January 11, 2013
Improve Call Center Operations by Building a Better Self-Service Infrastructure
By Tracey E. Schelmetic
While companies today know, at least in abstract, that they need to provide excellent customer service – particularly in a lackluster economy – far fewer of them are sure how to accomplish this, particularly with hiring freezes and tight technology budgets being the order of the day.
Many contact center organizations are simply trying to keep up with the proliferation of new channels customers are choosing to contact them. Many companies had not yet finished ironing out their newer Web channels like chat and Web callback when even newer channels like mobile apps and social media were upon them. While most companies have tried to build a patchwork of solutions to cover all media channels, it’s more likely to be like putting out fires instead of preventing them in the first place.
At the base of any high quality customer support organization, it’s critical that there be a top-quality self-service infrastructure. Self-service helps companies accomplish a number of things: they can broaden service coverage without boosting headcount or operational costs, they can provide customers with options they want and they can remove pressure from existing agents, increasing productivity. While not all issues can be handled with self-service, it’s important to divert those issues that can be covered by self-service away from live agents so those agents can focus on more complicated issues.
“Having a self-service portal allows customers to check on their accounts or orders 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” wrote Robb Duke recently on the USAN blog. “Customers know that they don’t need a customer service representative to answer every question, but they do know that they want access to basic information quickly and when it is most convenient for them.”
Thanks to today’s cloud-based delivery of technology, contact centers now have many self-service options available to them that might have been out of their reach before. Hosted interactive voice response (IVR) technologies bring the latest features – such as speech recognition – to companies that never could have afforded it before. Other solutions available to smaller call centers with tighter budgets include advanced call routing, customer surveying, comprehensive call recording and monitoring, analytics and many other staples of a first-class call center.
Some of the tasks customers can accomplish on their own include checking order status, tracking an order, getting directions and opening hours, checking balances on accounts or gift cards, requesting information, or reporting a problem. Self-service can also be used at the front end of a live agent call to help route the call to the correct agent or the right call center facility, and it can be used at the back-end of the call to administer a follow-up survey, for example.
While there are many ways to build a world-class self-service infrastructure, the most important element is to find the right balance between self-service and live support, be sure there are no dead ends, and ensure that all self-service tasks ultimately lead to a live agent if it becomes necessary. There is nothing that will terminate a customer relationship faster than a self-service process that ends with no resolution for the customer and no options to escalate an interaction.
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Edited by Rich Steeves