It's often said that organizations that neglect to update their processes and adapt to evolving business environments will cease to exist.
To stay ahead of its changing market and accommodate new customers, three years ago Creative Labs made a paradigm shift in its three contact centers. Today Creative Labs, the U.S. operations of Singapore-based digital entertainment provider Creative Technology, is reaping the benefits from having such foresight.
Each year, Creative Labs expands its line of products, ranging from storage devices to digital cameras, says Steve Lamberti, associate director of services at Creative Labs, which is best known for its Sound Blaster sound card for the PC. Many of its new customers aren't as technically savvy as customers in the past. New to the digital revolution, they need explicit instructions about such information as how to install their newly purchased devices into their computers. But in the past, agents lacked sufficient access to the data necessary to deliver quality service.
According to Lamberti, the contact centers weren't equipped to accommodate the growing business.
"We realized that to provide good ongoing service, we'd have to change the way we do business," he said.
Three centers, one solution
Because the three centers' telephone systems operate independently and Creative Labs' customers were comfortable using the Internet, the company decided to use e-mail and its Web site to help provide continuous and responsive support. In September 2002, the company began reviewing technologies that could globally support its contact centers, located in Dublin, Singapore, and Stillwater, Okla. Creative wanted a system that could help eliminate redundancies, increase efficiencies, raise agent productivity, and evenly distribute customer inquiries between the contact centers. In the end the company deployed Kana Response and Kana IQ to handle the e-mail and online requests. Lamberti says Creative chose Kana because of its ability to handle high volumes of e-mail inquiries and route them intelligently.
By automating e-mail responses to customer inquiries and using a rules-based engine to route the e-mails based on customer group, type of problem, type of customer, and type of question, Creative Labs now manages the growth of its customer inquiries without incurring gaps in service and added costs. The company also implemented a follow-the-sun approach for 24/7 service.
"As our contact center in the U.S. closes, Singapore picks up," Lamberti said. He said customer service can answer queries in 20 languages because e-mails can be forwarded from the U.S. center to the Dublin and Singapore centers, whose agents are fluent in multiple languages. Creative's customers are none the wiser. "They see us as one big organization," Lamberti said.
The customer support team also encourages Web usage by directing customers to a specific service area on the company's site.
"We even created a queue where we say, 'if you go to www.creativehelp.com you can submit your query via email and get a four-hour service goal,'" Lamberti said. "E-mail has now become our number one contact point. The idea was to reduce the number of contacts on the phone while providing superior service."
In addition, through the company's use of two parallel knowledge bases -- one powered by Kana, the other by Lithium Technologies -- customers have two options to find answers to their questions. The Kana solution provides a database of commonly asked questions and their answers. Using Lithium's service customers can post questions on a message board and wait for responses from other customers who've purchased the product, rather than from Creative Labs' agents.
By offering two Web-based options for customers to find information, Creative Labs has reduced call volume into the contact centers by two-thirds, and call-abandonment rates have fallen below 6%. Most important, Lamberti said, customer confidence has increased. And since deploying the self-service knowledgebase in 2003, unique customer sessions in the knowledgebase have jumped by 300%. Agents can now respond to e-mails faster, and because of the drop in phone calls, agents can better concentrate on each call they receive.
Data helps to retool products
Creative Labs' contact center reorganization didn't stop at enabling efficiencies. Each week Creative mines the top 30 most-asked questions sent via e-mail and prepares a report that the company's worldwide operations leverages to improve its products.
"We take this information that culminates from customers to not only provide better support, but to improve products," Lamberti said.
Every month Creative checks customer satisfaction by sending e-mail surveys to the people who've given feedback through the knowledge base. Since the overhaul of the contact centers and Web site, there has been no negative feedback, satisfaction levels are edging up, and escalation calls have vanished, Lamberti said. In fact, in his 12 years of employment at Creative, he's never seen customers happier than in the past two years.
"I don't fear Christmas anymore and we don't have gaps in service," he said. "We're looking at our customers as precious resources and marrying them with [technology] to get the best of the bunch…. We've achieved an incredible balance."
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