The Demystification of Information Management: A Non-Techie Guide to Software Applications for Call Centers

By Ross Vance

If you are like most contact center professionals, you have attended at least one networking event or industry conference where collecting, managing, and reporting on information was a topic of discussion. In contact centers today, “information management” is a term bordering on trendy. However, not everyone understands the concept of information management software or how it applies to his or her role in an organization.

Knowledge Management Systems: You may have overheard a contact center professional say, “We can greatly impact metrics if we roll out a knowledge management system (KMS).” An effective KMS is a warehouse of company information that draws on proven best practices rather than expected policies or common knowledge. These best business practices can be represented in the form of articles, flow diagrams, and process documents. In order to help contact center agents predict or respond to customer questions, these documents are compiled into a searchable database that can often be added to or edited by the employees themselves.

Knowledge Management in the Call Center: For call center leaders, a centrally located virtual warehouse of company best practices is extremely valuable, as it provides access to specific details they might need in order to make decisions. Additionally, employees themselves can find answers about processes and procedures not only from a manual but also from the historical experiences of the company’s own customers and agents.

With a KM tool at their fingertips, call center agents can schedule or reassign themselves without concern that more training or direct oversight is necessary in order to maintain process integrity. Having such a clear way to access best practices creates confidence in both the representatives and operational business units (such as workforce and project management).

A KMS is a vital component to have when educating employees – but definitely not something that should stand on its own. In order for a KM system to reach its full potential, employees must have a foundational understanding of company processes, policies, and procedures so they have the ability to articulate their questions and ultimately know where to find the answers. This makes any database of best practices serve more as a training tool than a training replacement. Additionally, having the ability to definitively answer questions related to best practices on the fly will reduce training time and errors in quality.

Where Do You Start? Skip the Google or Yahoo search in an effort to fill a proposal for potential KM solutions. Instead, shop around for success stories. Hyundai, a strong player in an industry plagued by customer service challenges, decided to implement a KM application to help its call center representatives. Because of both greater efficiency and higher job satisfaction, a key performance metric for the call center, calls-per-case, revealed a 15 percent improvement.

For those with a preference for open source software (OSS), a simple hosting account with a provider that offers a one-button installation of common Web applications, such as MediaWiki or DocuWiki, costs less than the average movie rental and can be up and running in a matter of minutes. Furthermore, open source does not mean less powerful or unsupported. MediaWiki, a popular and free wiki application, is the software base for the KM giant Wikipedia and is supported through an initiative of hundreds of developers worldwide.

Customer Relationship Management: Customer relationship management (CRM) systems are another type of information management tool. A CRM application is designed to collect valuable customer and contact specific information. CRM software provides the backbone for reporting and analytics. Some systems provide integrated scripting tools, allowing agents to create a seamless experience by capturing and referencing customer information for more informed and knowledgeable responses.

CRM in the Call Center: A data-driven CRM system should give call center leadership the ability to view call statistics, agent activity, dialing lists, and campaigns in real time. Also, a singular repository of customer information allows for better security and compliance safeguards.

A common criticism of many CRM solutions is that they do not easily align with a company’s current workflow. An effective CRM should not be responsible for outlining call processes. Instead, call processes should outline the requirements for the needed CRM solution. When that happens, operational processes become intuitive and easier to manage.

A CRM solution that is agent-centric makes it difficult for information to be entered incorrectly. Since call center representatives handle copious amounts of customer information every day, it is important to ensure that the CRM makes it easier to accomplish necessary tasks. This not only reduces the need for consistent refresher training, it also increases the knowledge retention of an individual by giving them appropriate context clues during a call.

Where Do You Go from Here? From an enterprise perspective, there are several major players in the CRM industry. From Microsoft to Oracle, there is no shortage of application styles. Most CRM software companies offer a trial period of their software. Taking them up on their offer may reduce some headaches and potential downtime due to incompatible matches.

If an open source approach is desired, it is easy for someone with limited technological knowledge to set up a simple hosting account with a provider that offers a one-button installation and install any number of free, open source CRMs. Two of the most popular are SugarCRM and VTiger, both of which can be used immediately upon installation or customized to match a call center’s needs.

In conclusion, the collection, management, and reporting of customer information and best practices are essential elements to maintaining an effective business strategy. Customer service organizations thrive on data, and those that manage it well are leaders in the industry. Even though “information management” may seem like a buzzword, there is a reason it’s at the forefront of conversations these days. Information management is essential for growth in the contact center industry. Understanding the role that information management software can play in your organization will keep your contact center cutting-edge.

Ross Vance is the training manager for SupportSeven.

[From Connection Magazine November 2013]