When the computer geeks were the chief Internet users, they had little problem using the medium since they were the experts. Today, however, folks who have never owned a computer before are shopping on-line. And many of the planet’s new businesses are dependent on those folks successfully completing the process so they can make a sale.
However, filling out an online application or using an electronic shopping cart can be a daunting experience for the technologically challenged. That frustration can create a revenue problem for Internet businesses since a customer can walk out the door simply by clicking the mouse.
ICT Group, a customer relationship management (CRM) services company, has a solution. Its eCRM software allows a real live human to hold the customer’s hand, every step of the way. Both parties look at the same Web page to keep the conversation relevant. John Campbell, ICT Group president of sales and marketing, calls this “collaborative browsing” because ICT operators can help customers fill out a shopping cart the minute they need help. The intended result: a completed transaction instead of a lost sale or disgruntled customer.
Who You Gonna Call?
Additionally, a growing number of Web users prefer to go online when they want customer service- sometimes just to check a bill or monthly statement. Often, however, they have more complex questions. Many Web sites cannot anticipate or answer the entire universe of questions on their sites’ Frequently Asked Questions page. These users crave the human touch, too. ICT Group operators can help them as well.
Some folks prefer to email the site owner with their plaintive pleas. People with problems can send an email from the Web, which an ICT staffer answers. Of course, operators will help customers if they send their requests via fax or phone. The company, which is based in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia, maintains an integrated database so it can report how its clients’ customers interact with ICT Group no matter what medium they use.
The service level agreements (SLA) revolve around response times, which can be easily measured. When a customer calls or clicks through, an ICT representative may be required to respond within 20 seconds. They have 60 minutes to respond to an email. ICT also tries to measure the caller’s satisfaction with the ICT support.
The penalties for not meeting an SLA are financial. Campbell says ICT Group rarely uses incentives because “we don’t want to increase the cost of the function.”
Five years ago ICT Group was primarily an outbound telemarketing company. With the introduction of the Internet, the company has transformed itself into a provider of CRM solutions focusing on Web-enabled contact centers and customer support.
The company was formed in 1983 as a subsidiary of Decision Industries to provide international computerized telemarking. The company, one of the first to computerize, offered both inbound and outbound telemarketing and 800 toll free numbers. Campbell says during the 1990’s, when it added call centers to the line up, ICT Group enjoyed a 25 to 40 percent annual growth rate. The company went public in 1996.
Then Internet created a new channel for ICT support. Now approximately 20 percent of its customer base uses its eCRM application. Currently, ICT has approximately150 customers.
ICT Group offers three different outsourcing options. The first is the traditional outsourcing relationship. The company has also become an Application Service Provider (ASP), allowing customers to utilize its applications on a hosted basis. Or, the customer can co-source. This option requires the customers to set up their own call center facility. A small contingent of ICT staffers works at the center.
Campbell says outsourcing the CRM function to ICT Group can reduce operating costs by 10 to 15 percent.
In addition, outsourcing accelerates a company’s ability to reengineer an old economy department. Ecommerce is a new way of doing business with sizable capital requirements. The buyer doesn’t have to make an investment in technology if it outsources this process. Campbell says some buyers actually realize a capital infusion because ICT takes over some of their plant and equipment and puts them on its books.
Outsourcing is a solution for companies in hypergrowth mode, says Campbell. These companies feel the pressure to expand but don’t have the resources or the time to do it internally.
ICT Group assigns a dedicated account manager to each of its buyers. This person is responsible for the success of the relationship, says Campbell. In addition, most clients have monthly meetings with ICT. Some review ICT’s performance daily, Campbell reports.
One of the key components of a successful outsourcing relationship in Campbell’s opinion is jointly held beliefs. Corporate cultures have to be similar to make the partnership work.
Buyers must communicate with their suppliers, sharing their business strategies. “We have to understand their growth patterns,” says Campbell.
Lessons from the Outsourcing Primer:
- When customers are frustrated and can’t find help, they leave. On-line help is designed to save ecommerce sales.
- Shared values are crucial to the success of an outsourcing relationship.
- A dedicated account manager helps buyers interact with their outsourcing supplier.
- Service levels measure response times and customer satisfaction.