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Web Support Tech Makes Call Center Reps Smarter

C3 adapts Web-based technology to give customer service staff more efficient tools to answer customer's phoned-in questions.

A call center specialist company is finding that a tool for automating Web customer service also works well for making call center representatives better able to answer customer questions.

C3/CustomerContactChannels of Plantation, Fla., has come up with an internal application comprised of LivePerson's chat system, normally used for Web customer support, used in combination with nanoRep, a cloud service that captures chat conversations and uses them to feed a knowledge base. The idea behind the nanoRep service is that the knowledge base gets smarter over time, so more customers will find there the answers they seek and will have less need to talk (or chat) with a representative.

Run by the former executive team of call center operator Precision Response, C3 entered the contact center business in 2010, and phone (rather than online) support is its primary business. However, even in the world of phone support, the nanoRep/LivePerson combination turned out to be valuable.

In this case, the application is directed at call center representatives, who consult a knowledge base to find answers they can share with customers over the phone. If they can't find the answers there, they need to ask someone. The LivePerson implementation enables them to relay their questions online to subject matter experts within the company. NanoRep can then capture the answers that come back and use them to grow the knowledge base for the next time that question comes up.

[ Carefully consider which customer contact services to outsource. Learn more: Verizon Service Blends Call Center, Customer Service. ]

In a traditional call center setup, representatives sit in a bank of desks, typically with a 14:1 ratio of representatives to supervisors. When an individual gets stuck for an answer to a question, he or she typically puts the caller on hold and raises a hand or holds up a sign until recognized by the supervisor, who can help troubleshoot these issues.

C3's VP of technology Ken Condren said the idea came from a brainstorming session with call center representatives. "The question was, "How can I get beyond raising my hand?" he said.

Now, the idea is that the call center representative will be able to get more of those answers through a chat session, or through finding answers in nanoRep that continue to enhance the knowledge base. Condren said C3 is also trying to interest its customers in using some of the data gathered through this process to enhance public customer support knowledge bases.

"These are probably the answers they really want," Condren said, given that they represent answers to some of the toughest customer service questions. "These are probably people who went to a [support] site and failed, which is when they called in," he said.

C3 uses Microsoft SharePoint for some other collaboration tasks, such as hosting an internal community focused on innovation, and employs Microsoft Lync to supply the company's highly decentralized corporate staff with unified communications services they can access anywhere. Condren doesn't have a phone on his desk, instead using his PC as a soft phone.

While those solutions work for the executive team, C3 uses consumer-grade technology wherever it wants broader reach, Condren said. For example, the company's corporate social network, for many purposes, is the C3 Facebook page, which at this writing is full of chatter about training and company holiday parties. That works fine for many purposes of building community and sharing recognition of exceptional employees, Condren said.

Of course, Facebook is not private, which is why C3 uses SharePoint for some applications, such as the one for internal crowdsourcing of product ideas. But Facebook also has a lot to recommend it, Condren said, such as the fact that it's free, and he doesn't have to twist people's arms to get them to use it. Getting people to use SharePoint apps always seems to be a struggle in comparison, he said.

The nanoRep app has gotten a similarly warm reception because it was designed for consumers, Condren said. Having gotten strong anecdotal feedback that the technology is worthwhile, C3 is now starting to measure its success more systematically. The four metrics he is looking at for potential improvement are reducing the time it takes to handle each call, reducing the time customers spend on hold while a representative tries to get an answer to a question, and increasing customer and agent satisfaction.

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard

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