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Unified Communications Featured Article

July 13, 2010

eGain Offers Seven Green 'Habits' For Contact Centers

By Brendan B. Read, Senior Contributing Editor

Attention contact center decisionmakers – Are you interested in going green in more ways than one i.e. achieving cost savings and business growth while reducing environmental footprints?
Anand Subramaniam, vice president, Worldwide Marketing, eGain offers these seven innovative and best practices habits to get into to go green:
Habit 1: Reduce postal mail communication for confidential information
Businesses in the broader financial services sector such as banking, brokerage services, real estate and insurance, create significant environmental damage through paper-based communications with customers for communicating sensitive information. Secure e-mail communications between the business and the customer can help reduce this ecological impact.

Secure e-mail communications can be based on either a push or pull model. In the push approach, sensitive information is encrypted and sent to the customer through highly secure transport mechanisms. This information then gets decrypted when the customer views the document. The advantage in this approach is that customers do not need to log in to a web portal to view the emails. In the pull approach, customers see e-mail alerts when they log into a web portal, at which point they can choose to view or download the information in a secure manner.
Example: A leading U.S. bank provides secure e-mail inboxes through authenticated customer self-service portals to enable customers to view account information, check the status of service requests, and initiate service requests. This reduces the need for postal communication and environmental damage from paper production and consumption.
Habit 2: Reduce unwarranted field service truck rolls
A big source of customer service cost and carbon emissions is unwarranted field service trips. In the case of big-ticket items like household appliances, manufacturers can preempt unnecessary field service “truck rolls” and associated carbon emissions through effective problem resolution by contact center agents and web self-service.
Example: A premier home appliance manufacturer, a U.S. household name, preempts field service by using a knowledge management system, guided by case-based reasoning (CBR) in its customer contact center to reduce unnecessary field visits. In the last eight years, it has saved an average of $50 million per year: and the planet in the process!
Habit 3: Reduce unwarranted product exchanges and returns
Effective knowledge management in the contact center is eco-friendly in other ways, too. Knowledge-enabled contact center customer service can also help reduce unwarranted product returns or exchanges, which lead to unnecessary inspections, re-manufacturing, and product shipping and related environmental damage.
Example: Wireless operators almost always have a policy of exchanging faulty handsets for free and this adds significantly to their service costs and eats into their operating margin. However, such exchanges and returns are often caused by subscribers’ inability to figure out how to use the product and contact centers’ inability to resolve the problem and help the consumer. A leading European telecom company has reduced unwarranted handset exchanges by 38 percent through preemptive phone-based customer service by agents, empowered with a guided-help knowledge management system.
Habit 4: Reduce unnecessary branch office visits
Consumers and business clients in the financial services sector often feel the need to visit local branches for advice and for performing transactions due to unreliable and low-quality advice provided by contact center agents, inadequate web self-service, or privacy and security concerns.
Best-in-class contact centers have started using secure web co-browsing in conjunction with phone or chat to show customers how to find service information on the web site. The same technology is also used to help the firms’ customers complete their online transactions such as form-filling and stock trades. Sophisticated web collaboration systems provide fine-grained control on the visibility of consumer information as well as transaction permissions to contact center agents. For instance, a best practice is to hide sensitive information such as the consumer’s social security number from the agent during form-filling. Another best practice is to prevent the agent from executing the actual transaction, (for instance, not letting them click on the “Submit” button). Co-browsing (sometimes called web collaboration) not only increases sales and improves customer experience but also reduces visits to the neighborhood bank or branch office, a big plus for the environment.
In addition, the use of electronic or digital signatures can help complete more complex transactions such as contracts and mortgage applications online and through electronic channels such as e-mail.
A premier U.S. asset management firm uses concurrent phone conversation and web collaboration to help consumers fill out 401K and other kinds of forms online. Agents also use co-browsing to train consumers on how to use web self-service—it is like providing training wheels, when kids are learning to bike.
Contact center agents in a leading international bank use a knowledge-guided process management system to help small business banking clients open new accounts. The knowledge-enabled customer interaction management system also automates the fulfillment of follow-on tasks such as mailing checks and other information to the client, thereby reducing or eliminating the need for branch-office visits by the client for account opening and other tasks.
Habit 5: Reduce unnecessary retail store visits
Preemptive or proactive customer service alerts can help reduce or eliminate unproductive store visits by shoppers. For example, a retailer may send such alerts to consumers in “rain check” scenarios, when an out-of-stock SKU becomes available at a store, preempting unnecessary “exploratory” shopping trips and reducing carbon emissions in the process.
Another obvious and cost-effective way to reduce unnecessary store visits is to deliver rich web self-service to help shoppers and business clients find the information they need and perform transactions online through self-service or agent-assisted online service such as chat and web collaboration.
To maximize web self-service adoption for before- or after-sales service, it is important to understand that customer queries come in all shapes and sizes: from simple informational questions to complex diagnostic or advice-seeking queries. Moreover, customers prefer different ways of looking for content, based on their information consumption styles. For example, non-technical customers will do better with guided-help “hand holding,” while tech-savvy customers may prefer to search. A “one size fits all” approach, where users are forced to scroll through Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) or process hundreds of search hits, is a big deterrent to user adoption. Providing multiple information access methods will tangibly increase self-service adoption and reduce less eco-friendly customer communications.
Furthermore, live web chat and the previously mentioned web collaboration technology used in form-filling can also be leveraged to answer customer questions in a timely manner, help them find information on web sites and complete online shopping transactions in the retail sector.
A leading prescription services company and pharmacy chain uses unified cross-channel service alerts through e-mail, voice and SMS to alert members regarding their refill renewals, filling status, etc., while also advertising cost savings, based on their zip code. Members do not need to make phone calls to check the status of their refills or visit the pharmacy to see if they got filled, reducing carbon emissions in the process.
A leading mobile operator in Europe provides multi-access web self-service, including standard capabilities such as FAQs, search and browse, as well as more advanced yet intuitive guided-help capability, using reasoning technology. With guided self-help, subscribers are able to get after-sales questions answered as well as purchase new plans and devices through a natural and intuitive online dialog. This reduces the need to visit brick-and-mortar retail stores for pre-sales queries and after-sales service.
Another telecom company uses remote device management for preemptive services such as remote configuration and installation of upgrades. Furthermore, the company’s contact center combines remote device management with a reasoning tool to remotely interrogate handsets and then intelligently reason with the data to resolve customer problems at the first contact, preventing unnecessary store visits by subscribers and field visits by the business.
Habit 6: Improve First-Visit Resolution (FVR)
Brick-and-mortar customer service visits on the part of the business or the end-customer are sometimes unavoidable. However, there’s a greening opportunity here as well. If a field service technician goes to a consumer or business client’s site, repeat visits and additional carbon emissions can be preempted by increasing the technician’s odds of success in the first visit. Likewise, contact center knowledge bases can be deployed to retail store representatives and branch office staff so that the service issue is resolved in the very first visit by the consumer to the brick-and-mortar operation.
Example: The premier appliances manufacturing company mentioned earlier also uses its CBR-based knowledge management system to improve FVR. The system provides additional guidance for the actual on-site fix, along with recommended spare parts and tools.
Habit 7: Reduce carbon emissions from employee commute
Emissions from employee commuting are a well-known contributor to environmental damage. In the contact center context, the need for employee commute can be reduced through the use of Voice-over-IP technology, which enables easy and cost-effective call routing to distributed agents, including work-at-home, seasonal and outsourced agents. Smart contact center knowledge bases deployed to such agents can help significantly increase the odds of success in this model by making them effective and efficient.
Example: A premier consumer products company uses a combination of agents in its corporate call centers as well as outsourced agents that are distributed across the U.S. and international outsourcing hubs to provide multichannel customer service. Many of these agents work from home and this approach helps reduce the contact center’s environmental footprint.
“These seven habits can help in “greening” the contact center customer service operations of any business and its cash coffers, while delivering superior customer experiences. It’s a “win-win-win” for the customer, the contact center, and the planet!” says eGain’s Subramaniam.

Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Alice Straight

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