In our last newsletter we spoke to consultant Donna Fluss about performance management in the contact center. This time we'll turn to the issue of unstructured data and real-time decision support. In her recent book, "The Real-Time Contact Center," Fluss looks at the application of near real-time analytics to analyze unstructured data - which she says make up 95 to 99 percent of call center interaction content. She goes on to say that 90 to 98 percent of actionable customer insights are wasted because companies lack the processes and technologies to leverage unstructured interactions."It's phone conversations, email, instant messaging and surveys, and if we can't structure it we can't do anything with it," Fluss says. "All this information is coming to the agent and then it's gone. My goodness, customers tell us everything." Fluss figures businesses could save a lot of money spent elsewhere just by instructing a few agents in the call center to ask about key products and how they might be improved. "You'd get hundreds of inputs a day and you'd save a fortune on focus groups." There are other reasons for focus groups of course, but her point is that enterprises have invested in sophisticated contact center assets, yet tend to instruct agents to keep their interactions with customers as short as possible.

Fluss defines "analytics" in the context of a strategy that engages enabling applications: data warehousing, data marts, BI, decision support, OLAP, modeling, personalization and reporting. "Real-time" analytic applications collect information from customer interactions, analyze patterns and preferences, and present actionable information to the agent while the customer is still on the phone or in a short time frame thereafter. These applications include a transaction engine and a business rules engine, making them capable of real-time decision support. The good thing is that traditional and real-time approaches are related and operating in parallel. We won't go into products here, though Fluss does mention some in her book.

While many of us perceive customer service getting worse instead of better, imagine an agent trained to satisfy the customer, handling any issue and generally unconcerned about call time. "The customer speaks, the agent inputs a little bit of information right at the beginning of the conversation, that information flows through the system, picks up information sitting in the data warehouse. It could be mortgage history, it could be input about why this customer wants to cancel an account. The real-time data comes in, meets up with historical data and immediately tells the agent what to do to try to retain or even increase the value of the customer. It can be done in real time and there are vendors in the arena that work in a variety of ways."

Fluss believes the companies that properly build infrastructure allowing them to proactively convert unstructured communications into actions will find competitive advantage. Those that outsource or neglect customer service as a non-core function will suffer unless corporate goals are aligned with the performance of the contact center provider. It's a strategy that is required, if for no other reason than because campaign success rates have fallen dramatically. That's because customers are increasingly immune, telemarketing has been restricted and the campaigns are just not achieving the goals. "There was a point where 40 percent became 20 percent," she says. "Now a good response rate is 1 to 3 percent and we don't think that sounds so bad. But turn the numbers around and you see 97 to 99 percent of sales and marketing dollars are going down the drain."

Fluss says best practices include identifying unstructured communications that include revenue opportunities and customer insight, manual assessment of a small percentage of transactions for revenue potential; and identifying keywords and training that can leverage analytic applications appropriate for a given organization.

Another fundamental issue is the lack of an overarching strategy that extends across sales, marketing and service. "Sales and marketing are closer, now service has to get more serious about this. In the end, if the service organization only succeeded when sales and marketing succeeded and vice versa then life would change." Yet most companies treat the contact center as a second-class citizen and farm it out from the corporate center of thinking, just the opposite of what it should be. "Is the status quo cause or effect? The answer is yes," Fluss says. "Contact centers have to be invited to corporate meetings, and when they are, the organization is a winner."

Donna's informative column and tips on contact center performance management appear in the January issue of BI Review.

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