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Software // Information Management

More Data, More Intelligence? Not Necessarily!

Call centers need consolidated views, guided analytics for data to help, not hurt.

Despite the promises of increased efficiencies and better customer service, many industries are frustrated with climbing costs and increased call-center inefficiencies after making prodigious investments in massive data warehouses and data mart projects. For many industries, the hope was to create a "360-degree view" or "single view" of the customer, but the reality has been a landslide of data burying agents, marketers, and field technicians.

While a 360-degree view of the customer provides call centers with valuable information, the strategy, when not executed well, also provides such an immense amount of data across multiple systems that single-contact resolution becomes nearly impossible. For "Beyond the Intelligent Contact Center — Beyond the 360-Degree View," the Yankee Group studied 350 contact centers across many service-oriented industries (each with a minimum of 200 agents). The study discovered that contact centers have at least 10 and sometimes 20 different information sources, making the discovery of appropriate data to resolve customer issues an arduous task. In the study, more than 72% of organizations admitted they couldn't efficiently access the right information at the right time, and 64% still had too many places customer service reps (CSRs) had to look for information.

Because agents must grapple with multiple sign-on screens and asynchronous periods of timing out as they toggle from one application to another, churn is actually increasing for call center personnel, marketers, and customers. Says Sheryl Kingstone, industry analyst and cosponsor of the report, companies will ultimately have to "lop the tops" off of legacy systems to get a truly composite view of applications without the pain of accessing multiple, far-flung billing, back-office, and CRM systems. "You want more of a portal view for the agents, so they can drive business processes," says Kingstone, noting service-oriented architectures and Web-services enabled systems will facilitate that ability. "Screen-scraping and provisioning off data warehouses also are alternatives."

Context-Driven Navigation

In order to make data actionable, the buzz tells us, we need "context-driven" navigation, or "contextual guidance." Its intent is to get only the right information about the right customer through the right channel at the right time. It does so by presenting scripts that guide agents through applications and systems, according to the context of the "conversation" — thus, enabling dynamic changes to appear on CSRs' desktops as customers' responses are recorded. That capability would enable service agents and marketers to hypothesize, without waiting for analysis by data mining experts. Blending in information about risk, churn, and lifetime value could revolutionize marketing and customer care.

"It will mean that before an agent accepts a call, the call center system presents the right information in the right format on the agent desktop, based on what the system already knows about the customer," says Kingstone. As agents collect additional information during calls, dynamic changes will be made to agents' desktops to correspond with appropriate actions. "For example, the system determines if the call is related to products, trouble tickets, or billing, and then customer-specific information prepopulates the agent's GUI," she adds. As the agent collects additional information during the call, the system prompts the agent to go to certain applications or screens dictating how to fulfill the customer's request, as well as resolve open issues or initiate conversations around new services for up-sell and cross-sell opportunities. Already, traditional vendors such as Siebel, SAP, and Oracle, as well as Amdocs and emerging companies such as Siperian are all taking a look at context-driven navigation.

All the industries need the analytics to view true value scores, which should be based on what the customer is worth vs. the costs of servicing that customer. When looking cross-industry, Kingstone observes that the financial services sector is proving more proficient at leveraging customer lifetime value and profitability data, whereas manufacturing is trailing.

Susana Schwartz is a New York-based freelance writer specializing in emerging technologies and their impact on IT infrastructure.

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