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Making real-time information a reality in the contact center

Real time marketing information can transform a contact center from a cost center to a profit center of organizations follow a few rules.

Organizations seeking to transform their contact center operations from cost centers to profit centers had better be equipped with marketing information and that information had better be real-time if they want to do so effectively, according to industry observers.

"The days of one offer a day for everyone are over," said John Ragsdale, vice president of research for the service and support professionals association.

The real-time contact center -- generally understood to mean providing the right information to the right contact center agent at the right time so that the agent can make the right offer -- requires a number of things to go correctly. Chief among them is marketing providing the service organization with the data their looking for.

Customer demographics, buying history and support history all contribute to establishing an upsell or cross-sell offer the customer is likely to accept.

Barton Goldenberg, founder and president of Bethesda, Md.-based ISM Inc. has one business-to-consumer client that accesses information on 54 million members, drawing on outside sources like Experian and ChoicePoint. That base of information feeds real-time offers across the organization.

"This is really an issue of being multi-channel," Goldenberg said. "Not all companies have equal sharing across channels. Once you have that knowledge in one channel, to screen pop or face pop in a branch office, it's all the same thing."

Real-time marketing data in the contact center is part of the evolution of contact centers from a cost center, where the focus was on cost cutting and efficiency, to focusing on customer loyalty and metrics like first call resolution. Actually turning profits from a contact center is now a reality.

And it's not a one-way street. Marketing is looking to the contact center's own internal data to craft offers and campaigns.

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"In technical support we're seeing people associate an offer with a knowledge base article," Ragsdale said.

Technical services organizations, for example, are examining their frequently asked question databases for upsell and cross sell opportunities, starting with extended maintenance contracts. Ragsdale said.

"The most obvious step is to offer an extended maintenance contract, especially with printers and computers," Ragsdale said. "It's easier getting a customer to upgrade to a new machine when you're telling them this part will cost this much but if you're willing to spend an extra $500 or $200 we'll just send you a new system."

Training agents to be marketers and salespeople

Properly training your contact center staff is critical step in successfully operating, a real-time contact center with real-time marketing data, Ragsdale and Goldenberg agree.

"It's a very serious issue and here's what you learn," Goldenberg said. "It's very rare that a customer contact center agent that was hired for service is capable of cross and upselling. It's a very different skill set."

Goldenberg recommends clear processes for transferring customers from service to sales if the situation demands it. Have the agent say, "we have a special offer, may I transfer you to a sales representative."

Ragsdale agrees that long-time agents that were brought in solely as customer service representatives have a hard time transitioning their skills. Yet, Ragsdale says he has seen some organizations successfully leverage their existing agents as marketers and sellers. Once the selling process is embedded into the service process, agents can adjust.

"The companies that are doing this well have incorporated the upsell and cross-sell training into basic agent training from day one," Ragsdale said. "It's all about servicing the customer. When the customer says yes often enough agents no longer feel like they're selling."

He recommends adding sales or marketing functions one process at a time, like offering a renewal for a subscription service when someone moves. Additionally, agents that receive a commission are motivated by that additional incentive, be it cash or rewards. Marketing should have a hand in creating the training materials and building out the offer extension engines, Ragsdale advised.

Getting data from the contact center

Contact centers need to be equipped to provide an organization with information as well, not just consume it.

"The contact center is the front view of the organization and it sees what customers are complaining about and can be a source for new leads or product development," Goldenberg said. "It's not just for cross and upsell, marketing purposes. If you think about it in the long-term, that is the new lifeblood, creating new products."

The contact center can be well-equipped to provide design teams with information on what functions a customer may want to see in the next product or provide marketing with information on campaigns, noting if a caller was influenced by a particular offer or promotion they saw recently.

The right tools for the right real-time offer

The tools that provide real-time marketing information in the contact center can come from a number of sources. In high volume contact center, it's usually a screen pop or, there's a dedicated panel on the agent desktop within a CRM application populated with the top three offers, and an organization may give agent the decision on which to choose, according to Ragsdale.

"My biggest problem is I'm running out of products to recommend because they're all being acquired or integrated into suites," he said. "It's difficult to identify a best-of-breed product. It depends on how highly personalized you want it to be."

In fact, organizations shopping for contact center CRM systems should include real-time marketing offers within their request for proposals, Ragsdale advised.

While, CRM vendors are adding real-time marketing data capabilities into their applications via development or acquisitions, there are other places to turn, such as predictive analytics and data mining services or for companies with sophisticated Web sites, web analytics.

"In true consumer environments where you may not have customer information you can rely on analytics engines," Ragsdale said. "They're really focusing on bringing what they do into the contact center. They're able to track customer history form an IP address standpoint. It's an ideal solution when you have no idea about this customer."

Getting the most out of real-time offers, however, requires constant vigilance.

"The reason you to real-time offers is you do real-time analytics for the offer," Goldenberg said. "Do dozens of offers per week and test them to see which are going to fly."

Both experts agree that organizations must adjust and tune the offers and marketing information they use a minimum of once a month. The software should track not only what offer was made, how the agent extended the offer as well as acceptance rates.

"Best practice would be at least on a monthly basis you should be looking at what's successful and unsuccessful and pull the offers that never have an accept," Ragsdale said. "It is an ongoing thing. At the beginning it is going to be a full time job."

Ownership of the data, processes

Sharing real-time data between customer service and marketing requires some clear governance as well and for Ragsdale, who once co-wrote a paper entitled "Why Marketing Should Own the Contact Center," the question of where ownership falls is pretty clear. Yet, contact centers that are making money are suddenly finding they have more sway in an organization.

"What we're hearing from members is, when support starts generating revenue it instantly gives them credibility," he said. "In the consumer world it's not uncommon for contact center to report into marketing. In tech support it's generally given more leeway."

The key, according to Goldenberg, is to disseminate that real-time information in as many ways as possible.

"We believe that multi channel is the future of CRM," he said. "Seamless integration of any process should cut across the channels."

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