR after the call. When it should go to the IVR after the call, this is announced to the caller, and the caller need to confirm that he will participate.
Then the call is sent to the agent (who does not know whether the caller will be queried lateron) and when the agent clicks on hangup, the call is not hung up, but blind transferred to the IVR with the questionnaire.
The IVR asks its questions (how was the service, was the agent nice, etc.) and this data is lateron merged with the data from the call center. Which agent, what time, type of question, etc..
Now you know how your clients are thinking about you. And once you know - you can measure it - and improve it. Why not start off with sending me an e-mail to start a discussion about it?

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Contact Center Service Level Agreement Violations

I keep on wondering whether some contact centers actually measure their Service Level Agreement Violations. Or whether they actually have Service Level Agreements and with whom? Not with me I think.
Take the following very real live example of the ING bank. For some reasons that will stay undisclosed here, I was not so happy with their service and this I wanted to discuss with them. I decided this at 10 pm, so no more call center services at that time, but no worries, there is always their website, where you can after some searching, fill in whatever you like. That is, when you have Windows and Internet Explorer. Now, this combination is not available at home; I'm running Linux and Firefox, and their crappy website does not let me it.
After typing over a URL manually, it appears that the developer sucks, because he has used javascript that only works for Internet Explorer. But I digress. On Tuesday, the 10th of May I write my thing and press the send button. And then? Nothing.
They have asked me for my e-mail address, the colour of my eyes and the size of my shoes and they don't send me a confirmation e-mail in the style:
Dear <CustomerName>
We have received your e-mail dated: dd-mm-yyyy and have assigned it ticket nr nnnnn.
Best regards
The Callcentre
This, appearently is too difficult for them. Or they are too lazy. Or they don't want to treat their customers as they should. My e-mail has been in some queue for three days, and then someone decided to forward it to another queue. And this time include me in the To: (Great! Someone is thinking at the ING!). Currently we are again three days further, and still no answer. So in total, the e-mail that I have sent via their webform that does not work on Firefox has stayed 6 days in one or more queues. Something in me tells me that this is a gross SLA violation.
I wonder whether they would know. Or care for that matter. What they do care for is my money. They really want to keep it, I think.
Well, tough chance, I'd say. In further e-mail communications I will include a link to this blog, as a teaser. If you come back to me on the telephone and tell me that you have read it, and this within two weeks, I will stay at the ING. Otherwise, I'm gone.
What will it be?

Friday, May 06, 2005

Microsoft is launching themselves into the Call Center arena

Look here Microsoft is trying to conquer the Call Center arena. Will this work? I don't know. Let's have a look at their white paper. On screen, it looks good. Until you see the number of servers you need... This will not be for smaller size call centers, from what I read you need at least three or four servers to serve your call center.
We will see what happens. My feelings are that this is a nice technology display, but that it will never be put into production.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Hmm, eyecandy

Some days ago I saw a web demo of a scripting language for call centers. Very impressive. Everything was configurable, every item had tons of properties, methods. It looked incredibly smooth. Perhaps even better than Visual Basic. But would I choose it for my scripting environment if I were a contact center? I don't think so.
Why not? Allow me to explain.
All these features take time. Your developers will want to use these features, so they will need time to learn these features. They will take more time to look up the intricacies of these features. They will take more time to develop the scripts, because after all, we now have a nice XYZ control so we *HAVE* to use it. That it can be implemented ten times as fast in an other way does not matter. They just need to use these new features.
Having all these features available on the agent side means more bugs which means more downtime and that means less productivity hence less money. Which is not what you are in business for.
Now, I'm not against new features - I'm against unncessary overhead. Remember the first time you saw a 'Tip of the Day'. Wasn't that cute? How many still do have a tip of the day activated? I deactivate them as soon as I can. I don't need all these gimmicks - I need a working environment, not a playground.
So what do you need when you are looking for a good scripting environment for your call center? You need a fast and flexible scripting environment in which most of the functionality is available (and the rest can be added on, if necessary), without all the bells and whistles.
So tell me: eyecandy scripting or fast functional scripting? What do you choose?
At Altitude Software we make such a scripting environment. Fast, lean and mean. During a demo, I can make a real life working script. Want to see it? Just Invite me.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Out of the box or not, that is the question

Is it?
Several contact center vendors provide an out of the box contact center solution. Are you ready to buy it? Well, I don't buy it. Since when does one size fits all? Are you betting your contact center (that is the basis of your valuable contacts with your clients) on an IKEA style application?
Now, nothing wrong with IKEA furniture, but applications in this type of industry need to be thought out together with the client, in order to be 100% effective. Or else you will end up with an application that will fit your needs for 50 % and you will build applications and patches and workarounds in order to make it work more or less the way you want it. This will cost you more money and time in the end.
Let's see. Windows is delivered with WordPad (as Write is called nowadays). Do you use it? Ever? Why did you buy Microsoft Word (or downloaded OpenOffice.org?) - Because you needed something more powerful. So, don't go for the prepackaged applications. Unless. Unless you can change them - meaning unless you can have the source code to change them or can have consultants that can change the source for you in order to change the application to suit your needs.
I think that all these offerings of contact center vendors with cheapo products - they are just trying to tie you in to their product. And when you are tied into it? Then they will suck you dry. You will need to buy this. And that, and the other. And you pay. And pay. And pay. And see the bottom of your wallet very soon.
So - think when you buy something cheap. It may well not be as cheap as you are thinking...

Wanna buy (perhaps not so cheap, but very performing) contact center software? Mail now. I'll be sure to make you an offer you can't refuse.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Santa Claus - or how do I drive my customers away

Recently I received a promotional e-mail with a picture of Santa Claus in it. Or better, it was the Dutch variant - Sinterklaas, who will come on the 5th of December with all kinds of presents.
I found the appearance of Santa Claus in e-mails rather early, so I decided to make a remark. I replied to the marketing e-mail, saying that this is way too early, and that I didn't appreciated it.
Two minutes later, I had a reply. An automated one. Mailbox size over the limit. I reread the original e-mail, and apparently you cannot reply to that marketing e-mail. You need to go to the website. So I went to the website, and after some searching I finally found the e-mail address where I could send my complaints to. Which I did.
After two minutes - no reply. After two hours, no automatic reply. Almost a week later, and still nothing. What do you think, will I still order there?
No, of course not.
Why? Not because of this silly Santa Claus thing where I objected - but on the way they treat their customers. It is the only thing they have!  No customers, no business. So when you don't reply to your customers when they have a question, why should they be different in the rest of the organisation.
What did they do wrong. Let's see:
  1. Always send out e-mails that you can reply to. No matter what you need to do in technical terms. People are just plain dumb. They get an e-mail, hit the reply button. Like I did. And "This Should Just Work (tm)".
  2. Have an automatic reply. Very simple. Just say something in the lines of "Thank you for sending us your e-mail. We will try to reply within three working days". Or whatever.
If they would have played with the rules, I'd probably ordered the next item there. But they didn't. So I'm off to the next shop. There are plenty of them on the internet.
Do you want to drive your customers away with your contact center? Then DON'T TALK TO US. Or perhaps you do need your customers? Mail me.

Friday, October 29, 2004

A call center morphing its way into the 21st century

A few days ago I spoke with a business consultant. He was doing consultancy for a well known company. A very well known company, I must say - nation wide, lots of visibility (in our little country). And he told me the story of restructuring their current call center into a full fledged contact center with knowledge base, workforce management, fax, e-mail handling, e-learning, business intelligence, and whatever else you can imagine. Chat? Yep. I-mode? You bet. Scanning, OCR, natural language analysis, ... the works. They wanted everything the minute they learned about the existance and possible use.
I asked him what timeframe the organisation planned to do this in. Well, he told me, the told me that their initial plan was to just buy all the boxes, wire it together and make it work. This is how they did it in the past. And after a careful analysis he showed them that they bought an awful lot of boxes the last couple of years and didn't make them work together. Or didn't use them correctly. Or at all.
So, time for a plan, Stan.
He started out making a structured document pointing out what they wanted, why and in which stadium it should come into play. He put everything in there. The scanning and OCR (they receive 500 letters ... a year, so a real need for OCR? I think not). Business SLA's, web-evaluation tools. Really everything. Then, this structured document was approved and formed into an RFP and sent out to a couple of companies.
With this, he achieved multiple thinks.
First - other companies will give their input and thought about the call center and how it should be morphing into a 21st century super duper contact center. For free.
Second - his thoughts (no scanning/OCR; is this business intelligence really needed in the first two years) will be backed up (or corrected) by the vendors or consortiums.
Third - he will help them choose the right vendor and help manage the implementation (cash again).
Fourth - All vendors will tell them to go step by step. Don't bite of more than you can chew... He could tell this, but if everyone tell them this, it must be true...
You see, quite smart, this chap. He is not the one taking the decisions, but he guides a company in need into taking the right decision. And then, managing it, slowly but surely; transforming it from an outdated call center (that didn't have any real CTI integration; where intranet and website were the same; where tools were misused) into the best contact center there is.
He will not take all the credits for it. He will leave it up to the general manager of the company. After all, at that time, his (probably well payed) job is done, moving up to the next one. But hey, that's the life of a call center business consultant.
Do you feel that your call center needs a brush up? Why not contacting Altitude, or talk to me? You will be surprised of what we can do for you.