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More on Expert Agents and UC

One of my favorite topics is unified communications with contact centers and the role of expert agents. Expert agents are subject matter experts within (or even outside of) an organization that can help full-time contact center agents provide faster and better responses to customer inquiries, resulting in the elusive "first contact resolution," or FCR.As the UCStrategies team discussed in this week's podcast, the use of expert agents isn't new. I've been talking about it since the CTI days of the 1990's. But what is new is how technology --notably UC with presence and instant messaging -- make this easier.

UC helps contact center agents get the information they need right away. In a contact center scenario without UC, if the agent doesn't know the answer or have the information needed to solve a customer's problem, they will either transfer the caller to someone else (who may or may not have the information, and may not even be at their desk), or take down the customer's phone number, do some research and then call back the customer - possibly hours later. The result isn't always pretty.

Today, with UC tools like presence and IM, when an agent needs additional information, they can use presence to see which subject matter experts are available, and send an IM to ask an available expert for information while on the call with the customer.

There are, however, still several problems with this scenario. First, you have to identify the outside experts who can best provide the information needed. This should be based on the skills and expertise of the experts. Next, how do you ensure that the experts are not being overburdened with requests from contact center agents while trying to do their "real" jobs? Some companies assign various experts to be available certain times of the day, letting them schedule and manage their time better.

Another challenge is ensuring that the interactions are managed, tracked, recorded, reported on, etc. the way regular contact center interactions need to be. In one scenario -- when the contact center agent remains on the call while the expert joins in -- this is relatively simple. In other scenarios, the contact center agent will transfer the call and then drop off, leaving the customer in the hands of the expert. My recommendation is to keep control within the contact center by having the agent remain on the call, even when an expert is brought into the conversation. This way, the interaction still can be recorded for quality purposes, and the same reporting and management tools used in the contact center would be applied to the expert agent interaction. This also eliminates the need for companies to purchase additional licenses for the expert agents in terms of recording and reporting.

Most important, companies need to re-evaluate their goals in terms of customer service. Are they focused on answering as many calls as quickly as possible, or are customer satisfaction and customer intimacy the goals?

If the latter, then the organization needs to make it clear that customer service is the responsibility of the entire organization. This will be difficult for established companies, as it means changing the corporate culture as well as the roles and responsibilities of every employee.

But it can be done. I've always believed that the hurdle for utilization of expert agents is less about technology than it is about people management. As more companies embrace UC with the contact center and expert agents, expect to see new job functions emerge, like Manager of Customer Satisfaction, with responsibility beyond the contact center to the entire organization. The result should be more loyal and satisfied customers.