Is it just a way to cut costs, or can it be much more?
As recently as 2006, a Datamonitor survey found that while companies outsourced for a variety of reasons, including the need to expand hours, better handle off-peak traffic, improve staffing flexibility and achieve higher productivity, saving on costs was the lead factor.
But attitudes can change quickly. In the face of tough competition, a challenging economy and changing customer expectations, companies are beginning to use outsourcing not only to create a lean enterprise, but also to ensure a positive customer experience that contributes to growth. Driving this broader vision of outsourcing is a new approach called relationship management, which makes customers happier, more loyal and more profitable.
Relationship management optimises the value of customers to the enterprise by implementing a strategy that strives to perfect their experience in doing business with the company. This works well in an outsourced environment as relationship management builds on the traditional cost benefits companies have come to expect, while delivering the enhanced revenue that derives from providing a positive experience.
Among the most exciting new developments is a trio of options that can directly impact a company’s relationships with customers:
- Performance-based learning (PBL);
- Automated voice assist technologies
- Real-time predictive analytics
Companies that outsource may not feel it’s their job to worry about their contact centre provider’s training programs – but they and their customers will certainly feel the impact if an outsource vendor’s agent training is not up to par. Improving the customer experience begins with the agent, whose effectiveness, commitment and longevity directly correlates to training.
Relationship management experts champion a new approach to training called Performance-Based Learning (PBL), which combines instructor-led training, hands-on activities and role plays – transforming learning to make it more useful to agents, thus boosting work quality, job satisfaction, commitment and productivity. The idea behind PBL is to teach agents specifically what they need to know to serve customers. The confidence that comes with PBL improves morale, contributing to ever-improving agent performance and longevity on the job.
More importantly from the standpoint of the company that uses an outsourced solution, agents that have experienced PBL “hit the ground running,” and are able to quickly achieve higher levels of first call resolution and shorter average handling times.
The need for tailored training is even more important now, given intense competition has prompted an explosion of new products, services, options and pricing plans for many companies. Accompanying this boom are huge volumes of information that the agent must access and understand in order to quickly resolve customer issues.
New “agent assist” technologies available from some outsource providers use voice recognition to pick up on key phrases during a customer interaction and instantly retrieve essential data needed to handle an enquiry or problem. Such voice assists automate common repeated activities on the desktop, adding relevant data or jumping to just the right screen, to speed the interaction and ensure an accurate response. For customers, it’s a vast improvement over waiting while an agent scrolls through screen after screen of data looking for the right information.
Automated agent assist is emerging as an important tool for delivering a stellar customer experience to today’s Internet-raised generation, for whom real-time is the only time that matters. By reducing manual navigation, page clicks and data entry, automated agent assist shaves vital seconds off average handling times. By harvesting data from existing applications, the technology eliminates the errors that can plague manual re-typing or “cut & paste” actions. Where speed is of the essence, these features significantly enhance customer satisfaction, while at the same time reducing costs to the enterprise.
Given the vast amount of data generated, equally exciting for the future is the ability of “agent assist” to trawl customer data during an interaction and prompt the agent on offers most likely to be of interest to the customer. In so doing, agent assist crosses the line from data look-up into data mining and real-time predictive analytics – an area that transforms the agent from a problem solver to an enterprise revenue generator.
Companies have long recognized that they have massive amounts of customer data. But how best to use it? Real-time predictive analytics allows companies to be proactive rather than reactive and gives the ability to leverage the data to drive maximum value from and to each customer – scalable to millions of customers simultaneously. Used primarily by the communications and financial sectors, real-time predictive analytics is rapidly gaining momentum and may ultimately span multiple industries.
Real-time predictive analytics continuously polls a company’s diverse databases to create a detailed “360 degree view” of each customer. The ability to pull up real-time profiles of customers is a powerful tool supporting service and marketing objectives.
Thus armed, companies can:
- pre-emptively detect and correct problems before the customer is even aware of them
- proactively automate tailored offers to customers, based on known preferences or requirements
- deliver all pertinent customer data to the agent’s desktop during a customer interaction, providing an avenue to quickly resolve problems and then segue into cross-selling/up-selling.
Real-time predictive analytics offers another attractive twist: It lets a company tailor the level of service delivered depending on the customer’s current and predicted value. It’s a fact of business life that 30 percent of customers are responsible for 70 percent of revenue. Knowing which customers are most valuable enables a company to craft special offers geared to nurturing and growing these relationships.
Outsourcing has come a long way since the days when budget issues were its primary driver. While the cost-saving advantages of outsourcing will always be important, companies are now raising their sights. They’re starting to view operational efficiency as a key subset of the broader relationship management strategy, and to understand that the customer experience – not savings alone – underpins a company’s financial success.
Alastair Hanlon is director of industry solutions, at Convergys Corporation