Privacy legislation and the threat of outsourcing are forcing companies to think about new methods of turning a profit. In building their new contact centers, they're finding ways to generate revenue and build value from their most important asset-the customer.
From pens to party invitations, vendors found creative ways to peddle incentives to attendees at the Direct Marketing Association's annual conference in New Orleans in October. They tried to garner any bit of attention they could on their e-mail routing and spam-busting capabilities. At one booth, a makeshift 1950s soda fountain lured the nostalgic. At another, a talking robot called out to passersby to stop.
While most vendors creatively vied for attention, SAS recognized an opening that no others had uncovered and grabbed it. The Raleigh, N.C., business intelligence leader announced a partnership that will accelerate the way its customers build value?not only in traditional marketing settings, but in call centers as well.
SAS used the backdrop of the DMA to partner with enterprise marketing management vendor Aprimo. It says the team will now enable companies to coordinate all marketing programs by tracking, analyzing and acting in real time on customer insight. Called Marketing Resource Management (MRM), the strategy will allow Customer Service Reps (CSRs) to gather good leads, and accelerate the rate at which they resolve them. The ability to control a complex marketing environment, coupled with the capabilities to track and analyze data in real time, has positioned contact center agents to manage relevant customer dialogue throughout all points of contact.
Shaping the new contact center
This announcement comes at a time of enlightenment. Weary from squeezing productivity gains, organizations want to incorporate strategies that lock in new ways to fuel higher returns. As an increasing number of companies reorganize their contact centers to generate revenue around the customer, MRM will play into that transition.
Andy Bober, manager of customer intelligence and strategy at SAS, says that MRM fills a gap between analyzing the customer data and building a marketing strategy. Because companies want to connect service to marketing and sales, MRM will become highly relevant in the contact center. "This will help contact centers to be viewed more as profit centers and less as cost centers," he says. Combining analytics with marketing will help contact centers recognize trends in sales and the environment, and adjust to them on the fly. MRM capabilities will help track customer behavior on an individual level, look at changes in those behaviors, and then compare those changes to previous customer behaviors.
Tom Blackie, CEO of San Francisco?based interaction monitoring and analyzing provider Audentify, says that a huge change in emphasis on the customer experience is emerging.
"Everything has been focused on the hard ROI of the cost-driven metrics?reducing average handle time and reducing costs where possible, but often that has been at the expense of customer loyalty, customer retention and customer satisfaction," he says.
Three global forces play a role in shaping this new customer-focused contact center of tomorrow. One: Customers are sophisticated. They demand optimal service levels and expect their agents to create value for them. Two: Efforts to increase the bottom line urged some enterprises to move call center functionalities to cheaper offshore locations; now companies are trying to overcome customer frustration with poor English and cultural differences. Three: Federal privacy legislation restricts outbound telemarketers, forging a reorganization of their contact centers by building the inbound agents as the frontline force that generates revenue and cultivates the initial relationship with customers.
Paul Burrin, senior vice president of marketing at Chordiant, says that companies recognize they have to retain customers and provide better levels of service. They want greater customer insight and higher rates of return. "You've got to get an interesting mix of innovation. You have to provide more than adequate levels of service, and turn every conversation into a sales opportunity," Burrin says.
Esteban Kolsky, research director at Gartner, says that companies are achieving this through a combination of predictive intelligence, customer insight, marketing capabilities and optimal customer experiences. "The trend for inbound call centers is getting the right information to the right person at the right time," he says.
Kolsky adds that those opportunities will materialize over the next two to three years through greater retention, loyalty and customer experience tactics, but must involve deep-driven enterprise-wide change. This will require three imperatives: 1) integrating data and predictive analytics into the contact center to collect rich customer insight, 2) incorporating marketing management capabilities on agents' desktops, and 3) deploying the tools to deliver targeted, streamlined and valuable interactions to every customer. "We're not talking about a change in technology; the change itself we're talking about involves a different mindset," Kolsky says.
Marketing adds relevance
As evident in the SAS/Aprimo partnership, marketing has little punch unless enterprises connect campaigns to the contact center. The situation, adds Mark Klein, CEO at Portsmouth, N.H.?based Loyalty Builders, is that companies spend more on marketing campaigns, but see disappointing results. "That whole situation is quite ludicrous and has reached a point where it's just not tenable," he says.
Kana's Brian Kelly, executive vice president of products, says that success boils down to empowering customer service agents with knowledge. "They have to be more intelligent about when and how to make offers," he says. Part of that intelligence revolves around defining core customer metrics and distributing individual surveys, then logging the information, creating rules and developing a process.
WearGuard-Crest, a uniform apparel provider, recently became intelligent about making offers through its contact center. Carol Meyers, vice president of marketing at Unica, says that outbound representatives used to spend 40 percent of their time making calls. Sixty percent of their time went to figuring out who to call. By using Unica's Affinium suite, WearGuard-Crest separated customers into three targeted groups, and drove highly targeted call campaigns quarterly. Agents now have customer information at their fingertips. In another example, a Canadian bank uses trigger-based marketing in its call center when customers make unusually large withdrawals. The bank has managed to drive between $2 to $4 in additional revenue per call while fostering longer-lasting relationships. "So many businesses are at a point where they're saying they can't increase the customer base, but they can increase customer value," she says.
She sees more services available to help tailor the offers in the call center. As a result, contact centers more quickly detect customers who will churn and those who hold value. That means gleaning knowledge from the database, knowing the best advantages, and opening them to dialogue in real time. "So many businesses are at the point where they're saying they're continuing to increase the customer base, but they're also increasing value," Meyers says.
Predicting needs and extracting value
Andy Efron, director of customer solutions at Cingular Wireless, believes that in an effort to build value, every caller's experience should dictate how agents handle each phone call. By analyzing the calls and data obtained from clients' activation processes, Cingular understands the customers' needs during that process?an integral capability upon the acquisition of AT&T. "We try to make it a better first experience with the customer," Efron says. Using a system from voice application provider BeVocal in Mountain View, Calif., Cingular maintains detailed logs on every customer call. "If we're speaking your name wrong or not recognizing your address, we know that and address that. It's then a better first experience with the customer," Efron says.
Good first experiences are not possible without analytics behind them, explains Klein. Organizations must unlock the keys of individual customer performance, their lifetime value, and their worth. "Anything you can do to get information into the call center should be fed back into the analytics. Without analytics, the call center person is walking in the dark," Klein says.
Klein, however, admits that most companies still operate in the Dark Ages, typically stemming from the difficulties of organizing their enterprise data, connecting it to CRM systems, and keeping the right customer data in front of customer-facing agents. He's optimistic that the situation will change. "Companies have to put a lot of effort into holding onto their customers. There's certain equity in customer assets. You want to know customer equity on individual customers and the collective enterprise. It's small now, but it will grow rapidly," Klein says.
Customers at Austin, Texas?based Austin Logistics extract value by examining their propensity to buy and their propensity to churn by running predictive models that combine the data housed in the customer master record, prior call records, data logged in the CRM system, and then demographic information from a credit bureau. The organizations give each customer a score and then determine the highest predicting outcome. The vendor pushes the results to dashboards on the agents' desktops to enable them respond knowledgeably to inquiries and to make behavior-appropriate offers.
A credit card company, for example, could use the system to build predictive models to find the customers who missed a payment, but typically pay on time. The card provider wouldn't bother those people. "A percentage of people will cut up the card if they're hassled," says Bob Tate, vice president of field marketing at Austin Logistics.
Tate says that customers see an average 4-percent reduction in attrition and a 10-percent to 20-percent increase in sales revenue after they apply predictive analytics to their outbound call campaigns. "You're taking talk time on people who would never buy, and eliminating that. They take that time saved and move toward those who have a high probability of attrition. The net resource is the same, but they're applying a focus," Tate says.
Delivering on experience
According to Kana, service resolution accounts for 75 percent to 80 percent of total life cycle costs, and often deters agents from delivering on experience. While routing frustrations are still a common problem among small businesses, large enterprises are building the tools?such as call routing, case management and problem resolution?to alleviate call hang-ups and interrupted navigation, and enable the delivery of targeted and efficient customer experiences.
Studies show that companies are willing to pay for this delivery. IDC predicts a 7.2-percent compounded annual growth in the call center software market, from $2.7 billion in 2003 to $3.8 billion in 2008. And in a recent survey of 131 multinational companies by Deloitte and Touche, more than two-thirds say they started deployment of Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services in their call centers, citing its falling prices, rising quality of calls and improved functionality that now make the technology attractive to enterprises.
Steve Tran, vice president of marketing and client solutions at BeVocal, believes that the most important step today is to ensure that agent pools are well trained and focused on real problems. He says that's done by deploying technologies, such as speech recognition, that will allow agents to focus on their Most Valuable Customers. Liberty Wireless, a wireless solutions manager, had 420 agents handling 300,000 calls. Today, the company handles a million calls?three times the volume?with 325 agents who focus on the high-value calls.
Liberty achieved the savings by integrating speech technology. "If you're talking about switching that equation from automating 15 percent of calls to 80 percent tomorrow with speech, you're talking about fundamentally changing the way you do business," Tran says. "If applied properly, the call center of the future will have a small force of tightly knit, highly trained agents that focus on the top-tier problems. The common problems will be handled by speech."
Companies like T-Mobile and Honda, says Mark Woollen, vice president of products at Inquira?a customer search and navigation provider in San Bruno, Calif.?are achieving this model through Web self-service. The company, he says, takes a question and uses a linguistic model. The intent becomes impacted into the engine, then pulls the answers back into a personalized response query. Essentially, Inquira is extracting the right response from companies' databases to respond to their questions. "We make sure companies are doing nothing detrimental to their customers," he says.
But freeing agents' time is not enough. They must have guided role-based scripts and knowledge in front of them to succeed. Audentify's Blackie says call center agents are starting to own dramatically different skill sets, from technical in-depth questions, to billing inquiries. In outsourced settings, agents sometimes service up to 60 clients, meaning daily inquiries can stem from 50 companies. An agent can take a call for utilities one day, and how to connect a broadband modem on the next day.
Audentify's solution detects a campaign's origin, locates the customer in the database, understands the customer's inquiry, and knows how long he has waited in the IVR system. "By the time it gets to the agent, we can already index across the knowledgebase and deliver on the agent's desktop answers to the questions," Blackie says.
Having this information at hand allows the contact center to enable the right agents to provide the right information at the right time to the right customers, which helps to forge the highly integrated, targeted, efficient, marketing-focused, critical care contact center that enterprises now want. Blackie adds, "Essentially every agent becomes empowered to really answer any kind of question to come in. That has lots of benefits."