Looking to extend your contact center through e-services? Today, the fundamental e-service suite components include an ERMS (e-mail response management system), content management, real-time reporting and monitoring, and opportunities for customer self-service and online chat. Additionally, the suite must push and pull data from across each of your customer contact channels in order to be truly effective. At the end of the day, it's the underlying technology tools that will differentiate the e-services landscape.
Workflow is king for uniformly implementing business rules. When customers are unable to resolve issues autonomously, the ability to process incoming communications and automate resolution without human intervention is strategic to cost savings. An ineffective system might actually prolong incident resolution, sending customers away dissatisfied or forcing them to more costly channels. So certain features are integral to reaching cost savings, such as natural language processing, autocategorization, and rules-based decision branching. These types of tools will make your e-service solution "smarter," helping to further automate customer service responses.
Meanwhile, vendors are focusing on developing Web-based self-service features. Self-serve capabilities can integrate with interactive voice response systems, an SMS, and even instant messaging to boost their usefulness. But make sure they cause minimal disruption to your existing infrastructure.
With self-serve technology, your customer can sidestep the long queues that plague understaffed call centers. It's especially valuable if your customers often ask the same questions or are constantly looking for the same set of information, such as account balances or address changes. The benefit to you -- a reduction in the cost of issue resolution -- can also be extended to HR and external partner-management disciplines.
ERMS is vital to ensure customers do not go unanswered. E-mail is now a first line of response and must be prioritized, routed, and tracked using workflow mechanisms and a language-processing engine adept enough to autogenerate meaningful answers to customer queries.
Content management remains a top resource consumer for most companies. But keeping content current is vital to your repositories and their effectiveness within customer search tools. Look for an e-services suite that enables searches across structured data as well as the unstructured support materials that frequently comprise customer-resolution records.
Knowledge management and data mining are important features for isolating weaknesses in your service armor; they can also find up-sell opportunities that might otherwise go untapped. You'll want analytics that provide near real-time reporting; opportunity to interface with workflow engines for proactive alerts; and a library of predefined, customizable reports to jump-start your efforts.
For long-term benefits with e-services, you need extensibility through integration with existing channel systems. Data sharing among CRM, ERP, and legacy systems creates a more complete view of your customers, and you may be able to improve revenue through proactive prospecting.
Look for vendors supporting an open architecture -- not an entirely easy feat at the moment. As the e-services sector continues to grow and evolve, many of today's vendors will likely be subsumed by merger and acquisition or fall prey to economic conditions. Vendors that promote in-house development and support of their tools will likely trump those relying on third-party integrations; from the perspective of an unstable marketplace, an in-house focus lends a sense of reliability.
Despite all of e-service's potential, you must still assess its appropriateness. For example, if you have a technically complicated product or end-users with less technical savvy, your customers are not as likely to use e-services because they'll need the in-depth advice and information found in more traditional service channels. Forget to take your customers into account, and the results will muck up even the best ROI forecast.