Highly skilled, highly motivated human talent is a precious resource in any economy, much less a recovering, cautious economy. Harnessing the full potential of a company’s available talent (and other assets) is critical to remaining cost competitive and revenue aggressive, especially in an uncertain commercial environment. At the same time, we see customers making more buying decisions based on their relationships and experiences with brands and retailers. Improving the customer experience while optimizing operations is a high priority for most companies with significant customer-facing operations under our current market conditions.
For retailers that operate hundreds of storefronts, the challenge of providing efficient yet personalized service can be more difficult than, say, an online retailer, but if they succeed, they will find significant advantages.
One step on this path toward optimized operations and delighted customers may be the simple step of virtualizing your “contact center” infrastructure. I put contact center in quotes because I am also including what most retailers think of as their store phones—you know, the ones associates use to order pizza or call their boyfriends (that wasn’t just me as a teenager, was it?).
One large retail client, for example, had the strategic business objective to improve its customer service and reposition the business for profitable growth. The retailer found the enterprise-level flexibility it needed to move calls to any of its 850+ retail locations and eight of its contact centers in a new, virtualized contact center environment. The client’s new business-focused routing provides faster customer service (lower queue times and higher first call resolution) and higher sales closure rates because it more effectively triages the reason for the call and routes the call to the department/associate best equipped to care for the customer, whether it’sthe associate on a retail floor or in a contact center. Another significant cost savings for the retailer was the reduction in its telephony costs—funds it freed up and could be used to invest in other areas of the business.
Like our example client, many retailers’ primary channels for shoppers and service requests are typically (1) online, (2) via an interactive voice response system for corporate and catalog numbers, (3) a phone call to the local store, and (4) foot traffic. However, many online purchases end up with a phone call, and in-store shoppers (should) command the attention of store-based reps that may also be tasked with answering the phones to help phone customers with, for example, an availability check of the latest gadget. The point is this: All major channels have customer voice interactions as a common denominator, a denominator that can and should be managed as tightly and seamlessly as retail inventories.
So, what does virtualization mean? And do I need an avatar to get there from here? To tell you the truth, Jake Sully and the other blue humanoids on Pandora are a pretty close comparison to contact center virtualization. They could connect to any living creature anywhere on the planet through their network, and Eywa was their routing engine. In a virtual contact center environment calls (or any interaction type) are:
1st: aggregated via remote and centralized gateways, via SIP or TDM,
2nd: go through initial categorization logic to begin to determine to reason for the call. For example, the number the customer dialed and the number the customer is calling from may provide an initial indication of the type of service the customer needs,
3rd: go through a more advanced interactive voice response system to further triage the reason for the call and to provide self-service to certain call types (e.g. bill pay or store hours), and
4th: are routed to the appropriate resource,perhaps a specialized service technician, a sales representative, or a customer service specialist.
Don’t discount your store-floor associates. Again, we need to care for both customer intimacy and efficient use of valuable human resources. Sometimes, the retail store associate is the best person to help a customer on the phone, but most of the time calls are handled more efficiently (higher occupancy and few abandoned calls) when they are aggregated to a contact center or virtual at-home agents. Fortunately, technologies like attribute-based routing enable calls to be routed to agents with the right attributes (language, knowledge set, skills, location, etc.) regardless of where they sit, as long as they are logged in to the system. (The cool thing is agents can be logged in from home, in contact centers, on a hard phone at a check-out counter, or on a mobile device like an iPad as they walk through the store.) So rather than risk the chance of a floor associate in the automotive department answering for the out-to-lunch housewares associate, thus destroying the relationship between the customer and the brand, virtualization will enable calls to be automatically routed to the best available resource that can answer questions and provide customers with personalized service, as well as make a sale with customers in real-time.
Virtualization allows for identification of available resources for communications or collaboration, in real-time, to improve internal workflow efficiency and external customer responsiveness. It brings many advantages, including creating a more flexible IT infrastructure that allows businesses to respond quickly to market changes and opportunities, improved service levels, healthier customer satisfaction scores, and higher sales conversion rates.
More on our Example Retail Client:
The virtualized system deployed by the retailer provides integrated technology to more than 10,000 contact center agents and associates in 850+ retail stores and is invisible to the customer. With an efficient process built around the customer experience, the company:
• Answered approximately 37.5 million more calls each year, which previously were abandoned, went to voicemail, or went unaccounted for;
• Decreased IVR call handling times by approximately 20 seconds per call, saving more than 1 million hours;
• And improved the IVR containment (self-service) rate.
Companies that want to virtualize their operations will require operational changes. Many companies may find this daunting.
Organizations first need to step back and look at the magnitude of change ahead of them. Before they embark on a strategy, they must ask about the resulting benefits, how the changes will impact customer satisfaction, how it will affect the ability to sell and market, and what’s the impact on productivity and cost.
After they successfully ask these questions, companies need to integrate their disparate systems and technical operations management in order to achieve their customer experience business objectives.
eLoyalty designs, implements, and supports a unified communications solution suite, integrated with enterprise contact center solutions, to transform and optimize collaboration with customer for superior service and total cost of ownership.