TECHNOLOGY Smarter Call Centres – Link with CRM systems

In five years, the call centre will be better known as the contact centre. Emails, faxes, letters and text messages will be automatically processed by CRM software and will jostle with voice calls for attention.
Customers will use integrated voice response (IVR) systems to tell telephony software in real language why they are calling and where their call should be routed; call centre agents will work from home or branch office but still view centralised customer information from their PCs.
The technologies to enable these kinds of contact centres are out there today. But, say CRM and call centre specialists, local businesses are just starting to consider how to transform the call centre, traditionally an operational overhead, into an area of revenue generating opportunity.
Mike Engle, marketing manager for contact centre software developer Zeacom, says businesses now realise call centres and CRM belong together. “It’s no good having CRM systems locked in ivory towers; call centres are front doors to CRM and the call centre agent is positioned to keep CRM information up to date.”
But understanding the importance of the call centre does not prevent customers becoming confused about how to link it with CRM systems.
Neil Stewart, managing director for CRM consultants SRD Group, says customers may record voice calls as part of CRM package but, “if you ask them why they do that, or how it helps the business, they often don’t know.”
Customers are, he says, delivered CRM and telephony technologies and “promised the stars”. They are then disillusioned if the CRM benefit does not eventuate.
CRM gets “bad rap” if vendors focus entirely on technologies like computer telephony integration (CTI) applications, according to Engle. CTI links an incoming call with the customer information held in database or CRM system and then delivers that information to PC screen in process called “screen popping”.
But too much talk about CTI makes eyes glaze over. “What really interests the customer is return on investment. Will using the CRM system reduce talk time; what is the impact of that on the business and the customer; what revenue growth can be realised if the call centre agent cross sells products and services because they have the right information in front of them?” says Engle.

The route way
So what happens when call centre is successfully tied with CTI applications and CRM systems? Incoming calls can, for instance, be routed to the agent best equipped to deal with the nature of the call. customer with credit stop can be automatically routed to credit control; VIP caller to someone skilled in customer pampering.
Call centre CRM can also deal with contact types other than voice calls. Nick Fox, national sales manager for CRM specialist Datamail, says Datamail builds single web application that pulls together multiple CRM systems and types of customer contact and manages them from one central application. So letter sent by traditional mail is uplifted from NZ Post, scanned and indexed into the customer contact software (for Datamail this application is called RightNow) and business process rules are applied.
“If each contact type must be responded to within, say, 24 hours, the time is counted down for letter enquiry in the same way as an email or voice enquiry,” says Fox.
The business benefits of this seem obvious. And marketing managers can send out different offers to different customers in the same production run. The call centre agent can then track which letter, brochure, email or text message individual customers receive.
But while some New Zealand call centres process multiple contact types, most still elevate voice as more important – justified or not.

IP telephony
According to the MIS Top 100 which tracks New Zealand’s top 100 information technology users, larger organisations are implementing Internet Protocol or IP telephony platforms for their call centres.
The benefits are well documented and include centralising call centre operations across multiple offices and making call centre applications available to call centre agents working from home or remote offices.
The latter works because voice travels as data over IP. The voice call and customer information can, therefore, be sent simultaneously to remote PC using fast internet connection.
Most call centre specialists say making call centre applications available remotely in this way is worth considering. They point to overseas examples where call centre agents are paid less for not having to travel, park, pay for childcare or buy office clothing. And call centre staff can be scaled according to call volume.
The use of remote call centre agents will grow but, according to Engle, there are two natural brakes to the fast progress of this trend in New Zealand. “Call centres are small, so the need to have another 100 agents suddenly available is not that great. And managing remote agents can be complex.”
One not so small call centre is outsourcing provider TelNet with 130 seats and 150 employees. Its managing director John Chetwynd says he is following the progress of technologies which could support remote call centre agents.
“At the moment, I don’t think the performance of [fast residential internet connections] is good enough to carry voice calls. And you have to have IP telephony to deliver the screen pop.”
The advantages of IP telephony include being able to handle separate calls across multiple sites. “But this is 24/7 mission critical call centre; we will hold back until we are totally satisfied IP is robust,” he adds.
New Zealand businesses are at varying points on the IP telephony adoption spectrum. “Some grapple with the cost justification. But there is demand,” says Fox.

Outsourcing upsides
More than 30 New Zealand businesses outsource their call centres to TelNet, which uses private and secure internet connections to access its customers’ CRM systems.
Small call centres are outsourced to lower costs and raise service levels while large call centres are outsourced to enable concentration on core business, says Chetwynd. “This used to cause dropped service levels because the outsource staff lacked customer or company knowledge at their fingertips. But with the internet companies like TelNet can provide completely transparent service.”
What does the future hold for call centre managers? Engle thinks integrated reporting tools in CRM and call centre systems are already and will increasingly be important to organisations that view centres strategically.
Fox thinks voice self service will literally take off. “You are the ninth caller in the queue and you ask the software question and receive response while maintaining your queue position.”
Instant messaging; SMS, email and other channels will become as important to the contact centre as the voice call.

What the right technologies with the right business processes and change management can deliver to the call centre:
• Progress the call centre from cost liability to revenue gathering part of the business through cross selling and improved customer service.
• Transform the call centre into contact centre through assimilation of communication types other than voice. For example, email, fax, paper, and text messages.
• Improve customer service through screen popping, data dipping and call routing to the best equipped staff.
• Flexible call centres through accessing remote call centre agents.
• Centralised access to customer information and centrally updated CRM information by the call centre.

Call centre CRM in action
• Telecom New Zealand
Telecom will, over the next six months, link its telephony CTI systems with its CRM systems so it can view customer call history and route calls to the agent best equipped to deal with the enquiry.
“Enabling the technology is not big job; but establishing change processes and business rules to decide what you do with the information takes time,” s

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