Call Center Industry Leading the Charge to Real Business Intelligence

By Rob Winner

The call center is ground zero in customer interaction, the place where the customer often goes first when they need help, seek service, or want to buy. In a call center-focused business, every call center agent has the ability to build or destroy reputation and customer loyalty with each interaction. The agent who answers the phone may or may not be a direct employee, but regardless, if the call doesn’t go well and the customer hangs up frustrated, goodwill can be destroyed. This is especially true if the customer tweets or blogs about the experience.

Customers react in real time to advertising campaigns, service issues, or billing problems, so management must carefully monitor and manage activity in the call center to stay abreast of changes in the business as they are happening. However, this is not always easy. Because call center activity is often outsourced to third-party providers, the company that owns the call center is not necessarily the company that owns the customer. In addition, call centers are geographically dispersed in various regions of the globe, which can lead to cultural, language, and logistical barriers to the flow of information. From a technology standpoint, each call center is unique in terms of the systems it has deployed to manage the flow of phone calls and the flow of information. This may mean that different call centers provide different reports in different formats to management.

The result is data chaos. Managers who need call center data are handicapped by slow responses in reporting, so data is often stale by the time it is received. Plus, data may be incomplete or inconsistent from one call center to another. All of this conspires to provide a limited and fuzzy view of what is really happening at the critical point of customer interaction.

But innovative call centers are migrating to business intelligence solutions that break through the belief that reporting is “good enough.” These companies understand the need to quickly get up to speed and focus on efficiency and the bottom line. They understand the need to move the entire business to more timely reporting cycles. Here’s how they are meeting their objectives.

Break the Cost Center Mold: The call center has historically been seen as simply a cost center to be managed, an operation where efficiency is driven to the nth degree. However, in today’s competitive business environment, well-informed business managers see the call center as a window to the state of the customer relationship. As such, the data generated by the call center can be quickly applied to adjust to changing business conditions in order to capture more sales, expand market share, triage customer service issues, and preserve goodwill.

The corporate view of the call center is morphing to one where it is seen as a valuable asset that can enhance customer relationships for the long-term benefit of the company. Because of this paradigm shift, call centers are getting the attention and resources needed to implement business intelligence and performance management solutions.

Quick Deployment Fuels Success: A critical factor that has historically hindered the deployment of business intelligence solutions is the tendency of IT professionals to seek all-encompassing solutions that require massive system integration expertise. Unfortunately, these are often invasive and hard to deploy. Resources to execute such projects are hard to come by, and if they are approved it can be eighteen to twenty-four months before results are delivered. Insightful call center executives are overcoming this challenge by selecting business intelligence solutions that can be up and running in as little as thirty days, offering real benefits to the business. In many cases, today’s business intelligence solutions can be deployed with minimal intervention from IT staff, eliminating the need to wait in queue for available IT resources to be available.

“We have looked at performance management systems over the years, and they are typically highly engineered, very expensive systems that require a lot of resources,” said Gina Blevins, senior director of operations at Telerx, an outsourced customer care contract center services for the pharmaceutical and consumer packaged goods industry. “But we have found a solution that makes it very easy for a company like ours with multiple sites to get this up and running, deploy it, and actually have people use it.”

Since deploying a performance management solution in 2009, Telerx has greatly improved the effectiveness of its customer care operations and is now enjoying enhanced timely visibility into business trends affecting its clients’ bottom line. “We built an ROI analysis around this implementation and are successfully meeting that return,” Blevins adds.

Standardizing Business Metrics: From one call center to another, definitions of key metrics can vary greatly. In one case, a consumer technology company discovered that even basic call center metrics like abandon rate (the percentage of customers that hung up while on hold) were being measured differently across an infrastructure that spanned the globe.

Astute operations managers at call center-driven companies are using business intelligence solutions to identify and correct these inconsistencies so they are confident that they are measuring, managing, and monitoring the business on an apples-to-apples basis.

Specialization Counts: It is important to work with companies that understand the unique environment of the call center. There are specific technological platforms, such as contact management and call management solutions, that every call center needs at the core of its operating environment. The interactive nature of the work presents specific challenges and requires operating managers to be tuned in to even minute changes in the business. Another factor is that geographic dispersion and cultural barriers present challenges. Lastly, users must look at the business on a macro level and then report, visualize, drill, filter, and slice and dice the data any way they want – even down to the individual agent level.

Scott von Kleeck, chief information officer of outsourced call center provider TCIM Services, had a favorable experience deploying business intelligence solutions by working with a technology company that has domain expertise. “They understood our industry and spoke our language,” he said.

Usable Tools: Business intelligence works best when those in the organization who have the greatest interest in the data (operations, sales, marketing, finance, and C-suite executives) can actually access the data. This was an important factor in TCIM’s business intelligence deployment. “We enabled our internal customers to analyze the operations through self-service access to critical business performance metrics,” added von Kleeck.

Valuable Results: For call center-driven companies, a successful business intelligence deployment starts with greater visibility into the call center’s influence on the business. However, objectives quickly elevate when managers realize how valuable the data can be. Data is created in the call center with every single customer interaction, and that data can be tapped to identify and promote best practices throughout the organization, driving further gains in effectiveness at the critical point of customer contact.

Technology is available to make this happen today. Astute call center-driven companies are realizing that they can no longer remain stuck in a “good enough” paradigm. To remain competitive in today’s instant-access, on-demand world, every competitive advantage must be employed for greater gain, while every chink in the armor is a potential bet-the-company situation. With business intelligence and operational analytics solutions, companies can seize on these opportunities and achieve greater results.

Rob Winner is chief executive officer of HardMetrics, Inc. He is a twenty-five-year veteran of the software and technology industry, with experience in engineering, executive management, and entrepreneurship. He is a recognized industry expert in analytics and business performance management solutions.

[From Connection Magazine December 2011]

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