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It can't be easy to work in a call center, listening to gripe after gripe from customers. When they can't solve the case, agents tend to put customers on hold while they get help from managers or experts.

Kana, the customer service software company acquired earlier this year by Verint, claims it is making that job a little easier by adding an internal social network into the 2014 version of its flagship contact center software, Kana Enterprise, which rolled out today.

The social network, called Activity Streams, isn't the only improvement. The company also enhanced ways to direct known callers to specific agents, to monitor call queues, to conduct multiparty chats and to share screens with customers, according to Kelly Koelliker, director of product marketing.

Social Graces

"We've spent some time focusing on employee collaboration," Koelliker said in an interview with CMSWire. "We see that each agent is working as an island at times. So there's no good way for agents to pose questions to one another or get feedback on what else is going on within the organization."

Activity Streams allows call center agents to subscribe to topics of interests, particular types of customers cases and articles to help them do a better job.

"As updates are made, you'll see them in your feed and you can add comments just as you would after somebody's Facebook post," said Koelliker. "Supervisors can also push messages into that feed. So if there is something that certain sets of agents need to know about, you can push alerts or notifications."

That last factor is particularly helpful when inviting agents to a training or letting them know about a sudden change in business processes.

For many customers, frustration begins when they're handed off from one agent to another, forcing them to repeat their question over and over. Kana's new version addresses that with a new routing engine called Smarter Engagement that tries to match an incoming request by phone, chat or social media with the an agent who has the tools and knowledge to answer the question effectively.

"There's a really sophisticated way to determine when a request comes in -- regardless of the channel -- where we should route it to," said Koelliker. The agent is selected based on a number of pre-configured attributes such as who the customer is, how urgent the question is, the type of request and, perhaps, what language it's in.

Kana's customers cover a wide variety of industries including healthcare, utilities, retail, telecommunications and finance. The client list includes Sears, Sprint, Xerox, Priceline and many cities stretching from San Francisco to Boston. So it's difficult to predict which attributes would be most important for each customer. Instead, the new version allows each company to set its own rules, using as many attributes as it likes to sort the customers out.

Banter and Browse

Group chat and screen-sharing, aka co-browsing, have been around for a long time, but Kana has upgraded both in the new version.

"We did a lot of work making sure those were really enterprise-class, ready to scale up to large contact centers where you need to have thousands of chat and co-browse agents. It's ready to handle that," she said. "All these digital channels are becoming a lot more popular. Live chat and co-browse are having a resurgence in the past year or so, so we wanted to make sure that's really staying where it needs to be."

For the first time, co-browsing is also possible on mobile devices, which was a limitation in past versions due to the many differences between browsers for phones, tablets and other mobile gear.

The co-browsing feature also includes stronger security tools, such as the ability to prevent an agent from placing an order through a customer's computer. Companies can set their own rules to limit what agents can do.

Productive Thinking

Kana's lastest also has some productivity enhancements. For example, managers who often oversee agents in far-flung locales can now see which agents have the longest queues. They can redirect traffic to other agents or, if there is a particularly popular type of call on a given day, they can add more agents to deal with that issue.

The agents themselves are also better informed about incoming calls because managers can flag factors for discussion, such as an expiring service level agreement (SLA). "So one thing we've done is to make some visual changes to the agent's desktop to draw the agent's attention to what is likely to be the most important things," said Koelliker. "As soon as they see the customer, they'll know the SLA is coming up for renewal or that they have an unusually high bill."

It's doubtful that many of these incremental changes will make the job of a call center agent more enjoyable and they may be nearly invisible to frustrated callers. But Kana claims the changes will result in fewer transfers, shorter call times and, in the end, better customer service.

Title Image by Vadim Petrokov / Shutterstock