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Call Centers and the Internet: Enhancing Customer Contact

  • ID: 40879
  • Report
  • December 1999
  • 86 pages
  • American Productivity & Quality Center, APQC
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Customers are smarter and have a greater breadth of choice in today’s online marketplace. The Internet affords them greater control of their purchasing decisions and allows them increased access to the organizations of their choice. In many cases, the key differentiator between organizations competing online is the level and quality of customer support that they are able to offer their valuable customers. Today, customers are able to send inquiries and complaints 24 hours a day, seven days a week from around the globe. Their questions are sent in seconds over the Internet, and their expectations for a quality response are increasing. In addition to customers’ expectations of prompt response, the level of customer support provided over the Internet must be comparable to the traditional phone-based call centers.

Critical cross-selling opportunities and customer “touch” points are lost if customers cannot contact a company representative seamlessly. Traditional call centers are turning into “contact centers” where phone, e-mail, fax, and chat are becoming the mediums of choice for customers around the world. How are organizations able to keep pace with technology change and growing customer expectations? This is among the many challenges that call centers and customer support managers are facing today.

Study Focus

Drawing input from Response Design Corporation and secondary research literature, the study team identified four key areas for research. These areas guided the design of the data collection instruments. Brief descriptions of the four areas are provided below.

I. The Emerging Role of the Internet
- The Internet’s priority in both the company’s and the call center’s strategic
- The call center’s role in supporting Internet initiatives
- Integrating Internet technology into existing call center technology
- Evaluating and selecting Internet options
- Expected return on investment (ROI) from Internet investment

II. Building an Internet Business
- Preparing/educating customers to do business on the Internet
- The cultural change in the call center as it transitions to Internet-based business
- Capabilities of the call center to react to Internet customers
- Changing competencies of the call center’s staff to support Internet customers
- Involvement of other operational functions (human resources, training,
information technology) in supporting the transition to the Internet
- Guidelines used to select and implement new technology to support the Internet

III. Maintaining an Internet Environment
Processes/technologies in place to ensure:
- reliable, predictable service
- security/confidentiality
- service levels in disasters, emergencies, or dramatic changes in level of se and
- integration of customer information collected from the Internet into existing

IV. Measuring Success in an Internet Environment
Impact of the Internet on the way the call center measures its:
- productivity,
- customer satisfaction,
- value,
- reps’ productivity,
- reps’ responsiveness,
- overall cost savings (ROI), and
- reps’ ability to satisfy customers.

Report Structure AND KEY Findings Overview

The purpose of this study was to identify effective processes and tools necessary to develop and maintain a successful customer contact management system through Internet and call center integration. The data collected via detailed questionnaire responses as well as through on-site and telephone interviews revealed a series of recurring themes that can be termed “best practices” and insightful innovations.

The first finding is related to how successful organizations are aligning their online customer contact strategies with their overall corporate strategies. The success of this alignment depends on the level of understanding and support the call center/contact center managers have for the company’s Internet strategy and how it can be leveraged to support customers and employees. The next finding takes a closer look at the customer and describes the influence that online customer support has on the way customers interact with the organization. The Internet has had a profound impact on customers’ expectations. This key finding examines the expectations and behaviors of online customers, specifically:
- customers expect multiple access channels that are continuously available,
- customers expect speed,
- customers expect standardization of language and terminology,
- customers expect quality responses to their questions no matter how they

access the company,
- customers prefer free-form e-mail,
- customers expect sophisticated Web support,
- customers expect to be educated, and
- different customers have different requirements for personalized service.

Findings 3 and 4 explore how call centers are reorganizing their work forces, adjusting monitoring systems, and qualifying and training e-mail correspondence representatives to meet the challenges of online integration of the customer support function. Organizations are realizing that there are internal staffing issues that must be addressed when building an online support center-whether it is completely integrated with traditional call centers or used as an additional support function for the organization.
Finding 5 examines Web site ownership and the use of internal resources as key assets in the development and maintenance of companies’ Web site architectures and content.

A strong commitment to interdepartmental communication and cooperation is
recognized as a key driver of success for online customer support initiatives in this section of the report. As call center managers add new functionality and support capabilities to their support sites, they are challenged to measure the effectiveness of their online support programs. As Finding 6 reveals, numerous metrics are available for call center managers to use however, the following three metrics were among the most challenging ones for call center managers:
- return on investment for Internet expenditures,
- first-contact resolution, and
- forecasting the number of necessary support personnel needed to handle

Internet inquiries.

The last two findings of the study address the various functional components of
the support sites and how successful contact centers communicate the benefits of these capabilities to customers. An important piece of this process is collecting, analyzing, interpreting, and acting on customer feedback. The Web is providing organizations with multiple vehicles for collecting customer feedback. The challenge is in how to pull all of the information together and convert the data into actionable results that lead to continual improvement.
In total, eight key findings emerged from the numerous themes that ran throughout the study. These findings are intended to develop a framework for how successful organizations approach creating and maintaining an effective customer contact center using the benefits the Web can provide. The findings also bring to light many of the challenges that online customer support can cause. While the following findings are not intended to provide final solutions, they do highlight how organizations have successfully been able to overcome some of the hurdles associated with providing online customer support.

1. Successful call center managers have a deep understanding of their Internet strategy and how their companies plan to use the Internet to support customers and employees. They align their Internet support efforts with the corporate strategy.

2. Call centers are discovering that they must cater to different customer expectations and behaviors when interfacing with customers on the Internet.

3. Successful call center managers are reorganizing their work forces and adjusting monitoring systems to meet the challenges of conducting chat sessions and responding to an increasing volume of e-mail.

4. Call centers are changing the way they qualify and train their employees to work in a truly integrated customer contact center.

5. Although the ownership of Web sites varies from company to company, partners
do not outsource Web activities. Even when call centers do not “own” the sites they support, the centers’ employees are key assets in the development and maintenance of those sites.

6. Managers of integrated call centers are adapting the performance and productivity metrics already in place to measure their effectiveness in handling the challenges of integration.

7. Partner companies are quickly attaining functionality and capability to serve customers. Managers are communicating the applications and their benefits to the customers.

8. Through Internet technology, customer feedback is more available than ever.
Companies are now turning their attention to the disciplined collection, analysis, interpretation, and use of the voice of the customer. They are using the results for continual improvement.


This consortium benchmarking methodology was developed in 1993 and serves as one of the premier methods for successful benchmarking in the world. It is
a powerful tool for identifying best and innovative practices and for facilitating the actual transfer of these practices. The data collection tools used to gather information include:
- Preliminary Questionnaire: quantitative questions designed to collect objective and quantitative data (completed by partners only and followed with telephone interviews),
- Detailed Questionnaire: quantitative questions designed to collect objective and quantitative data (completed by sponsors and partners), and
- Site Visit Discussion Guide: qualitative questions designed to collect qualitative information about targeted aspects of an organization’s use of the Internet in its call center (completed by site visit/telephone interview hosts).

Five of the eight partners hosted half-day site visits, allowing sponsor representatives to meet with key personnel and share insights into their online call center practices. A group of consortium members attended each site visit to participate in the discussions and to talk face to face with
the partner companies’ online practitioners. Both partner companies and sponsors responded to the Detailed Questionnaire, and all partner organizations completed a preliminary screening survey. The five partner companies selected to host site visits were asked to respond to the Site
Visit Discussion Guide in its entirety. Two additional partner companies agreed to participate in telephone interviews to provide insight on innovative practices specific to their organizations and to address targeted questions from the Site Visit Discussion Guide.
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4 Sponsor and Partner Organizations<BR><BR>A listing of the sponsor organizations in this study, as well as the best-practice (“partner”) organizations that were benchmarked for their innovation and advancement in integrating the Internet into their call centers.<BR><BR>6 Executive Summary<BR><BR>A bird’s-eye view of the study, presenting the key findings discovered and the methodology used throughout the course of the study. The findings are explored in detail in following sections.<BR><BR>13 Key Findings<BR><BR>An in-depth look at the eight key findings of this study. The findings are supported by quantitative data and qualitative examples of practices employed by the partner organizations.<BR><BR>65 Partner Organization Profiles<BR><BR>Background information on the partner organizations, as well as highlights of their use of the Internet in their call centers.
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