Mary Welch | June 24, 2013

With the global contact center market responsible for about $2 billion in business, companies need their call centers to provide satisfactory customer service in order to retain customers and increase sales. But, that’s not always the case.

To enhance the experience, call centers use a variety of tools to match the caller to the best agent. But complaints of impersonal, one-size fits all service still exist and agent turnover is high, which further exacerbates the service problems.

The latest foray in improving and personalizing the call center experience is called RAMP (Real-Time Analytics Matching Platform), which uses advanced analytics to match a caller with the best customer service representative (CSR) in real time. Atlanta-based specialty insurance provider Assurant Solutions, which is part of Assurant, Inc., invented the techniques in “back room efforts to problem-solve,” according to Cameron Hurst, vice president of Assurant’s Targeted Solutions of Assurant. Assurant then went to IBM to design the matching engine and further develop the concept into a commercial offering that can be used by other customer contact-centric industries.

“It’s the eHarmony of business call centers,” said Hurst. “You want to make the best match and you want to do it right the first time. The more real data you can get about both parties in real time, the better the match and the chance for success.”

Most call centers use a skills-based system when routing calls, which only takes into consideration the agent’s product focus and availability. However, the assigned CSR may not be the best one to handle the customer’s request or push more products or services, resulting in a bad experience.

Kate Leggett, senior analyst, customer service and call center processes for Forrester Research Inc., in Foster City, Calif., said RAMP is “unique in its approach of optimizing the customer service outcome. RAMP not only matches agents to callers based on a set of attributes … but is intelligent enough to select the agent best suited to handle a caller irrespective of whether the agent is currently available or not. Call centers using RAMP have a real competitive advantage.”

Industry experts say RAMP helps increase customer retention and satisfaction, boost sales, decreases agent attrition and increase profitability by leveraging a combination of customer insight, agent profiles and real-time analytics.

“It’s the sweet spot,” said Toby Cook, analytics practice leader for IBM Global Business Services in Columbus, Ohio. “We find that people are willing to wait longer if they get the best person. When you have that, you get customer satisfaction and retention, and oftentimes increased sales.”

Take two people calling in to a cell phone call center, Cook said. One is a middle-aged man with a family plan; the other a 22-year-old with basic service. “We know what the call will be about based on menu choices but with RAMP we know the history of both callers and we may know that the man’s two children have dropped off the family package and he’s making a lot of international calls while the 22-year-old may not know what he needs.” In real time, RAMP hooks the first caller up with a CSR who can offer – and sell – solutions to the older caller’s new situation while locating another who can do the same with the younger caller. “It’s that sweet spot where the customer needs help in making decisions and we match them with the best call center employee,” he said.

Richard Snow, vice president and global research director for Ventana Research, a Pleasanton, Calif.-based benchmark research and advisory services firm, said two key performance metrics – customer satisfaction and first call resolution – are increasing important. “The key is having the best person handle each call,” he said. “RAMP increases that probability and thus is likely to generate happier customers who buy more, while at the same time reducing operational costs because more calls will be resolved at the first attempt and there will be less need for expensive call backs.”

Matthew Hawk, CEO of Retention Specialists, Inc., of Rolling Hills Estates, Calif., said companies approach brand loyalty, customer service and customer retention from a behavioral and psychological standpoint. “The bigger challenge is to empower sales and service representatives to respond more effectively to customers by using psychological techniques proven to improve communication, customer satisfaction and customer loyalty,” he said. “RAMP fits into this and it is the wave of the future, or at least part of helping to define it.” 

Tom Searcy, CEO of Indianapolis, Ind.- based American Teleservices Association, which represents 4,000 call centers, cautioned that shared intangibles may not always work. “It’s like arranging seating at a wedding,” he said. “You put your roommate with the bride’s uncle because they both like the Red Sox. But who is to say that they’re going to talk baseball?”

So far Assurant, a bank and credit card company use RAMP. IBM is in talks with several contact-centric industries, including financial services, telecommunications and a direct-to-consumer retailer.

For a price starting in the mid-six figures, IBM consultants assess a client’s business value metrics – what defines success for that business. They then perform data analysis to determine the best value approach, the probable outcomes and the initial build for the customer-to-agent matching engine. As the matching engine is built and refined, RAMP is installed within the client’s existing telephone/contact center environment.

“With RAMP, it allows us to really stop focusing on revenue,” said Hurst. “If we have client satisfaction and if they stay with you and upgrade their service with you, revenue will follow. It’s a change in the paradigm.”

Assurant has seen an improvement in the total number of saved customers by 119 percent, from a baseline of 15 percent saved, to 33 percent saved, said Hurst. “RAMP has changed the company’s focus from simply seeking to save more customers to focusing on those that represent the greatest value to their clients. When the company measured saved fee rate (percentage of eligible fees saved), we saw a jump from 16 percent to as high as 47 percent – a staggering 187 percent increase.”

Leggett said that RAMP provides quantifiable benefits for the CSR as well. “RAMP provides better long-term management of agent performance and enhances agent training. RAMP helps route easier requests to more junior agents, and when it detects agent improvement, it can match them to higher value customers.”

“RAMP,” said Snow, “is a step ahead of other solutions in the market.”