By Barbara Porter
A call center, or contact center, is the communication and information hub for most large organizations. It is where your customers go to get—and expect to receive—quality service. Within any call center, customer service representatives need to access a variety of business applications that house customer information, including personal data, interactions and transactions. At many companies, this information is stored in several systems, making it difficult for representatives to do their jobs.
With 12 legacy systems, Nicor National was no exception. Our
representatives not only had to learn how to access and use each system, they
also had to toggle back and forth among systems to handle customer calls. Obviously,
this was not efficient.
We knew we had to make our representatives’ jobs easier to provide
the level of service our customers deserve. We handle more than 1 million
inquiries each year on behalf of more than 740,000 customers. While our call
center had earned national recognition, we realized that it would be a
challenge to sustain customer satisfaction without making a commitment to
provide our representatives with a better technology tool.
Our customers and representatives began to express frustration a few years ago. After surveying our representatives, we learned that working with 12 systems was affecting their ability to serve customers. Because our agents had to navigate several different systems for every inquiry, the required time to handle even simple inquiries was very long. After a careful review of our internal processes for sales and service, we decided to build a new front-end system that would eliminate all the legacy systems.
To establish the business requirements for our front-end system, we surveyed a cross-section of representatives using a two-way communication platform called Allegiance. We designed questions that would evaluate every point of the customer interaction process, so we could uncover issues that needed attention. From the survey, we learned that when our legacy systems became too cumbersome to navigate, employees lost confidence in their ability to effectively help our customers and they began to feel disengaged.
The legacy systems comprised a number of separate systems that representatives had to navigate for each customer interaction, requiring them to tab through different screens and wait for each system to respond. Customers suffered the effects of the complex navigation of these 12 systems, including long times to resolve issues. As a result, customers felt less than confident about the service provided to them.
Developing a Unified
To deal with these issues, we developed a unified desktop tool, Agent Desktop. The proof-of-concept phase for this tool verified that we were on the right track with our plans. What’s more, customer satisfaction surveys supported our decision to pursue a single front-end system.
From the surveys, we learned the following:
· Customer satisfaction increased by 9.5 percent when the customer wasn’t put on hold.
· It improved by 16 percent when the hold time for a call was shorter than expected.
· It increased by 8.7 percent when the customer’s issue was resolved in one call.
· Customer satisfaction rose by 20.4 percent when customers had to provide their information only once.
· It increased by17.5 percent when the customer’s call was not transferred.
We knew the risks involved if we did not design and implement a new front-end system that would allow our representatives to create the drivers of customer engagement with each interaction. After exploring the feasibility of building a system in-house, we decided to use a third-party vendor to provide a customized CRM solution. We evaluated three potential partners and chose Sword Ciboodle, a global company that designs customer interaction software for call centers.
Among the reasons for choosing Sword Ciboodle were the company’s expertise in the contact center industry; its promise to demonstrate tangible business value in a short period of time; and its plan to work with us as extended members of our team. Together, we developed a multiyear project consisting of two phases: first consolidating our legacy systems and then consolidating our back-end systems, such as billing.
During the first phase, the project team—which consisted of Ciboodle consultants and members of the Nicor National call center, marketing, operations and IT/IS teams—worked on identifying and creating efficient processes that would lead to increased user productivity. We especially wanted to minimize our representatives’ dependence on our claims management and sales management systems, Oracle platform, and eSuperScript (ESS) system in order to increase user adaptation and acceptance of the new system.
Since then, we’ve enhanced Agent Desktop by adding functionality that helps our representatives increase sales through upselling or cross-selling to maximize all opportunities for additional revenue. What’s more, our new Product Recommender―a tool that is very helpful to our representatives―identifies which products are likely to appeal to customers based on their purchasing profile.
Agent Desktop’s goals are to increase sales conversion rates, reduce average call handling time, improve first call resolution, and reduce training time. These are the metrics by which we measure our success as we continue to enhance the capabilities and functionality of Agent Desktop. As we attain incremental milestones, we will also realize overall business objectives, such as increasing sales, reducing the cost per sale, improving retention and controlling our costs of doing business.
In the first eight weeks after the launch of Agent Desktop, we increased our sales conversion rate by 2 percent, reduced call handling time by 10 percent, improved first-call resolution by 13 percent and reduced training time by 20 percent. As we look to continually improve performance, our next goal is to decrease the time it takes to handle calls by 10 to 35 percent.
We plan to expand the scope of our new front-end system by integrating Nicor National’s billing processes, as well as the business functions of our third-party partners, into Agent Desktop. Other goals include giving our customers more channels for accessing information, including self-service via a Web portal, email and social CRM functions. The portal includes a “Call Me” feature that will allow customers to quickly and easily connect with a representative when needed.
Overall, what we have learned from this project is that employee engagement and customer engagement are intrinsically linked—and ultimately affect the bottom line. We continue to build a positive culture at Nicor National, and Agent Desktop demonstrates our commitment to our employees, customers and shareholders. That means greater job satisfaction for employees, better service for customers, and results that meet shareholder expectations ― winning outcomes for all.
We remain passionate about listening to employees and customers, and understanding and integrating their feedback. We believe that integrating both customer and employee feedback into operational processes and goals will create a business framework that meets our corporate goals now and for many years to come.
Barbara Porter is vice president, customer experience & business development, at Nicor National, based in Naperville, Ill.