Can You Get More From Your Contact Center?: A Tele-panel Discussion

0
495 views

Share on LinkedIn

The contact center is a key component of your organization. It’s on the front line to your customers. Contact representatives are the ones who hear first that a product isn’t working or the service wasn’t delivered well. No matter which channel your customer—or prospective customer—contacts you through, it’s the receptacle for a wealth of information you can use to improve your company. But how do you sift through that data? And can you get profit—as well as value—through contact with your customer? What’s happening in the nascent Asia Pacific region? CRMGuru.com founder Bob Thompson and three experts in the field of contact, Donna Fluss, Bill Price and Simon Kriss, tackled these issues in a discussion held March 17, 2005.

The following transcript was edited for length and clarity.

The contact center as a value center
Outsourcing
Multiple channels
Data and speech analysis

Bob Thompson
I’d like to start off by thanking Donna Fluss, Simon Kriss and Bill Price for joining us in this tele-panel discussion on contact centers. I’d like to ask each of you to introduce yourself. Tell us a little bit about what you and your firm are up to. Why don’t we start with Simon Kriss?

Simon Kriss
I’m calling in today from Jakarta, in Indonesia. I’m normally based in Hong Kong, and I run a vendor-neutral consulting company, called Sagatori, which is specialized in setting up and rebuilding centers, as well as working as call center doctor for a number of Asian-based call centers, and also for people around the world looking to strategically outsource to Asia. Besides that, we play a large role in China, and I’m one of the consultants to the Chinese government, in helping set standards for the China call center industry.

Bob Thompson
It’s great to have you on our program, and thanks for calling in from such a far land. Bill Price, would you introduce yourself?

Bill Price
Sure, Bob. I’m president and founder of Driva Solutions. We’re a Seattle-area-based global consultancy. Driva Solutions handles the North American element of what we call the LimeBridge Alliance, which is 10 companies located around the world. Based on the three years or so that I spent at Amazon, running global customer service, we’ve been putting in place three different practice areas for our clients, ranging from start-ups to well-established companies. One we call contact optimization, and the second one is agent and team performance optimization. The third one is sourcing optimization, which would be: Where in the world do we put our contact centers in making them work?

Bob Thompson
That’s a broad range of things. Donna Fluss, last but not least, tell us about your firm.

Donna Fluss
I’m the principal of DMG Consulting, a consulting and analyst firm based in New Jersey. My firm is a boutique company that specializes in both consulting and analysis. We specialize in customer-focused strategy, operations and technology for Global 2000 and emerging companies. We concentrate in the areas of contact center, real-time analytics and marketing.


The contact center as a value center

Bob Thompson
Again, welcome to all three of you. I’d like to launch right in here, and start with a topic that’s, I think, been bandied about quite a bit in the last few years: making the contact center a real asset for companies or, if you like, a profit center. Rather than looking at it as a place that’s going to be a sinkhole for costs, let’s make it a real asset. Let’s use it to really develop strong relationships.



My question to the three of you is: Is that really feasible? Is it really happening? If you think it is happening, maybe you could give a quick example of a company that really is being successful with this idea of a profit center.

Simon Kriss
In Asia, we’re seeing a fair bit of struggle with the concept of moving from a cost center to a profit center. The companies, themselves, internally are just struggling with the concept that the call center can be anything other than a service center. But for the few companies that have made the break, and particularly in the insurance industry in Asia, they have seen some remarkable returns and some remarkable growth. The kind of numbers that I would be talking about is, while they may have had 200 or 300 inbound seats for service, we’re seeing some companies setting up up to 2,000 outbound seats to try and drive new revenues.

Bob Thompson
Are they using these as outbound telemarketing type operations, or is it that inbound calls are being converted into sales?

Simon Kriss
For the most part, the whole industry here, as you can appreciate, is still a little embryonic. They are definitely still in the mode of “outbound telemarketing equals sales,” rather than, “Let’s look at how we can maximize conversion rates on inbound.”

Bob Thompson
So they’re not combining the two. They’re just adding on the outbound element.

Simon Kriss
Absolutely. They still see them as a separate skill set. They’re bolting them on separately, and hopefully, that will start to change over time.

Bob Thompson
You made a comment earlier that I found interesting. You said that they are struggling with this idea of a profit centers. Why is that? What are a couple of the key issues you’re seeing?

Simon Kriss
I would liken it a little to how they train an elephant for the circus. They tether it when it’s born. Then the elephant doesn’t believe it can ever get away. The same sort of thing seems to be occurring. The call centers have been so “tethered” since introduction that all they can do is inbound service, and the senior management—and even the call center management—believes that that’s still the case. So we’ll see that they have an inbound service center, but they outsource telemarketing. Or they might outsource calls about this or about that, rather than thinking, “Hey, we really can do all this in-house.”

Bob Thompson
It becomes almost a calcification of the business process?

Simon Kriss
Absolutely.

Bob Thompson
Bill, could you add something to this? Have you seen this profit center concept go beyond the talking stages to reality anywhere?

Bill Price
We’ve seen a lot of companies try to do it, similar to what Simon described. I think we’ve seen companies struggling to do it, because they’ve done it the wrong way. They’ve said, “Wow, we have these thousands and thousands of phone calls or emails coming in every day. Wouldn’t it be great if we just attached some cross-selling and up-selling to x percent of them?”—with “x” being sometimes a very large number and in other cases in the 10 percent to 20 percent range. And yet, most of the companies with whom we deal are handling pretty tough contacts: customer upset issues, products that haven’t shipped properly, products that have bugs in them and so forth. And it’s really hard to find good attachable contacts for cross-selling and up-selling. Now, this is apart from the outbound telemarketing that Simon was mentioning, which is less a question of where we play than the classic inbound centers.

We tend to look at the information value that an agent can get by listening to customers and upwelling those valuable ideas or nuggets back up to, let’s say, a marketing group or a technology group and use it as a way to create value. We use the term “value center,” rather than “profit center,” per se, and have not seen very good implementations of the cross-selling and up-selling. Clearly, there are some examples. Capital One is good at doing a bunch of inbound and outbound telemarketing and sales work, and there are others that I could probably share with you. But we look at: There’s a value that can be derived by talking to customers, listening to customers.

Bob Thompson
So you can capture the value. You don’t literally have to get the same reps doing new things, but you could get that information and use it elsewhere in the company.

Bill Price
Correct.

Bob Thompson
That makes a lot of sense. Donna, could you add something on this profit center idea?

Donna Fluss
Yes. We’ve seen some different things for the past few years. If you go back 10 years, or for that matter, even as far back as 18, organizations were beginning to talk about the opportunity to use the call center to up-sell/cross-sell and generate incremental revenue. What we see absolutely varies by industry. And, as Bill pointed out, if it’s really a tough service issue, you’re not going to be positioned to turn around and say to the customer, “Hey, I know you’re really unhappy, but wouldn’t you like to buy something from me now?” That’s not what’s going to happen. However, certain industries have become pretty successful at using their call center to generate revenue over the past few years. These industries include retailing, financial services and even cell phone companies, where we all know we’re not generally calling to say wonderful things.

Just to delve a little bit further into some of the industries, let’s take the retailers. One of the things they’re looking at is introducing more effective incentive programs in order to motivate their sales and service staff to be more effective. I am talking about the same group of agents who handle both sales and service. In the case of financial services, they’ve been playing with the whole concept of up-sell/cross-sell for at least 15 years, and they are maturing and starting to become extremely effective, particularly in certain areas. As Simon indicated, insurance in North America also is rather effective, and cell phone is an interesting area—a lot of complaints about the industry, in general. Some of the most disliked companies are in the marketplace, yet they are working with their staff to try to turn that around. So that’s really a tough situation.

Bob Thompson
So we’re seeing some pockets of improvement, but is it fair for me to say that it’s difficult to do, and we certainly can’t point to a majority of companies succeeding with turning their call centers or with turning their contact center into a profit center? Does everybody agree with that? Let’s take 100 contact centers, in general at random. Would you find that 70 percent of them are doing this? Or would it be more like 10 percent or 15 percent or 20 percent?

Donna Fluss
Let me start with that one. It does depend on the region. In North America, you’re going to find a larger percentage of call centers that are profit centers than anywhere else in the world. In the U.K., you’re going to find some contact centers moving in that direction but substantially fewer than in North America. Asia is absolutely lagging behind North America, but it’s absolutely appropriate, in terms of its maturation.

In terms of using the call or contact center to generate revenue, I’d say at least 80 percent of companies are using their call and contact centers to generate revenue. The percentage of those centers that are actual profit centers is less, but there are other factors involved.

Bob Thompson
That’s a little more optimistic than I had thought. Bill, what’s your take on it, just a rough idea?

Bill Price
My focus, and our specialty as a group, is largely in inbound care centers and less so in inbound telemarketing or even outbound telemarketing centers. Focusing on the inbound care and service area, I’d say that well over 50 percent of the companies that we know and deal with have tried something like cross-selling, up-selling or trying to come up with some sort of profit motive or incentives to the agents. But many of them have shelved it and gone back to: Let’s just deal with what’s happening right now. Why did the customer call us in the first place? And let’s make sure we delight them incredibly well, deal with it in one contact. Then we can deal with sales opportunities through other avenues. I think there’s been a recession, or an ebbing, of the interest, so it’s somewhere in the 20s or 30s.

Bob Thompson
Simon, quick answer: What’s your take on it in your area?

Simon Kriss
I would totally concur with what Donna said. It is still very embryonic here. There are even centers that are starting to try and play with the up-sell/cross-sell but still don’t consider themselves to be profit centers or value centers.


Outsourcing

Bob Thompson
So let’s go on to our second topic. It seems to me that people have tried the profit center. I know that success rates have varied quite a bit. But what has been a much more stunning trend is offshoring and other types of cost reduction. It seems like it’s been kind of successful in spots on the profit and the revenue side, but everybody’s gotten on the “let’s save the cost” bandwagon.

How does a company that is trying to not screw up its relationships with its customers—and hopefully, most of them are, at least, thinking about that—balance the relationship and the service quality side of the equation with the cost?

Simon, since you were last up, would you mind leading us off you that? Do you find companies in your region that are successfully balancing those two issues?

Simon Kriss
There are very few that are successfully balancing those issues. One seems to far outweigh the other, and I get fairly passionate about this topic, because it leads onto things like least-cost offshoring and outsourcing. Most often, I find the problem is that the call center cannot articulate its own value proposition. Where it doesn’t have a value proposition, the CEO is looking to lower the bottom line as well as drive top line, and they look to the call center for big value savings.

If you look at it from a pure logic point of view, if you keep driving—or trying to drive out—cost over and over and take that to its final place, you’re going to cut down the number of humans, and therefore, have service degradation.

Bob Thompson
Well, what’s wrong with saving money, though? If you can maintain the service quality and save money—if I’m running a business, I like that.

Simon Kriss
Yeah, that’s OK if you’re not going to change any of the other variables. If you’re going to keep the same number of products and the same number of customers and you just want to save some money, that’s fine. What we’re finding, though, is management saying: We want you to spend less, but we want you to now service more customers or have an increasing market share or an increasing product portfolio. And they are very different goals to aim for, so I’m not finding too many companies that are balancing that equation well. But what I am seeing in Asia is a big shift from focusing on OpEx to focusing on CapEx. So let’s stop here, and make the decision to spend the right amount of money to get ourselves to the right position so that we, then, in the longer term through OpEx, can start saving.

Bob Thompson
You’re going to have to define those terms for us: OpEx, CapEx. What do you mean?

Simon Kriss
Operational expenditure and capital expenditure. We’re finding that they’re spending larger on capital expenditure up front, on things like technology and physical environment and so forth, to try and lower the longer-term operational expenditure through overstaffing, through having to replace staff because of high attrition and things like that.

Bob Thompson
Donna, I know that we’ve talked in other interviews about offshoring, and you’ve done some research in this area. There are some substantial cost savings to be had, right, in doing off shoring, if you do it correctly. Maybe not 80 percent, but savings of 50 percent or more are not that uncommon, is that correct?

Donna Fluss
Absolutely correct. There are very few single business events that can reduce your operating expenses by 50 to 60 percent. If done right, you can successfully offshore/outsource your contact center activity and absolutely save 60 cents on the dollar. The challenge—and there are a lot of challenges—is to do it right. The good news is that there are already established best practices for how to do it right. The problem and the issues that we’re seeing—Simon talked of some of them—is that a lot of companies are not following best practices.

Bob Thompson
Well, let’s define that. What does it mean to do it right?

Donna Fluss
To do it right means that you’ve got to start with a clean shop, and you have to know what exactly it is you want to outsource. My company, DMG Consulting, offers a cookbook that explains the steps and gives a project plan for doing it right.

Bob Thompson
Are you saying if your operation’s already a mess, then you shouldn’t start by offshoring or outsourcing?

Donna Fluss
No, you shouldn’t. You need to clean it up before outsourcing. If your operation is in a mess, do not assume that somebody else is going to be able to fix what you haven’t been able to fix. There are a lot of issues to consider. It’s important to figure out what region is appropriate for your customer base. Yes, you do want to save a lot of money. But if by saving x amount of dollars, you end up losing a large percentage of customers, the numbers don’t make a lot of sense.

Bob Thompson
Well, that seems to be the big if. If you can do it successfully, where your customers don’t see deterioration, then it’s a good idea. Bill, maybe you can answer this question: Has anyone actually looked at that carefully and measured whether, in fact, moving the contact center somewhere else had any effect. We’re not picking on any particular area of the world here; we’re just saying it’s not in your current region. You move it there. You save the money, 50 percent, 60 percent, whatever it is. But something changed in the way the operation was handled. Sid it, in fact, affect how customers perceived the service quality, and how did it affect their loyalty?

Bill Price
Well, I think that both Donna and Simon can come up with a bunch of examples. But let me hit it with a couple of quick comments or quick reactions. Offshoring is sort of the modern day variation of outsourcing—or expanding within one’s geography, anyway—so many companies that are U.S. based or U.K. based or whatever other country based have already done some outsourcing, setting up second or third centers away from their original operations. Offshoring adds some more complicated dimensions. You can offshore to a third party, or you can offshore yourself. Both of those are challenging, but we’ve seen examples where it is done well, probably following some of those best practices that Donna was starting off to tick off to you.

To measure it, you need to really make sure you know what you are measuring. What is customer satisfaction from the customer’s point of view, not just an internal quality monitoring, which is a necessary component, but the sufficiency is: making sure you ask customers afterwards what they thought of that interaction, in terms of the quality of it, the completeness of it, the speed of it, etc., the clarity of it. And then, in transaction-oriented businesses like mine back at Amazon, when I took Amazon offshore to India, for example: Find out what the customers really did after the interactions. Did they continue to buy from the company? Did they increase their purchase rate? Or did they decrease it?

Bob Thompson
Right, and what did you find?

Bill Price
That’s really the analysis that you need to pull together to find out whether it really worked.

Bob Thompson
Anything you can share with us from your Amazon days?

Bill Price
We were very careful about what we took offshore. It was email, rather than voice, for example. And it was in India, as I said, and this led to an outsourcer in Delhi, eventually Delhi and Mumbai. But the key thing we did is, we sent off relatively simple applications at first. And we had a quality score built into the payment schedule for them and built into the contract continuance or cancellation. And when they missed or didn’t quite hit the quality, we were able to train them and get them back up and running again. Over time, it was impossible for our customers to figure out whether they were emailing us to India or to Seattle or to Grand Forks, North Dakota, or other locations we had, because we really paid close attention to the three parts: quality monitoring, asking customers and checking their transaction history.

Multiple channels



Bob Thompson
It seems to me there’s another issue that kind of layers on top of all of this. We’ve talked about this profit center idea and how challenging that is. Then we’ve got offshoring, which is primarily a cost-reduction exercise. Then we have a third trend, which, again, has gotten a lot of hype the last few years, which is multi-channel. If you go back five years ago, and certainly 10 years ago, you could have any channel you wanted—as long as it was a phone. Now I can routinely go on the web, and I get invited to do a live chat. We can certainly send in email until our fingers bleed, and the phone is still there. But it seems like it’s getting harder and harder to actually get somebody on the phone.

So we have kind of competing forces here that companies are trying to cut the cost but also provide multiple channels and save money. How the heck do you balance all those things and have a service and support process that customers actually value? Has anybody figured that out?

Donna Fluss
I’ll start with this question. Multi-channel isn’t an option, anymore. It’s a reality. Customers don’t want to be channel-slammed, which means that customers want to be able to do business in their channel of choice when they want to do it. And very importantly, customers want to change channels. So actually, it’s a requirement in today’s business world. The question, which is what you’re raising, is how do organizations handle that? Right now, in North America and the U.K., we have organizations with two sets of channels, one for the phone and one for email. Chat is becoming the third channel. The different channels are generally handled separately, although there are some companies with agents who are trained to handle transactions coming from different channels. In the majority of cases, companies are trying to figure out how to consolidate the channels. It is doable but will require investments in new technology.

The great news is that there are a lot of wonderful technologies out there. There’s been a tremendous amount of innovation in the past few years to help organizations consolidate the handling of transactions from different channels. As Bill pointed out, companies need to decide what they want to bring together and what they want to outsource. There are a lot of options today. A company may decide that they want one channel to go to location A and a second channel to be handled in location B.

Bob Thompson
You could call those different silos, too.

Donna Fluss
You could. They could start as different silos, but as long as the tracking system is integrated and allows a phone agent to see what happened on the email or chat and collaboration side, you’ve got a much better situation.

Bob Thompson
So this is the technology side that you mentioned just a moment ago: having the right systems in place to make sure that Channel A is outsourced one place, Channel B is, maybe, done in-house and Channel C is done a third way, and you can have these be islands of information.

Donna Fluss
You can set it up so they’re not silos, as you pointed out, but what you also are alluding to is the fact that technology is an important enabler. There are quite significant issues in regard to channels. Simon, Bill, you guys want to pick that up?

Simon Kriss
I would add on to what Donna said. It comes back to her previous point where she was saying, if you’re outsourcing, you need to get your house in order first. Very similar thing with multi-channel strategy. We’re seeing that particularly in Asia, that companies are going out and buying the technology and trying to implement a multi-channel strategy. But they haven’t cleaned house yet, so their business processes are not right. And the way in which they handle those channels is not right. In effect, what they do very quickly is teach a customer not to use the other channels that they’re actually trying to encourage. So it’s a bit of a Catch 22 situation.

Bob Thompson
Bill, what’s your take on this?

Bill Price
Well, let me come at it a little bit differently, just to put some flavor to it, Bob, which is, as Donna mentioned: There are some great technologies coming out that are in the same box, or at least in the same vendor, so you don’t have to have these different silos out there, anymore. The challenge we see is figuring out the people side of it and the performance management side of it. I’ll put it into questions. Who should be the right agents and team that do live chat vs. email vs. phone? How do you forecast and schedule? How do you train them, motivate them, reward them for their performance?

The mistakes we’ve seen are in cases where companies have said, “Well, we’ll just take chat, and email and phone,” sort of indiscriminately per agent, because each agent needs to be a universal agent. And it goes down some very slippery slopes or paths. Companies that specialize and realize that certain agents are better suited to do chat or email or phone and can be trained and reinforced and motivated to do that. I think you find some really great examples of the operational side of multi-channel. The technology’s available. Once you get through that, it’s how you really make it work.

Bob Thompson
I think some people might have said a few years ago that the Internet is going to make contact centers obsolete and nonsense like that. But it’s become even more important and a whole lot more complicated than it was when it was just people calling on the phone. We’ve taken something that was already difficult to manage, and we’ve added multi-channel offshoring. And hey! Why don’t we get those service reps to sell once in a while, too?

Bill Price
Well, we haven’t even talked about automation yet.

Bob Thompson
Yeah.

Bill Price
Automation goes on top of all that, and I think it is, indeed, a lot more complicated. Figuring out your forecasting, scheduling and all the other operational elements is increasingly challenging. There are ways to do it, and there are best practices, as Donna was mentioning before, but it is more complicated. Customers need it, though.

Data and speech analysis

Bob Thompson
Let’s talk about the automation side of it. There’s no getting around it that technology is an integral part of contact centers. In the 10 minutes or so that we have left, I’d like to touch on some of the hot trends you’re seeing in the industry. We’ll do a couple of passes at this. In the first round, just briefly say what you think are the really driving or most important trends. Then we’ll drill down on a couple of those and get a few examples, if you can name some products or vendors that you think are particularly fascinating.

Bill, would you like to keep going on that? What are you seeing out there in terms of big trends that are driving the contact center industry?

Bill Price
There are two I’ll just touch on quickly with the time remaining. One is in unstructured data analysis and its new cousin, unstructured speech analysis. Unstructured speech analysis analyzes in quite some detail the recorded speech between a customer and an agent and mines it for very important information: customer intends to purchase or customer intends to quit your company, as well as other product information and upwelling, as I mentioned before. Unstructured data analysis does the same sort of thing on free text, email, agent notes and other types of correspondence. There are some really cool technologies and vendors pioneering in that area.

Bob Thompson
We’ll come back and talk a little bit more about those. Simon, what about you? What are you seeing in Asia Pacific in terms of big trends?

Simon Kriss
I would love Asia Pacific to be having the trends that Bill was just talking about. But unfortunately, we’re somewhat behind that. The big, hot topic in Asia right now is a little bit of technology disillusionment. That’s in the last few years, because Asia just loves to know how to do things. Every time we meet with a client, they talk, “how, how, how,” and it’s all about, “What piece of technology can we go out and buy?” They’re just getting to the point where they’re realizing that just putting new technology over old business processes gets you the same old results, only faster.

Bob Thompson
What are those hot technologies that people seem to be so fascinated with there?

Simon Kriss
Natural language speech recognition is definitely one that they’re trying to pick up. Of course, with the tonal inflections of some of the Chinese languages and whatnot, it doesn’t deliver on promise. But they’re still also just caught up in overuse of IVR without good planning. So it’s still some of the more simple technologies.

Bob Thompson
So your point is they’re still looking for the silver bullet, so to speak?

Simon Kriss
Absolutely.

Bob Thompson
Donna, what are you seeing as big trends that are shaping the industry?

Donna Fluss
I’d be happy to answer that, but just one thing about Asia. You know, Simon, Asia is exactly where it should be on the evolutionary chain with contact centers. What’s happening in Asia now happened in the United States about 15 years ago.

In regard to what the hottest trends are, I’m going to stick with a little bit of what Bill was saying. The next frontier of contact centers is structuring the unstructured. Ninety-five to 98 percent of what flows through a contact center today is unstructured. If you go back to your question about how we convert these very large and very expensive operating environments into profit centers—for that matter, how we integrate in things that are offshore or near-shore into our current environments—part of the answer is in using speech analytics or real-time analytics to take this unstructured information and convert it into actionable information that can be shared with other parts of the organization or acted upon immediately. In the ideal world, real-time analytics applications allow agents to take action at the point of contact. Speech analytics provide insights that can be shared with other areas of the organization.

Customers are very free and very open about sharing new product ideas, their wants, their desires and their challenges and frustrations. Unfortunately, today, agents are too often motivated to move on to the next call and are not given the time to deal with the current call. If we can use speech analytics or real-time analytics to analyze what’s happening in the contact center and then follow up, we can come close to getting some of the best of both worlds.

Quality management is an area that is really hot today. We just published a report that pointed out that contact center quality management and liability recording suites will grow by 14 percent during the year and a similar percentage in 2006. These products are selling because they add tremendous value and have a very rapid return on investment. Any company that has not installed or upgraded its quality management solution in the last three years should look at the new batch of products.

Bob Thompson
Excuse me for interrupting, but please give a quick definition of quality management.

Donna Fluss
Quality management is an application used by supervisors to evaluate how well agents performed on a call. It measures how well agents adhere to internal policies and procedures. Part of the excitement about quality management is that the basic solutions are expanding and the majority of the vendors in this market are offering suites that include quality management, liability recording, speech analytics, performance management, surveying, e-learning and e-coaching.

Bob Thompson
So that assumes you have procedures, to begin with.

Donna Fluss
The good news is that the majority of formal call centers have quite a few procedures. Most of what agents do is driven by formal and informal procedures. What’s interesting about the QM suites is that they are extending beyond traditional QM into speech analytics, into performance management, into surveying, into coaching, into e-learning. And very importantly, when these pieces all come together, they are making significant contributions to contact center performance. These suites are also helping to open up the contact centers so that managers can share what’s happening in their contact center with the rest of the enterprise. These are a couple of very exciting trends: the structuring of the unstructured and the opening of the contact center. And there are a lot of technologies that come to play in those areas.

Bob Thompson
Any other big trends worth noting? No one’s mentioned Voice over IP. Is that yesterday’s news?

Donna Fluss
I was just about to bring that up. IP contact centers are finally viable. I don’t mean equal to the classic TDM-based switches, but they are getting there. Along the same lines, we’re seeing a lot of interest in IP recording solutions.

Bob Thompson
So using the Internet is still big, and it looks like it’s almost ready, or ready, for prime time. Bill, can you add something to that?

Bill Price
Yeah. Just one quick one, Bob. I talked earlier about making sure that you measure offshore outsourcing or offshoring performance, based on what the customer thinks. Post-contact customer satisfaction surveys are now much easier to use with some outbound emails or invited IVR interactions. There are some really interesting companies that are pioneering this and which are attaching it at a very sizeable percentage to the phone call or email that preceded it. Then you can combine that with data records and go back and actually give immediate feedback, as Donna was mentioning, to the agent and to the agent’s team and quality group, to make sure that you are doing a good job. If you’re not doing a good job, you can go back immediately to that customer and deal with them while they may still be in that right zone to talk to you.

Bob Thompson
Let’s say we’ve got this new technology for speech analytics. Walk me through it. I’m a customer calling in. I’m upset about something. What is it that this technology is going to enable the business to do to make sure that they act appropriately and do the right things, based on that interaction that they can’t do today?

Donna Fluss
Terrific question. Let me bring together your pieces again. We’ve got one center in New Jersey. We’ve got another center in Poland. We’ve got another center in China. And we’ve got a fourth center in India. We’ve got about 5,000 agents around the world, all handling calls. The company sells a product called the Dance-a-Rama. It’s a computer game where kids watch a music video with dance steps and dance along to it on an electronic mat. By the way, this isn’t a real situation. But let’s assume you gave your kids a Dance-a-Rama for the holidays. They put it in. They use the game. And on the third try, the mat breaks. So, you call the call center and complain. Because the call center is so decentralized, it will be very difficult for the call center manager to know if each site is receiving calls about this problem or if it is an isolated incident. Well, it could be one person or it could be thousands. If you have contact centers around the world, how are you going to know if this is a big problem that impacted 10 customers or a large one that impacted hundreds?

Bob Thompson
Wouldn’t the database where you record the incidents tell you that? Why would you need speech analytics to tell you that?

Donna Fluss
Bob, that’s a great question. Most organizations do not mine their tracking database, because it’s unstructured text. However, if they used a real-time analytics application or speech analytics, they would quickly identify call center patterns regardless of where the call arrived.

Bob Thompson
So if these applications detect a recurring pattern of “Dance-a-Rama stinks” or words to that effect, what happens?

Donna Fluss
The speech analytics applications will find the patterns and produce reports that are shared with the contact center and other relevant operating areas on a timely basis. Marketing will be notified of the problem so that they can put together a program for the contact center agents. Product management will be notified, so they can start researching the problem and come up with a fix. R&D will be notified so that they can start building a new product. Operations and the fulfillment area will also be notified so that they can prepare to send out the replacement. So the entire organization will be geared up to address and fix the problem.

What happens today is the call center manager has to decide if this is a big enough problem to notify the other operating areas. As the call center manager doesn’t have actual call volumes, the other operating areas do not always believe him or her, and all too often the problem gets a lot worse before it is fixed. With speech analytics the issues or opportunities are quantified. It’s a very funny thing. When the information’s on a report, it’s real. When it’s coming from a call center manager, it’s simply a little bit annoying.

Bob Thompson
So, structuring the unstructured. I like that. Bill, could you give us a quick example?

Bill Price
I’ll give you a good, simple example—a real one, in this case, that was back at Amazon several years ago. We had a huge amount of business around the holiday time, typical Amazon challenge opportunity. To make sure we could handle our emails really quickly, we applied some pretty primitive text mining, compared to what is now commercially available. It went inside the email that was queuing up and looked for keywords, such as “Santa Claus” or “Christmas.” It would pull email with those keywords into a specialized email queue, where I could set some of my fastest, most experienced agents on them. Pulling out those email that needed faster service brought the entire queue down very quickly. Now there are some automated tools that do that, not just keyword but contextual search. And the types of things that Donna mentioned on the speed side can really help workflow, workload, priority setting and then, spotting the patterns.



Bob Thompson
Simon, over to you. It seems like the technology’s available worldwide, but is it fair to say that in Asia Pacific, the market’s not quite as mature as here in the United States or in the U.K.? If so, what are companies actually doing with this technology, in your experience?

Simon Kriss
Suffice it to say that it is not large over here, at all. The ones that are using it tend to be global companies using the exact same example Donna used before, where they have a presence in the U.S. and maybe in the U.K., Europe and something in Asia. So they would roll out the same types of processes and technologies across the board. We’re seeing those types of groups, the Citibanks and whatnot of the world, starting to use that type of stuff. A lot of the others are just quite simply looking at the technology and saying, “We have no idea how we would manipulate and use that stuff.” So it’s still a little bit daunting for them. But, as Donna said before, that’s completely appropriate, given the maturity level of where the whole industry’s at.

Bob Thompson
Well, we’re at our stopping point, but I’d like to ask what is probably an impossible question to answer (because I know, “it all depends”). Would each of you give a closing word of advice? If you’re speaking to a CEO of a company that’s trying to wrestle with some of these business and operational and people and technology issues and run a profitable, growing business, what advice would you give to make sure they head down the right path in managing their contact center? Simon, we’ll leave it with you to lead us off.

Simon Kriss
My best advice would be to hire Donna and Bill, have them at the helm [laughter]. The best advice I can give the CEO is: Don’t look just at the bottom line. Don’t look to put your most strategic customer contact in the hands of the cheapest bidder. Try and figure out how strategic your contact center is and how strategic it could be, and start to move in that direction. A lot of savings will realize themselves.

Bob Thompson
Thank you very much, and thank you, again, for calling in from Jakarta.

Simon Kriss
Happy to do it.

Bob Thompson
Bill, what would your advice be?

Bill Price
My advice would be to eliminate what you don’t need; automate what makes sense before you consider things such as outsourcing; and listen, listen, listen to your customers. There’s a great, great amount of information that happens every single minute between your customers and your agents, and you’ve got an awesome opportunity to mine that for some terrific insights.

Bob Thompson
Thank you. That’s great advice. Donna, we’ll let you get the last word in here. What’s your quick advice to a CEO?

Donna Fluss
I would listen to what Simon and Bill said, for one, and add that your contact center is an extremely powerful strategic tool. Take advantage and use what already exists within your organization.

Bob Thompson
I’d like to thank our three panelists for calling in from different parts of the world and adding their insights to our program.


Download a copy of Kriss’ Sagatori white paper, The China Call Centre Industry.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here