by July 16, 2006 0 comments

The entire service industry thrives on one important aspect -the customer
service. It has become quite imperative for the service industry today to serve
the customer with greater agility and flexibility. Service providers
continuously try to cater to this requirement by being more creative with the
ways in which they can communicate or interact with their customers. These
include the call centers that have been around for a couple of years now. Apart
from these, there are other media like the Web based self-service portals, email
support, Web-based chats or even smart devices that are being used to serve the
customers with better efficiency. Technological advancements are consistently
offering newer and newer service delivery mechanisms to facilitate the
customers. Keeping abreast of these changes and delivering effective and focused
information to the customers as fast as possible is now the key to face the
competition head-on.

Call center blues
Today, with customer service, the companies are looking mainly at ease and
efficiency. The focus is on delivering the correct information to the customer
based on the current context and past experiences. The end users are looking out
for agile systems that would adapt to their service needs. This includes various
channels for customer support providing them with a great deal of flexibility in
consuming the services. For instance, adding a self-service portal allows the
customers to get the required information themselves and, hence, reduces the
burden on the call centers. Such auxiliary channels do augment the call centers
by providing any time, anywhere information to the customers. However, call
centers still remain the most important and reliable point of contact for the

Customer care centers
CCF helps alleviate typical call-center pains by alleviating service orientation along with MS Windows Server System
MS Customer Care Framework 2005

Today, the agility of the call centers is critically hampered by what is
known as the swivel-seat problem. All the customer interaction channels,
including the call centers, rely on a number of systems. This includes the LOB
(Line of Business) applications like CRM and order management or the OSS/BSS
(Operational & Business Support Systems) like provisioning systems, billing
systems or any other legacy systems. These systems store the customer data and
perform relevant processing on it. As a result, the CSA (Customer Service Agent)
has to deal with multiple applications when he is servicing a client request.
The CSA has several physical or logical user interfaces or terminals to
different applications. Furthermore, these applications can be separated on
completely different platforms, thus, making them more complex. The CSA has to
switch between these applications to get a holistic view of the customer’s
data and to serve the customer efficiently. At several instances, he also needs
to key in redundant information in these disparate applications to retrieve
relevant information. This makes it an even more time consuming and error prone.
As a result, the CSA spends a lot more time with the customer on call for every
task. As a byproduct, due to the non-availability of the holistic data of the
customer, it becomes very difficult for organizations to introduce cross-selling
policies that can further boost sales. Therefore, a potential revenue gain is
curbed. Also, this brings in limitations in segmenting the customers based on
priorities and promptly attending high-priority customers. Enabling this would
definitely mean attracting trust from the high priority customers towards the
service providers. Apart from all these issues, practically, the call centers
face very high employee turnover. This means that each and every CSA who is
recruited needs to be trained on using the applications. With all the
complexities involved, the training periods are much longer and expensive.
Obviously, to increase the productivity, call centers today look for reducing
the call times and improving the productivity of a typical CSA. In the long run,
maintenance costs take away a huge chunk of the budgets so reducing costs is
also a top priority.

The Agent Desktop helps integrate various app front ends while providing features like Workflows, Customer Sessions and Context Sharing

The CCF way
With its first few steps in the Communications Sector, Microsoft has introduced
the Customer Care Framework that helps leverage the Service Oriented
Architecture and alleviates call-center issues. This framework is primararily
based on the .NET Web services and SQL Server. However, it can also leverage
other Windows Server system products including the BizTalk Server, Sharepoint
portal and the Host Integration Server to provide an efficient way to shape up
the customer service.

One of the very prominent and crucial elements of the CCF is the Agent
Desktop. The Agent Desktop, as the name would suggest, lives on the desktop of a
customer service agent and addresses the most crucial issue-the swivel-seat
problem. The Agent Desktop is a smart client with a built-in presentation
integration framework that can reuse and integrate new and existing UI
applications. In effect, it integrates all LOB and OSS/BSS application
front-ends under one umbrella, giving the CSA a 360 degrees view of the customer
data. Essentially, the front ends here can be Web based or client applications
or even Windows Controls. For CCF, it is one of the Hosted Applications-the
CCF term for an application that is hosted within the Agent Desktop. These
hosted applications are displayed in a tabbed interface within the Agent
Desktop. The MMC based CCF Admin Console allows configuring these applications
for CCF with simple to use wizards. For complex applications-like for example
a Java based CRM system, CCF allows developing Adapters that would form a bridge
between the application and the Agent Desktop.

The hosting for web applications is obviously independent of the technology
being used for the development. It can be an ASP.NETapplication, a JSP web site,
a Sharepoint portal or even a PHP application. However, CCF APIs provide the Web
Adapters interfaces that allow customizing how these applications are hosted.
For example, a PHP web site would probably need the agent to login before being
able to use the Web-based system. A Web Adapter can actually fetch the
credentials corresponding to the logged in agent from the Single Sign on system
and can automate the task of entering them in the web page and pressing the
Login button.

Along with the hosted applications, the Agent Desktop also provides context
sharing, session management and single sign-on for the hosted applications,
thus, maintaining sessions for each customer. For each user session, the user
information, being stored as the context data can be shared by the hosted
applications. Effectively, it reduces redundant data entry to a great extent and
eases the management of user information. Using Single Sign-On, Agent Desktop
can map the agent credentials on the LOB systems with the current Windows
credentials. This avoids the need to login individually to each system.
Statistically, the introduction of the Agent Desktop, by itself reduces the call
handling time to over 40%. So, whenever a call comes to the CSA, the Agent
Desktop can be configured to automatically fetch the customer details. It opens
all the LOB and OSS/BSS applications with the login credentials corresponding to
the logged in Agent. The customer’s data is shared in the context so that all
these applications can leverage this data and open the related sections in the

As call centers face a huge employee turnover, a slight reduction in training
costs goes a big way in increasing the profit margins. The Agent Desktop
provides the workflow functionality that defines the execution steps a CSA is
supposed to follow for each scenario. When a customer calls up to say that he
wants to have international roaming enabled on his cellphone. The Agent Desktop
can actually define a workflow here that the agent can follow. The workflow
might shift between various hosted applications. In this case, it will prompt
the customer service agent to update the provisioning system to enable roaming
and then mark the billing system for the activation charges. At the end of it,
the workflow can also direct the agent to some related promotional offers that
might be of interest of the customer. These workflows can be custom defined for
each scenario and can span across multiple applications that are integrated in
the Agent Desktop. With the workflows, the agent need not remember the
entire process in detail. In effect, the workflow can be used as a guideline for
any customer service process.

Another striking feature of CCF is the ability to use RTC (Real Time
Communication). A CSA can communicate with a domain or process specialist in
real time using features like instant messaging. The process specialist can, in
turn, leverage the remote desktop assistance to guide the CSA to complete the
process. The RTC leverages the MS Live Communications Server to achieve this

The CCF Agent Desktop can be further integrated with the voice infrastructure
using the built-in Computer-Telephony Integration features. The implementation
supports CTI systems complaint with TAPI/TSAPI, AVAYA or other industry standard
telephony systems.

Bundled with the CCF is the MMC based Administration Console that provides an
easy to use interface to configure various elements of the CCF. Apart from the
Hosted Applications, it allows configuring of the workflows, mapping of the
applications to the agents, mapping the credentials with Single Sign on,
integrating with the CTI, configuring of the Adapters for each hosted
applications and a lot of other features that make working with CCF a breeze.

Sanket Bakshi

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