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How to transform your contact centre into a service and revenue hub

17th Nov 2008
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Joe Brown offers eight practical tips on transforming your contact centre from a cost centre into a value provider in a tough economy.

By Joe Brown, RightNow

In recent years, contact centres have faced mounting pressure to move from being a cost centre that answers questions and handles complaints, to a more dynamic part of the organisation – supporting the customer and generating more revenue.

"Turning the contact centre into something more than just a complaints handling facility is not an overnight project."

Joe Brown, RightNow

RightNow's recent 2008 Customer Experience Impact Report, conducted by Harris Interactive, shows that consumers are responding in a positive way to this change. More than half of consumers (58%) are at least somewhat likely to make a purchase during a service engagement, and 23% of them have already made a purchase based on an agent’s recommendation.

Transforming the contact centre into something more than just a complaints handling facility is not an overnight project, but by following eight proven steps, a contact centre can deliver exceptional customer experiences that engender consumer loyalty AND deliver revenue even during a tough economic climate.

  1. Establish a knowledge foundation

    A robust, well-automated source of knowledge is essential for supporting a differentiated customer experience. This knowledge should be easily accessible by agents and customers alike, and should contain two primary types of knowledge. The first is knowledge about your products, services and company. Think of this knowledge as answers to your customers’ questions. The second type is knowledge about your customers. Examples include demographics, past purchases, interaction history, and explicit and implicit preferences. Armed with this knowledge foundation, employees will be well equipped to deliver a great customer experience to all customers no matter how they make contact; email, phone, web or written.

  2. Empower customers with self-service

    One of the most powerful ways to improve the customer experience is to expose this knowledge to customers through effective self-service mechanisms, such as on the web or with voice self-service. By providing customers with easy, direct access to your knowledge foundation, you enable them to find the information they need whenever they want it. Many companies have found that by offering self-service options to customers they improve customer satisfaction because many customers want the convenience of self-service options that are available 24/7. At the same time, when customers choose self-service options, call volumes decrease, giving contact centre agents more time for complex questions and personalised service, which enhances the customer experience.

  3. Empower frontline staff

    With access to information about a customer’s previous interactions with a company, frontline employees can provide personalised assistance, demonstrate that they understand the customer’s needs and preferences, and save customers from having to repeat themselves. They’ll also be able to appropriately address any problems that may occur during the course of each customer’s interactions with your company. The more effectively you empower contact centre staff with knowledge, the more effectively they can respond to customer needs.

  4. Offer multichannel choice

    When interacting with organisations, today’s customers expect to have a range of options – phone, email, website, chat, online forums and communities, fax, traditional mail, and in person. Because many customers will use them interchangeably, these options must be integrated to ensure a single, unified dialogue with each customer. Everyone interacting with customers should be able to see all relevant previous exchanges with each customer, regardless of which channels were used. Information about previous exchanges should be current and complete, so that contact centre agents can deal appropriately with customers

  5. Listen to your customers

    Delivering a consistently excellent customer experience is impossible if you don’t have a systematic way to determine what your customers are thinking. You must understand customers’ opinions on everything from the quality of your products to the helpfulness of your website. Discovering that a customer is dissatisfied about an incident that occurred six months ago gives you little, if any, opportunity to correct the situation. By listening to and learning from customers, you will gain valuable feedback that can guide your entire organisation in delivering outstanding customer experiences. Ask customers for feedback during or immediately after interactions, and make it easy for them to respond. For example, automatically email customers a short survey after they have completed a customer service call with a contact centre agent. Requesting customer feedback at the 'moment of truth' typically drives greater response rates than do traditional, periodic surveys.

  6. Design seamless experiences

    In many organisations, multiple teams interact with customers, yet they don’t work closely with one another or communicate frequently, sometimes, they even use different systems and processes. The result is a less-than-optimal customer experience. Today’s customers expect everyone they interact with at an organisation – regardless of function or department – to have access to current information about them and all their previous interactions with the company. The service centre is the area most likely to know more about the customer – ensure that you are sharing your data across the company. To break down operational walls, consider your organisation from the customer’s perspective. Do business with your own company, and evaluate your own experience.

  7. Engage proactively with customers

    To deliver an outstanding experience, you must proactively interact with customers. Answering potential questions before they ask, providing them with information before they need it, and personalising communications based on previous interactions are all examples of proactive, exceptional customer service. By correctly using customer knowledge from across the business, including the contact centre, the company can proactively interact with customers in an intelligent, compelling manner. Once you begin to anticipate customers’ needs and preempt problems, their satisfaction levels will rise, loyalty will increase, and you’ll see fewer customers defecting.

  8. Measure and improve continuously

    Providing an exceptional customer experience is a process, not a single event. Because market conditions, competitors, and consumer expectations are always changing, you must continuously measure your performance and improve your processes to keep pace. At the same time, you must foster a culture that drives continuous improvement.

    Making it happen

    A word of warning - massive ‘boil-the-ocean’ projects can overwhelm agents and drain budgets, so it’s essential that each company and its contact centre take the above direction as a step-by-step strategy. Customers are more willing to part with their cash if they think they are getting a great deal as well as fantastic customer service – so to win their cash companies first have to earn a customer’s trust.

    The long-term benefit of this approach is that, even in a down economy, half of all consumers will pay more for a better customer experience and it remains the number one reason why consumers recommend companies to friends and family.

    Joe Brown is GM of EMEA, RightNow.

    Other articles in this focus report:

  9. Call centre technology: Help or hindrance?
  10. Call centre outsourcing: A finger on the pulse
  11. Call centres in action: Orange
  12. Call centres in action: Thomas Cook
  13. Call centres in action: Shepherd Chartered Surveyors