Nothings ever as easy as it seems at first blush.
Take the web. Everybodys first serious
foray into web technology was about information, document or transaction self-service. Brick and mortar firms (BAMs) and fence-sitters have treated the web like a fax-on-demand box a novel way of satisfying formulaic inquiries and fulfilling low-level support requests. Greenfield dot com companies (and born again e-commerce converts), meanwhile, have used the web to build giant vending machines for whatever theyre selling giving new meaning to the old Horn and
Hardart pitch: ... untouched by human hands.
But, as the popularity of the web grows unabated, the shortcomings of this single-minded perspective are becoming obvious. These days, customers go to the web as soon as their will-to-buy is stimulated (by advertising or other outreach). But if they dont find exactly what they want, or hit a snag during the ordering process, theyre off again; lured by competition or distracted by other concerns. A recent market analysts study found
that around 66% of online transactions are abandoned before a sale is closed.
Even without the statistics, this scenario probably sounds familiar enough to most of us: many people like to shop online because the experience is solitary and private; but when it comes to making a purchase, we still rely on others for information or just reassurance. Web shopping that fails to integrate some element of customer service becomes equivalent to window shopping which does not present a very lucrative
WEBIFYING THE CALL CENTER
Luckily, a relatively large number of call center hardware and software developers foresaw this impending crisis, and started producing solutions to the problem of providing customer service on the web (most of which are just now starting to be adopted
). For the most part, features offered fit under four basic headings.
means that a customer surfing your website can hit a button that will open a text chat
session with an agent. This typically involves a Java applet or HTML embedded application (the smaller the better) that runs on the customers browser, and a chat window that is integrated with the agents desktop software.
is a similar idea, but uses VoIP as the method of communication. This means that the customer must have Microsoft NetMeeting or a similar VoIP client on his or her PC. Once issued, the call request hits either an IP ACD or travels through an IP gateway
to a standard ACD/PBX. Agents can pick up the call on a PC-based VoIP softphone, an IP telephony appliance or by passing the VoIP call through a gateway on a conventional phone, perhaps downstream from a standard ACD. Fallback (usually to text chat) is sometimes provided, for use when poor Net QoS degrades VoIP call quality.
involves the customer requesting a PSTN call back from an agent, either immediately or at a scheduled time and date. The request
is routed from the web server to an outbound dialing application (which will dial the call and queue it to an available agent). Alternatively, some systems send the call request direct to the agents desktop; when the agent accepts the request, the call is dialed by CT link with the switch. Right away callback typically presupposes a business-to-business context, in which the customer can receive a call while continuing to surf the web. Dedicated broadband access like DSL and cable,
however, could make callbacks effective for consumer applications as well.
usually integrated with click-to-chat or click-to-talk. On the most basic level, collaboration means that an agent can push particular pages to a customers browser, and/or that the two parties browsers can be synchronized and they can move from page to page in lock-step. Beyond this, some collaboration software enables application sharing and whiteboarding
(sometimes through NetMeeting, sometimes with a proprietary app).
All of these methods of communicating add a degree of customer service that was, until recently, entirely absent from the web. And, as youll find from our roundup, the software has matured quite a bit since its first incarnations. A plethora of players in the field has widened the range of products available, and made the systems more accessible to call centers of all sizes and types. Client apps are more efficient (friendlier to users
existing systems), more interactive, and more intelligent.
On this last point rests one of the biggest differentiators among the products out there, as well as an opportunity to leverage web-based service to the greatest advantage of your organization. Since todays call centers have to handle multiple media, it is important that these various media are blended as closely as possible, and that the right agents are picked to handle the right kinds of calls. At the same time, you want to make sure
that your routing engine can take into account the calls priority, as well. (The caveat to reducing all calls or contacts to common objects is that not every contact is worth the same thing to your business). The latter depends on knowing as much as possible about who the customer is before the agent takes a call; and this can be done through CT links, as well as web-specific solutions like detecting which pages a customer had been viewing prior to initiating the contact request.
Knowing more about the customers who are contacting you means, of course, more opportunities to cross-sell and up-sell them. By doing so, you turn your webified call center into a proactive marketing tool, rather than just a means of handling inbound calls and requests for information. To this end, we are seeing an increasing number of vendors who provide blended inbound/outbound platforms, where information used to identify an incoming caller and handle his request can simultaneously be used to feed an
intelligent outbound sales campaign.
ENABLING THE WEB
The extension of web-based technology for call centers does not end with blending inbound and outbound calls. As time passes, since the first appearances of web-enabled call center products, the headings web-enabled or webified themselves start to lose a degree of precision. Insofar as they suggest simply tacking web functionality onto a traditional call center, these categories represent only a part of what integration
with the web (or, more broadly, the Internet as a whole) can mean.
Solutions like those offered by Genesys, Cosmocom, and Cisco/GeoTel are taking this paradigm a step further. By using IP as a basis for building out the infrastructure of the call center, Web applications can start to make a lot more sense. Not only does IP routing make your call center infinitely distributable (while lowering internal toll charges), but an IP architecture supporting open APIs can allow you to implement new applications and
new media protocols with significantly less hassle over integration than last generation, proprietary platforms.