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Best Practices in Multichannel Management

We at ICMI decided to evaluate today's leading call centers to help uncover how they meet and exceed customers' multichannel expectations and demands. In doing so, we uncovered several best practices that enable these centers to consistently achieve ambitious response time/service level objectives, high levels of online customer satisfaction and retention, and continually generate and protect revenue via their web sites.

The Rundown: Best Practices in Multichannel Management

Executives: Organizations that offer a variety of contact channel choices – and that are able to effectively manage each of those channels – stand to make huge gains in terms of customer satisfaction/loyalty as well as revenue generation and protection. Of particular importance is the ability of the organization to provide stellar e-support, since customer dissatisfaction online can quickly go “viral” and significantly damage the company’s brand.

Directors/Managers:  Meeting the multichannel challenge means providing highly customer-focused applications and platforms, as well as providing agents with the training and tools they need to provide consistent service across all contact media. In addition, it requires managers to extend such key processes as workforce management, quality monitoring, and C-sat measurement/management to any and all channels handled by the call center.

Supervisors: Helping agents make the transition from phone reps to multichannel service providers requires ample support and coaching/feedback, as well as formal rewards and recognition when goals are met/exceeded. Fortunately, most young people in or entering the workforce today are already web savvy and understand the intricacies of text-based communication like email and chat; it’s up to the call center supervisor to tap those skills and hone them to ensure that each agent provides the best customer experience possible regardless of the contact channel the customer chooses.    

A Lot in Common

Top e-support providers may vary in terms of industry, product/services offered and corporate culture, but their approach to satisfying online customers is similar. Here are some of the key attributes that they have in common:

They empower online customers via a range of dynamic self-support options. Companies leading the e-support revolution are experts at helping customers help themselves. They have implemented self-support tools that enable customers to quickly find answers and information while dramatically reducing the number of routine requests that call center agents must field.

The most effective self-support options implemented include continually updated and information- rich FAQ lists, highly interactive search engines, and customer-empowering online personal accounts.

They use email management tools to help respond to all email inquiries efficiently and with quality. Even with effective self-service options in place, many customers still prefer – or sometimes need – to contact an agent in the call center. This is most commonly done via email. To effectively handle such transactions, top e-support providers use specialized email management systems that automatically and evenly distribute customer email inquiries among the center’s agents.

Call centers typically use the system’s auto-reply feature to confirm that the message has been received and to let the customer know the expected turnaround time for a full response (the best e-support providers respond to each email in less than 24 hours). This dramatically reduces the number of “just wanted to be sure” messages and/or phone calls from concerned customers.

To handle all email inquiries quickly and accurately, agents in the best e-support environments use – but don’t abuse – response suggestions provided by the email management system. Staff aretrained not to simply cut and paste canned responses, but rather to take relevant pieces and add to them to ensure that each customer receives personalized service.

They make things easy for online customers seeking live agent support. Customer demand for immediate live agent support via the web is increasing rapidly, and the best call centers are answering the call. The majority of these companies, have brought their web sites to life via advanced Web chat applications as well as “click-to-talk” applications to provide real-time support to online customers.

To enhance the quality of live web-based transactions, top call centers providers couple their chat and click-to-talk applications with dynamic collaboration (co-browsing and form-sharing) tools.

They have mastered the art of online workforce management. Top call centers work hard to ensure that the right number of e-support agents are in the right place at the right times. These call centers have learned how to accurately forecast online customer contact volume and schedule the appropriate number of staff to meet the center’s service level/response time objectives.
Successful centers carefully track how many email and web contacts they receive every day, as well as when such transactions occur and how efficiently they are being handled, thus enabling the call center to uncover essential historic trends on which they can base solid staffing decisions. In addition, top centers keep close tabs on any special events (e.g., new marketing campaigns, etc.) that are likely to affect email, chat and other web-based contacts, and then staff accordingly.

They understand and practice the principles of CRM. Top e-support providers  effectively use their web sites to capture customer data and use that formation to provide highly personalized service during future transactions. Details about account histories, product and service preferences, past service problems, etc., are stored in powerful databases and enable call centers to create customized Web pages for individual customers.

Top call centers use data gleaned online not only to enhance web self-service, but also email, live web-based support and traditional phone transactions. Agents in these companies’ call centers receive relevant response suggestions and view other key screenpops right at their desktops to help them provide personalized service to all current customers, regardless of how the customer has chosen to contact the call center.

They have formal “e-monitoring” procedures in place to ensure that agents and systems are effectively handling online customer transactions. Supervisors and managers in top multichannel call centers regularly evaluate agent’s email and chat responses for accuracy, spelling, grammar and personalization, and provide agents with the feedback and coaching they need to continually improve. In addition, they receive detailed reports that help to provide a more holistic view of online customers’ experiences with the company. Such reports show how long customers had to wait to receive an email response or to resolve an issue via chat, as well as shed light on the effectiveness of selfsupport tools on the web site.

They continually measure online customer satisfaction and act on the findings. Leading multichannel call centers not only monitor how the center handles online customers, they ask those customers for their opinions. This is typically done by emailing survey “invitations” to customers following email/chat transactions and online visits. Customers can click on the link in the email to view and complete the brief questionnaire.

Some call centers take a slightly more ambitious approach to measuring customer satisfaction –  via surveys that pop up on the customer’s computer screen following a self-support or chat session.

Regardless of how they solicit online customer feedback, the best call centers carefully analyze the information and suggestions they receive and make strategic changes to improve Web-based services. These companies often use datamining tools to help identify trends and pinpoint problem areas, and usually have an individual or team in place whose primary responsibility is customer satisfaction measurement and evaluation.