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Contact Centers: Talk to the Customer

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DQI Bureau
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The BPO growth story in India is still going strong. Nasscom projected the domestic BPO segment in India to grow by 17% in FY12, to reach `149 bn. This is expected to be driven by demand from voice based services and increasing adoption by both traditional and emerging verticals. As the market is growing, the margins in the voice business are low at 10% and attrition is around 50%. Higher Average Handle Time (AHT) and lower first call resolution are both impacting agent productivity, which consequently impacts margins and bottom line.

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One of the greatest reasons corporations experience increased AHT with the introduction of CRM onto the Agent desktop is the fact that CRM was never designed for a customer service interaction. Rather, CRM was designed for customer management and not customer service. This becomes readily apparent once you see the navigation sequences necessary to carry out seemingly simple customer support oriented tasks, usually involving moving through a number of screens, tabs, and drill-downs to reach the required information.

The real reason for these awkward processes is in fact quite simple: CRM was never built to talk to the customer.

The CRM System

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Call center agents need to be able to move quickly through their user interface to get to the heart of the matter for the customer. However CRM was designed for sales and marketing who have different needs when interacting with the system and do not need to deal with the 'real-time' nature of a customer conversation. In many respects, the call center was forced to adopt the CRM system, inefficiencies and all. It is safe to say that CRM systems create expensive customer conversations.

Interestingly, the problem does not stop at complex and unwieldy system interfaces. The problem is more entrenched. Because CRM was designed for sales and marketing, it lacks some fundamental functionality that is needed for a customer service interaction.

A customer call goes through a typical flow of 'know me' (verification, single view of the customer, case management, and contact history), 'help me' (solve the problem through knowledge management, optimized processes, and workflow) and 'remember me' (note taking, after call work, kicking off back-end processes).

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CRM, at best, handles a few of those functions, and even then at a cursory level. Instead, what the call center really needs is an agile approach that merges the best of CRM, Knowledge Management and Workflow, across multiple channels and multiple applications, to ideally service a customer interaction.

The Options

So to be pragmatic, what are the options? Your call center inherited the CRM system downstream from the rest of the organization, and we all know you cannot force changes upstream. Typical customization of a CRM application can be extremely cost prohibitive.

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Because of this, we see customers either adopting a unified desktop which incorporates the existing CRM system or utilizing new adaptive user interfaces for CRM. We will explore both here.

The unified desktop space is not new. Instead of requiring your agents to 'alt-tab' amongst all the applications, re-key data into multiple screens, and generally fight the systems, the unified desktop provides a veneer over all these applications. This veneer provides the agent a single point of entry and interaction with all the underlying systems. It's not hard to see why these are popular solutions. By streamlining the interaction through removal of redundant key strokes and simplification (and automation) of keystrokes, AHT is sharply decreased. Not to mention the reduction in agent training time.

New technology has also emerged as of late that recognizes both the facts that your organization may not want to adopt a unified desktop, and you are looking to simplify your existing CRM processes without a costly 'rip and replace' cycle. In essence, this technology allows companies to dynamically create new views and processes on top of your existing CRM system.

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The power lies in its simplicity and ease of use. This adaptive user interface layer allows an organization to assemble new CRM interfaces that mirror the optimal customer interaction process, all without requiring changes or customization to the CRM system itself. Best of all, there is no limit to the number of new user interfaces you can create, and since it's utilizing the underlying CRM system and data, you are not creating new silos of information.

Both approaches, unified desktops and new user interfaces, while highly effective, do not however redefine the core function of CRM or address the inherent lack of functionality of CRM in the contact center.

Customer Service CRM - The Evolution or Revolution?

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Entrants into the space are rapidly carving out a new niche, namely that of customer service CRM. This space is defining what CRM means to the contact center and customer service in general. And while nascent, we are starting to see trends emerge.

In order to effectively and efficiently service a customer interaction, contact centers need a combination of the following:

Contact Management

Case Management

Knowledge Management

Unified Channel Management

Business Process Management

It's quite often a case of less being more. The contact center typically does not need all the functionality of a CRM system, just that which relates to customer contact and case information. They normally do not need a full BPM system, just that which allows them to manage transactions between the front office and the back office. Knowledge management in the contact center means a focus on returning relevant information in context to the call.

It's 'less' large systems and 'more' focus on bringing together the best elements and functionality of various systems to create the ideal customer service experience. This is what customer service CRM is all about.

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