After a year-long stint serving as managing editor for Multichannel Merchant magazine, a Penton Media publication, I'm happy to announce my triumphant return to TMC and the re-launching of the "Making Contact" blog, which is dedicated to all aspects of the call center industry, including technology and training.
While I was at Multichannel Merchant, I had the chance to continue covering the call center industry -- at least from a "merchant perspective." The main thing I took away from that experience is that a merhcant's call center is not the same as a bank's call center is not the same as an insurance company's call center is not the same as a utility's call center. Although you can argue that they have more similarities than differences (obviously customer service is paramount, reagrdless of industry or vertical), the differences can be pretty substantial, particularly in terms of the technology they use and the training of the agents.
For example, I was really surprised how many merchants could care less what kind of network technology is used in the call center -- TDM is fine for most of them (they love the reliability and signal quality), thank you very much, and they're not all that into automation either. In fact, I sort of came away with the feeling that automation is NOT what most merhcants want -- what they really want are well-trained agents that hang around for a few years, build their skills and learn the brand inside and out -- perhaps even become part of the (gulp) "company culture" -- and not things like IVR systems that push customers away from live agents, or call recording/quality monitoring/workforce management/performance management systems that make agents feel like they're working under the shadow of "Big Brother."
"When it comes to selling consumer products, you better have live, knowledgeable people working the phones," seems to be the mantra of direct sellers, retailers and e-tailers everywhere.
Whereas banks, utilities and insurance companies seem to be obsessed with finding the right mix of "silver bullet" applications that will enable their customers to "self-serve" and leave their agents alone -- while at the same time remaining satisfied and loyal.
Another thing that sort of surprised me is the pervasive the use of order entry systems, also known as order management systems, in merchant call centers. Most of the merchants I interviewed had these systems -- in fact, they are often the main application the agents use for processing orders -- and yet I had never even touched on the topic of order management systems when I was previously covering call center at TMC. A lot of the merchants I interviewed said training agents on these (legacy and sometimes mouse-less) OMSs was typically one of the more time-consuming tasks in the overall training process. Since then I've learned that there are a lot of software companies out there that make these systems -- and they are often one of the biggest obstacles to successful call center technology migrations, due to the integration challenges they present.
But enough about my previous job -- the point of this post is, I'm really happy to be back at TMC and I look forward to covering the call center industry from every angle in this forum -- including news about new technologies and services that I think will have an impact on the direction the industry is taking. I also welcome your comments and feedback, so, don't forget to "Make Contact" ...