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Telcos ring up customer service with KM

This article appears in the issue Nov/Dec 2002 [Volume 11, Issue 10]

By Kim Ann Zimmermann

The telecom industry has taken a real beating in the past few years, with many telcos being bought, sold and otherwise squeezed for the very last drop of profits.The difficulty, especially when it comes to mobile phone service plans that are extremely competitive in terms of rates, is keeping up with customer demand and providing superior service so that customers won't constantly switch plans. As providers struggle to remain solvent, survivors make do with fewer employees to serve an increasingly discerning customer base.

Much of the technology employed by telcos involves customer service management and managing call centers. As in most fast-growing industries, the technology was developed piecemeal—a customer database on one server, an HR system on another server, and an accounting system somewhere else.

"The difficulty for most customer service representatives in the telecom industry is that they literally have to have five to 10 open systems in order to get to all the information they need to serve the customer," says David Geiger, CIO for Center Partners. Center Partners is an outsourcer for call centers and related support services for the telecom and other industries. The company uses software from TheBrain Technologies .

The goal, he says, is to be able to enable the customer service rep for the telecom company to access information quickly and easily—no matter where the data is located. During the mid- to late-90s, the telecom industry was growing rapidly, Geiger points out, and the IT departments would build various systems to keep up with the demand. That created a number of disparate systems that support personnel had to learn in order to serve customers, as well as to meet the internal demand for such information as sales reports and other types of data.

"Telecom companies are working with information from a wide variety of disparate sources," says Chris Kneeland, chief learning development officer for Center Partners.As the systems grew in complexity, it became more difficult to quickly get to the most commonly asked questions. TheBrain, Geiger says, allows each customer service rep to develop indexing schemes to organize information in the way in which he or she is most comfortable accessing it.

"Each customer service rep has his or her own way of indexing and retrieving information," Geiger says. And there is no need to have classes in what key words to use in order to find a particular piece of information, according to Kneeland.

It was the desire to quickly access information that inspired Sprint PCS to install a customer contact center with KM capabilities. With KANA software, Sprint says, customers can obtain information about their accounts more easily. The company started by offering customers the ability to find out via the Internet how many minutes they had left on their rate plan. By avoiding that question alone, Sprint estimates it was able to pay for the system in six months.

“When we put together our e-business plan, we found that if we could get a very small percentage of our customers to use the Web (instead of the call center) to ask the number one service question, ‘How many minutes are left on my plan?’, the savings would pay for the entire project,” says Paul Zak, director of e-business at Sprint PCS.Sprintpcs.com is hosted by IBM, and KANA Contact Center manages the portion of the Web site where customers can access account information, including account balance, minutes remaining and service plan details. They can also access a phone tutorial, purchase accessories and send text messages. Sprint PCS is trying to harness the power of the Internet by enabling the customer to submit service requests, get service updates and bulletins, track personal case activity and search a multimedia knowledgebase from one interface.

“KANA has enabled us to take a major step forward in our e-business initiatives," Zak says. Sprint PCS is working to expand the capabilities of the site, with direct links to partners and suppliers. That would enable customers to check inventory for a specific product and then place an order that would be routed directly to the supplier to reduce the costs of manual intervention and inventory management.

Sprint PCS announced its decision to adopt KANA solutions in late July 2001, and sprintpcs.com went live in December. Working with Sprint PCS engineers, KANA established the site’s architecture, defined the processes and established the rules. The first model was created by the end of October, and the site was opened to customers on Dec. 19.

Global market

Like the U.S. one, the global telecom market has become more competitive in recent years.

ADC, a global supplier of transmission and networking systems, has seen a 25% reduction in calls to its global contact centers and more than 8,000 hits per month to the company's external knowledgebase since implementing KANA. ADC is now able to capture frequently asked questions, allowing first-tier call center agents to answer most queries and freeing second-tier agents to handle more complex issues.

“Not only have we been able to improve the customer experience through the use of KANA IQ, the return on our investment exceeded our expectation,” says Candyce Anderson, business analyst at ADC. “The agents in all different call center locations worldwide appreciate having one centralized location for finding answers to customer questions.”

In 2001, the Czech Republic ended the government-authorized monopoly of Czech Telecom. Czech Telecom, headquartered in Prague, currently provides fixed-line telecom service to more than 3.85 million customers. For the first time, the telecom company had to stave off competition, which meant developing a knowledgebase of newspaper articles, internal memos and documents, periodicals, Web pages, the corporate intranet, external studies and analyst reports. The company chose a KM system from Convera that was installed by Incad, a systems provider.

“The telecommunication market is extremely competitive and one of the fastest growing sectors. We rely on technology to remain competitive,” says Denisa Parkosova, KM manager at Czech Telecom.

The documents database is divided into two libraries—one public and an internal library for more sensitive information. The internal library contains documents accessible only by designated employees, such as the marketing department. The public library holds more information such as companywide memos. The public and internal libraries are linked to the back-end relational database running Oracle (oracle.com) 8i. Czech Telecom estimates that employees are able to find information faster, and information such as periodicals can now be shared among different departments, reducing the need to invest in duplicate reports and publications.

The next stage of the Czech Telecom knowledge management project--to be rolled out through the end of this year—includes an upgrade to Version 7.0 of RetrievalWare, which will offer additional libraries for a secure extranet, together with advanced print features and statistics software. The company plans to adopt the product for other types of data as well. And KM will come in handy when this fall when all telephone lines in the Czech Republic will be renumbered.

Kim Ann Zimmermann is a free-lance writer, 732-636-3612, e-mail kimzim2764@yahoo.com.


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