web based call centerweb based call centerE-commerce may be here to stay, but a transaction can never begin and end on the Internet. The virtual relationships of electronic commerce usually ends in a phone call or e-mail message to an actual person. This puts web-based call centers at the heart of online customer service. But how can old-line phone call centers be revved up for the e-commerce age? How can companies make their call centers an advantage rather than a aggravation?

A meeting of the Wharton Forum on Electronic Commerce discussed these questions last month. The session drew together leading researchers on call centers and managers developing and running them to explore the new frontiers of customer service.

The internet is raising customer expectations for rapid solutions to their demands, says Patrick Harker, Wharton’s interim dean and one of the leaders of a major Wharton project on call centers in financial services. “It is raising the standards of customer satisfaction,” he says. Since customers have the power to seek out answers on their own, companies face the challenge of “developing an integrated system for delivery of service better, cheaper and faster than customers themselves.”

Harker noted that studies of customer service show that when something goes right, the individual employee dealing with the problem gets the credit. When something goes wrong, customers usually blame the firm itself. The key, he says, is to make sure things don’t go wrong. “We have to have less heroism and more good systems,” he says. “We need to develop systems so employees can provide consistently good service so customers keep coming back.”
There are several issues to consider when setting up a NetMeeting call center.
– Use of automatic call distributor (ACD) software to automatically route calls to available operators or to put calls on hold as they arrive. To learn about ACD software compatible with NetMeeting, visit the Companion Products and Services directory on the Microsoft NetMeeting Web site.

– A custom application that sends information about the caller to an operator, and then have the operator return the call. This method is similar to the Web page method, except that it uses an application rather than a Web page to send the information.

– The use of a particular ILS server for users to browse to find an available customer service representative. This solution is simple to implement as it only involves setting up an ILS server. However, it is only suitable if you do not expect to have many more callers than operators at any given time.

– The use of a Web page that collects information about the customer then routes the information to a customer service representative who reviews it before returning the customer’s call. This method enables you to gather information about the user before selecting a customer service representative. You can then send the user information targeted for their needs while they are on hold. This method is described in the next section.

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