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In the Business of Contact Centers blog, Transera offers a unique perspective on contact center practices, technology advances, market trends—in short everything that affects business outcomes in contact centers.

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Taking a Lesson from E-commerce

Pemal_Uppaluru_Formal2csmall3 This post was authored by Prem Uppaluru. Prem is the President & Chief Executive Officer of Transera.

Contact centers should think about modeling successful e-commerce strategies, which gather very precise information about who’s visiting their website—including their spending habits—before deciding how to engage with them.

In the world of e-commerce, each unique online visitor is identified through their cookies and demographically and behaviorally profiled through consumer or customer databases. They are greeted by a landing page customized to their profile and guided through a workflow that balances their needs and the online merchant’s business goals in a way that maximize conversions and order values. Upon a successful transaction, customers are often encouraged to purchase additional matching products, accessories, or services to increase total transaction value.

A similar paradigm can be applied to customers interacting with a contact center. Customers can be identified and classified using a combination of their caller ID, the number they dialed, the menu options they selected, and the digits they entered into the IVR. Once identified, customers can similarly be profiled using consumer and customer databases. These profiles can be used to match them with the right agent profile and call script to deliver the best business outcomes. If the interaction is successful, customers can be offered relevant add-on products and services to increase transaction value.

This is a unique approach that puts a business focus on managing interactions. Contact centers can maximize the impact of this approach by leveraging the power of Big Data and predictive analytics to make recommendations for call routing, customer-agent matches, scripts, and cross-selling.  

I’ll talk about how contact centers can take advantage of Big Data and predictive analytics in subsequent blogs.

Keep Your Call Center Outsourcers Honest

Arnab 2 This post was authored by Arnab Mishra. Arnab is VP of Products and Solutions at Transera.

Direct marketing campaigns containing offers to respond to a toll-free number are particularly challenging to call centers—especially if they are successful! The responses flood in soon after the campaign is launched, creating call spikes that require careful resource planning. In addition to staffing issues, a more significant challenge lies in routing these calls to the call center agents who can convert the leads into sales while keeping abandoned calls to a minimum.

Direct marketers typically manage these unpredictable call volumes by contracting with call center outsourcers. However, they face a fundamental tradeoff in terms of staffing versus service levels: paying for more call center agents reduces wait times for callers (decreasing call abandons) but also increases costs. Given the unpredictability of consumer response to specific campaigns, it is hard to commit to strict staffing levels at each chosen contact center outsourcer. The inability to accurately gauge staffing needs is further exacerbated by the fact that many companies simply allocate the incoming traffic across multiple call center outsourcers (known as multi-sourcing) in fixed ratios. This “spray and pray” strategy typically yields suboptimal routing decisions and results in high abandon rates and lower sales performance.

Level the playing field. What if call center agents were rated in real-time based on their service levels and performance? Calls could then be routed to the best-performing agents while maintaining the desired service levels. This approach takes the guesswork out of call routing and levels the playing field across call center vendors. It forces outsourcers to compete for their client's business by staffing their call centers adequately with the most skilled agents they can hire and train.

When call center outsourcers compete in real-time for the business of their clients, everyone wins: call center customers are assured the best performance across their vendors, and the outsourcers are assured more business from their clients if they outperform the competition. Enterprises choose the set of contact center outsourcers they wish to do business with and keep everyone honest.

Transera enables this approach with Scorecard Routing, Transera’s intelligent call routing software overlays the software in the call centers of your outsourcers and consolidates their operational data to compute and compare agent performance. Automatically routing calls to the best-performing agents—whichever call center they are operating from—is a sure way to increase sales conversions and drive revenues.

Scoring Agents to Win Customers

Business-to-consumer (B2C) companies use direct marketing campaigns across multiple media channels to acquire, retain and up-sell their customers. Given the consumer calls are in response to a marketing campaign (direct mail, TV commercial, telemarketing or Internet ad), they typically lead to “call spikes” which then have to be serviced by sufficiently large and suitably skilled call center agent pools in order to reduce abandoned calls, increase conversions and improve order values.

Companies engaging in direct marketing typically rely on multiple (internal and/or outsourced) call centers to answer calls on their behalf and close sales or provide customer service as needed. These companies typically rely on their carrier to provide rudimentary call treatment in the network and route the calls directly to the call centers with a specified percentage of the traffic going to each site. Such routing of calls based on static percent allocation is impervious to the dynamic nature of call volumes, customer need, customer value, call center staffing, agent skills and performance, conversion rates and order values. Therefore, often such “blind” routing leads to suboptimal and unpredictable results including:
a)    excessive abandoned calls and, consequentially, lost sales
b)    poor conversion rates
c)    lower order values

One way to attack the problem is to find better matches for callers and their needs, with call center agents skilled, and actively performing well, in servicing those needs.  This might be viewed as a 3-step process:

1.    Classify buyers based on customer identity, intent and value

       o    Buyer classification is based on a combination of results from IVR interaction, dipping into enterprise customer databases and querying 3rd party demographic data available on the Web
2.    Match buyers with sales agents based on real-time agent performance
       o    Seller matching is based on a weighted combination of service levels and/or business metrics (conversion rates, order values, or customer satisfaction scores) directly related to desired business performance
3.    Connect buyers with skilled salespeople to maximize sales closure rates
       o    Buyer is connected to the salesperson with relevant buyer information and the activity and results of the transaction are recorded and reported

Transera has developed software called Scorecard Routing that can significantly reduce abandoned calls, increase conversion rates and improve order values for order taking call centers. Guthy-Renker, one of the largest and most respected direct marketing companies in the world, has deployed Transera’s Scorecard Routing solution to reduce abandoned calls during call spikes and route calls to the best performing contact center agents, thus improving their sales conversion rate and increasing their revenues.

Serve Global - Call Local: One-World Virtual Call Centers

Businesses both big and small are required in today's economy to serve customers globally. Customer expectations are high and companies have to constantly compete by delivering excellent sales, service and support, often around the clock. But providing quality global customer serviceacross time zones is costly and difficult to manage and implement.

Many businesses are forced to balkanize their customer service operations with multiple isolated call centers each replete with a full suite of contact center technology investments. Such investments have to be tailored to the expected call volume peaks at each site leading to waste and overspending. Moreover, enterprises are unable to share agents across call centers when call volumes overwhelm capacity in one call center while agents sit idle in another. They can't deploy follow-the-sun operations that allow staffing of contact center agents in the time zone where it is convenient. Worse, they can't provide consistent service to their customers regardless of time and place.

Fortunately software solutions are now available that enable the inexpensive deployment of a single virtual contact center across the globe. Ideally, a solution should decouple telephony and media manipulation functions from the contact center application. This allows the application to be located centrally and shared globally while the telephony and media manipulation functions are dispersed geographically close to the callers.

The most effective solutions also exploit off-the-shelf media gateways and media servers to implement the set of telephony and media manipulation functions needed for full-featured contact centers. Enterprises locate these inexpensive gateways and servers in the geography where the calls originate and connect them to their local telecom carrier on one side and their global IP network on the other. Calls originating on a local carrier land on the nearest gateway-server complex for call treatment, call queuing, call routing and automatic call distribution to any agent connected to the global IP network under the control of the single virtual contact center application. Call monitoring, recording and transfer using the same gateway-server complex is also highly desirable.

One company that aims to deliver on the promise of a true one-world virtual contact center is Transera. The company offers a patented virtual call center solution that uses distributed off-the-shelf gateways and servers to dramatically reduce the cost of capital, while enabling the sharing of agents across globally distributed call center locations.

Axe the PBX in Your Call Center to Cut Costs

Contact center technology evolved around the telephony switch simply because it was already present at the customer site before the call centerarrived. Typically, the switch vendor delivers a proprietary automatic call distribution (ACD) application which works only with their proprietary switch. The proprietary PBX and associated phones cost $1,000-$1,200 per agent on top of the $1,000-$1,200 per agent for the ACD. Various other contact center applications such as IVR, call routing, quality management (QM), outbound dialing, workforce management (WFM) and customer relationship management (CRM) have to integrate with the switch through a proprietary computer-telephony integration (CTI) link to get access to call and agent states and data. All of this equipment and software is complex to integrate and expensive to maintain. In fact, it is the bane of a call center's existence and forces customer service decisions to be constrained by technology rather than driven by business need.

Now there is a better way. Get rid of the proprietary PBX and phones and replace them with Open SIP telephony and inexpensive SIP phones. Junk the on-premises ACD and replace it with an on-demand software-as-a-service (SaaS) virtual call center. Finally, replace expensive PRI trunks with cost-effective SIP trunks from a carrier. Moving from proprietary premises technology to open SIP and SaaS technology can yield significant cost savings which accrue from reductions in telephony, telecom, software and operations costs. Telephony costs can be reduced by 90%, telecom costs by 10%, software costs by 40% and operations by 25%. These are savings no business can ignore.

Most virtual ACD systems require customers to route calls to their data center for call treatment and queuing, and connect calls to agents by backhauling the calls to the call center sites. A more sophisticated approach is to use off-the-shelf inexpensive Session Border Controllers (SBC) and IP Media Servers (MS) combined with SIP trunks provided by a carrier for VoIP transport. The virtual ACD software would then be located in the SBC/MS complex at the enterprise's premises to implement the call treatment, call queuing, call recording, call monitoring and conferencing features needed for contact center operations. This architecture eliminates the need to route calls to a hosted ACD application center and backhaul the voice traffic to the agent locations. Not having to backhaul voice traffic saves $50-100 per agent per month in transport costs. These savings are in addition to the other savings resulting from adoption of open SIP telephony.

Transera uses its patented midpoint management software to enable the solution described above, providing significant savings to its customers.

So what are you waiting for? Axe that proprietary PBX and embrace open SIP telephony to enter the open communications and SaaS world of the 21st century.

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