By Bryan Trilli

Do you have a layer of Post-it® notes as a decorative border around your computer screen? Do you record your phone calls on a notepad? Are your collections calls initiated and tracked with paper reports? Are your sales leads tracked with spreadsheets or paper slips? Do your route drivers have collection notes handwritten on their delivery tickets? Would you like to know who followed up on your completed service work—and how satisfied your customers were?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you can certainly use call center software.

Call center intimately connected
For the same reason receivables should not be disconnected from service, your call management system ought not to be a stand-alone component. Rather, its basic functions should be intimately connected to accounting, routing, collection, sales and service. Your software should walk you through common business tasks in the most efficient manner possible—aiding you while providing valuable information and guidance.

Since most tasks start with a phone call, your software should, too. It must allow you to record information easily without upsetting your workflow—the way you handle each issue that comes through your office. The software you use for billing and scheduling should be the same software you use to record contact information. It should keep a complete history of every interaction you’ve ever had with every customer and should never delete anything. It is essential that your software emulate the way you do business.

The old way
Let’s take a seat at your desk and answer the phone. An office person calls from one of your large business accounts and requests a water delivery. Are you writing that call on a notepad? Did you write down your name on the notepad and the time of the call? Did you write down the customer’s request for a delivery? Did you notice that the customer’s balance was past due? Oh wait—put down the notepad, start up your accounting software, type in the customer’s name, check on their balance information, see if they’re on a delivery route, search for their scheduled next delivery date and schedule the requested delivery. How long did that take? When the manager from that office calls back after the delivery wanting to know who requested the extra water because they didn’t need it, are you going to put him on hold so you can flip through your notepad and realize you forgot to write down the name of the person who requested the extra water?

The new way
The latest technology presents a better way. When a customer calls, you start a call on your computer. Instantly, it fills in your name as the person who received the call and records the time the call came in. As you type in the customer’s name, a summary pops up with balance information, service address, rental rates, delivery dates and all other open calls on their account. You type the details of the call and are forced to track who placed the call and who in your company is in charge of resolving this issue for the customer. With a single click you schedule the delivery, which is now directly related to the phone call. From this point on, you can instantly see who called, what time they called, why they called, who answered the phone, who was in charge of helping this customer and how they helped the customer. Sound like a lot of work? Today’s technology enables you to fill in all of that information in fewer than 10 seconds.

If a prospect wants information about a drinking water system, shouldn’t you be able to add a prospecting record and choose a lead source from that same phone call screen? Why train your office people on seven different ways to answer a phone call when all the details can be tracked from one screen?

Call management
A call system should be able to do more than just record telephone calls: it should be able to prioritize and organize them as well. For instance, if you were supposed to make six calls today and you’ve only completed three of them, you should know exactly which of the remaining calls to place first thing tomorrow morning.

Technology should replace sticky notes and handwritten messages within your business. For instance, if a customer has a question about a specific billing invoice that only the manager can answer, you should be able to relay that invoice to the customer’s virtual phone call. When the manager has that virtual call pop up on his screen, he will see the exact invoice in question. What happens when you have to call a delinquent customer back next week? Your software should remind you to call her back—along with the amount she promised to pay and the history of her past five payment promises. Let’s see your notepad do that!

Can your notepad tell you who handles most of the calls in the office or how many calls have come in this month that were simply balance inquiries? If you are not aware that half of your calls are balance inquiries, how can you make a decision to switch to simpler billing statements? By tracking phone calls, you can determine problem areas in your company associated with individual personnel, departments, practices or the company in general.

With a few clicks, that same screen should be able to pull up all of your open sales calls to leads from the October 2004 Home Show. How many leads did you get from your August 2004 newspaper advertisement? How many of those did your salesperson close? How many were turned down because of poor credit? Is it worth investing in that advertisement next year?

The benefits of technology
Every water dealership, no matter what size, asks the questions mentioned above. By managing your calls from one simple interface, you can have the answers to sales, service, collections and office questions right at your fingertips.

If all of this information sounds like nit-picky details only necessary for behemoth water dealerships whose owners spend more time golfing than working, consider some of the following: Have you ever had a customer call with a complaint? Did you know who talked to her last time? When they talked to her? What they told her? Did they schedule service for her? If so, why haven’t you gotten to it yet? If not, why didn’t you schedule her for service? Is all of this information at your fingertips? If a customer calls three times and talks to three different people, is he told three different stories?

When your secretary leaves and a new person begins working for you, wouldn’t it be nice to pull up some common phone calls recorded on actual customer accounts to train the new person on how to handle specific situations and questions?

That big shot competitor of yours has this technology. Shouldn’t you?

Conclusion
If customer service is important in your company, the latest technology will put you years ahead of your technologically-impaired competitors.

Your customers care about how professionally their calls are answered and acted on. The vast majority of your contact with customers takes place through a phone call. Whether that phone call regards service, deliveries, collections, or new sales doesn’t matter; your software should be able to handle all of those issues from one screen. Your customers and prospects will not wait on hold while someone fumbles around a complicated computer system or through a handwritten notebook. You need access to important information in a timely and professional manner. If you’re not managing your phone calls properly, you’re not offering the best possible customer service. If your business is customer service oriented and always looking for ways to improve customer relations, call management technology is essential.

About the author
Bryan Trilli is a systems specialist supporting Watertight®, workflow management software provided by KDS Moses Inc. Watertight® seamlessly integrates call management, accounting, collections, delivery/service scheduling and route mapping, handheld delivery computers, point of sale and paperless document management into one system. He can be contacted by mail at KDS Moses Inc., PO Box 220, Cascade, WI 53011. Phone:(800) 676-6109, Fax:(920) 994-4692, E-mail: sales@kdsmoses.com, Web: www.kdsmoses.com

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