FedEx Canada’s got the package

A company’s success may depend in part on its customer contact centre’s ability to manage data and integrate front-end applications with back-end systems that house that data, according to an industry expert.

Managing customer data and ensuring that customer service representatives have access to the information to quickly address incoming queries is a key requirement said Alan Hubbard, senior vice-president of Boston, Mass.-based research firm Aberdeen Group Inc.

In addition, applications should integrate with back-end systems, like customer relationship management (CRM), sales force automation, and order fulfillment system, he said.

“Tools in the area of knowledge management are critical to success so the agents can interrogate the various back-end databases.”

Mississauga, Ont.-based Federal Express Canada Ltd. was recently recognized, for the first time, at the Contact Center World conference’s “Best of the Best in Americas” awards for contact centre performance. Inc. is a Thunder Bay, Ont.-based online resource for contact centre and customer service professionals.

The company’s Gino DeAngelis, managing director for customer planning and support, said that continuously improving customer experience is the main reason behind deploying tools like a CRM system across the logistics and transportation company’s three contact centres.

FedEx’s CRM system is a desktop application that provides customer service and sales staff to view customer data and transaction history with every incoming call.

For consistency and efficiency of service, the CRM system is built around workflow processes, said DeAngelis. “If a customer calls to schedule a pickup, [the system] will walk the representative through a predetermined best practices approach to scheduling that pickup.”

Similarly, if a customer is tracking a package, the system will initiate an escalation to another group that investigates, for instance, packages sitting in customs or somewhere in the actual building. “So it’s all fully integrated with our CRM application,” DeAngelis said.

Training-wise, call centre staff undergo an “intensive” five-week training program covering the technology, transactions, interpersonal skills, and product and services offerings. Thereafter, DeAngelis said, employees get further coaching assistance through a buddy system and scheduled “recurrency training” on new products, services and processes whenever necessary.

According to Hubbard, staff training is the key area that is lacking in contact centres, especially given they are more often being asked to provide product sales on top of the usual technical support. “It’s a different skill set that they now need to have.”

Building workflow processes into data management tools like CRM systems, said Hubbard, is something more often observed in “best in class” companies – in other words, those top 20 per cent of companies showing a high level of call centre performance.

Only about 15 per cent of companies that lag in performance, he said, employ workflow processes to manage their customer service.

Companies that fall in the “industry average” category, said Hubbard, are “missing the boat on integration of data,” because although their staff are qualified to sell products, “they don’t have the right amount of data to make it work.”

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