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Calling All Small Businesses: Contact Centers Improve the Bottom Line
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By Michael Margolis

Call center technology plays a critical role in helping businesses build customer loyalty, grow their revenues and achieve differentiation in the marketplace. While the key benefits of call centers remain the same across companies of all sizes, small and midsize firms face special challenges when looking for effective call center solutions. Since technical and financial resources of smaller businesses are typically limited, they need inexpensive systems that are rapidly deployed, work immediately, deliver a quick return on investment, and are easy to use and maintain.

All too often vendors simply modify large-scale systems to make them work for smaller firms – scaling them to match the desired number of users or seats. Such technology solutions are often clumsily cut down in size and features and still over-exceed the requirements of most small and medium business (SMB) buyers. With “bells and whistles” needed only by larger, more complex call center operations, these modified systems almost always cost more than smaller companies can or should pay.

Improve Performance, Increase Productivity: Contact centers can have a tremendous impact on revenue, costs, market intelligence and customer loyalty. Among the core benefits of today’s call center technologies for SMBs are an immediate improvement in productivity and a reduction in operating costs. By using features such as queue management, interactive voice response and skills-based routing, a customer’s inquiry can be addressed far more quickly and effectively.

Put Customer Data at Your Fingertips: According to a study by Arussy's Strativity Group, the average agent needs to access five to 10 different legacy systems to track down relevant data to respond to an incoming call, causing customers to wait an additional 30 to 40 seconds. In today’s marketplace, those seconds count. Saving as little as 15 seconds per contact on 500 contacts per day adds up to more than two hours a day of improved productivity.

Know Your Customer: Using knowledge about their customers to build strong, loyal relationships is critical to the success of SMBs. Call centers foster such optimal customer relationships and help companies deliver quality service. In fact, with appropriately designed systems, smaller call centers can provide a level of customer service and responsiveness that “levels the playing field” and helps them compete effectively against much larger organizations.

One of the core activities of a call center is to manage interactions with customers – from sales inquiries and order processing to technical support and credit control. By allowing customers to interact in a way that is most convenient to them – whether by phone, fax or email – smaller companies can move their service levels up a notch and deliver more rapid response.

These benefits allow small and midsize businesses to offer consistently superior customer service, differentiating themselves from their competitors.

Capitalize on Customer Intelligence: Often the cause of a customer's complaint goes no further than the agent's screen. Whether callers are irate, neutral or happy, companies are missing a golden opportunity if they fail to mine their call center's constant flow of customer feedback for ideas – from product and process improvements, to new product ideas, to competitive intelligence.

Shockingly few call centers do a good job of collecting customer data and sharing actionable intelligence so other parts of their company can capitalize on it.

Technology to Fit Your Business: Small and midsize businesses must demand technologies and product support designed specifically for their needs. But to do this, they need a better understand of the underlying technology capabilities. For example, customer contact and call routing technologies can improve customer service, while detailed performance reports and analyses can improve business efficiency.

SMBs often provide customers with products and services that require support by employees with unique skill sets. But these same companies typically lack the technical expertise or manpower to operate highly sophisticated call centers with a dedicated staff. For example, a small insurance agency with only five agents needs its employees to not only answer customer calls, but also to sell new policies and support customers who drop by the office in person for help.

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Michael Margolis is the Chief Technology Officer for Avaya's Small and Medium Business Solutions Group.
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