Tips for contact centers

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As they deploy contact centers that can field inquiries via multiple channels such as e-mail and telephone, federal agencies need to be mindful of potential pitfalls that could severely handicap the systems, according to Esteban Kolsky, a senior research analyst at Gartner Inc.

The multichannel contact-center system, which accounts for about 15 percent to 20 percent of the $2.4 billion customer relationship market worldwide, is the quintessential government application, Kolsky said. It has become a staple at local and state governments but "is still a new concept at the federal level," he said. For those launching such a system, he offers this advice:

Keep the customer experience consistent. "Consistency is the biggest challenge because in most multichannel implementations, each channel is a separate solution with separate operators...systems [and] procedures," Kolsky said. Because customers deal with only one organization, they expect to obtain the same information and experience from the different channels.

Pick the right reps for the channels. Each channel requires different skills: E-mail respondents must have writing skills, and call agents must be articulate and address questions in real time. Attempts to use blended agents to handle both channels have not proven successful, Kolsky said.

Always tell customers what to expect. They need to know how long it will take to get an answer, and they expect that interval to be no more than 48 hours, regardless of the channel, he said.

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