Like Ocean Divers, Your Agents Can Spot the Tentacles of Customer Data Hiding in Plain Sight


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Chances are, you have already invested heavily in your contact center, and your budget doesn’t allow for expensive, custom development projects to help you reap greater rewards from your existing systems. Nevertheless, customer care operation managers are challenged to minimize cost while maximizing competitive advantage.

Identifying such a strategic approach to customer care is one of the many issues I’ve become familiar with in my role at Microsoft, where I develop the partner ecosystem related to customer care solutions. As a scuba diving enthusiast for many years, I have developed some analogies between customer care centers and the underwater world. Let me take you along on a dive beneath the emerald green waters of Puget Sound and share with you some of the issues—and potential solutions—I’ve heard from people responsible for best-in-class customer care centers.

Agents often had to access up to 10 different applications at a time to get to the data the customer was inquiring about.

The rich waters of the Pacific Northwest give life to some of the largest species of octopi in the world. Often measuring 15 feet—tentacle to tentacle—the Giant Pacific Octopus has the ability to change its color and texture to mimic its surroundings, making it very difficult to spot. Divers will often swim within feet of these gigantic creatures without recognizing them. In much the same way, call center staff may have difficulty seeing information helpful to resolving a customer issue—even though it’s right in front of them—albeit camouflaged in seemingly uninteresting forms.

As agents switch from one application to another to find customer orders or returns, complaints or payment history, the clock ticks and the customer grows impatient. When lacking an immediate and clear picture of the customer and his or her relationship with your company, the representative must consult multiple systems or hand the customer off to another agent.

With experience, divers can easily see the magnificent Giant Pacific Octopus because of the tell-tale signs that often disclose the location of its den. But divers lacking the proper knowledge sometimes give up looking, never having seen the creature in its natural habitat. Perhaps you have some highly experienced agents who are willing to patiently wade through the systems to successfully serve your customers. Or maybe many of your good agents have given up, dissatisfied because it was too difficult to solve customer issues. This, of course, can lead to the big expense of recruiting and training new agents.

A Croatian telecommunications company that I know of experienced this exact problem. Its call center processes thousands of calls each day, but its inability to aggregate information from various sources meant that customer service representatives had a hard time providing high-quality customer support consistently. When a call came through, agents had to open up a program that pulled up the customer’s billing information. Next, they had to access another application to get the customer’s contact information, then pull up yet another application to update the customer’s order information. Agents often had to access up to 10 different applications at a time to get to the data the customer was inquiring about. None of the data was grouped in a way that provided a holistic view of the customer’s sales history. After the call was completed, agents then had to update data in several different applications because the programs were not able to communicate with each other. For example, if a customer had called to update his or her credit card information, this information had to be manually typed into multiple applications.

Workflow processes for each service were disconnected from account information, so recording and resolving a customer pain was tedious and time consuming. The quality of interaction with the customer depended nearly entirely on the skill of the individual agent, and that skill was often acquired through trial and error—a game you don’t want to play with real customers. In addition, representatives could not take advantage of cross-sell opportunities because the contact center staff did not have a record of prior customer purchases.

Had the information been presented in a role-appropriate way, with automated suggestions, employees would have felt confident and empowered, knowing they were doing what’s best for the customer, as well as making suggestions that were pre-approved and aligned with company goals.

Opening communication

To solve these problems, the Croation company implemented a framework that opened up lines of communication between disparate line-of-business applications and provided representatives with a simple, unified desktop experience. Customer representatives had to access only one screen that pulled up relevant and organized account information. Any changes made to the data was dispersed to other applications, so updates had to be done only once, instead of multiple times, and automated suggestions helped guide agents promote new business initiatives. The company processed twice the number of customer calls, while reducing the activation time of its broadband Internet package, its most popular service, by 90 percent! These changes helped personalize experiences with customers to foster loyalty and increase sales.

Because the new framework unified existing applications, the company avoided the high cost of custom development. Employees found the unified desktop much easier to use, and they didn’t need to learn new applications, which reduced or avoided training costs. With access to information grouped in meaningful ways, agents could pursue appropriate and relevant up-sell and cross-sell opportunities to generate more revenue. Giving agents the right tools improved contact center morale and decreased employee turnover.

This framework-based approach to customer care is not just another system to add to all your existing systems. Rather, it supports the rapid, flexible and cost-effective development of customer care solutions. Using modern web services and workflow automation, the framework interfaces with and leverages a contact center’s existing collection of business applications—linking agents’ desktops to systems such as CRM, billing, payment, ordering, trouble ticketing and knowledge management.

By utilizing existing systems, customer care centers spend less time training employees on new applications. Another company I know saw a decrease of 45 percent in training time by using this framework-based approach. It can increase automation and accelerate agent productivity by creating workflows that suggest a course of action that the agent can follow to resolve the customer issue promptly. A framework-based solution lets customer care centers choose the level of sophistication in business intelligence and automation capabilities.

Your customer data is your greatest asset, and using it wisely will help you build a strong foundation to streamline customer interactions. Such a framework allows agents to provide a consistent customer experience, decreases the number of transfers made, reduces resolution time and decreases call-center operating costs. A framework lets you see the giant octopus, connecting systems to empower customer service representatives with the information they need to resolve customer pains and improve the bottom line.

Dave Rintoul
Dave Rintoul is a senior product manager at Microsoft Industry Solutions Group and is responsible for developing the partner ecosystem surrounding customer care solutions. Rintoul has been diving since 21 and spends his free time as a diving instructor and volunteer diver at the Seattle Aquarium.


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