Technology for Outsourced Call Centers

Creating a Win-Win for Outsourcers and Their Customers

As we face a challenging and uncertain economic climate, Business Process Outsourcers (BPO) and their customers are acutely focused on the need to improve service levels while substituting old business models with more cost effective performance-based models. Additionally, outsourcers are being challenged by their customers to become more proactive business partners and to introduce new technologies and solutions that enhance the overall business proposition. Desktop integration allows outsourcers to focus on streamlining workflow, improving metrics, decreasing costs and providing new, unique services to their customers. By integrating applications and providing new solutions, outsourcers can now forge unique and long lasting win-win relationships with their customers.

Desktop integration provides outsourcers a new set of tools to address both business and technical challenges in the Business Process Outsourcing environment.

Using desktop integration, outsourcers can:

  • Integrate applications regardless of where they are hosted
  • Streamline workflow and enforce business rules
  • Improve service levels, metrics and overall customer satisfaction
  • Resolve both simple integration and workflow issues (e.g., telephony and Customer Relationship Management) as well as more complex challenges such as providing a new unified desktop or integrating Citrix with other legacy systems
  • Support new customers faster through rapid integration
  • Reduce costs
  • Provide alternative pricing and revenue models for their customers

A Clear Picture of Outsourcing ROIAchieving More With Strategic Goals and Customer Satisfaction

Outsourcers are continually challenged to provide quality, cost-effective solutions to their customers.

Many challenges appear to be typical of call center environments such as training, agent turnover, effective use of technology, and overall operating efficiency to keep costs low. Other challenges are more unique to outsourcers and their relationship with customers such as having access to information, tools and technology, implementing and maintaining high level efficiencies to ensure profitability and providing new, flexible solutions.

Day to Day Business Challenges

The major issues facing outsourcers focus on four key business areas, places where business objectives often conflict with the day-to-day pressures of running a complex, highly competitive organization:

  1. Costs Not Aligned With Revenues—Traditionally, the call center has been viewed as a cost (not a revenue) center. As corporate investments in new call center facilities, technology and staff become more restrictive, both outsourcers and their customers want a clearer picture of ROI—what it really costs to achieve their strategic goals and profit more from customer satisfaction.
  2. Expensive Human Capital—The call center’s largest budget item is manpower. Wages,
  3. benefits, training and the costs associated with high turnover can account for as much as 80 percent of operating costs. Getting more performance from expensive human capital is crucial to achieving better ROI for both the outsourcers and their customers.
  4. Remaining Profitable—Downturns, globalization, increased competition and mergers have heightened the focus on profitability for both the outsourcer and their customers.
  5. Implementing and Streamlining Business Processes—Outsourcers must be familiar with their customers’ processes, business requirements and regulations. They must implement workflow and internal processes to meet and exceed customer and end user expectations even as these processes change with the business. Compliance to customers’ policies is becoming a focal point.

Technology Challenges in the Call Center

In addition to the major business challenges that outsourcers must address, there are also technical challenges that they encounter including:

  • Access to Tools and Infrastructure—Outsourcers rely on their customers for access to applications, tools and information. Oftentimes these are located outside of the outsourcer’s existing infrastructure or control, making the outsourcer totally reliant on their customers’ IT staff.
  • Mix of Tools and Applications—Outsourcers may have to maintain and manage a mix of applications that are hosted both internally (outsourcer) and externally (customer). This not only impacts IT management but also the ability to streamline workflow and improve efficiency.
  • Application Integration—When applications are hosted by customers with different technologies (e.g., virtualization, Web, 3270) while others may be hosted internally such as call tracking, CTI, etc., outsourcers have limited control of what and how applications can be integrated.
  • IT Services, Quality of Service, and Performance—Outsourcers may be limited in their delivery of consistent, reliable and cost-effective IT capabilities within tighter budget and technology ROI objectives.
  • Competitive Technology Advantage—In order to maintain an edge, outsourcers must provide a technology advantage that will stand out among their competitors.

Desktop integration allows outsourcers to focus on streamlining workflow, improving their metrics, decreasing costs and providing new, unique services to their customers.

Desktop Integration in the Call Center Environment

The integration of applications and data has always been the most formidable challenge for outsourcers primarily due to the outsourcer not having access to their customer’s applications. Each time a new customer comes aboard, or an existing customer modifies his or her systems, outsourcers have to integrate those technologies with existing applications and telephony systems—often without the assistance from the customer’s IT staff.

Until now, the traditional approaches to address these challenges have fallen too short of success.

Integration methods like message brokering, application reengineering, portals and conversions to Web-based applications often fail in outsourcing projects because they take too much time, cost too much and do not deal with the immediate problems such as improving workflow.

Overcome Call Center Business and Technical Challenges

Enter a modern paradigm that focuses on defining and streamlining business processes and integrates systems where they are used—at the desktop. Desktop integration leverages the relationship and communication that exists between applications and the underlying operating system. It is a non-invasive approach (not screen scrapping and no code writing) eliminating the need for additional, complex infrastructure and lowering implementation costs and time from months to weeks.

Desktop integration improves customer service by eliminating redundant data entry, streamlining processes, and organizing application screens logically. Fortune 500 companies that use desktop integration have also addressed major organizational and training issues related to mergers, acquisitions and other changing business needs. This type of integration has proven invaluable in reducing agent call times, allowing them to focus on cross-sell and up-sell opportunities with customers.

Integration at the point of contact also provides a method for enforcing rules related to compliance and business requirements, reducing call transfers, and increasing first call resolution. Finally, desktop integration allows outsourcers to be more agile in regards to how technology is implemented and used. New applications can easily be integrated with legacy systems while only exposing certain screens, data and processes of those applications for the agent.

Consequently, the agent desktop is organized in a task-oriented environment focused on providing a higher level of service.

Customer Satisfaction Starts at the Call Center

To elevate efficiency, provide higher customer satisfaction and extend the lifetime value of the customer, outsourcers using desktop integration can implement a business solution that:

  • Reduces costs—Costs must be driven out of the business at every level. Because call center budgets are primarily staff-related, improving call center staff productivity has a direct, immediate impact on the bottom line.
  • Streamlines Business Processes—Call center representatives are task-driven, making those tasks more efficient and easier to learn can improve frontline productivity by as much as 15 percent-20 percent or more.
  • Enforces Best Practices—Outsourcers have typically developed best practices to help them improve the services they deliver to their customers. Enforcing these standards can be a challenge—high staff turnover and rapidly changing products and services offerings make this a real moving target.
  • Delivers Better Customer Service—The impact of customer service is immediate. It shows up in the metrics providers and their customers live by. It impacts operational performance and contributions to the bottom line. Outsourcers need to stand out by providing exceptional customerservice.
  • Increased Revenue—Improving agent effectiveness by making the right customer, product and campaign offering information available at the point of contact—increases up-sell, cross-sell and customer retention.
  • Achieve More, With Less—This is the message today for any call center. As budgets contract, the pressure is on to deliver more with what you have. Enterprises are learning to leverage their existing assets.

Desktop Integration Provides a Technical Solution in the Call Center

Desktop integration addresses the technical challenges of integrating diverse applications in outsourced call centers. By integrating applications at the desktop, outsourcers do not need to worry about:

  • Location—The application can be hosted either by the outsourcer or their customer.
  • Platform—Applications can be integrated regardless of the underlying technology (Windows, Web, Java, 3270, Web Services, Citrix, etc.).
  • Access to Code—Desktop integration is non-invasive and therefore, outsourcers do not need access to backend systems.
  • Customer IT Resources—Outsourcers can integrate applications, streamline workflow, build an integrated, unified desktop, etc. without assistance from customer IT resources.

Additionally, as new technologies are rolled out either by outsourcers and/or their customers, desktop integration can be employed to tackle these new environments. New applications can be quickly integrated to an existing unified desktop.

Service-Oriented Architecture

Desktop integration solutions help build and deploy Services-Oriented Architectures (SOA) in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost. Instead of spending years rewriting applications to conform to a new architecture, desktop integration enables an enterprise to start receiving the full benefits of Service Oriented Architecture without a change to the existing core systems.

Web Services is a core component of Service Oriented Architecture and with desktop integration these systems can become full participants in the modern world of loosely-coupled, distributed service providers and consumers.

More importantly, integration delivers this power with a set of comprehensive integration tools that are as easy as "point-and-click."

Cloud Computing and Virtualization

Using desktop integration, outsourcers can provide a solution that functions both in virtual and cloud environments to extend the power of desktop applications and/or to connect line-of-business applications wherever they run. This approach is particularly useful with Software as a Service (SaaS) applications such as or other Customer Relationship Management (CRM) applications, which are hosted off premises, and need to be integrated with CTI or other on-premise applications.

Finally, nitration allows outsourcers to integrate applications within and between virtualized environments such as Citrix™ and VMware™ with other applications hosted by the outsourcer or customer.

Call Center Case Study: Improving Efficiencies in Healthcare

One of the world’s largest outsourcer provides call center services in multiple locations to a large international Fortune 500 company in the healthcare industry. As part of the service organization, the healthcare customer uses nearly 20 independent applications and the outsourcer identified significant opportunities to improve efficiency, enhance service levels, and reduce costs. In addition to daily operational improvements, the company also needed to shorten its new hire training time, improve efficiencies during seasonal ramp up times and standardize service across the organization.

Desktop integration was selected as the solution to provide:

  • Streamlined application login
  • Non-intrusive to host systems
  • Forced entry of critical data items
  • Highly adaptive and flexible to system changes and needs
  • Automatic population of redundant data across multiple systems
  • Single integrated toolbar for system navigation

ROI in the Call Center

The initial phase of the project was to streamline agent login and identify key processes for improvement.

Two pilot teams were identified that included a seasoned group of agents and an entry level (new hire) group. During the evaluation, development, and deployment process, the implementation team identified key tactical and strategic goals including:

Tactical Goals:

  • Reduce average handle time
  • Improve ramp quality
  • Reduce agent frustration
  • Reduce new hire learning curve

Strategic Goals:

  • Improve all service levels
  • Increase calls per full time employee
  • Increase customer good will
  • Increase agent retention

The results for both the new hire and season team included:

Seasoned Team:

  • 2007 baseline: seven min 40 seconds
  • Average call times through May 2008: six min 26 seconds
  • Reduction of: one min 14 seconds
  • Overall percentage reduction: 16 percent

New Hire Team:

  • 2008 Baseline: nine min 34 seconds
  • Average call times through May 2008: seven min eight seconds
  • Reduction of: two min 26 seconds
  • Overall percentage reduction: 25 percent

Average time to log in reduced from approximately seven minutes to approximately three minutes.

Benefits for the Call Center Representative and Improved Customer Satisfaction

In addition to improved metrics, the outsourcer saw several new benefits for the call center representative using desktop integration including:

  • Call center representative and overall job enjoyment improved.
  • Call center representatives feel less frustrated with the calls because they do not have to do as much of the work manually.
  • Call center representatives who are not as good at multitasking/ computer skills are more confident because they do not have to be able to navigate five different systems at once.
  • Call center representatives spend less time on data entry which eliminates dead air and gives them a chance to personalize calls more (assists with quality as well).
  • Call center representatives no longer have to copy/cut and paste or re-entering members’ information.
  • Ordering pamphlets and packets for members is easier, as software automatically populates the
  • members’ address information.
  • Frequently used buttons and tabs from each of the systems are incorporated on the toolbar.
  • Most common resource documents (i.e. phone list) are always open.
  • The integration reduces errors when pulling up information and reduces research time.

First published on Call Center IQ.