Call Center Services
CALL CENTER SERVICES
Call center services have changed dramatically over the past 10 years due in part to increased business taking place on the Internet. Historically, a consumer contacted a call center via a telephone number and was able to talk to a customer service representative to obtain product or service information, register a complaint, and discuss other service-related issues. E-commerce-driven technology, however, has changed how call centers interact with customers and has broadened the services that a call center can provide.
Modern, Web-enabled call centers have adapted to the increased amount of business taking place on the Web by offering consumers both telephone and online service contacts. Many companies have begun to link their call centers to their Web sites in order to provide advanced customer service options. These centers have added e-mail; instant chat, which enables consumers to exchange text messages in real time with service representatives; and other Web-based services such as interactive voice response (IVR), a service that allows consumers to actually speak to service representatives over the Web via PC microphones. Some call centers even offer video services, which enable online customers to see the representative with whom they are in contact. By integrating their Web site with call center services, companies expect to improve customer service, which can increase online sales and eventually cut call center costs.
Many companies that sell their merchandise online find that some consumers, frustrated with the lack of service available online, abandon their order midway through the process. By offering advanced call center services on their Web sites, firms hope to turn those lost sales into completed transactions. The April 2001 edition of Informationweek.com reported that 70 percent of call center managers surveyed believed a Web-based call center strategy was critical to their companies, and 26 percent of those surveyed had integrated Web-based call center services into their current operations. The article also stated that "companies should prepare for communications from customers by way of chat, collaboration, e-mail, and Web-based self service," to increase dramatically over the next several years. In fact, according to International Data Corp., the demand for Web-enabled call center services is expected to have an annual growth rate of 20.5 percent through 2003.
Like most traditional brick-and-mortar businesses that shift to Web-based operations, call centers that integrate Web services into their current operations face problems associated with the change. The integration itself, along with problems of staffing and training as well as maintaining quality control, and the cost associated with upgrading current business structures, are all major issues facing a company that wishes to begin offering Web-based services. Companies that offer solutions for Web-based call center services include WorldCom, AT&T Corp., and Qwest Communications. WorldCom, for example, offers network-based call center services that alleviate the high cost of reorganizing a company's infrastructure. By utilizing their call center services—voice, e-mail, fax, and Web-based chat—firms can take advantage of WorldCom's network without having to establish one of their own. When a customer contacts a call center that subscribes to WorldCom's services, either by telephone or by clicking on a link from the specific company's Web site, the request is first sent to a WorldCom network server and then routed to a specific call center that can handle the request.
According to IBM.com, the shift from its traditional call center services to Web-enabled services has been well received. Customers who used Web call-back—a feature that allows consumers to click a specific button on a Web site to request that a customer service representative call them back—and Web chat have spent twice as much money as those using traditional call center services such as an 800 number. These new services have enabled IBM.com customers to get quick answers to questions about products and services. The company's response time for Web call-back and Web chat was two minutes, and e-mail requests typically were handled within four hours.
As the number of online shoppers continues to increase, call centers will continue to integrate Webbased services along with more traditional services. According to the aforementioned Information-week.com article, "the ability of Web-enabled call centers to enhance customer service and to close sales more quickly isn't only appealing, it can be crucial to the bottom line. Call center agents who use e-mail, instant chat, and Web collaboration to interact with customers are able to more quickly and completely handle questions and resolve problems."
Wilde, Candee. "Web-Enabled Call Center Services Promise to Let Service Providers Put on Quite a Show—Assuming They Don't Drop the Ball." CMP Media. June 26, 2000. Available from www.teledotcom.com.
SEE ALSO: Customer Relationship Management (CRM)