EXPERT ADVICE

Customer Support Without Walls

An increasing global customer base is driving companies to provide “follow-the-sun” customer support services. In order to enable this level of support, agents are now being located in any part of the world. The challenge is to merge technologies and provide seamless, accurate and real-time customer service.

Contact centers are constantly battling the conundrum of improving customer service while reducing costs. Real-time visibility and centralized management across a distributed agent strategy have emerged as the top challenge companies are now facing, according to a recent Aberdeen survey of more than 150 companies.

The survey also revealed the No. 1 pressure driving companies to implement a distributed agent strategy is the need to increase efficiency while reducing costs. Aberdeen defines a distributed agent strategy as one that meets the staffing requirements of a single contact center by blending some combination of locations, home-based agents and offshoring.

Reaping Benefits

Contact centers are clearly beginning to address these issues as over half of all survey respondents indicated they would upgrade their call center by adding distributed agents within the next 24 months. Customers can and will interact with call centers in any number of ways, at any time and through any channel.

Companies who have started down this path are already beginning to reap the benefits. When implementing a distributed agent strategy, Best-in-Class (BIC) companies have realized a greater than 10 percent improvement in customer satisfaction.

Best-in-Class companies who have implemented a distributed agent strategy also share several common characteristics:

  • Eighty-nine percent of BIC companies versus 67 percent of all other companies provide Internet access to their distributed agents to help boost their performance.
  • Seventy-two percent of BIC companies versus 43 percent of others are currently using online knowledge management systems.
  • 53 percent of BIC companies versus 25 percent of others have implemented speech analytics, IVR Web and self-service technologies.

The Cornerstones

In order to measure, monitor and manage distributed agents effectively, companies must utilize a broad spectrum of technologies. Implementing a distributed agent strategy with the right tools, such as knowledge management, self service, ACD (automatic call distributor) and shift scheduling, has helped 45 percent of BIC companies see an improvement in call center uptime and 48 percent see an improvement in call closure rate. It is essential to apply the right technologies to gain the most benefit from your distributed agent network.

Companies require some basic block and tackling to be in place when embarking upon distributed agent strategy. The following are the cornerstones of any virtual contact center:

  • analytics;
  • Workforce optimization;
  • VoIP; and
  • a consolidated contact center platform.

Analytics provides agents and contact center management with customer data necessary to provide consistent support no matter the time or the location. Workforce optimization tools will provide the capability to manage and improve the customer interaction.

Driving Down Costs

They will also ensure that all agents are equally trained on new technologies, products and services. The ability to run voice over the Internet directly to the distributed agent will help significantly drive down costs for companies. Currently, 55 percent of BIC companies have implemented VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) technology with one-third planning an implementation in the next 24 months.

The widespread interest in establishing virtual call centers reflected in this survey suggests that the inherently virtual nature of all-IP contact center technology will be one of the key drivers for its adoption in the next few years. The all-IP contact center will be the basis of the consolidated contact center platform. The consolidated contact center platform is the next step in providing improved availability of contact center resources at a lower cost.

The four walls of the contact center are rapidly eroding. Contact centers are spreading across the world and providing increased customer service as a result. In order to be competitive, all firms are going need to provide this level of service to their customers.


Alan Hubbard is senior vice president and research director for the Aberdeen Group, where he is responsible for customer service and support practice. Currently, his team’s research agenda focuses on the contact center, help desk and service areas. He can be reached at alan.hubbard@aberdeen.com.


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