V.Dudchenko and D.Komov (www.softbcom.com)
The caller that is contacting a call center is of critical value to the business. First of all because current or future sales to this person are just one step away. You can compare the degree of his involvement in the sales process when calling the center with that of an average person just checking out the website.
At the very least this call will give you an opportunity to collect his personal information such as a telephone number and clearly stated interest as well as readiness to take action. While a visitor to the site can be there out of pure curiosity or to compare goods, services, prices or other such information which will not lead to direct sales.
Every incoming call to a call center has a story behind it. Who this person is, where he’s from, how he learned about services or goods, what he expects to get, how his needs are met by the standard offer or what his special needs are.
This important information is collected through a conversation and is the main goal of the marketing campaign carried out before this call is made: choice of strategy, forming and focusing the range of services, reputation establishment, delivering advertisement via different channels and many other things.
This sort of information can be useful when putting together the most effective offer, for analysis and tailoring further techniques in goods and services marketing, or it can just come in handy for better adjusting the service parameters in case the caller is already a customer of your business.
It is obvious that all this information has to be on file and the first thing that comes to mind here is call recording. It is done in all call centers, but its effectiveness is pretty low in terms of collecting detailed information about calls.
First of all processing recorded information brings about an enormous input of additional working hours, and secondly after the conversation is finished you cannot ask any further questions to the caller.
We come across a great number of recommendations on how to collect and store important information about calls. Some you could have seen are using a script that contains all important questions, ticking certain boxes in the client’s form in CRM, filling in electronic tables and questionnaires, conversation sum-ups that are registered in specific tabs and many others.
Nevertheless all those methods do not solve the problem of data collection that will make it possible to make automated analysis, they are often inconvenient and weak in form which leads to getting information that is not precise or fully analytical.
We will not try to analyze in detail the drawbacks of the above mentioned methods and ways. Instead of them we offer another complex approach to the problem which covers not only collecting and registering information, but an effective approach to its further processing and analysis. It’s worth mentioning that the scope of methods and tools described in the article can by successfully applied to both a call center with incoming calls and call calling services. An outbound call recipient with whom the operator managed to start a dialogue is as valuable for the call center as the person who made an incoming call.
1. PLASST-Com’s main purpose.
PLASST-Com is a system which is capable of offering the operator an adaptable conversation scenario that corresponds to the context of the incoming or outbound call.
Processing each type of call can require a different kind of script. For example, the incoming call can be the result of a certain advertising campaign and each campaign should follow a certain scenario of conversation. The calls can have different goals; for example, processing a call to make a doctor’s appointment will be very different to processing a call to an accountant in relation to a tax deduction. To come up with a single approach we will say that calls demanding different conversation scripts refer to different campaigns.
Obviously scripts that are offered to the operator by PLASST-Com system should be composed beforehand for each campaign. PLASST-Com has a few ways to automatically detect the campaign and offer the operator the corresponding conversation script. They include tying certain advertising campaigns or types of services to dedicated phone numbers and choices that a caller makes using IVR and some others.
Let’s say an interactive voice response sounds like this: ‘To make an appointment with the doctor press 1, to get information about test results press 2, to find out about the clinics working hours and services press 3’. Depending on the button pressed by the caller the operator will have a certain pre-written conversation script open in the window automatically.
In case the automatic script choice was done incorrectly (the caller pressed the wrong button) the operator can always switch to another form manually.
The scenario reproduced by PLASST-Com will be called ‘a dialogue form’ further on or just ‘form’. Consequently each campaign will have a corresponding form. At the moment of opening it is partially filled in — the telephone number, the phone call unique number, campaign identification and time of the call are put in automatically. The name of the operator taking the call will be inserted there too (in a hidden box).
Further on according to the questions in the form the operator will tick options that correspond to the caller’s answers or take notes or write down important information if this was not foreseen and included in the conversation form.
PLASST-Com’s work is planned in such a way that on the one hand the operator is offered questions to ask the caller (and shows prompts if necessary) but on the other it leaves space for putting in all the important information demanded by the scenario. This information will be stored in the database in a special format to be automatically processed and analyzed later.
PLASST-Com can be used even when you don’t use IP telephony systems. Although in this case the operator will have to open the corresponding form when the inbound call comes and to manually insert the information that is automatically entered when using IP telephony systems.
PLASST-Com’s special feature is that for every campaign you can enter as many questions and answer options as you wish, you can use any number of lists or directories for options and also include limitless number of conversations follow-ups.
Here we mean conversation variations — depending on the answer to this or that question the conversation follow up question can vary, and the operator will see the list of corresponding questions in the form in the dialogue window, while questions not relevant to the situation (or not actual at this point) will be hidden.
In other words, when the conversation takes a new turn only one possible option for the scenario will open. There can be as many ‘branches’ for the conversation script as you need, they can form a tree like route of any level of complexity.
Naturally, the forms will be using directories. Apart from being easy to use they standardize answers and that makes it possible to automatically process the received results.
Tree like scripts are the most important feature of PLASST-Com: having options for conversation follow ups depicts life like reality, and storing these tree like structures in the database makes it possible to fully make use of the collected information in the analytical reports.
2. Opening and saving the form. Key points of working with the forms.
The form is opened automatically as soon as the operator picks up the phone to answer the incoming call. It already has the ID (unique number) of the call, the telephone number of the caller, time of the call and campaign identification (Pic.1).
If there is a need to open another form or the form didn’t open at all (in case PLASST-Com is not connected to a telephony system), the operator can open the new form manually using the menu in the left top corner of the screen. The form you are not using has to be closed by clicking the red button. None of the information in the closing form will be saved.
The dialogue’s results are downloaded into a special database designed for their detailed analysis. They can be also uploaded (partially or fully) into the CRM or the client’s application.
The database where the dialogues’ results are saved has a universal structure which does not depend on any particular form or script type. Downloading the results into this base is an offline operation that is performed immediately after the conversation is finished.
As soon as the conversation is over the operator is supposed to close the form manually. In case the conversation was successful the process is completed by pressing the green button (Pic.2). As a result the form disappears from the screen and the operator becomes available to answer the next call.
In case the conversation was not completed (for example, it was interrupted due to a connection problem), the operator has the following options:
- Call back by pressing one button;
- Save the partially filled form;
- Continue work without saving the information in the form (for example, if the connection was broken at the very beginning of the conversation and the form does not contain any important information).
Forms that were not fully completed are saved in a special directory. When the same customer calls again the form will be opened automatically on the screen of the available operator; the conversation can continue from the same spot it was interrupted.
PLASST-Com is not the same as CRM. The system is not using an online DBMS for working with the forms which is why the response to the operator’s actions comes without the slightest delay. The database for filled in forms is designed for analytical tasks solutions and has a special structure developed for these specific purposes.
3. Conducting the conversation. Tips for the operator and transferring the call to the expert.
If the campaign was defined correctly the operator will continue working with a sequence of questions provided by PLASST-Com.
The answers can be picked from a list on the screen in the dropdown menu or typed in manually (Pic.3).
PLASST-Com will show the following question besides the current one automatically. You can always scroll down the list of consequential questions.
You should keep in mind that in case of a tree-like conversation script the follow up questions will come up only for one scenario in each point of ramification (figuratively speaking you will always see the left branch for every optional script).
Scrolling back can be necessary in case you want to review the questions already covered or to edit the information the operator has already put in. The system allows to correct the answers but if the changes occur at the point of ramification all answers following this question will be deleted. If the changes do not influence the way the conversation goes then all answers are saved.
In short the logic of working with PLASST-Com presupposes consequential answers to questions offered by the system, although the operator has an option to skip the questions (if this option was allowed in settings) or input answers inconsequently — not following the offered scenario.
Multiple scripts scenario is made possible by using the PLASST-Com system and this does not require extensive training for the staff. It is the result of having detailed pre-developed programming of conversation scenarios on the one hand and having an opportunity to add tips that pop up to help the operator on the other.
When you bring the cursor to the question the tip pops up — an expanded question text, comments, explanations, etc. (Pic.4).
Another PLASST-Com function aimed to improve conversation efficiency and to provide high level of clients’ satisfaction is the option to transfer partially filled forms to another employee (the ‘expert’) together with the call transfer made by the operator.
Obviously there can be certain cases when it is quite important for the call to be transferred to a specialist. In most existing systems the information that was already collected by the operator gets lost and the specialist will be asking the same questions all over again.
If you have had this experience we don’t need to tell you how annoying that can be, not to mention the possibility that the client will give slightly different answers to the same questions and the so called ‘single line’ of the story will be lost. And one more important factor — the time of servicing one client grows and costs go up too.
With PLASST-Com you can forget about this problem: when the call is transferred the specialist answering it will see the form filled in by the operator a few minutes before and get all the answers already typed in. Clearly this will happen only in case the specialist’s computer has the client’s part of PLASST-Com system software.
The number of call transfers with the filled in form is not limited, the call can be put through to another specialist or be returned to the operator that talked to the client before.
4. IP PBX and application systems integration by means of PLASST-Com.
The call center’s efficiency greatly depends on how fast and easy it is for the operator to get certain information related to a client’s call. This information can be found in CRM, in purchase managing systems of an online shop, in medical information systems and others.
To solve this problem you usually need to integrate the application system with the IP PBX. In many cases this means lots of working hours and implies technical difficulties.
PLASST-Com offers a simple mechanism for such integration, creating a link between the IP PBX and the application.
This way as a result of the integration scheme described above you get an opportunity to simultaneously take an incoming call and open PLASST-Com and (for example) the clinic patient’s form or taxi service client’s form or the shopping basket of an online shop client.
Given that, the application window which opens when the call comes through will not be in any way linked or integrated with the PLASST-Com form since the two systems have totally different purposes and their internal logic is structured differently too. Later we will look in detail at this important feature and see the how these two systems work together and how functions are distributed between them. The important thing is that the two systems will open windows linked to the same call and will be available simultaneously. So the operator won’t have to waste his or the client’s time.
It is worth mentioning that the described integration can work not only for incoming calls but for outbound ones too. PLASST-Com uses the same approach to service incoming and outgoing calls.
5. Functions separation between PLASST-Com and application systems. New opportunities.
One fundamental difference in the process of how PLASST-Com and industrial application systems work is that the latter are online transaction systems. Almost all of them are or we haven’t come across a single exception from the rule. And that means they are made to quickly perform certain functions of processing and dealing with a limited amount of data.
PLASST-Com on the other hand is an analytical system that is in a way similar to data warehouse systems. Its storing and processing method is specifically designed for analyzing accumulated statistic data.
These two classes of systems (online transaction and analytical) always coexist but never intermingle or combine because what is good for one of them is harmful for the other and vice versa.
‘Responsibilities separation’ described above also has another side.
It is widely known that when marketing campaigns are carried out an enormous amount of information is collected. This information is important for analyzing the campaign itself but only its small part is related to business operations (customer service).
What we mean is the following: for example, the campaign brought 1000 leads only 10 of which became the company’s clients, i.e. placed orders and brought profit to the business. Is it worth keeping track of all feedback in the application system? Probably not — they will be using up the system’s resources and slow down its performance. Only those ten that became customers should be stored in the business application.
Should you get rid of the information on the remaining 990 leads that turned out to be ‘empty’? Again the answer is ‘no’. This information is vitally important for targeting the services, ‘fine tuning’ of the marketing techniques and it should be stored in the analytical system. This is how data separation and distribution between different systems works.
Nevertheless, these systems should be interacting. For example, if the caller following an advertising campaign only inquired about the price of some treatment at the doctor’s but didn’t make an appointment — there’s no need to make a clinical record for this call.
But if the caller became the clinic’s patient then the information saved in the form should be transferred into the clinical record at the moment of speaking or immediately after the call.
Analytical and application systems interaction logic in this case is a new field, basically unexplored; there are not many known successfully implemented projects. That is why solutions are worked out individually for each separate case.
The option for application systems integration in PLASST-Com offers an effective solution to each specific task. For example, using data from PLASST-Com along with the information from other databases could be used for building comprehensive analytical reports.
As a result a number of analytical problems (such as “How much money did this particular advertising campaign bring in the last six months?”, “Make a list of suitable contacts for our next offer” etc.) — can be solved without big investments or new resources. That in its turn will sufficiently improve the business effectiveness.