Much has changed over the past 20 years in customer contact centers throughout the corporate world. Where once the telephony was a push-button phone system, there are now sophisticated routing and switching tools to automatically route calls to the most qualified person to answer them. The first “call-tracker” was a Number 2 pencil and a steno pad, and the “shouterbase” knowledge was accessed by covering the phone and calling across the room or looking things up in manuals or 3-ring binders. Modern case management systems give every agent instantaneous access to all of the details about every issue the team has worked, plus an online encyclopedia of all of the entered data about the product up to that point in time. Now searches for answers that might have taken weeks to accomplish back then can be done in a fraction of a second.
However, despite the dramatic changes in the tools and their capabilities, senior management needs to keep firmly in mind that the essential nature of the operation has not changed at all: it is still a knowledge inventory and distribution system where profitability is the key driver.
There are three main areas to consider: Access Channel, Case Management, and the Knowledge Inventory itself.
The first element that a customer will encounter is the Access Channel to the center’s knowledge inventory. The most common access channel is Telephony. Here, the system should pick up on who is calling and, to some degree what they are calling about so that the call can be routed (sent) to the most appropriate agent for handling. The system may get some of the info from the number the customer is calling from, and/or ask questions itself of the caller. The phone switch should also know which agents are logged in (ready) to take calls, and what skills those agents possess. Another access channel is by e-mail, and the functions of the telephony system should be mirrored in an automated e-mail handling system for queries that come in via e-mail, or through text messaging “chat” channels. The customer may also come in directly via the Internet to the company web site..
The next element involves Case Management, the recording of the details of the request for knowledge and the management of the interaction from beginning to end. The primary system here goes by various names: Call-Tracker, Service / Case / Ticket Management System, CRM system, etc. The call-tracker should be linked to the phone system, chat or e-mail system and web site so that as much of the details as possible are automatically input, saving substantial amounts of time for all concerned. The call-tracker serves a couple of vital purposes. First, it maintains the records of all customer interactions, tracking all details from the moment the case is created through to where it is finally resolved and closed, thereby creating a treasure store of highly useful data for those companies smart enough to mine it. Second, it offers potential solutions to the customer’s problem, either directly through the phone, chat or e-mail system themselves, or through the agent. If an agent across the room (or elsewhere in the world) has just solved a similar problem for a different customer, the system should be smart enough to suggest the same solution to the next agent who begins to enter data on the same type of issue. The knowledge in the call-tracker is organized by the case records created through individual interactions with customers.
The third element is the Knowledge Inventory itself. There are three main tools/repositories in this area: the Knowledgebase system, the Website and the minds of the individual Agents. Knowledgebase data is organized by topic, and may include a wide variety of information types, including pictures/illustrations, video, audio, text articles, etc., all searchable by powerful tools. The Website is both an access channel and a repository of knowledge itself, and it is vital to make sure that the contents of its repository are kept fresh and accurate. The last tool/repository is the minds of the individual agents. While agent knowledge is the most expensive aspect of the whole operation, it has definite advantages and is a powerful asset that should not be ignored.
The above elements contain the technology pieces of the customer contact center puzzle. The challenge is to organize and use them to retain customers and to increase profitability, and I’ll talk more about that in later articles of the series. Success requires understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each aspect of the center while remaining focused on the corporate profitability goals.