Opportunity On The Line 2

Sometimes, keeping a customer on the phone longer can mean more sales and higher profits

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

February 21, 2003

4 Min Read

One problem with this metric is that keeping calls quick might not always be in the best interest of the company. If an agent rushes to get a customer off the phone, he could alienate and anger customers. "Metrics can be a dangerous thing," Alban says. "Everyone is good at attaining a metric goal that's given to them. If we drove a bad behavior to reach that number, are the metrics that we're measuring correct?"

Focusing on call duration may not only hurt existing business, it might also keep a business from bringing in new revenue. With new analytic systems in place, companies can examine their records for any correlation between average product sale size and average call duration. "I may discover that longer handle time leads to larger sales," Alban says, "so I decide that an extra 30 seconds on the phone is worth it."

Businesses use that knowledge to help their call centers evolve from an expense to a process that adds to the bottom line. "Call centers are now becoming a strategic value," Alban says. "We'd never met with CEOs before, but now we are. They're understanding that this is critical to their business."

Other businesses are also looking at what they measure in new ways. ClientLogic operates 33 call centers around the world, and it handled 96 million customer-care calls in 2002 for its clients.

"Each client is unique in terms of what metrics are of value to them," Rollo says. "We measure things like loyalty, percentage of revenue from existing customers, and support-contract renewals. We like to look at the cost per case -- you may get a customer off the phone, but if they go to your Web site or send an E-mail, that still costs you money."

Convergys Corp., another call-center operator, handles about 25,000 agents for nearly 400 clients. "We're encouraging clients to look at things like cost per customer unit or cost per subscriber," says Renee Kuwahara, senior VP of operations for Convergys' customer-management group. "One of the metrics that continues to grow in popularity is what I call first-call resolution," where customer concerns are taken care of completely on the first call.

Home Shopping Network uses call centers to increase sales, Stallwood says

Home Shopping Network, which has three call centers and more than 800 agents that process an average of 50,000 calls a day, has changed its views on what's important. In the past, "we looked at our business as, 'Let's take the order, finish the call, and get to the next one,'" Stallwood says. But there was a problem with that model. "We weren't identifying other sales opportunities," he says. So the company brought in performance consulting firm Seurat Co. to develop tools and smarter ways of thinking about its call center. Seurat created a graphical user interface for agents to use and used analytics tools.

Home Shopping Network noticed that certain kinds of products were often associated with successful cross- or up-sales, and that some attempts to squeeze more cash out of customers were consistently unsuccessful. "We discovered that this type of customer or this type of product lends itself to this kind of up-sell," Stallwood says. "If we're selling a bracelet, here's a great opportunity to up-sell them the matching earrings. In the past, we might have tried to sell them snowshoes."

The TV-shopping channel has seen huge benefits as a result of its efforts, increasing the amount of annual revenue from cross- and up-sales from $9 million three years ago to $71 million today.

The next step for Home Shopping Network is to make the whole system work in real time. Currently, the analytics are run and metrics are set after the fact, in regular analyses. But Stallwood would like to see those metrics updated constantly -- an agent could see what his up-sell rate is for the day, for example -- and the system could also identify short-term opportunities for increasing sales.

"The whole idea is that we're not just a cost center. We really are the group of people who face the customers every day, can increase customer loyalty, and can increase revenue," Stallwood says. "And what's gotten us there is intelligence."

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