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Aligning The Internet And Customer Service
by Larraine Segil

Online customer support is the wave of the future. As e-commerce continues to surge, the most effective way for a company to improve customer service and enhance customer retention is to web-enable its call center. Industry trends point clearly to heightened customer use of e-mail and Internet requests, with expected response times diminishing from hours to minutes.

While the benefits of linking the call center and the Internet are apparent, companies looking to forge the two will face a number of challenges.

Appropriate software must be selected: The web-enabling software must be compatible with an organization's current contact center technology. The center's technology must enable agents service customers on multiple communication channels to access vital consumer information, no matter the request originates --- phone, fax or web.

Different transactions will require different levels of service: Companies must establish quality-control procedures to ensure that contacts made via the Internet receive the same level of customer service as those made via the telephone. As such, web-enabled call centers will have to establish guidelines for how quickly they respond to electronic mail, chat session requests, hotlinks, Web callbacks, etc. By the same token, the standards for evaluating performance and productivity of both agents and the call center itself need to evolve. Metrics for the Web-enabled call center must capture the full extent of the work being performed, not just telephone calls handled.

Some transactions will take more time: While the major benefit of the Internet is to provide self-service transactions, some customers will still want to interact with the call center by some means. When this happens, it is likely that the average handle time of transactions such as electronic mail, chat sessions and Web callbacks will be longer than routine telephone calls. And, because electronic transactions only leave a virtual "paper trail," supervisors will need to spend additional time reviewing correspondence before it is released to the customer.

The nature and mixture of work will dramatically change: A web-enabled call center is likely to mix randomly arriving telephone calls with other work, such as email transactions, that may be scheduled. Blended environments, in which agents handle inquiries from multiple communication channels, will offer some benefits to call center managers because they may flatten out work schedules. Since not all agents will possess the same skill sets, web-enabled call centers may need to use additional technologies such as skills-based routing.

Agent training must be enhanced: A CSR in a traditional call center is typically hired based on his or her oral skills for customer service and subject-matter experience. But Web-enabling will place new demands on agents. To respond to email inquiries, some may need to enhance their e writing skills. And to assist customers who have trouble navigating websites, agents will need to become skilled in computer technical support.

While there are challenges to overcome, web-enabling its call center allows a company to meet these customer expectations head-on. The result: Increased revenues and satisfied customers who receive the services they want --- and deserve.

© Copyright Larraine Segil. All Rights Reserved.

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