Published in TDAN.com July 2002
Since the start of the call center or “help desk” industry in the late 1980s, software vendors have made tremendous improvements in their product technologies. Businesses who select these
best-of-breed tools have the opportunity to provide quality support to customers at a low cost and the ability to realize a substantial return on their investment in the technology. Whether
selecting enterprise tools from leaders such as Siebel or Oracle, or mid-market tools from leaders like FrontRange Solutions, the technology is capable of providing desired benefits but often does
Industry analysts estimate that about 70% of customer relationship management (CRM) projects fail to meet desired needs. Our experience indicates that the 80:20 rule is in full effect – about
80% of businesses that select quality call center software only use about 20% of their capabilities. This article discusses our Top 10 List of the capabilities that are most underutilized and
offers our suggestions for gaining the most from your investment.
#10: Integration with Accounting Software
Call centers use support technology that automates the process of helping customers with their problems and issues. Your accounting department uses accounting technology that is almost always
provided by a different software vendor. If your customers pay for support, the accounting software will be used to document whether or not the customer is entitled to support. The call center has
a need to know the customer’s support status from the accounting system, but otherwise does not need access to this other system. By integrating the call center system with the accounting
system, support reps will always be able to determine which customers are entitled to support and which ones need to be referred to accounting.
Your call center software can either be directly customized to view support status information from accounting in the call center application, or third-party software can be used to provide this
functionality. When the accounting information is immediately available, administrative time is saved and you present yourself as a quality organization where required information exchange exists
between different departments.
#9: Service Level Agreements (SLAs)
This capability is less related to the software tool that you use and more related to managing your customers’ expectations. Businesses typically form call centers as a way of formalizing
support to customers. Customers are given a number to call (and possibly other options) but are not told how long they may have to wait in the phone queue, how long it may take to resolve their
issue, etc. One important aspect of providing quality technical support is to ensure that there is not a gap between the service your customers expect and the service you are able to deliver. By
formally creating and publishing service level agreements (SLAs) for your customers, you help to eliminate the gap between what the customer expects and what you deliver. Call Center software tools
will be able to support your SLAs in many ways including: displaying SLA status for your customers, notifying you when SLAs are in jeopardy of being violated, etc.
We suggest that you establish SLAs with your customers and adapt your software tools to ensure that SLA goals are being met. Assistance in creating your Service Level Agreement is available from a
number of sources including your call center software consultant, the Help Desk Institute, and publications from industry experts such as Shar LaBounty. Your SLA tells your customers what they can
expect from you when they need services. You let your customers know how they can reach you and what contact options exist such as phone, e-mail, and Internet. You tell them your support hours,
response times, and levels of available support. Because poor service results when a gap exists between what your customers expect and what you are able to deliver, SLAs help to eliminate the gap
by defining for your customers what to expect.
Customer support technologies support SLAs in a number of ways. First, customer support systems can track different levels of support for different customers. For example, you may choose to
establish multiple support levels such as Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum. Your support system can then be customized to show which customers have which level of support. Next, you can customize
your support system to help you meet response and escalation times according to SLAs. Alerts, notifications and automatic escalations can be established to help you enforce your SLA policies.
#8: Customized Reports (Avoiding the Black Box)
For years after help desk technologies emerged, even the best packages were justly criticized as being black boxes where information went in, but it was hard to get reporting information out of the
systems. Then about five years ago, functionality was added to make it easier to get information out of the system through the use of pre-prepared reports, bundled report writers (such as Seagate
Crystal Reports), and wizard-driven modules that organized reports and made it easy to access needed information.
Despite these improvements, call centers can benefit from further customizing reports to fit organizational needs. For example, customization that adds new fields will not automatically report
information on these fields. Someone in the support center should gain expertise in using the report writing software (e.g. Crystal Reports) or your software consultant can provide this service.
Rather than settling for pre-prepared, out-of-the-box reports, call centers can benefit from further customizing reports to meet organization needs.
#7: Management Intelligence
Customized reporting discussed in #8 above impacts the available intelligence available to support management but these reports are only useful if they are received in a timely fashion so that they
are able to impact the decision making process. By automatically scheduling reports to run according to triggered events, management will have access to reporting information that will influence
the decision making process. For example, a management report can be sent to a manager when the number of open, high priority calls exceeds a certain number. This report will contain information
that the manager can use to respond to the situation before it gets out of hand and SLAs are violated.
Other alert notifications can be automatically provided to allow managers and supervisors to keep operations in control. E-mail, paging, auto-escalations, etc. are available for support centers to
use to provide management intelligence.
Support automation tools may also provide real time monitoring tools that allow you to build and use indicators to report performance information. These tools can be set to automatically notify or
automatically execute actions when triggered. For example, a monitoring tool indicator that tracks open calls by call type can automatically notify a manager when the number of calls reaches a
certain limit. Another example would be automatically sending an email to a customer when a call is escalated, an assignment is made, or a call priority is changed.
#6: SFA/CRM Integration
Support centers that provide external support to the company’s customers share customer contact information with the company’s sales and marketing personnel. The sales and marketing
departments use Sales Force Automation (SFA) or Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software to manage their operations. Contacts usually enter the SFA/CRM system as new prospects and, after
successfully making a sale, become customers for the call center to support. There is value in sharing contact information between all front office departments. By sharing contact information, you
provide your customer service team with knowledge of sales and marketing team activities and vice versa. The quality of customer support improves as the cost of support declines when all contacts
(sales, marketing, customer service, accounting, distribution, etc.) your customers have with your company share information between their respective automation tools.
#5: Expanded Customer Contact Options
Companies who force their customers to sit in a telephone queue waiting for support do not take advantage of the full capabilities offered by best-of-breed support automation tools. These tools
provide options for your customers to automatically open support tickets via e-mail and the web (Internet option may require purchasing a separately licensed module). By enabling these options, you
provide your customer better quality at less cost.
Using the e-mail option, you provide your customer with an e-mail address, such as firstname.lastname@example.org, for initiating a support request. When the customer submits a request, your support
automation tool will automatically: receive the request; open a new support ticket for the customer; and send a reply to the customer notifying them of the success (or failure) of opening the
ticket and providing them with their ticket ID number for future reference. Because support rep time is not used to open the ticket and gather issue information, cost of support is nothing. And
because the customer receives an alternative to sitting in a support queue, quality of support improves. The e-mail option will also allow customers to request status reports on their issues. Your
support system will automatically provide customers updates to e-mail status requests.
The web option provides the same benefits that the e-mail option provides, and more. E-mail limits the amount of information that can be gathered for a new issue and it does not allow you much
flexibility in guiding the customer through the support gathering process. With Internet, you are able to customize the format of the web form so that more accurate and detailed information is
obtained. For example, you can determine the type of support issue, priority, description, system information, and anything else related to your support team’s needs. This additional
information may allow you to expedite response or streamline escalation for even higher support quality at lower cost. The web provides customers with status updates using a more aesthetically
pleasing format than e-mail. Support savings can be tremendous when no support cost is incurred for opening initial requests or providing status updates on existing issues. The web option will
provide one other huge advantage over e-mail: self help. When you build knowledge bases that supply answers to your customers support questions (discussed further below), the web module will enable
your customers to search on their own for answers to their questions. Self help can provide the best scenario for both you and your customers. Your cost to provide self help is nothing and the
customer is enabled to solve their own problems.
#4: Tailoring the Application to Meet Your Needs
Best-of-breed support tools provide an out-of-the-box interface that generically allows you to begin supporting your customers. But each business is unique and requires some degree of
customization. These tools contain robust capabilities for customizing the application to meet your specific needs. Fields can be added, edited or deleted. Customized screens can be created to
support different call types. Field properties can be specified such as the type of field (text, number, date, time, memo, etc.), size, format, field validation, auto fill, and default values.
Field security can be established that determines who can view a field, add entries, edit entries, or delete field entries. Field information can be filled from other databases. Drop-down lists can
be created that allow users to select the entry from the displayed list. User preferences can be customized to best fit how support reps use the application. Tool bars can be customized to
automatically perform operations with one-click, such as: creating journal entries, creating assignments, sending e-mails to customers, creating alarms, launching other applications, creating
files, running reports, exchanging data, updating calls, etc.
Your support application needs to conform to the way you want to run your support center, not the other way around. Support organizations will benefit by adapting their support tools to match their
support processes and by streamlining the execution of these processes.
#3: Use of Automated Processes
Automated processes are used to allow your support tool to perform actions on your behalf. For example, automated processes can help enforce service level agreements by monitoring the time that
support issues are open by priority level or customer status. At designated times during the support process, automated processes may increase the priority of a call ticket, escalate a call to a
higher level or different department, or provide the customer with an update of support actions taken. Automated processes are developed in two parts. First, activities are defined that trigger the
automated process to occur. Then after being triggered, the automated process performs an action or series of actions. Example actions include updating call tickets, sending alarms or
notifications, creating assignments, sending reports, providing customer feedback, launching applications, etc.
Support tools provide the ability to utilize automated processes, but the onus is on support organizations to define and take advantage of these processes. The benefits derived from utilizing
automated processes include adherence to SLAs, improved support quality, and increased customer satisfaction.
#2: Knowledge Management
Most organizations will agree that their customer support issues follow the 80:20 rule: 80% of support calls received fall into a common pool that approximates 20% of the total support knowledge
needed to solve the question or issue. Therefore, organizations that capture knowledge for reuse will tremendously improve the quality of support they supply to their customers and lower their cost
of support. A benchmark for a world-class support organizations is to solve at least 80% of calls at Level 1 or below (Level 0 = customer, Level 1 = first level support; Level 2 = second level
support, etc.). By building knowledge bases of solutions that solve customer problems, organizations prevent re-inventing the wheel each time a customer calls with a problem or issue that has been
previously submitted. Knowledge management tools enable support organizations to provide answers to customer questions and issues to the support rep handling the call. By publishing this knowledge
for access by customers (with Internet access tools as discussed in #5 above), support cost is minimized while maximizing customer satisfaction.
Knowledge management tools provide several important components and capabilities including the search engine, launching searches from the call tracking tool, knowledge management, authoring,
posting matching solutions back to the call ticket, sending the solution to the customer, etc. Although knowledge management tools may be included as part of support automation tools, users should
ensure that the knowledge management tool can stand alone as a best-of-breed application. Most knowledge management tools that rank as best-of-breed are separately developed applications that
interface with the best support applications. The value derived from knowledge management tools will justify the added expense of separately acquiring the best tool.
#1: Documenting Your Processes
Quality systems start with examination and process definition. The best tools will be of little use if they do not conform to the way you do business. Initial planning should be undertaken before
you embark on implementation of a call center automation solution. We recommend that you begin with defining your vision and mission for the project. How does the support center support your
organizational goals? What is the mission of the support center? Your support center mission will provide a framework for defining the people, processes, and tools that you need to be successful.
Next you want to establish your goals and objectives for support center operations. Goals will support your vision and mission. Examples include:
- We will provide our customers with 24/7 access to support resources.
- We will strive to solve support issues at the lowest level possible.
- We will keep within our commitment to establish budget levels.
- We will strive to automate support processes and operations.
Support center objectives will establish measurements that will be used to know whether or not support goals are being met. Using the examples above, objectives may be set for offering continuous
support; for the percentage of support calls that are solved at levels 0, 1, 2, etc.; for operating within established budgets; and for identifying areas where processes may be automated.
Finally, you need to understand your support procedures. Call center technologies need to be adapted to your business and not the other way around. We recommend that you start with an analysis of
your current procedures. It will be useful to develop a flow chart that defines your current operations including how support calls are received; how solutions are located; how issues are assigned;
and how they are escalated. Once you understand your current operations, you can identify the strengths and weaknesses of the existing system and you will have a solid foundation for developing
support processes that you want to implement. At this point, you will be able to tailor your call center system to support your processes.