Timely presentation of customer data to call center agents has become essential. However, this in itself does not accommodate the concept of mass customization. It is also necessary to deploy a mechanism to route each call to the agent with the most appropriate skills to meet each caller’s needs. The automatic call distribution (ACD) system determines where each call is routed. Earlier ACD systems merely routed calls to the agent that had been idle the longest, in an attempt to even out the workload. This is efficient only if all calls are basically alike, and all representatives equally qualified. However, by first determining each caller’s unique needs and routing each call appropriately, the call center can deliver a higher level of customer service. The ACD may take into account the caller’s type of account, what the caller has purchased in the past, or special service requirements or contract terms.
Many factors determine the extent to which a call center can customize response to callers. The kind of information in the database and the timely presentation of that information to representatives is essential and has become a focus of many CTI solutions providers.
Though inarguably powerful, these factors do little to advance the concept of mass customization in the call center unless they also use a mechanism to ensure calls are connected to a representative with the proper skills, desire and attributes to meet the customer’s needs.
In the days before automatic call distribution (ACD), companies often had a receptionist who knew every customer and every employee. With a few questions, he or she could identify the best person to handle the call. Customers were satisfied with this personalized service, and employees were efficient, effective and confident in their ability to help the caller.
In today’s call center environment, determining who picks up the phone when a customer calls is the function of ACD. ACD is the software algorithm that controls call routing within a call center. Traditionally, ACD routes calls based on which agent has been idle longest, with the intent to even out the workload among representatives. The Implicit assumptions in this environment are that all calls are for the same basic purpose and all representatives are equally qualified to handle any call. The goal is to minimize idle time of representatives and answer a greater volume of calls. The business results are impressive, particularly compared to the costs and difficulty of answering and routing calls individually in the pre-ACD era.
Therein lies today’s call center challenge: maintain the business economics of ACD while providing personalized service. In order to provide a customized service response to each customer, the call center needs to assess the unique needs and opportunities associated with each caller and connect that caller with a resource that delivers the complete set of skins and information. Neither the caller nor the call center representative can be viewed generically.
To provide a customized response, the call center might consider the customer’s account type (consumer/commercial, major/minor, new/existing), products or services they have purchased before, special service requirements or contract terms, language, how long it has been since they last called, who helped them on their last call, account standing, what media they prefer to use for communicating with the business, and the caller’s level of knowledge (for example, you would provide a different level of technical support to an end user than you would to the IT manager).
This information can be used to select a representative with the best corresponding set of skills and skill levels, not only in products and services. but also in working with different types of customers, transactions, media and business situations.
ACD manufacturers have tried to respond to this challenge with a number of software enhancements to existing routing products. These include overflows groups, queuing to groups of similarly skilled representatives. routing to specific representatives. and allowing representatives to be logical members of more than one group. These extensions to the classical “next-available-agent” algorithms are known as “skills-based routing.” The applications were designed to address the growing range of customer requirements by creating collections of interwoven skills-based groups, referred to as supergroups, splits or vectors.
This approach can work where two or three skills are considered, but has serious draw-backs as a vehicle for achieving solid customized service. Current skills-based routing products (until ResumeRouting) limit the number of criteria considered in the routing decision, placing limits both on the number of skills associated with a representative and the number of skills identified as critical for each call.
Furthermore, interwoven groups are cumbersome to design, administer, maintain and troubleshoot. Consider the following simple calling tree for a computer help desk. Callers are answered by an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) unit and asked to respond to four multiple-choice questions:
Assuming that branches for LANs, mainframes and peripherals (not shown) are the same size as this PC branch, the call center manager, using conventional group-oriented skills routing, must design and administer a minimum of 192 skill groups to allow comprehensive matching of the callers’ requirements to qualified representatives. However, current products generally limit the number of skills associated with a representative to from four to eight, making true customization in this relatively common scenario impossible with conventional skills-based routing technology.
To accomplish this, call-routing software must better distinguish among call center representatives and better define callers’ requirements on a dynamic, call-by-call basis, choosing the right representative for each caller. This is neither technically possible, nor logistically desirable, with group-oriented skills-based routing.
Virtual Groups, Call by Call
There is a new software product available that overcomes the limitations of group-oriented skills routing by creating a fully qualified virtual group on a call-by-call basis. The product is a server-based application called ResumeRouting. This powerful new technology creates a database of representative skins, skill levels and preferences – detailed resumes of individuals, rather than generic profiles. Based on input from sources such as Automatic Number Identification (ANI), Interactive Voice Response (IVR) responses, Dialed Number Identification Service (DNIS), and the customer database, it is capable of defining a Skills Expression for each call.
The Skills Expression lists up to 100 skills and attributes needed to serve the caller efficiently and effectively. Representatives are then selected based on the Skills Expression and the caller is queued to this virtual group. This scenario is analogous to automatically redesigning a skills-based call center for each call to precisely meet the needs of every caller – the critical mechanism in achieving mass customization.
The Skills Expression
A Skills Expression is the set of skills and skill levels needed to effectively complete each call. For example, Bob is an IT manager calling for product support. He answers a series of questions, indicating that he needs information on accessing a mail-server over an Ethernet LAN from his Windows 95 workstation. ANI identified Bob and the fact that he is technically skilled. The skills expression includes a high degree of technical skill on e-mail, Ethernet and Windows 95. If Bob is an important client who normally receives special treatment, “Bob” is also part of the Skills Expression, gleaned from the ANI. Bob’s call is routed to appropriately skilled representatives dedicated to serving his company and aware of its policies and practices.
Using this new technology, call center managers can set priorities and thresholds for skills requirements. These priorities let them know when skills requirements are relaxed, when to broaden the pool of representatives and the order in which calls need to be answered.
The Resume As An Enabler
For call center managers to meet the requirements of the caller, agents need to be identified by their resumes. In the traditional sense, a resume describes an individual’s capabilities and level of experience. Here, the representative’s resume lists a virtually limitless number of skills, a skill level (ranked 0 to 9) and a level of preference for using that skill (also ranked 0 to 9). As representatives receive training and gain experience in additional areas, their resumes can be adjusted, using simple point-and-click commands.
This new technology allows an expansion of “skills” beyond the boundaries imposed by group-oriented skills-based routing to Include such things as product knowledge, familiarity with specific customer accounts, languages, state-by-state licensing requirements, and transaction types (sales, service, product support, collections, etc.).
For some call centers, representatives with comparable product skills may have different transaction skills. Representative X may have a high success rate in sales calls, but average results in customer support. Representative Y has average results on sales, but exceptional talent for customer support calls. Taking these differences in transaction skills into consideration can result in greater call center productivity and caller satisfaction.
The ability to address a broader view of the representative is critical in ensuring that customers are handled by the best resource to address their particular needs.
ResumeRouting and Media Blending
Today a company’s best customers probably communicate by phone. Tomorrow they will surely communicate via the Internet, as is often the case for high-tech call centers. or by fax or video. The range of skills and other criteria necessary for the most competitive “caller” contact thus expands beyond products, transactions and languages to include media competence – such as skill in telephone communication, text-based communication, video equipment and presentation, and the ability to navigate the Internet – as well as having a workstation with the appropriate equipment and applications. Again, this cannot be accomplished without the ability to consider detailed criteria for each caller and each representative. If it could be done in a conventional fixed group call center, not only would it require incredible design and administrative effort. it would result in division of resources into such small groups that economies of scale normally associated with a call center would be eroded.
However good the technology is today, tomorrow it will be better. And as technology becomes even more capable of delivering seamless “mass customization,” the norms of today will become the exception, rather than the rule. One thing that becomes immediately clear is that the call routing engine in call centers must be more powerful, flexible and dynamic. ResumeRouting uniquely enables true implementation of mass customization and the multimedia call center to provide the next increments of customer satisfaction and productivity improvement for tomorrow’s call center.
- Computer Press:
1 for PC 2 for LAN server 3 for mainframe 4 for peripherals
- Operating System Press:
1 for DOS 2 for Windows 3 for OS/2 4 for Macintosh
- Applications Press:
1 for word processing 2 for spreadsheets 3 for desktop graphics 4 for Lotus Notes 5 for other applications
- Network Press:
1 for local area network 2 for wide area network 3 for public network
GEOGRAPHICALLY DISPERSED ORGANIZATIONS: MACGREGOR MEDICAL ASSOCIATION
You’re an IT manager at a growing major medical association that has 24 geographically dispersed locations, over 2000 doctors, and is handling 700,000 inbound and outbound calls and 70,000 appointments a month.
One day the boss tells you that last year’s growth figures were way up, next year looks even better, and you’ve got to find a way to further enhance the association’s communications and networking capabilities in order to keep up!
The IT manager at MacGregor Medical Association faced those challenges and was still able to continually improve patient care, enhance productivity and minimize expenses by using CTI.
MacGregor did this by using Siemen’s CorNet to link over 30 PBXs combining both voice and data into a single network with feature transparency at every location.
The new system ties patient records with calls, via Automatic Number Identification and Siemen’s CallBridge link. Agents can see patient records at the same time they receive calls, enabling them to give more efficient, personalized service.
No matter what location a patient calls in to, they receive uniform and seamless treatment. For instance, if a patient is placed on hold for more than two minutes when calling into a remote site, the system’s Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) function transfers them to the message center at the main hub in Houston. This reduces caller frustration and the number of abandoned calls.
The technology also provides MacGregor a centralized voice-mail system and appointment desk. The centralized appointment desk has greatly improved responsiveness to patients – 98% of inbound calls are answered within 30 seconds.
THE VIRTUAL CALL CENTER: MAXSERV
MaxServ is a rapidly growing provider of information and consulting services and telemarketing for the home services industry. Using a virtual call center solution, the company increased its level of customer service and gave its call center operation the flexibility to adapt to quickly changing business environments.
With call centers in Austin, Tex.; Scottsdale and Tucson, Ariz.; and Mobile, Ala., MaxServ has grown exponentially over the last five years. During that time, revenues have risen from $2 million to over $50 million and call center staffing from 40 agents to about 2,000.
According to Tom Gentry, MaxServ corporate information officer, all four sites are part of the company’s virtual call center, which handles as many as 80,000 calls per day. The sites are all linked together by Siemens’ CorNet product and MaxServ’s wide-area network (WAN).
Via Siemens CallBridge CTI link, MaxServ’s WAN-based application polls the call centers at each site for activity levels and makes call routing decisions within the computer application, which then tells the public network where to route the call. The switch does not receive calls before routing decisions are made, optimizing network utilization and simplifying call processing.
In the conventional automatic call distribution (ACD) scenario, call routing is based primarily on telephony criteria like the number and order of calls in queue and the length of time calls have been in queue. MaxServ has added value to that model by implementing skill mapping, based on customer requirements and agent skills. CTI lets the computer application define the routing scenarios and triggers and can use virtually any information in the information systems environment. This added information allows MaxServ to further automate call routing via software applications, substantially reducing the time call center managers spend defining routing scenarios and balancing resources.
MaxServ has also created a call center management application that will eventually encompass real-time information from other computer applications. This will enable call center managers to view not only agent and group telephone activities, but factors such as daily revenue can open service tickets all within one application.