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The contact center's piece in the corporate puzzle

A relatively new type of software tries to help you understand how the call center contributes to a company's overriding vision. Is it worth investing in?

An increasing number of high-level corporate executives are realizing just how important properly analyzed call center metrics are to achieving the overall goals and objectives of their companies.

This new way of thinking is leading to new call center performance optimization software that's designed to help managers analyze customer metrics with the big picture in mind.

"Call centers have grown in their visibility to strategic-level people," said Lori Bock lund, president of Strategic Contact Inc., an independent CRM consulting firm in Beaver ton, Ore. Call center managers "have to be enlightened from a strategic perspective," she added.

Just as the term 'CRM' became overused in the industry, I fear that 'optimization' is the next warm and fuzzy industry buzzword.
Gerry Barber, CRM consultant,

According to several analyst firms, overall demand for analytic s is definitely on the rise. One researcher in particular, Framingham, Mass.-based International Data Corps., expects the overall market for CRM analytic s software to reach $4.8 billion by 2007.

For end-user companies, analytic s software represents an opportunity to better understand existing and potential customers, which can grow revenue. For CRM vendors, said analysts, the emerging market is an opportunity to up-sell customers on more expansive CRM packages.

Bock lund explained that just a couple of years ago the main function of the call center manager was to put out scheduling "fires" and to collect service-level statistics, such as average customer hold times.

Today, she said, more call center managers are expected to give in-depth, big picture analyses of customer metrics and to let executives know how the call center contributes to the company's overriding vision.

"There are tools out there for doing this, but they're just starting to catch on," said Bock lund. "The technology is not trivial and not cheap."

Before implementing a call center optimization system, companies must first determine which metrics are most important. For instance, said Bock lund, if a company is mainly focused on increasing customer satisfaction levels, it might consider software that pulls in and examines quality monitoring information and other elements of a caller's experience.

Gerry Barber, a 25-year veteran of the call center industry, is on the board of directors of the non-profit Call Center Industry Advisory Council (CIAC). He is also president of Contact Management Solutions, a Nashville, Tenon.-based CRM consulting firm.

"Just as the term 'CRM' became overused in the industry, I fear that 'optimization' is the next warm and fuzzy industry buzzword," said Barber.

Barber believes that most of the vendor talk about optimization right now is essentially based on hype, but it will eventually translate to more useful performance management software.

"Most of the optimization [software] that I've seen has been strictly productivity based," said Barber. "We're only at the doorstep of true performance management systems whereby meaningful metrics are customer driven and linked to corporate objectives through a balanced scorecard approach [in order] to drive center performance."

Bock lund pointed out that several big CRM companies are already in the analytic s space, but their products aren't very focused on the call center. Some of those companies include German business software giant SAP AG and the Pleas anton, Calif.-based People Soft Inc. Those two companies have developed the software as an add-on to their existing CRM packages.

SAP AG said its analytical capabilities easily integrate with its back-office software and focus on several areas, including customer analytic s and providing an overall view of the customer. People soft offers analytic s embedded into its applications, with reporting functions targeted at vertical markets.

Sieve Systems Inc., in San Mate o, Calif., has invested heavily in analytic s with its 2001 acquisition of enquire Inc. It now says analytic s software is its second biggest generator of revenue.

Bock lund said that Blue Pumpkin Software Inc., of Sunnyvale, Calif., and Witness Systems Inc., of Atlanta, are lesser known companies that offer analytical software specifically focused on the call center.

Despite the shift in focus underway from service-level stats to more strategic thinking, many CRM professionals, vendors and analysts agree that there is still a great deal of confusion when it comes to optimization.

Vicki Herr ell is president of the Society of Workforce Planning Professionals, a Nashville, Tenon.-based group made up of CRM workers and their organizations. She's heard quite a bit about the optimization buzz, but doesn't think it's really caught on yet in the real world.

"I don't think that anybody knows a lot about it," Herr ell said.

Herr ell said the confusion is probably due to the fact that vendors tend to use the phrase "performance optimization" interchangeably with "workforce optimization," which focuses on things like scheduling rather than strategic thinking.

"What [vendors] are doing is selling management software along with services," said Herrell. "It's cynical, but in reality they're just trying to get more money."


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