It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s SuperCSR

It is an irony of the catalog business: To achieve success, management must depend on a high-turnover resource — the customer service representative (CSR) — to be the primary influence over the single most important element of success, the customer. Yet while the demands on CSRs are increasing, so is the pressure to cut service-related costs.

While a CSR’s prime function used to be taking orders, today reps are expected to answer more questions about changing and expanding product lines. They also need to upsell, cross-sell, and make the order process most efficient for both the customer and the business.

Multiple selling channels place yet more demands on the training and expertise of the CSR resource pool. Some customers want to use the Web to get questions answered or confirm backorder status, while others want to talk “live” with a CSR to change or complete the Web order. Your CSR staff need to be able to perform both of those tasks, and others besides.

How can you hire, train, and retain top-notch CSRs to satisfy ever-increasing customer demands among multiple channels, all on ever-thinning margins? It sounds like a job for Robo-CSR. A model employee, Robo-CSR always shows up for work on time, is never sick or in a bad mood, and is capable of satisfying your — and your customer’s — every demand.

Alas, Robo-CSR does not exist, except perhaps in the fantasies of contact center managers. Besides, Robo-CSR would likely lack the human touch that can distinguish an outstanding rep from a merely competent one. But you can meet service demands and increasing cost pressures by using software technology to enhance the performance of your existing CSRs. In fact, you may even find that your CSRs have simply been waiting for the right resources to reveal their hidden multichannel capabilities. This technology may be all they need to transform themselves, à la Clark Kent, into SuperCSRs.

The seven killer elements

To transform your CSR resources, consider these seven elements of a successful business:

  1. customers, and their individual attributes and preferences;
  2. products, and their specifications and options;
  3. sales, and interaction history between customers, products, and resources;
  4. CSRs, and their individual skills and assignments;
  5. communication channels, their associated costs, and availability;
  6. timing, including priorities, seasonality, and reaction time predicted for a specific call; and
  7. business objectives and priorities.

When these elements exist as fuel feeding the right hardware and software, an enhanced computer system can help your CSRs better do their jobs.

The critical software and hardware components of an enhanced system include:

  • business-intelligence-driven customer interaction management (CIM) software that manages the customer contacts and selects an appropriate CSR for the call;
  • voice-enabled interactive voice response (IVR); and
  • phone switch hardware.

Now, let’s break down the technology and show you how these pieces can optimally work for you. For one, an IVR enables the customer to fully automate the order process. It includes a process to identify the customer based on the phone number or indicated customer identifier (an ID that the customer can input if the system doesn’t recognize the phone number or if the caller has a privacy screen). An IVR also has a set of instructions formulated specifically for a given customer segment. In other words, personalized business intelligence begins making decisions for the customer as soon as he or she is identified. Such decisions may include the response program for a particular customer segment, which products to describe during a wait period, an opportunity to complete the transaction using only the automated IVR, and priority-customer routing, leading to a choice of the CSRs best able to satisfy that individual’s needs.

Let’s say Mary is a long-term frequent customer who spends a great deal with each purchase. She prefers using the call center, as she doesn’t feel secure disclosing credit-card information via the Internet. The IVR recognizes Mary from her phone number and passes her call immediately to the contact manager software system, which in turn routes the call to the first available CSR designated to service high-value customers. The CSR takes Mary’s order and then, based on both her order and her purchase history, promotes a product that she is likely to appreciate.

Satisfying the individual needs of the customer may sound easy. Some may even argue that creating customer and CSR profiles to facilitate the customer-CSR connection decision process is all that is needed. But guess what? Profiles change. You need to continuously update the profiles of customers who have changes in their status, importance, or buying patterns, as well constantly update the profiles of the CSRs who learn new product lines or become more successful at working with particular types of customers or orders.

Updating profiles manually is a major task. This task is better suited for business intelligence (BI). Within the CSR environment, BI provides several advantages:

  • enhanced customer interaction by choosing the best CSR, priority, and channel for a particular customer at a particular time.
  • selection of a CSR based on both customer needs and the new products or services that the customer is statistically likely to need or want.
  • selection of a CSR based on the product categories the CSR knows best and/or on the rate of success a CSR has had with similar customers.
  • activating the IVR to enable the customer to record a message for later callback if the current call volume is high or a special rep is not available.
  • inviting capable CSRs to respond to Web chat, e-mail, faxes, or mail orders or to make outbound telemarketing calls based on incoming workload or other factors.
  • automatically promoting a product to a specific customer that is something he or she is likely to be interested in buying or an overstock item the company needs to sell.
  • automatically promoting a product to a specific customer that is likely to be accepted but that also moves her into a category of products from which she has not previously purchased. A successful promotion in this way sells more products and also strengthens customer loyalty by building a relationship or connection to more services or product areas within your company.

SuperCSRs to the rescue

We describe the combination of IVR, CIM, and BI as intelligent demand generation (IDG) for customer interaction. And when you combine IDG with a well-trained CSR, the result is a SuperCSR.

Example no. 1: Tim, a busy executive, calls a men’s apparel cataloger from which he frequently orders. When the voice-enabled IVR advises him that a CSR would require a two- to three-minute wait, Tim chooses the message option and asks that a CSR call him back this afternoon at 3 o’clock, as he wishes to order a new summer suit on page 42 of the current catalog. At approximately 3 p.m., a CSR returns Tim’s call with an order for the suit in the probable color wanted and the probable size. Tim responds that the information is correct. Then the CSR advises him of some accessories that will work well with the purchase, based on the IDG input. The CSR also informs Tim that he has previously purchased socks and underwear and suggests he may want to reorder some at this time. Tim buys those items as well and is then invited to consider a new product in sporting goods. Tim doesn’t accept that product, but after talking with his friends during the next few days, he calls back and orders the sporting goods product offered.

Benefit no. 1: Fewer abandoned calls because appropriate responses can be channeled back to the customer, based on the current workload and the customer’s status.

Example no. 2: A contractor, John is a regular customer of a building supplies cataloger. When John calls, the contact manager recognizes his number and, based on his buying history, realizes that John wants a CSR familiar with roofing supplies. John is put on hold for about a minute as a CSR roofing expert completes her current call, but as he is waiting, he hears a recorded message about a new roofing component. When the CSR then comes on the phone, she knows John’s name and that he is looking for a roofing solution. After John rattles off the 10 things he wants in his order, the IDG prompts the CSR to ask him about an additional item of roofing tar he is likely to need to reorder, again based on his buying history. John includes the tar in the reorder. Then the CSR promotes a new kind of flashing corner recommended by the IDG. John accepts the recommended product and thanks the CSR for his assistance and then asks: “Is there anything else you recommend?” The CSR responds with the IDG’s recommendation of a sealer appropriate for the kind of composite shingles, flashing, and corners that John has purchased. John accepts that offer as well.

Benefit no. 2: Overall greater efficiency in the CSR resource pool since you can train individual CSRs to specialize in products or channels. CSRs can also be cross-trained to serve more than one channel. What’s more, IDG can support the CSRs by providing predictive information about customers and offering automated handling options.

Example no. 3: A customer based in Texas, Peter calls a big-and-tall clothier after receiving his catalog in the mail. The clothier, which had just acquired a smaller cataloger for big and tall men from Texas, takes the call via the 800-number terminating in its upstate New York call center. The IVR takes Peter’s account number and sends that information to the contact manager, which then dials a CSR in Texas using voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) to reduce the cost of the call and provide the customer with someone who speaks with a familiar accent and dialect.

Benefit no. 3: The ability to better leverage data channels for voice transmission and greatly reduced line costs when calls are received at one location and then routed to CSRs in other locations or working from home using VoIP.

Example no. 4: Donna is new to the Web, but she wants to order her work clothes from a catalog when she gets home late at night. She also likes the idea of being e-mailed specials on a weekly basis instead of being mailed a monthly flier, which she can never find when she is ready to order. Donna places her order on the Web but realizes she had entered the incorrect size for an item. She tries to start over but becomes confused. She clicks the “call for assistance” button; in seconds a window opens on her computer screen, and she finds herself typing her questions and receiving replies on the screen from a CSR. The CSR then “pushes” onto Donna’s browser a page where she can input the correct size and complete the order, and also pushes pages, pictures, and descriptions of products selected especially for her by the system. Donna asks the CSR via Web chat how the items are picked and is told that they were selected based on her purchase history and current order compared with items in other customer orders similar to Donna’s order.

Benefit no. 4: CSRs are better able to integrate multiple channel transactions, significantly improve customer satisfaction, and build loyalty.

Even a SuperCSR may not solve all your multichannel customer needs. But arming your reps with call center technology enhancements can ramp up your service levels. Better still, with such improvements you can send your sales soaring faster than a speeding bullet.


Lee Gerdes is the vice president of solutions for Net Perceptions, a Minneapolis-based business intelligence and applications software and services provider.

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