What Metrics Are You Using for Multichannel Support?

Businesses need to determine whether the call center metrics they use still fit the multichannel customer service model.

By Faith Ocampo

Multichannel customer support is no longer a trend. It has become the standard. By opening up multiple channels, most, if not all, businesses have widened the scope of the user experience they offer. Thus, the ways consumers interact with companies have become varied, unpredictable, and complex. And so has performance measurement.

The key performance indicators that worked for voice-only call centers, such as average handle time and first contact resolution, may not apply to multichannel services. These traditional metrics have a narrow, one-dimensional focus that are not able to encapsulate the dynamism of a multichannel contact center. If we continue using them, an accurate measure of success is unattainable.

Several factors must be considered in evaluating the customer experience across platforms. On a micro level, what are the specific standards of good customer service on social media? On email? On live chat? And on a macro level, how do we weave together several tools and assess whether they are operating harmoniously?

Three broad contact center metrics are necessary in measuring the quality of multichannel services: productivity, avoidable contacts, and seamless service.

Productivity: Whether in a uni-channel or multichannel center, agent productivity has always been an important metric. In the latter, however, there’s a more complex twist involved because agents must handle several customer support tools at once. Perhaps they switch back and forth between two chat windows and an email-based transaction. This leads to higher productivity, but managers must watch out for inefficient work distribution.

For instance, if agents are responding to Facebook comments, can they still be tasked with email transactions? It may be possible because a little delay in email replies is acceptable while social media comments require a much faster response. But what about agents who are engaged in a voice call? Will they still be expected to handle another channel?

Multichannel call centers need a robust, productivity-oriented routing system to maximize the individual performance of agents without compromising the quality of their work.

Avoidable Contact: This is largely similar to first-contact resolution. The only difference is that, in a multichannel contact center, a company’s capacity to solve problems is ideally made more powerful by several customer support tools. However, if there are too many repeat issues or, worse, repeat contacts, then something is wrong. It’s either a sign agents are not making the most of the platforms available or there’s a mismatch between the nature of the customers’ problem and the channel being using to solve it.

Agents must know when to transfer a transaction to another channel – considering the devices the customer owns and the type of issue to be addressed. For example, live chat is suitable for simple queries, but email is best for sending files such as product manuals. These must be considered when trying get to the core of a complaint.

Measuring avoidable contacts can identify training and resource needs as well as gaps in agent skills, which leads to enhancing the customer experience. Also, a contact center database that outlines the standard responses to common types of queries can be built by identifying the pain points in problem resolution.

Seamless Service: The result is often the most important component of performance measurement. Companies are going multichannel to provide a positive experience that satisfies the expectations of modern customers. This means the quality of customer support depends upon speed and smooth transitions between devices.

Therefore, aside from sufficient staffing and an organized transaction routing system, businesses must offer all possible means of customer service. Allowing customers to decide how they want to solve the issues they experience is the best gift they could get from companies. This is where self-service comes in.

Although there is a heated debate about its impact on human-mediated services, self-service is well loved by many customers. Those who are always on the go and have highly inconsistent schedules usually don’t find time to connect with customer service representatives. They appreciate knowing there is a do-it-yourself platform ready for them anytime. But like all other channels, this also requires evaluation. Measurement may be done through pop-up surveys, email, SMS outreach, or face-to-face interviews.

From these three broad call center metrics, you can identify the ones that are more specific to your business. You may even come up with your own key performance indicators, depending on your customer support goals and branding. Just remember the most important principle in delivering multichannel services: the customer experience must always be your highest priority.

Faith Ocampo is a digital media enthusiast aiming to become an active part of the tech world by sharing her insights. She likes to blog about everything to do with digimarketing, technology, and social media. You may see her work at www.openaccessbpo.com, or follow her on www.facebook.com/faith.cmp for updates.

[From Connection MagazineJuly/August 2016]

Do You Have a Call Center or a Relationship Center?

By Dave Murray

In recent years call centers have been called the “white-collar sweatshop” of our time. The first time I heard this reference, it hit home for me. Given all the time I had spent as a customer service representative (CSR), supervisor, manager, or director, this statement made perfect sense to me. Most call centers I am familiar with are in a less than desirable location within the office and are places where work is sent that others cannot complete, things the CSRs can do while they are “on the phones.”

Think about the typical call center environment for a moment. They are often made up of mundane cubicles, allowing for little to no creativity. Call times and wait times are the metrics that matter most, which automatically causes each call to be about the transaction rather than the interaction. And many CSRs see limited growth opportunities, even in companies experiencing tremendous growth.

The Opportunity: Turning a Call Center into a Relationship Center. To think that this environment can somehow help an organization cultivate deeper relationships with customers seems like a dream. But is it? Many tweaks can be made to help transform a call center into a relationship center. The first one – and the most simple – is to change the department name to relationship center. If we want our employees to be relationship builders, we should first start by referring their department as such.

In this world of micromanagement of agent time, tasks, and call volumes, we must always ask ourselves: How can we expect our employees to treat our best customers the way we would like them to if we don’t treat our employees as well, if not better? We cannot. We need our relationship builders to be ambassadors of our companies and our products. Often the call center is the only human interaction our customers have with us. Also, very often the customer is taking the time to call us because they have encountered some type of problem. Wouldn’t we love to have our relationship builders known as problem solvers rather than policy enforcers? The result would be more instances of heroic resolutions as opposed to customers asking for a supervisor to move their complaint up the ladder.

So what is the right level of management? How do we give our employees the autonomy to solve problems without giving away too much? We need to take the time to prepare our employees to be able to fix what can go wrong, perform their job at the optimal level, and wow customers when the opportunity arises. The key word here is prepared. We cannot simply expect our employees to recognize these things, nor can we tell them once during an orientation and expect it to stick. And we cannot expect them to maintain proper habits without reenforcement.

The Solution: Create a System of World-Class Service. The answer is to create a system that all employees can use to consistently recognize and address defects, emphasize our standards, and capitalize on opportunities to go above and beyond. The better prepared our agents are to handle situations that arise every day, the more time we have to manage behind the scenes. This allows us to monitor agent activity to ensure that all team members are pulling their weight, without micromanaging them. It ensures that our staffing levels are correct and our best ambassadors are not overstressed and overburdened because we do not have enough people hired and trained, which is a huge problem in the call center world.

This all sounds great, but how do we accomplish this? I recommend two steps to begin the process. But both will take an investment of time and human resources.

Step #1 is getting your team together to create your customer experience cycle (CEC). Creating your CEC involves mapping your customer’s touch points with your team. Once you have identified what these touch points are, you can then dissect each one, looking for what can and does go wrong (service defects), what we need to do on each and every call (operational and experiential standards), and ways to surprise and delight our customers (above-and-beyond opportunities).

Going through this workshop with your frontline team truly can be an eye-opening experience, for both you and them. A renewed sense of purpose begins to grow as excitement builds. Your team becomes reenergized to do their job – and do it well.

While this is a great start to the process, it is just that: a start. You cannot expect the momentum you have just created to maintained itself without consistent reenforcement. This is where the second step comes in.

Step #2 is addressing daily huddles. Now before you start saying, “That will never work here because…” (and I know you will, because I have heard all of the excuses, and I’ve made some of them myself), think about the gold standard of service: the Ritz Carlton. They hold a huddle, or in their world, a “stand-up,” every day. So does Chick-fil-A. These companies have gotten past the fact that not everyone will be present each day. They know they have multiple shift-starting times throughout the day. What they have done is used this platform to consistently focus on their service values, discuss things that went wrong and how to fix them, and celebrate success stories – every day.

The Results: What to Expect. This process promotes autonomy and a strong sense of ownership within your team while also being a great team-building exercise. Creating your CEC and reinforcing it on a daily basis will give your team a renewed sense of purpose and turn them into true relationship builders. Thanks to the huddles, this will not wear off over time, but rather transform your culture into one where above and beyond is the norm.

Dave Murray is the senior customer experience consultant for The DiJulius Group.

[From Connection MagazineJuly/August 2016]

Emotional Intelligence in the Call Center

By Jim Iyoob

I am an avid believer of excellent leadership skills in the call center. As a leader, people not only judge you by your training and expertise but also by how well you handle others and yourself. This means you have to work on your leadership style diligently. One way to ensure that you stay top of the game is to develop emotional intelligence.

Daniel Goleman introduced the term “emotional intelligence” in 1995 in his book, Emotional Intelligence. He wrote that although qualities like determination, vision, toughness, and intelligence are important, they are not sufficient to ensure the success of an organization. To be truly effective as a leader requires incorporating emotional intelligence through motivation, social skill, empathy, self-regulation, and self-awareness.

For example, have you observed a high-performing employee promoted to a leadership position only to fail miserably? Or an average-performing employee promoted to a leadership position who does very well? These are common occurrences in business; the distinguishing factor is not in the employee’s technical abilities but in his or her soft qualities of dealing with people – such as using emotional intelligence,

Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and manage your own emotions and the emotions of those around you. To bring it closer to home, as a call center leader, you need to be aware of your emotions, how they affect your agents, and thus influence their output. Let’s look at how to use the five components of emotional intelligence for effective leadership.

1) Self-Awareness: Self-awareness is connecting with your true self. It is the ability to understand what drives you, your emotions, and your needs. It is also being aware of your strengths and weakness and how your actions affect those around you.

For example, if some of your agents do not show up for work on a regular basis, which causes additional stress, you should create a backup plan to resolve the issue. Remind yourself of the minimum level of service and functionality you are required to provide and set your contingency plans around it. This way you have a guarantee that everything will run smoothly, and you won’t have to deal with last-minute emergencies.

If you are someone who is quick to anger, you should work alongside agents who do not test your limits. When you have a high self-awareness, you are confident in what you want from your people and how best to get it.

2) Motivation: Motivation is that extra push, the passion you have toward your work. Your energy and enthusiasm directly affects the energy your staff gives back. When you are self-motivated, nothing can stop you from achieving what you set out to do.

As a leader, your key responsibilities include setting annual targets and formulating strategies and tactics to achieve those goals. What one thing keeps you on course? It is your self-motivation – your drive.

What does is it mean to your organization when you are highly self-motivated? It means you set high-performance bars for yourself and your staff. When you keep hitting the bar, you pass on that energy and challenge to your staff to do the same.

For example, have you ever worked with someone who is not motivated? Is it easy? No, it’s much harder because you have to keep motivating the person to see the big picture and modify his or her behavior. Unfortunately over time you will become exhausted and tired. As a result everyone loses; your work suffers and others will follow. The solution is to create a personal inner system in order to keep yourself motivated. Be your first and greatest cheerleader.

3) Self-Regulation: Self-regulation is synonymous to self-control. When you have self-control, you will not make emotional decisions, verbally attack people, or compromise your values. Instead you will hold yourself accountable for your own thoughts and actions. You are in charge of your feelings – not the other way around. If you lead by your feelings, the workplace mood will follow: people will be happy when you are happy and upset when you are upset. This is not the way to create trust in your staff.

When you have self-regulation, you are reasonable. For example, if your team delivers a sloppy presentation, you can respond in two ways. You can shout at them, telling them how useless they are, or you can have a discussion with them to determine the cause of their poor performance. Which one makes you a self-regulated leader? In the two situations, how do you think your response will affect your staff?

Self-regulation enhances your integrity, an important value both personally and corporately. Integrity determines what you will do when no one is looking.

4) Empathy: Friends and family members generally show empathy to each other, but when it comes to work, the word empathy does not sound businesslike, and others might perceive you as being “all mushy” with your employees.

However, the meaning of empathy in business terms is thoughtfully considering your employees’ feelings as well as other important factors when making decisions. The way you communicate to them shows empathy.

The main reasons why you should be empathetic to your employees are:

  • You need to work with a motivated team. You know how crazy it can get trying to bring every team member into agreement. Everyone has his or her own opinion and wants to justify why his or her idea is better; emotions can easily flare. It takes empathy to recognize and understand different viewpoints and bring them together.
  • You need to retain the best employees – a talented employee is an asset. Imagine all the work it takes to train employees – what happens when they leave? They take company knowledge with them, and you have to start all over again. Empathy helps you continually mentor your employees, and they feel appreciated, which increases their chances of staying with you.

5) Social Skill: Social skill is about building networks and relationship management. How well can you handle conflicts and diplomatically manage change? This is where social skill comes in: to be friendly yet remain focused on the goal.

When you are highly self-aware, self-regulated, motivated, and empathetic with others, social skill comes naturally. It ties the other components together. It enables you to be a great communicator, which makes your work easy. Great communicators are inspirational leaders who develop others, influence them positively, and build lasting bonds, leading to great teamwork and collaboration.

For example, when you sense tension your ability to manage conflict will determine whether the tension will escalate or you will create a calm environment. With social skill, you will handle the conflict and turn around staff performance.

To develop emotional intelligence in the workplace, you need to develop as a person. I equate leadership development with personal development. It is not always easy, but the results are great and impact the entire organization positively. When you possess emotional intelligence, you will be an effective leader who people follow willingly.

Jim Iyoob is EVP of customer experience for Etech Global Services. Jim has twenty-plus years of contact center outsourcing experience in inbound, outbound, chat, and social media operations, and is a respected speaker, author, and subject-matter expert for call center solutions.

[From Connection Magazine – January/February 2016]

The Many Facets of Change Happening Now in the Contact Center

By Chuck Ciarlo

Evolution, whether referring to biology or business, means a slow, gradual process. This is not an article about the evolution of the contact center; the industry is changing too quickly these days for that term to be accurate.

This is a pivotal moment when technology, the economy, and globalization are all exerting influence in how a contact center can best serve the needs of its customers and do so in a way that is both efficient and cost-effective.

What worked five years ago isn’t working anymore. What worked last year might keep a business functioning – but not at its full potential. Maintaining a competitive edge and meeting customer expectations (or better yet, surpassing them) requires attention to what the industry is doing right now and where it’s going next.

Help Wanted: The economy is improving. How much or how little is an argument best left to the pundits on cable news channels. But there is no question that business is picking up and, as a result, contact centers must scale up to meet increased demand. That means hiring and training more agents.

Instant Answers: Today’s contact center is being pulled in several directions by end users who want to reach out through the telephone, email, online chat, and even social media. At the same time, customers are asking tougher questions because answers to the easy questions are available online. That requires a greater emphasis on agent specialization.

Workers, Workers Everywhere: Telecommuting has changed the traditional contact center model, with its long rows of cubicles. But the more flexible modern professional environment is not just about agents working remotely; it’s about employees coordinating efforts in different sections of one company and maintaining the ability to oversee all of them.

While outsourcing trends may be reversing, offshoring continues to accelerate. Global call centers may have locations in the US, Europe, and Asia, which must be managed in the same proven way from a central authority.

Meeting the Challenge: What will it take to stay on top of the multifaceted, accelerated changes under way at the contact center? Of course you need good people in place: managers, agents, and trainers. But software is going to be where business can become proactive instead of reactive, flexible where it used to be fixed, and automated where it used to be manual.

As software becomes capable of doing more, contact centers must access these capabilities on a platform that can take advantage of how quickly technology now changes. For many businesses, that is becoming the cloud.

From a user base of just 269,000 in 2008, the cloud-based contact center infrastructure market has picked up momentum year after year. According to DMG Consulting, the number of cloud-based seats will grow by 20 percent in 2015, 18 percent in 2016 and 2017, and 16 percent in 2018.

These adoption rates point toward increasing awareness of the benefits of the cloud-based subscription model, including increased flexibility as priorities change, lower costs, easier access to upgrades, easier management of a less-centralized workforce, less burden on internal IT resources, and improved automation, scalability, and operational efficiency.

2015 is providing a turning point for companies to acknowledge the fundamental shifts now underway in IT services delivery. The cloud may hold the key to future industry development, but that also depends on the effort put forth by those who supply the platforms. Cooperative development by providers and contact center users can meet the challenge – as long as the focus always remains on customer service.

Chuck Ciarlo is the founder and CEO of Monet Software, Inc.

[From Connection Magazine Jul/Aug 2015]

Three Steps for Taking the Stress Out of Managing Contact Center Compliance

By Rob Schneider

The contact center industry is inundated with regulatory requirements, yet maintaining compliance is critical for business success. Ensuring compliance isn’t easy with constant regulatory changes; the main hurdles include how to staff correctly, stay on top of change, and manage the business through various stages of compliance.

Changes in regulations often trigger compliance failures, which can lead to data exposure, fines and fees, security breaches, loss of customers, impact to reputation, and civil action.

“With all the new regulations, we are seeing a tremendous increase in breaches,” said Jeff Brown, director of business development for Compliance Point. “We see multiple breaches every week from the finance, retail, healthcare, and other industries.”

Here are three steps to reduce the stress of managing contact center compliance.

1. Agree That Compliance Is Not a One-Time Deal. Brown believes that the increase in non-compliance often happens because organizations take a “point in time” approach to managing change. With this approach, organizations become compliant once but then fail to maintain updates to stay compliant over time.

“Many organizations think of compliance as an annual fire drill of scrambling to get auditors the information they require,” said Brown. “This can mean that companies are creating documents on the fly for auditors, which isn’t an effective practice.”

This also creates uncertainty around how to properly complete the audit because the type of information requested changes from year to year. Turnover in organizations also creates knowledge vacuums around how compliance requirements are implemented.

Ultimately, as more advanced regulations are added, compliance costs rise, and the time it takes to understand and implement regulations can become too overwhelming for contact centers that take a reactive approach. A better way to remain compliant, manage costs, and create a viable program is a proactive approach where compliance changes are automated and updated continuously.

Real-time compliance monitoring is also key. Consider investing in an automation or platform tool to automate compliance activities, such as assignment of tasks, notifications, and escalations. This way, any tasks that are not handled will be automatically flagged in the system as a non-compliant activity and can be addressed immediately.

“Compliance should be part of the daily process,” said Brown. “It should include a defined framework that everyone understands and follows. This helps engrain the compliance mentality within the culture of the organization and helps everyone understand their role in regard to compliance.”

2. Pay Special Attention to TCPA Compliance Regulations. Updated TCPA legislation started to be enforced in October 2013, but many contact centers have struggled to understand the rules and apply the resources to remain compliant. The volume of class action TCPA cases continues to rise, and the FCC is becoming more aggressive in its lawsuits. On average, there are four to five new lawsuits every day. The common legal issues include, but are not limited to, calling or texting cell phones, prerecorded messages, and DNC violations.

“In many cases, the scope of consent that companies have is not sufficient for the type of calls they are making,” said Nick Whisler, an attorney and legislative chair for PACE. “Other common practical issues are the use of automatic telephone dialing systems (ATDS) to call cell phones, calling re-assigned numbers, and the confusion across telemarketing versus non-telemarketing legislation.”

Calls to cell phones remain a primary area of conflict. The general rule is that organizations cannot use an ATDS or a prerecorded message to call a cell phone without the called party’s prior consent. The current interpretation of an ATDS is any equipment with the capacity to dial telephone numbers without human intervention. There are also stricter specifications if the call being made is for telemarketing purposes. Even if the call has mixed purposes, it is treated as a telemarketing call.

For companies that handle any outbound activities, maintaining TCPA compliance can seem like a full-time job. It is important to strengthen policies and procedures involving high-risk areas such as cell phones and prerecorded messages. In most cases, a specific contact center platform designed for TCPA compliance can assist in maintaining a compliant system.

However, the staff still needs be aware of regulatory changes and work with partners to understand any impact to the system. “It’s critical to have good policies and procedures in place, as well as a fail-safe mechanism to prevent unintended violations,” Whisler added.

3. Build a Network of Trusted Experts. Call centers should not feel pressured to create compliance processes on their own. In fact, many other organizations have been working on best practices and can be essential in creating the right compliance landscape.

For example, some TCPA best practices include consulting with a corporate attorney, honoring the DNC registry, drafting a DNC list policy and procedures document, reviewing compliance of outbound solutions, and implementing TCPA-compliance training programs.

“TCPA is very complex. Most individuals without a legal background have a difficult time interpreting the legislation and how it will affect their call center,” said Geoff Mina, CEO of Connect First. “Working with a team of experts can help mitigate the risk and create a path for contact centers to remain compliant.”

The importance of training programs for employees should not be overlooked. “Contact centers can have the best technology, the most compliant vendors and partners, and management teams that understand the regulations,” said Mina. “But if agents don’t understand the compliance requirements, the company could inadvertently fall outside of procedures and end up in a court battle.” An agent who doesn’t understand what they need to do and what questions they should ask can cause a call center a great deal of trouble, regardless of the tools and systems they have in place.

The same can be said for PCI compliance. Some best practices for PCI compliance include using the tools and resources available on the PCI Security Standards Council website, engaging with contact center technology vendors that understand PCI, taking into account physical layout issues, and evaluating security around work-at-home agents.

“Most importantly, remember to engage your network of experts early in the process,” added Mina. “With the ever-changing world of compliance, building a team before you get into trouble is a good rule of thumb.”

Rob Schneider is vice president of customer service at Connect First, a contact center platform technology provider.

[From Connection Magazine – May/June 2015]

Preparing Your Call Center and Agents for the Live Video Revolution

By James Keller

Today customers can buy what they want, when they want it – day or night, anywhere on the planet. Since the early days of e-commerce, consumer-facing brands across all categories have gotten better at using data and analytics to improve the customer experience through personalization, behavioral targeting, and rich media. Despite all that data intelligence and marketing smarts, in many categories online conversion rates are stuck at 2 to 4 percent, often one-tenth of what those same brands see at their brick-and-mortar counterparts.

While online may never convert at the same level as in-store, a new wave of e-commerce is helping to provide an in-store feel to the online experience in the form of live video assistance. The future success of online merchants depends largely on how well the call center is prepared for this dramatic evolution in customer service.

Live Video Assistance in the Call Center: We know great service keeps customers coming back, especially for high-consideration purchases – from furniture and jewelry to cable bundles and insurance plans. Until recently, nothing could beat the face-to-face engagement of a store or branch experience. Now integrated live video and co-browsing technologies make it possible to recreate store-like engagements online for a personalized customer experience. These technologies can be used for assisted selling and customer support situations across digital channels.

Customers now expect to be able to ask pre-purchase questions and receive post-sales support online, but text chat isn’t always enough. Shoppers benefit dramatically from being able to see call center agents who can walk them through the steps for troubleshooting a household gadget, co-shop with them to make suggestions on other products they may like, or explain the benefits of one insurance plan versus another. As a result, companies deliver the best possible service levels, fostering brand and store loyalty.

Not being able to provide expected levels of sales assistance and support through online channels will drive customers to the competition. In fact, an Accenture report found that 51 percent of US consumers switched service providers last year due to poor customer service, putting $1.3 trillion of revenue at play in the US market. Switching rates were highest among retailers, cable and satellite providers, and retail banks, making companies in these sectors the most vulnerable – but also potentially giving them the most to gain by implementing live video call center assistance.

Preparing the Call Center: When preparing the call center environment for live video assistance, consider several factors. First, give operators noise-cancelling headsets. This ensures that customers will enjoy a clear conversation no matter how noisy the call center gets. Also look for hardware that includes an on-air light so co-workers won’t interrupt each other while they are helping customers.

While agents may not be able to see the customer, the customer will see them, so it’s important to use backlight and front light for the best quality video. In addition, agents should have a small monitor at eye level, right below the camera, so they can maintain eye contact with the consumer. Finally, consider using a backboard behind your agents for a clean, non-distracting look. Have it professionally designed to match your company brand.

Creating a system that is easy for agents to use is critical to reduce training and increase time spent with customers. Implement a system that offers all the services you provide. For instance, a service that provides text chat, live video, and integrates to CRM will quickly become familiar to the agents, and they will avoid learning delays from mastering multiple systems.

Training Call Center Agents: With call center stations ready for live video assistance, it’s time to train staff to excel in this new level of service. While they may have experience using live text chat, video brings a completely new level of training to the equation. For instance, be sure to teach agents to maintain eye contact with the camera when speaking to the customer. Agents should also know your products and services well so they can make recommendations and show appropriate merchandise. Since live video assistance is often used when a customer is making a special purchase, education is crucial in making the sale.

Another consideration is appearance. For years, call center agents have used telephone, email, and text chat, and thus they have never interacted face-to-face with customers. With live video, it’s imperative that call center managers educate their video assistants to represent the company brand in their manner, tone, and style, but also in how they dress. Consider using the same hiring criteria that companies use when hiring in-store sales associates.

Operators should also participate in the same training that companies employ with in-store sales teams. This will instill product and brand expertise and selling skills to create a consistent experience across stores and digital channels.

Some of the in-store tactics agents can emulate online include:

  • Greet the customer: When the customer enters the online store, an agent should be available to greet them and ask if they need assistance. A smart rules engine can help identify the best customers to push an invitation to. Guiding customers through the website to take them to the right product is critical to reducing customer frustration and abandonment. Video engagement and co-browsing tools make this easy.
  • Learn about each customer: In a store, staff can participate in shopping along with the customer. Online, existing CRM, tracking, and behavioral tools can be a great complement to this process; interactive selling can be a powerful mechanism for enhancing the customer data in your CRM system. Face-to-face interaction through live video assistance allows new levels of rapport and trust to be established in the online shopping experience.
  • Verify that customers have the right product or service: Do customers know everything they should about fit, product care, strengths and weaknesses, service plans, and alternatives to allow them to make a purchase decision and reduce returns? Provide guided selling tools to help them understand, along with product sheets, video, and other content to inform them.
  • Ask customers if they need anything else: There is no better time to see if a customer might need any complementary products and accessories. Live agent support allows merchants to do this in a friendly and personalized way. As a result, average order values are 25 to 35 percent higher with video-assisted sessions.
  • “Walk” customers to the register: Helping customers quickly and efficiently complete an order maximizes customer satisfaction and reduces abandonment. Next-generation engagement tools let the call center agent accompany customers all the way through the checkout process, helping them fill out forms and complete their checkout and payment. One last review with customers to make sure they have everything they need and their order is correct helps avoid mistakes.

Optimizing for Success: To optimize your call center for live video success, identify relevant KPIs to better evaluate results. The KPIs give managers and employees clear direction on successful interactions. Next align reporting and analytics to measure performance against these KPIs and ensure that the results are available to managers and staff.

Most important, don’t stop testing and innovating. There are many ways to create wins with a live assistance program through site placement, creative, business rules, targeting, messaging, and outreach. An active test-and-learn schedule will raise the bar in delivering a great customer experience and will achieve business goals.

Conclusion: In addition to delighting customers, video assistance significantly improves key sales metrics. Companies using next-generation customer engagement solutions typically achieve a four- or five-time increase in online conversion with assisted sessions and a 25 to 35 percent increase in average order value. The tips in this article will help call center managers incorporate integrated live video and co-browsing to improve the customer experience and engender loyalty.

James Keller is CEO of Vee24.

[From Connection Magazine Jan/Feb 2015]

Are Your Reports Inhibiting Your Success?

By David Schreck

How many reports do you review on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis detailing your inbound call center? Most of these reports show high-level, obvious facts – such as number of calls, overall conversion rate, and abandonment. What action do you take based on those reports? Are they telling you what you already know? Are you getting only final tabulated results? Do the reports provide insight into performance? More importantly, are they telling you the root causes behind the results?

Beyond basic data, your reporting should indicate five important actionable insights:

  1. Where are you performing well?
  2. Where are you not performing well?
  3. Why you are performing well?
  4. Why you are not performing well?
  5. What specific corrective actions can you take to improve performance?

While high-level “vital signs” of performance tell you in general terms how your call center is doing, you need deep analytical data and applied insight to continually improve performance. Let me provide an illustration of how to apply deep analytical data to solve a specific challenge.

Let’s say you walk into an environment where sales are two percentage points below the goal and abandonment is five percentage points above. Obviously, the reports told you the problem, but do you have applied insight to determine steps to improve performance?

Performance by Daily Time Intervals: First, concentrate on time-interval reporting. While knowing the overall rates for conversion and abandonment is good, it is equally important to know how each is ranked throughout the day. Is each rate not achieving objectives consistently, or are there key time intervals driving down the overall average? Time-interval reporting is an excellent tool to dig deeper and uncover the underlying root cause.

Look for specific pain points when analyzing a time-interval report by reviewing each thirty-minute and day-part interval to compare results throughout the day. Identify time intervals that fall outside the average in both positive and negative ranges. Understanding what factors drive these changes is one area to focus on. Next, apply the same approach to days of the week and weekends. By doing this, you are digging deeper into the various time intervals that may affect your overall conversion rate.

Performance by Day Intervals: Second, compare call volume by time and date intervals. When overlaying volume to time and day intervals, you will see how call volume maps to your time interval analysis. Are weaker conversion rates and higher abandonment correlated to higher-volume intervals or days? We have seen cases where particular hours of the day were receiving a high volume of calls, yet those hours were achieving the highest conversion rates and budgeted abandonment. Other hours with lower volume had much lower conversion rates and above-budget abandonment. Armed with this type of data, you’ll have ideas for actionable solutions.

Media Mix: Once you’ve looked at the volume and time analysis, turn your attention to conversion by media. Specifically, look at conversion and abandonment rates compared to types of media buys and media companies themselves. The conversion by media report compares the metrics to type of media, such as radio, TV, etc. When you understand the performance of your media mix, you can add volume of calls by media type. This analysis will tell you if your conversion rate is consistent across all media, and, if not, which media is performing better. Also, run the analytics as a comparison over time to see if changes to your media mix are affecting your results.

Performance Comparisons: As an example of this, we recently had a client whose conversion rate decreased by four percentage points. After running the time interval and call volume reports, we found no major factors affecting the performance change. However, when we ran a media type report, we uncovered that the client had made major changes to the media mix. The analytics compared the past two weeks to the media mix of prior weeks. The client had moved their media mix to a shop that produced conversation rates eight percentage points lower than the average. In this case, they also increased their percentage spend from 30 percent to 60 percent. We identified the key factor affecting their negative performance.

Agent Ranking and Call Distribution: Next, turn your attention to the agent environment. You should receive a detailed listing of each individual agent’s performance segmented into weekly, monthly, and ninety-day resulting periods. We typically call this an agent ranking report. When analyzing a series of these analytical reports, concentrate on answering these questions:

  • When grouping agents into performance segments, do you see large performance variances between the segments?
  • What is the distribution of calls between each group? Are the majority of calls going to performing agents, new agents, or underperformers?
  • Do you have too many new agents and underperformers taking calls? By shifting the percentage of calls to the performing agents, what performance increase will result?

This analysis not only tells you exactly who is performing well and who is not performing, but you now have detailed tactical action to improve results – such as moving the calls to the performing agents. The chart illustrates a recent client’s variance in agent call performance between their two centers. We categorized the sales conversion performance and call distribution to agents from the two centers. You see four sales performance groups within each call center, four distinct conversion rates, and four separate distributions of calls – top performers, mid-range performers, low performers, and new agents – revealing that:

  • Each center has performing and underperforming agents.
  • Call Center A is delivering the majority of their calls to the underperforming and new agents, while Call Center B is delivering the majority of their calls to their top-performing agents. You now have more information than the fact that one center is performing better than the other. You see that the top-performing center is sending more calls to their top-performing agents, resulting in better overall performance.
  • You now have actionable data to improve your performance. Work with the call center to change the distribution pattern of calls to high-performing agents.
Total Calls Sales Conversion % % Calls to Total
Call Center A: top performers 138 44 31.9% 11.1%
Call Center A: mid-range performers 100 28 28.0% 8.1%
Call Center A: underperformers 430 90 20.9% 34.7%
Call Center A: new agents 570 80 14.0% 46.0%
Call Center A: Total 1238 242 19.5% 100.0%
Call Center B: top performers 1148 370 32.2% 51.9%
Call Center B: mid-range performers 733 220 30.0% 33.2%
Call Center B: underperformers 200 42 21.0% 9.0%
Call Center B: new agents 130 14 10.8% 5.9%
Call Center B: Total 2211 646 29.2% 100.0%
Grand Total 3449 888 25.7%

Agent Staffing: Finally, review a series of staffing diagnostics analytics. Staffing analytics tell if you have a sufficient number of agents for the volume of calls – not just overall, but by time throughout the day. Typically, the report presents the number of calls per agent ratio by time interval. You will learn quickly if you have the right staffing throughout the entire day – specifically which time slots are working well and which time slots need corrective action.

Summary: You started with the challenge that sales conversion and abandonment were not meeting the required objectives. Having a series of analytical diagnostic reports allows you to quickly compare and analyze key factors that could contribute to performance. This suite of diagnostic tools and quantitative data helps determine what specific actions are required to improve performance.

David Schreck is president and CEO of Intelemedia. Since 1993, Intelemedia has developed telephony and database solutions for the call center industry that transform how organizations more effectively manage call handling and caller experience within their customer service and sales acquisition environments. David’s experience integrating technology, business processes, and strategic sourcing is the driving force of Intelemedia’s success. David’s approach to “client-centric” teams focused on understanding and meeting customer needs has created a record of developing high-demand products.

[From Connection Magazine Sep/Oct 2014]

Call Center Culture: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

By Gabriel Bristol

Professionals use frequently the phrase “corporate culture,” but they seldom really define it. Simply put, corporate culture describes and governs the ways in which a company’s owners and employees think, feel, and act.

Every company has a culture. Whether you are discussing a 900-seat outsource provider handling multiple inbound and outbound projects in a major metropolitan city or a small ten-seat customer service operation in a rural town, they both have one thing in common: a culture. What’s more, that culture is going to exist whether or not that company has actively created and nurtured it.

For example, in the 900-seat center, when notified by senior management of a sales push in order to meet month-end numbers, the agents rally around the goal and work with a sense of determination, pride, and enthusiasm to ensure they meet their numbers.

For this company, the corporate culture is one of goal achievement, positivity, and encouragement. It’s likely in this scenario that the management team leads by example, actively engages the employees, and encourages and supports them with positive and constructive feedback. After all, how agents react to a challenge is ultimately the product of their environment. The more positive the environment, the more positive the response.

In contrast, the ten agents in the small center when given a similar goal may complain about the short notice, the stressful working conditions, and the unrealistic expectations. In this company, the culture is very different. Here there is very little positivity or teamwork. In this environment managers haven’t done enough to be role models, to encourage, or to lead by example. The employees in this company probably feel little ownership of their projects and have even less accountability. It’s likely that there is minimal feedback, either positive or negative, and not much encouragement. Because this environment is negative, it’s easy to understand why the response to a goal would also be negative.

Which of these organizations is most likely to rise to the challenge and meet their goal? Based on their different reactions to the same opportunity, we can see how each company’s culture can inform us as to whether or not they will ultimately be successful.

Regardless of call center size, if your call center has a culture that leads to poor productivity, negativity, and low morale, and you want to change it to a culture of accountability, pride, and peak performance, then you must take some deliberate and decisive steps. As these two examples illustrate, culture can and does affect outcome. But know this: A negative corporate culture isn’t created overnight – nor will it change overnight. It takes time, work, and consistency on the part of everyone involved, especially from those on the management team.

The first step to changing your corporate culture is to define what you want it to be. This should be a collaborative effort, shared with an internal team. Settle on a few words, phrases, or even a short paragraph succinctly defining your desired culture that you can communicate clearly. Choose these words carefully because they will act as a blueprint that defines the preferred behavior of your employees going forward.

Second, with some fanfare, you must broadcast the definitions of your new company culture, as well as its desired results (such as improved morale, better communication, a decrease in employee attrition, improved customer service, increased sales, or even all of the above). This message needs to be shared enthusiastically with every person in the company, regardless of their job description.

The third step is often the most difficult. You must walk the walk and talk the talk at all times. Leaders must not only set the example, they must also praise those employees who are also doing the same. You might be surprised at how far a public accolade for an employee demonstrating that they have bought in to the new culture will go in helping others to do the same.

Of course, this also means that leaders must counsel those who are stuck in their old ways and resist change. This is where patience and persistence is important. Change can be uncomfortable for some, but for a change of culture to be fully realized, it must have total and complete buy-in from every employee.

It may feel awkward at first, as is often the case with change. However, if you remain consistent, after the first thirty days, you will begin to see the new standards you set start to take root. You will soon witness tangible improvements in areas of attendance, productivity, and morale. You may also feel a difference in yourself – and if you continue to foster this new culture, you will be able to see your company blossom in a way that will exceed your expectations.

Gabriel Bristol, president and CEO of Intelicare Direct, has led turnarounds for several large corporations as well as helping establish rapidly growing start-ups. Bristol’s success has been documented with features in Forbes and other publications throughout the country. Because of his record in successfully managing highly diverse employee populations, dramatically increasing sales and customer retention, and his commitment to improving customer service, Bristol is a highly sought-after public speaker and business strategist.

[From Connection Magazine Jul/Aug 2014]

Defining the Right Goals

By A.J. Windle

The Super Bowl, an NBA title, the Stanley Cup: These are all examples of goals that each team within these sports strives for every season. Each represents a purpose for all things leading up to a final achievement. Goals are set by individuals and teams as a means of getting somewhere. But it’s not enough to see the end; you need to build a strong road map that will get you from point A to point B. These plans will contain their own goals and should be well thought out in order to accomplish your vision with maximum efficiency and minimal loss.

Try to imagine for a second sports with no points, no winners, and no losers – just shooting hoops and tossing balls. It might be okay for a while, but with no end in sight, the appeal would quickly die off.

Defining the right goals does not have to be hard. In fact, there are some key fundamentals to keep in mind as you and your organization sets your points of purpose.

Attainable Goals: First, ask yourself, “Is this goal attainable?” One of the things I have learned is that goals need to inspire, motivate, and encourage everyone involved in pursuing your organization’s purpose. Setting an unattainable goal to try to get maximum results can actually have an adverse effect that creates a marked reduction in performance over a longer period. It would be like telling me (definitely not a boxer) that I am going to “KO” boxing champion Floyd Mayweather, Jr., in the first round, or better yet, in any round.

That doesn’t really inspire me much. Can you imagine the look on the boxing coach’s face assigned to the task of training me? The point is that people need to feel confident, inspired, and motivated about a goal that they all know is possible before a project begins. Setting an attainable goal removes self-defeat, drives innovative ideas, and brings a team together in the pursuit of attainment.

Measurable Goals: Although there are many other statistics that go into these inevitable outcomes, the bottom line is that a team is defined by these two things: wins and losses. In sports, wins and losses are measured by points. Without a scoreboard, no one would win and no one would lose. No one would know where he or she stands, and there would be no championship game.

Just like sports, when setting your end goal you should also consider ways to measure the progress of your performance. Make sure you can answer the question “How are we doing” at any point in the game. Making sure that your goal is measurable by smaller supporting goals will help your employees see their progress. It will help you evaluate what is working, what is not, and what changes need to be made to ensure your success.

Crunch Time: Auctions are amazing. If you have ever attended an auction or shopped on eBay, then you have probably paid too much for something trying to outbid the other guy. What made you keep going? Why not just let it go? More than likely it was the urgency of the moment pushing you to action. You wanted that signed Jerry Rice rookie card and it was only available right then. There is no way you were about to lose that war!

Are you ready for one of the biggest secrets of all? This is huge: Set deadlines. Okay, it’s not really a secret, but it is something that can easily be overlooked. This is one of those old sales principles that works astonishingly well for reaching your goals in a given amount of time. Setting deadlines gets everyone who is pursuing the end goal focused on a date. This is a simple way of putting urgency behind what needs to be accomplished and promoting quick execution from all departments and individuals involved in the process.

Before You Begin: Whether you are setting new goals or evaluating old ones, before you begin, ask yourself these simple questions to ensure you are headed in the right direction:

  • Is our goal attainable?
  • Is our goal clear?
  • Does our goal inspire?
  • Does our goal motivate?
  • Does our goal unify the team?
  • Is our goal supported and measureable?
  • When do we want this goal accomplished?

Now, apply these tips to the goals in your contact center.

AJ Windle is senior operations manager at Quality Contact Solutions.

[From Connection Magazine October 2013]

Efficient Routing the Key to a Successful Call Center

By Lisa Mitchel

The modern call center is often much maligned, but it plays an integral part in customer relationships in a world where customers are increasingly detached from the operational hub of a company. Good customer service is a principle that is at the core of any successful business and the call center represents the interface between a company and its consumers so it much deliver to a high standard. Call traffic is both inbound and outbound and both categories can be managed in a way that maximizes the benefit of a call center to a company.

Outbound Traffic: Call centers making outbound calls operate under strict guidelines that ensure they are not seen to be predatory or persistent callers. Technology is designed to call multiple numbers at once and the first caller to answer is routed to the call center operatives. The slight delay in voice communication can cause customer service issues and it is essential that calls are only made to potential customers and partners that specified they were willing to receive calls. A failure to adhere to basic rules governing the frequency of calls made and appropriate content can lead to a fine and will adversely affect the commercial brand of the call center operation. The reason for an outbound call can determine the propensity of a customer to respond. It is expected that the response rate would be low for companies selling a product that has many substitutes. If the call is relating to credit control procedures then many customers may choose not to answer whilst others may want an instant resolution to a problem.

Inbound Calls: Some call centers exist purely to handle inbound queries and are known as contact centers. Making no outbound calls, they are there to bolster the customer support system of a company but can also act as an administrative function, for example handling claims within an insurance company. The customer menu option is critical because if it is a lengthy process many customers may be bored and frustrated by the time they reach a call center operative. Alternatively they may choose to select the menu options that they feel will direct them to an operative by the quickest route. An example of this may be customers selecting options that suggest they wish to make a bill payment because this would be the most responsive area of the system. Inbound call center staff must be able to demonstrate good company knowledge and an ability to handle customers.

Failure Demand: The efficiency of a call center is all based on statistics. Operatives may be monitored on the speed of call answer and the time spent on the phone will be monitored in the form of average call lengths. It is a delicate balance to consider the need to provide excellent customer service against the need to keep call time to a minimum so that other callers are not kept waiting. If a customer receives incorrect information, or an inappropriate response, this will lead to an additional call. This situation is known as failure demand because an additional call is made to address an issue that could have been handled during the initial call. Business managers invest heavily in technology and trainers for call center operatives because management of failure demand is critical to the overall efficiency of a call center. There are many mainstream and specialist lenders are willing to offer assistance to firms seeking to improve their call center infrastructure. The importance of the call center as the critical nerve center of a business is acknowledged and companies who have a strong function are usually highly regarded by their industry peers and customers.

Drive To Cut Costs: The call center is no longer a new concept and efficiencies have been introduced in technology and in the training of call center operatives. Call routing directs callers to the operatives who have specialist knowledge and access to specific system areas. Training ensures that call handlers hold an efficient conversation which leads to increased capacity on the network. One cost saving strategy that has come to the fore in recent years is the relocation of call centers to the Asian subcontinent. India has a large network of highly educated individuals that command lower salaries than workers in America. Companies such as American Airlines have chosen to reduce labor costs by relocating call centers to India. The results of companies making this type of switch have been mixed because whilst labor costs have been saved, operational issues, most notably the difficulty of disguising local accents and dialects, have actually increased failure demand and reduced levels of customer satisfaction. The evolution of the call center is now entering a new phase and in the last few years the migration of jobs in the industry outside America has slowed and it is anticipated that jobs growth will increase when the labor cost differential reduces and if the moves continue to be poorly received by customers. The future for the call center industry looks bright as continual technological development brings further efficiencies to the process. Increasing regulation governing the conduct of operatives and data security is likely to lead to a greater proportion of services being provided within America.