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Call Center Basics

By Jay Gowell

After having spent time with a number of marketers over the last couple of years, I heard a consistent theme when it comes to managing inbound sales and customer service. The theme is that on the one hand they recognize the need for third-party call centers to handle call volume, but on the other hand, they want their own customer service center.

Why? For three key reasons: First, marketers want to remain close to their customers and they perceive that managing the more predictable and smaller customer service phone call volumes and staffing levels is easier to manage. Second, marketers need a high-performance and predictable way to monitor, test, and measure the performance of a potential campaign, and the ability to adjust their offer strategy quickly and independently. Third, customer service can really mean “customer retention” – a customer service representative needs order management tools to adjust continuity (auto-ship) programs and other aspects of their relationship with customers to fit their individual lifestyle.

Given this, what are the steps a marketer can take to implement his or her own call center and what are the key considerations?

Independent Order Management System: The first step is to implement an order management system that is independent from your call centers and/or fulfillment house. With today’s advances in SaaS (Software as a Service) technology, this is relatively easy to do and there is almost no capital investment required. The process involves importing your order and customer history and then configuring the order management system with business rules and campaign rules. It also requires some integration with outside vendors. Typically, this integration includes media buying data, inbound sales call centers, fulfillment vendors, and payment processors.

A major benefit of this approach to order management is that it is vendor agnostic and puts the marketer in charge of its data and service providers. A second benefit is that the cost of the order management system (typically a per-seat charge and a cost per order) is a variable and scalable expense allowing the marketer to match revenue to expense.

Phone System Integration: The second step is to choose a partner that can integrate your order management system with your phone system platform or ACD. While possible and practical to integrate the order management system with the phone system, you should choose this partner carefully as the skills and competencies to deliver real-time phone integration and database management are quite different. A partner that has been successful at this across many different phone systems and order management applications would be an ideal selection. In addition to the physical phone system integration, it’s important to have the tools to manage a call center, direct call flow, route calls to the most skilled and effective agents, and monitor performance.

You should expect the following key features and management tools in this process:

Computer / Telephony Integration (CTI): Performing a CTI (computer/telephony integration) is one of the most important elements in the process. Using the inbound campaign number or DNIS, your system should immediately see when a call hits your phone system switch and it should then automatically pull the correct campaign record or even customer record from the database. Implementing this process can often pay for the entire cost of a SaaS-based order management system based solely on the reduction in telecom and agent labor!

Management Call Routing and Agent Monitoring: Monitoring overall call volume, campaign volume, the status and availability of agents, and agent performance requires a detailed understanding of call center operations. An experienced partner - coupled with reporting and analytics that have been vetted in the DR industry over time — goes a long way to collapsing this extensive learning curve for the marketer into a matter of weeks.

Scripting, Branching, Surveys, and Q/A: The flexibility to monitor and change agent scripts and how they branch is a key element to agent productivity and performance. Equally important is the ability to change scripts quickly and immediately when necessary. The ability to add surveys to the process is also a bonus particularly when performing the customer service function. In addition, the underlying technology and tools to manage surveys can be used very effectively as part of the agent monitoring and Q/A process.

Agent and Team Performance: A call center does need management tools — and in our opinion, these tools should include dashboards of personal performance, team performance, reason codes or dispositions and performance to company established metrics or KPIs (key performance indicators). Making these available to your customer service agents, and ranking them against their peers, will increase your performance as an organization, and increase customer satisfaction.

Time Tracking and Commissions: Order management and call center automation can also be extended to include agent compensation systems, which can vary by campaign and SKU, be pegged to up sell and cross sell performance or other variables. These tools can make it simple for the marketer to implement incentives, track and report commissions, and in most cases, increases agent performance considerably.

Customer Retention: For those using continuity programs, make sure that you don’t box your customers into a “one size fits all” continuity program because your order management system restricts you from being able to accommodate your customer’s needs. Chose a system that allows your reps to modify attributes of a customers’ recurring shipments, such as, intervals between shipments, pricing options, alternate products and plans. Continuity retention reports will allow you to monitor how effectively these options can add to the bottom line.

The Results: Merging order management and call center integration is a leading edge approach to increasing the marketer’s visibility to customer needs and managing third party service providers. It will allow you to evaluate and select best of breed partners and can provide the tools that marketers can use to quickly implement and operate your own call center and customer service group — independent of inbound sales, third party call centers, or fulfillment centers. Moreover, it can be done in 2-4weeks or less!

Jay Gowell is the Executive VP and Co-Founder of OrderLogix, a provider of advanced, business-to-consumer Order Management Solutions to the direct response, e-commerce, and multi-channel retail markets. Jay is also a specialist in business process optimization and contact center automation. He can be reached at