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Telcos call on KM to boost customer service

This article appears in the issue September 2001 [Volume 10, Issue 8]

In the telecommunications business, it’s not easy to keep customers satisfied. There’s always a better deal somewhere, so customers keep switching their long-distance plans and cellular service based on the latest ad they see in the newspaper or the brochure that arrives in the mail.

To rise to the challenge, savvy telecommunications companies are using knowledge management systems to coddle their customers. Through the use of KM systems technology, customer service representatives can provide personalized service by having the customer’s history in front of them when the customer calls with a question.

The goal of the knowledge management system is to put the information in the hands of the service rep to ensure that the customer’s experience is top-notch. With access to a knowledge database of information about the customer as well as the products and services, reps can reduce the amount of time they spend on a call.

With products and services in the telecommunications industry changing every day, training is another area where knowledge management is put to use. And sometimes customers don’t necessarily need a customer service representative. An intelligent Web-based system can guide them to the information they need.

“Sometimes the best service is when customers can serve themselves,”says Mark Tapling, president and CEO of ServiceWare Technologies. "But for the customer to be able to effectively serve themselves, there has to be a powerful knowledge database behind the system, or they will likely get frustrated or won’t be able to get to the information they need. If customers can get to the information to resolve their own problems, it is less expensive for the telecommunications company than if a customer service representative has to provide the answers.

“Customers have questions such as ‘How do I mute my cell phone?’ and ‘Do I have three-way conference calling service?’ With the right system with knowledge management capabilities, they can get the answers themselves.”

Tapling says the ServiceWare system has a cognitive processor and a statistical engine that mimics human thinking, which helps to uncover information quickly, whether the service representative or the customer is doing the searching. AT&T Wireless, MCI Worldcom and Qualcomm are among the telecommunications companies taking advantage of the ServiceWare technology.

First-call resolutions

“We’re using ServiceWare’s eService suite to address internal customer service knowledge management issues," says Mark Sievers, senior manager of IT support for Qualcomm. "Help desk analysts can get fast, relevant answers to questions for real-time support to their customers. Our direction in the next phase is to bring appropriate solutions to our customers via the intranet. This will allow Qualcomm’s support staff to focus on complex IT issues while users receive immediate assistance at their own convenience.”

The ability to address a customer’s call without having to make a return phone call is a key benefit of knowledge management systems in the telecommunications industry.

“First-call resolutions are important to providing the level of service that is necessary in the competitive telecommunications environment," Tapling says. "Using a knowledge-based system to get to the information about the customer and the products is key to customer retention.’

Call escalation--which means involving a supervisor in a customer’s inquiry--is a problem in all customer service industries, but a particular headache for telcos, according to Tapling.

“Call escalation is a bad thing. The more people you have touching the problem, the more expensive it gets,” he explains. “If customer service representatives can have the knowledge in front of them on the first call, the customer is more likely to be satisfied." Keeping the telecommunications staff up to speed on the latest technology so they can serve the customer efficiently is another benefit of a KM system.

“Telcos have led the pack in regards to new product introductions in the last 36 months,” Tapling says. “The number and models of cell phones, fax machines, handheld devices and headsets is at an all time high. Training all service reps on these products is a burden." With the price of wireless telecommunications devices coming down, the problem is likely to get worse, he adds.

“As prices come down, you’ve got more and more technology getting into the hands of less sophisticated users. That creates a real customer service challenge," he says, adding that the challenge can be met with a robust KM system. Providing superior customer service also means sharing documents and reports within an organization. The goal is for the customer service representatives to know, for example, if there is a problem with the network before customers flood the call center with complaints.

Mountains of Paper

Telcos use a data warehouse to collect, process and produce reports on the status of the network. If there is a problem with a particular switch that will prevent calls from going through, operators who are handling complaints have access to the report and can provide the customer with more detailed information about when the situation is expected to be resolved.

While KM solutions can help telecommunication companies provide superior customer service, they are also processing customer documents and other paper in the back office. With so many telecommunications companies merging in the past several years, telcos are dealing with a lot of integration and knowledge sharing that needs to occur as companies join their sales and marketing efforts. Keeping abreast of all the regulatory issues and having the most current information available to everyone in the company is another target for KM technology in telcos. Processing the mountains of paper that comes in from customers is another job for a KM management system.

Swisscom Group, one of Europe’s largest telecommunications firms, processes millions of customer documents that originate on paper. For Swisscom, that has meant scanning the documents to make them quickly accessible to everyone in the company.

The telco has 22,000 employees supporting more than 3.6 million analog telephone lines and well over 1 million digital data and voice lines, the highest market penetration for digital lines. Swisscom’s wireless services have grown even faster--up 36% in 1999 to 2.3 million subscribers. And its half-million Internet customers make it Switzerland’s largest ISP.

Swisscom system

Electronic storage and retrieval of customer documents ensures reliable, fast access to customer correspondence, order management information, contracts, product information and many other data sources. Swisscom stores each captured document in its Elektronisches Kunden Dossier (Electronic Customer Repository). The repository is at 11 million documents and growing at a rate of 2.5 million per year.

Those 11 million scanned documents need to be read by computers as well as people. Swisscom chose VirtualReScan (VRS) from Kofax to deliver the required image quality and scanning efficiency. Kofax VirtualReScan (VRS) is an automated scanner controller and image processing system that eliminates the need to sort documents by size or paper type prior to scanning. The system at Swisscom automatically senses and crops to the correct page size, then straightens the page.

VRS automatically adjusts the scanner to produce the most readable image of the document. That’s important because Swisscom scans a wide variety of documents--including poor-quality photocopies, typewritten pages, faxes and damaged pages.

Typically, when a full-time scanner operator must capture poor-quality documents, they must spend a lot of time with trial-and-error scanner adjustments and rescanning.

The system being used by Swisscom automatically adjusts scanner settings for each page to optimize scans. And it handles that complex task without slowing down its 39-page-per-minute Fujitsu production scanners.

Kim Ann Zimmermann is a free-lance writer, 609-448-7509, e-mail kimzimmermann@home.com.


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