Top Ten Contact Center and Servicing Goals for 2017



By Donna Fluss

In November and December 2016, DMG conducted a worldwide survey of contact center and enterprise servicing goals for 2017. The results of our annual survey are always interesting, but what makes them useful is that they have proven to be an accurate indicator of company priorities and investments.

Outstanding Service Tops the List: In this year’s study, participants were asked to select their top servicing objectives from thirty-three categories and were invited to write in additional goals. Along with the four write-ins, thirty-seven unique goals were identified in the survey results. The top ten contact center and enterprise servicing goals for 2017, in order of priority, are:

  1. Deliver an outstanding customer experience (60.8 percent)
  2. Improve productivity (56.0 percent)
  3. Improve self-service (50.4 percent)
  4. Reduce cost of service (48.0 percent)
  5. Deliver a personalized customer experience (39.2 percent)
  6. Reduce customer effort (35.2 percent)
  7. Enhance customer engagement (33.6 percent)
  8. Improve customer retention, 33.6 percent
  9. Improve cross-departmental coordination (28.8 percent)
  10. Enhance reporting/analytics (27.2 percent)

What’s New in 2017? Company servicing goals and priorities have changed in the past year, although the position of the first two goals—delivering an outstanding customer experience and improving productivity—have been the same for the past three years. Increasing and improving the use of self-service capabilities has increased in importance. DMG expects to see investments in intelligent virtual attendants and bots, as well as enhancements in web self-service capabilities.

Reducing the cost of service decreased slightly in importance this year, although it’s still a factor companies are taking into consideration when making investments. This is an indication that companies are going to invest in initiatives that prioritize customer needs even if they do not save money, although many investments that improve the customer experience also reduce operating costs.

Delivering a personalized customer experience showed up on the list of contact center and servicing goals for the first time in 2017. This is an area of major investment for companies and an example of a servicing goal that may not reduce operating costs but will improve the customer journey. Companies are finding their customers expect a personalized service experience in their channel of choice. DMG expects to see significant investments to address this objective during the next few years. Personalization is greatly enabled by analytics, the tenth-ranked goal on the list.

Reducing customer effort, a goal that burst onto the enterprise landscape for the first time in 2015, has been slightly de-prioritized for 2017. Companies are doing their best to make it easy for their customers to transact business, but they find it difficult to measure this goal and therefore are investing in and prioritizing related areas. Enhancing customer engagement is a more measureable goal, and it’s one that increased in importance for 2017. This goal is tightly related to improving customer retention, which maintained the same position as the last couple of years. Companies are using analytics to determine personalized approaches for engaging their customers. These initiatives, which should include making it easier for their customers to take care of business, have a proven correlation to retention.

As companies strive to deliver a consistently outstanding customer journey for each customer, they are starting to appreciate the value and benefits of improving cross-departmental coordination. This goal increased in importance in 2017, and though not sexy, it can pay great dividends. This is especially true for companies that figure out how to break down organizational boundaries and look at the company through the eyes of their customers, who do not care which department they interact with as long as things are done the way they expect.

Last, enhancing reporting and analytics dropped significantly in importance in the 2017 list of goals. This is an indication that vendors are finally listening and responding to the needs of their customers for better reports and analytics, not that companies care less about this essential goal. Customer and employee analytics are a necessity for companies to deliver on many of the top ten goals in 2017.

Final Thoughts: The new goal in the list of service priorities for 2017 is delivering a personalized customer experience. Enterprises are realizing they need to make substantial investments to make it easier for their customers to do business in order to engage and retain them. Analytics is key to helping companies figure out how to deliver a personalized experience. At the same time, analytics can help reduce costs, improve the customer experience, and retain customers, which are also top-ten goals for companies in 2017.

Donna Fluss is president of DMG Consulting LLC. For more than two decades, she has helped emerging and established companies develop and deliver outstanding customer experiences. A recognized visionary, author, and speaker, Donna drives strategic transformation and innovation throughout the services industry. She provides strategic and practical counsel for enterprises, solution providers, and the investment community.

7 Predictions for the Future of Customer Engagement in the Contact Center

By Tom Goodmanson

The “smart” technology that revolutionized our cell phones is finding its way into just about everything: medical devices, baby monitors, smoke detectors, thermostats, running shoes, even cows. Yes, cows: A company in the Netherlands has developed a sensor that attaches to a cow’s ear, monitors its vital signs, and reports back to the farmer via email or text.

The pace at which technology marches forward is incredible. The researchers at Gartner estimate that nearly 12.5 billion devices are connected to the Web. By 2020 the number of connected “things” is expected to rise to 30 billion, and devices will outnumber people on the Internet. Should we be worried? Are computers finally taking over? Experts like Carlos Dominguez, a technology evangelist with Cisco, don’t think so. Reassuringly, Dominguez predicts that although machines will be automating more and more processes, humans will still be in control – and responsible for the outcomes.

When it comes to the power of all this data, it’s time the customer engagement folks get involved. And that begins in the contact center. Here are my seven predictions and a few tips about where the contact center is going in the future.

Prediction #1: Brands Will Be More Proactive. It’s the year 2020. Your washing machine stops working, but you’re neither worried nor surprised. It’s a relatively new model, equipped with sensors and communications technology that automatically alert the manufacturer if the appliance needs service. The manufacturer has already notified you (via email, which it recognizes as your preferred method of contact) that the machine needs repair.

A virtual agent initiates a service call by accessing your calendar application of choice to set up an appointment. On the scheduled day, the technician gains access to your home by entering a single-use passcode into your front door (which is outfitted with a smart lock), completes the repair, and triggers an automated confirmation email to both you and the manufacturing center. The ticket is closed, and you are washing your next load of laundry before you are ever affected by the issue.

For contact center leaders, however, this vision of the future might seem daunting. A service environment with this level of automation, one that blurs or breaks the line between agents and distributed “experts,” doesn’t create itself, and it certainly doesn’t happen overnight. You need the right tools and partners to get all the moving pieces to work together. You also need to build a culture in which this blurring is even possible, which may actually be the bigger of the two challenges.

Prediction #2: Virtualization Will Break Down the Walls of the Contact Center. As work becomes more of a thing we do and not a place we go to, more customer care agents are working remotely. They work in different states, different time zones, and different languages, so contact center systems for workforce management, CRM, and analytics will have to be that much more integrated.

Prediction #3: Self-Service Options Will Continue to Expand. The expansion of self-service options – from the traditional interactive voice response (IVR) and website help to community-based tech support (what some call social customer service) – will also increase, enabling customers to get fast answers to their questions, especially routine ones, without human interaction. Remember that, no matter how service is delivered – by a human or by a machine – the customer is still interacting with your brand. Is that interaction positive or negative? Does it strengthen or weaken your reputation? Understanding these touch points and how they shape your customer’s experience will be more important than ever for retention and repeat business.

Prediction #4: Everyone Will Be an Expert in Something. If self-service and automation will be the norm in 2020, what will that mean for agents? Employee’s roles will certainly change, and the need for specialized care from subject-matter experts inside the enterprise will increase drastically.

In the future the first point of contact for the customer whose problem is not routine might be a subject-matter expert. Ideally contact centers will know enough about who is calling, emailing, or texting and why so they can automatically direct the customer to the right person on the first try. The full expression of this will be a tier-less agent system in which every customer-facing employee is able to access the same service processes and technologies.

Prediction #5: Customers Will Live and Buy in an Omni-Channel World. We will build and live in a digitally messy world. Once customers had one channel: the phone. But call centers aren’t just for calls anymore; now we have email, social media, and even texts to manage. In 2020 we’ll have even more channels, and your contact center must be flexible enough to support all of them in an integrated way.

Machine-to-machine communications has become known as the Internet of Things (IoT). We’ll see more of this as communications channels open. We saw this in the washing machine scenario, in which the sensors in the machine communicated with another machine (a computer) and set the whole process in motion. Touch points are going to multiply, but standards – though important – will lag. Which clients (for example, washing machines) will communicate with which smart home hubs and with which protocols, and who will actually get the call? It will be challenging, but customers will demand the seamless, no-fuss future they were promised.

Prediction #6: Security Will Be a Priority with Deeper Customer Engagement. With all this connectedness and emerging channels comes the need for smarter security. Security is not a new concern for contact centers. We now have to protect a bevy of new and in many cases, yet-to-be regulated customer data – not just credit card numbers or medical records, but location data and biometric information, too. Think of the security risks at every point in the connected washing machine example: access to the customer’s calendar, physically entering the home, trusting the home’s network security, and so on. Now imagine one of your contact center reps having to identify, diagnose, and resolve an issue in this tangled web from a remote location.

Prediction #7:  Data Won’t Matter without Powerful Analytics Tools. Analytics will be vital for the multichannel contact center of 2020. It will be critical to have systems in place that can handle all this data, organize it, and mine it. Then, once you’ve mined it, you must have the infrastructure and company culture in place that allows you to act on it.

With the right analytics systems, you can take huge volumes of data and pick out the important patterns and trends without having to know the right questions to ask. The right analytics will allow companies to tap into one of the single most powerful capabilities the contact center has to offer: real-time, root-cause analysis.

Tom Goodmanson, president and CEO of Calabrio, has twenty years of experience leading software and technology companies.

[From Connection MagazineMay/June 2016]

Four Investment-Worthy Contact Center Trends

By Donna Fluss

The contact center world is on fire. Never before have enterprise executives so fully appreciated the contributions and benefits of these customer-facing organizations. Innovation is robust and rapid, driven by a new generation of cloud-based contact center infrastructure vendors who are not limited by the traditional six- to eighteen-month software release cycle.

Here are four contact center trends that are expected to attract substantial investments this year. All of these trends will make substantial contributions to their enterprises, customers, and employees.

1) Cloud-based Contact Center Infrastructure Solutions: The contact center infrastructure (automatic call distributor (ACD) and dialer) market has changed dramatically. Companies are no longer held captive to a small group of premise-based vendors who dictate the functionality, implementation schedule, and pricing for these solutions. Companies of all sizes – from those that need two agents to organizations that need thousands – now have access to a new generation of cloud-based contact center infrastructure solutions. There are currently more than 150 of these vendors with offerings of all types, sizes, and functionality. Additionally, enterprises can easily purchase both private branch exchange (PBX) and ACD/dialer functionality from the same vendor on a worldwide basis.

2) Speech Analytics: Today customer calls are being recorded for more than just quality assurance purposes. It’s time for organizations of all sizes to use the rich content customers share with organizations in phone conversations to identify trends, operational and technical issues, and new opportunities. Post-call speech analytics solutions capture and convert unstructured phone conversations into metadata that can be analyzed and used for many purposes, but the six most common uses are: root cause analysis, trend analysis, emotion detection, talk-over analysis, script adherence, and analytics-enabled quality assurance. The chief challenge with speech analytics is implementing best practices that will allow organizations to succeed with this enterprise change agent.

3) Multi-channel Contact Centers: The time has come for companies to transition to omni-channel contact centers. (Omni-channel is another name for multi-channel; vendors are trying to change the terminology to distance themselves from the failures of the past.) Customers are no longer willing to put up with having to start over and repeat themselves each time they transition to a new communications channel. Baby boomers and Generation X-ers were willing to put up with this dysfunction, but Millennials clearly are not. Millennials want to seamlessly migrate from one channel to another in accordance with their needs.

But there is more to this story. While it’s a good idea for companies to allow their customers to interact with them in the manner and channel of choice, the fact is that in many companies it is too expensive to continue to maintain the separation between functions. Yes, it will be painful, time-consuming, and costly to eliminate the silos. However, companies that are doing the analysis and building the business case for this evolution are starting to see a clear payback – albeit one that is going to take three to five years.

4) Adaptive and Intelligent Real-Time Routing: Companies can now provide personalized service. When an interaction (call, email, chat, SMS, or tweet) arrives, the ACD’s routing engine can determine the value of the customer (and possibly even a prospect), identify the best way to achieve the objective of the interaction, and then route the transaction to the best qualified person or system to handle it. This type of one-to-one service is enabled by the deep level of integration between ACDs and other enterprise servicing applications, including customer relationship management, sales, performance management, quality assurance, and speech analytics. Using sophisticated adaptive and intelligent routing capabilities that are emerging in the market, companies can truly optimize the service experience. Then, in doing so, they can greatly improve customer and agent satisfaction thus increasing productivity while reducing operating costs.

It’s time for companies to rethink their servicing strategies and begin to build next-generation servicing organizations. This year is expected to be a great year for contact center investments. Start with a plan that takes into consideration the many ways contact centers are expected to contribute to their enterprise, and prioritize the investments that will get you there quicker.

Donna Fluss is the founder of DMG, a vendor-independent research and consulting firm that analyzes contact center and back-office technology and best practices. Contact her at donna.fluss@dmgconsult.com with any questions you may have and to learn how to make today’s innovative and powerful technologies and best practices work for your organization.

[From Connection Magazine Mar/Apr 2015]

How Contact Centers Will Change in 2015

For contact center operators, the only constant is change, and 2015 will be no exception. That’s the outlook from Cliff Rees, president of Voxox, which provides VoIP and cloud communications solutions for contact centers and other businesses. In a recent Q&A with Connections Magazine publisher Peter DeHaan, Rees outlined what contact center operators should expect for the coming year.

What’s the most important change you foresee in the contact center landscape in 2015?

Short message service (SMS) or texting will play a significantly larger role than it has in the past. Adding SMS as a way of reaching target audiences is growing. Younger audiences in particular are far more likely to respond to a text than they are to take a phone call.

What advice would you give to contact centers looking to overhaul their operations in 2015?

Definitely get rid of all PSTN circuits and equipment. VoIP connectivity and applications are much less expensive and far more flexible. With VoIP you can go from using fifty channels one day to using 1,000 the next, all without any delays for installing DS-3 circuits – and without any commitment to pay for unused channels for the next year or longer. Also look for ways to integrate SMS in your strategy.

What are the top things contact center operators need to do to field inbound SMS?

Call centers need to connect to at least one SMS aggregator in order to have their SMS messages routed properly. In addition they need to be aware of the difference between long-code and short-code texts. Long-code is generally less expensive, but it’s also supposed to be used only for person-to-person (P2P) messaging. Application-to-person (A2P) messages requested by the recipient are generally okay, but marketing A2P long-code texts are a serious no-no and will cause the aggregator to block all texts from the call center. Marketing A2P texts should go over a short-code service, which is generally more expensive but allows pretty much any type of message.

What are some examples of contact restrictions? And how can contact center operators accommodate those restrictions?

If the contact center is based in the United States, it must abide by the laws state and federal governments have enacted to restrict unwanted contact. The first restriction was a simple time-of-day limitation: no calling after 9:00 p.m. local time. Next came Do Not Call (DNC) lists, both federal and state. Do Not Call lists have all sorts of exceptions; the primary one is that the provider can contact you if there is a “pre-existing relationship.” – which means pretty much anything the provider decides it means (previous purchase, previous serious enquiry, and so forth). Naturally the politicians exempted their own political campaigns completely, so any phone is a valid target for someone backing a particular candidate or issue. Do Not Text lists will undoubtedly spring up shortly.

Call centers can get a subscription to the DNC list by going to www.donotcall.gov/faq/faqbusiness.aspx and signing up for a SAN (subscription account number). This gives data access to the federal DNC, and it’s very easy to integrate into most calling applications if the call center has any programming skills available to it.

What are the three biggest challenges that contact centers will face in 2015?

The first is making up for the lost revenue due to 2015 not being an election year. The second is complying with increasingly onerous restrictions for who may be contacted. The third is including SMS texting as a growing technology for reaching potential customers.

As president of Voxox, Cliff Rees is an experienced telecommunications executive and entrepreneur whose expertise is rooted in building new businesses and rapidly growing existing ones. As an industry veteran, he has held leadership roles with several global VoIP providers, overseeing sales, marketing, and operations globally and managing revenues of over $1.5 billion.

[From Connection Magazine Jan/Feb 2015]

Two Eyes Toward the Future

By Wayne Scaggs

Trying to look into what is coming next is a factor of how far we want to look, how accurate we want to be, and what we are looking for. For many years I have enjoyed writing future-focused articles because it allows me to daydream about what I believe our clients and industry want in their call center systems. As vendors, our job is to provide the systems and the tools our customers need to operate their call centers successfully.

It is a lot of fun for us vendors to work in our development labs and then pat ourselves on the back because we developed a new cool feature we believe will be the next industry disrupter, the one thing no one can do without. We take it to market and find out yes, it is cool and yes, we developed the feature extremely well; we also might discover that it’s not selling well because no one really wanted it but us.

It is, however, possible to forecast the future of our industry. This future is right in front of us in the form of ideas that come from what other high-tech companies are doing and from our own customers’ clients. We have two eyes, and we need to use both of them.

We use one eye to watch what other high-tech companies are doing. Even though our industry is not always known for its cutting-edge technology, we want to make sure we’re not too far behind. We need to find out how other companies are capturing data and then storing, analyzing, and transforming it into valuable information, ready to send to those willing to pay for it.

We use the other eye to look to the end user, and then we listen with both ears. For many ideas, it is tempting to ask, “Why would you want to do that?” However, the key is not to ask why beyond what we need to know to develop the feature. We must remember that our end users have a dream, and they are doing their best to make that dream come true. By all means, we should share any knowledge we have to help them the best we can, while recognizing that we are not in the business of crushing dreams. I am glad I did not let anyone crush my dream. I, too, had naysayers, including accountants, lawyers, consultants, and even friends. After all, we are all in the business of meeting the needs of our customers when they come to us for help.

At the same time, if your end user does not value what you have done, why are you doing it? If you think your customer will appreciate all you do for them without attaching a value to it, you may have made a mistake.

We are all exposed on a daily basis to more and more technology; a big part of our job is figuring out how to use some of that technology in our business. We need to step back from the forest so we can see the trees. As we then pick what will enhance our industry and fully embrace it, we will be better for it.

With all that said, the communication and business worlds have become so competitive that all our resources need to be going in the same direction. We have clients, operations, employees, sales, and marketing to manage and lead, with specialized equipment that answers thousands and thousands of calls accurately.

An outsider may look at what you do each day and ask, “How do you do all that needs to be done?” When you live it, you may not even know how much you are doing. Just concentrate on gaining a real competitive edge over your rivals. Focus on your business strengths, eliminate distractions, get a good night’s sleep, reduce your expenses, get help when needed, and keep up with the latest technologies, such as hosted services.

When you look at what the future brings with new technology, you might at first feel fear and a loss of control. Although it might be scary at first, I recently heard a TED Talk, which stated that to be comfortable, we first must be uncomfortable – it’s called change.

Wayne Scaggs is president of Alston Tascom, Inc., which offers premised-based and hosted contact center solutions.

[From Connection Magazine Jan/Feb 2015]

Speech Analytics Is Ready for Prime Time

By Donna Fluss

Post-call speech analytics is ready for prime time. Real-time speech analytics is an emerging solution that is highly compelling. Although the underlying technology for these two types of solutions can be the same, their uses are different.

Post-call speech analytics is a strategic enterprise application that companies should use to rapidly identify operational, procedural, technical, and staff-related issues, as well as to identify new revenue opportunities. Real-time speech analytics is a tactical application designed to alter the outcome of phone conversations while the caller is still on the line. This makes it a contact center tool that can be used to reduce risk and minimize bad customer experiences. As a result, it also becomes an effective coaching tool for agents.

Post-Call Speech Analytics Is Reaching Maturity: Speech analytics is the only application that can structure phone conversations to find insights and trends. The technology component of these solutions is the easy part of the implementation; the challenge is to figure out how to apply the findings. Speech analytics solutions are sophisticated tools that require highly trained resources to administer them in order to realize the expected benefits and return on investment. These solutions require ongoing care and oversight – tuning, searching, and filtering – to deliver targeted and effective findings. Then, once trends and insights are identified, companies need a formal process to share this information on a timely basis as a vehicle for driving change.

Not All Solutions Are Created Equal: There is a misconception in the market that most speech analytics solutions offer similar capabilities. Solutions designed to spot key words and phrases (which are the most common) cannot perform a forensic analysis and identify new trends, for example. Speech analytics packages built to address specific business issues that come with pre-defined lexicons (libraries), searches, reports, dashboards, and key performance indicators are different from those that come with a blank canvas where users have to build everything themselves. You should carefully evaluate the various solutions, keeping in mind that if you are getting it for free, there is probably a good reason why.

Speech Analytics Reduces Risk: From the beginning, speech analytics has been used to measure agent script adherence and ensure that agents are not saying inappropriate things to callers. But as governments and other agencies in countries around the world have introduced regulations to control the handling of sensitive customer credit card information, debt collections, sales, calls to mobile phones, etc., speech analytics has become a valuable tool for proving that a company is in compliance. Real-time speech analytics is also beginning to surface as a new capability for outbound solution providers who need to demonstrate compliance with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).

QA Gets an Overhau: Companies have been doing quality assurance (QA) the same way since this technology was introduced forty years ago. Analytics-enabled QA takes QA to a new level. Speech and text analytics can be used to identify calls, emails, social media interactions, and chats where agents do not follow departmental policies and guidelines. As long as a company can build a rule to check for certain things, speech and text analytics can find it (although there are still lots of things that speech and text analytics cannot catch). Given that most companies only check three to ten calls per agent per month, or just 1 to 3 percent of all calls, applying speech analytics to 100 percent of calls improves the odds of identifying behaviors that need to be changed, even if it does not catch everything.

It’s All About the Customer Journey: Companies are finally building multi-channel and cross-channel servicing environments. Companies need customer experience analytics to measure all customer touch points in the customer journey, and speech analytics vendors have jumped at the opportunity to deliver packaged solutions to address this need.

What to Expect in the Future: The speech analytics market has come a long way in a short time, and a great deal more is expected. Real-time speech analytics is in its infancy, but its potential is great, as it gives companies a new way of looking at and interacting with customers. More companies are going to integrate speech analytics with real-time guidance solutions to transform the way their staff handles customers.

Speech, text, and desktop analytics will be integrated with predictive analytics solutions and the output used to feed real-time guidance applications. More vendors are going to build customer experience analytics solutions that can capture and analyze customer behavior throughout their journey. It’s clear that speech analytics is useful on a stand-alone basis, but its value increases as it is integrated with other high-value applications and processes.

Donna Fluss is the founder of DMG, a vendor-independent research and consulting firm that analyzes contact center and back-office technology and best practices. See DMG’s recently released 2014-2015 Speech Analytics Product and Market Report or contact Deborah Navarra at deborah.navarra@dmgconsult.com or 516-628-1098.

[From Connection Magazine Nov/Dec 2014]

The Buzzwords Battle: Is It Omni-Channel or Multi-Channel?

By Donna Fluss

There is a new buzzword battle in the contact center market. The defender is the term “multi-channel,” and the contender is “omni-channel.” While it’s tempting to let Webster end this debate, buzzwords and phrases are not subject to the rules of language. Therefore, anything goes, and the market gets to make the choice.

In the past few months, I have been interviewed on the benefits of omni-channel contact centers versus multi-channel contact centers, corrected by vendors when I used the “outdated” term multi-channel, and laughed at when I suggested other vendors are more comfortable using omni-channel as opposed to multi-channel. While this inconsistency is laughable – even if it causes vendors to spend thousands of dollars to change their marketing materials and website content – the underlying reason for the desire to move away from the term “multi-channel” is a serious matter.

The History of Multi-Channel Contact Centers: I went to Gartner seventeen years ago to cover two emerging trends: Web self-service and multi-channel contact centers. As someone who had spent the prior fourteen years in financial services, I saw the great potential of Web self-service solutions and multi-channel servicing environments. As is often the case with new technologies, however, the adoption curve was much slower than anticipated by the vendors. In the case of Web self-service, the market and consumers around the world experienced the pain of the early generation of these environments. While there is still great opportunity for improvement, companies have been steadily making investments in their websites, though it has taken too long to realize that customer service should be an essential element in every step and every screen.

As bad as the investment picture was for Web self-service, it was much worse for multi-channel environments. Investment dollars, already limited in the late 1990s, become almost nonexistent for customer service and contact centers in 2000 due to the technology recession. The mantras of “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” and “doing more with less” became the standard for these departments around the world. At the same time, new servicing channels were becoming popular among consumers, who expect companies to support them in their channel of choice – which hardly ever happened then and is still rare now. Email came on strong in the late 1990s, although most organizations either didn’t bother to respond or waited too long to get back to customers. Chat arrived on the scene a few years later, followed by SMS. And social customer care is still being ignored or mishandled by all but a few organizations, even while the volume of these interactions is growing at warp speed.

Slow adoption of multi-channel servicing was exacerbated by the lack of integration between servicing applications. The more innovative companies who were willing to spend money on their service organizations added new channels. But even they missed the importance (or were not willing to make the investment) of creating a frictionless customer experience and instead established siloed groups to handle each one. So, all too often, if a customer first sent an email and then called, the phone agent had no knowledge or way to find out what happened in the alternative channel, forcing the customer to start over every time they reached out using a different mode of communication. The US continues to lag behind Europe, particularly Scandinavia, in adoption of servicing channels, but the lack of a fully integrated servicing environment remains a major issue around the world.

Though brief, this summary of the history of servicing channels points out that most companies have not invested properly in building multi-channel servicing environments, even though the technology has been available for years. This is where the omni-channel concept comes in.

Does a Name Make a Difference? When pushed, vendors explain that the difference between multi-channel and omni-channel is that the former is a failed concept and the latter is an unsullied one with great potential. In the world of “buzz,” the words “multi” and “omni” are virtually interchangeable. What’s different and worthy of attention is the growing emphasis being placed on building effective omni-channel contact centers to deliver an outstanding and consistent customer journey throughout all channels. If changing a word can get companies to invest in improving their servicing environments, then count me in the “omni” camp.

Donna Fluss is the founder of DMG, a vendor-independent research and consulting firm that analyzes contact center and back-office technology and best practices. DMG uses this information to help enterprise and contact center leaders build their servicing strategies and select the right solutions for their environments. Contact Donna at donna.fluss@dmgconsult.com.

[From Connection Magazine Sep/Oct 2014]

Could Work-at-Home Agents Turn the Call Center into a Ghost Town?

By Felix Serrano

The rise of the remote call center agent is one of the fastest-growing trends in the customer care industry. In fact, with an anticipated annual growth of 25 percent, some industry leaders are beginning to wonder if the dramatic rise of work-at-home agents could mean the eventual extinction of brick-and-mortar contact centers.

Accordingly, customer care providers are beginning to transform the way they hire, train, and manage their remote workforce through new innovations and technologies such as multi-channel support capabilities, security, and validation applications. To confirm this trend, the call center industry is seeing an increased adoption of outsourcing from in-house centers that have not kept pace with these innovations and want to leverage the company’s expertise and capital investments in the call center of today.

Below are five primary reasons that a work-at-home model is beneficial to customer care providers and their customers:

1) Greater Talent Pool: The traditional contact center is limited to hiring employees who are either local to the area or willing to relocate. The work-at-home model allows for an unlimited talent pool and increases the quality of staffing. Additionally, employees with flexible work schedules have a lower propensity to switch jobs, which ultimately means reduced attrition, fewer interruptions due to new-hire learning curves, and increased knowledge retention for businesses.

2) Enhanced Overall Employee Productivity: One of the main concerns with deploying a work-at-home model is the fear that agents will become less productive and more distracted. However, new research shows the exact opposite to be true. By having this type of flexibility, employees eliminate distractions and time-consuming nonproductive tasks, such as socializing with colleagues, elongated lunch breaks, and downtime associated with inclement weather. Remote workers are able to maximize their work time and decrease wasted time.

3) Cost Reductions from Increased Scalability and Flexibility: The customer care industry tends to have dramatic fluctuations in staffing needs during specific periods of the year. During the holiday season, for example, there is always an increase for customer interaction. The same idea applies to slower periods of the year, when there is less of a need for staff. Fortunately, the work-at-home model enables greater flexibility with adapting to particular needs. And work-at-home isn’t just a seasonal solution; it is a more efficient way of providing optimal staffing levels for providers that have evolving business needs and a way to further enhance business ROI.

4) Minimal Remote Office Costs Result in Monetary Savings: The cost of deploying and maintaining a physical contact center site is much more of a financial expense than deploying a work-at-home model. Maintenance repairs aside, traditional call centers also need equipment and IT capabilities just to remain in business. Work-at-home programs reduce those overhead costs where the agent is typically using their own equipment, which may include their own high-speed Internet access, computer, and other office equipment. These are tangible, bottom-line savings with work-at-programs.

5) Training Opportunities Through E-Learning: While brick-and-mortar contact centers allow for group training, new advancements in e-learning capabilities are helping remote workers to have the same level of training that their in-office counterparts receive. Integrated video and audio connection capabilities, for example, not only allow remote agents to participate in training sessions and record mock customer interactions, but these technologies are also more cost-effective when compared to the costs associated with working in an office environment. E-learning tools also require fewer trainers to be present, making this capability a lower cost solution for businesses overall.

Is the work-at-home model the future of customer service? Will the call center become a distant memory in years to come? While the industry-wide swing toward the at-home call center is a beneficial attribute, both are still essential to a balanced business strategy. The two models will continue to complement each other and make the other discipline stronger, resulting in the highest quality customer experience possible.

Felix Serrano is the senior vice president and general manager with Work@Home Solutions, Sitel. Contact him at 615-301-7100 or felix.serrano@sitel.com.

[From Connection Magazine May/Jun 2014]

Enterprise Servicing Goals for 2014

By Donna Fluss

As the economy continues to improve in the US and around the world, 2014 is looking to be a good year for technology investments that are supported by a solid business case and have quantifiable benefits with a rapid payback of one year or less. Enterprises and government agencies are expected to make investments to improve the customer or constituent experience. These investments will address the core infrastructure of contact centers and customer service organizations, many of which have not been updated in more than ten years. Other investments will be management applications and analytics to help organizations make the most of every customer contact.

Investments will be driven by eight top contact center and servicing trends for 2014. These trends are:

1) Improving customer service: For years, executives have discussed the importance of delivering a great experience, but they have been unwilling to make the investments necessary to achieve this goal. But change is finally starting to happen. It may be because of the speed at which a small issue can go viral, or perhaps it’s due to a growing appreciation that customer service is becoming the primary differentiator in a world of highly commoditized products and services.

2) Improving the customer journey: For the first time, organizations now have tools to measure every touch and action taken by prospects and customers, from the time they first access information about a company online to when they retire the use of a product.

3) Resolving inquires during the initial contact: Organizations have been talking about “one and done,” or first contact resolution (FCR), for as long as call centers have existed. But now organizations are going proactive, realizing that the shortest route and best way to resolve an issue is to try to address everything a caller might need to know, not just what they are asking. Companies are striving to provide answers to anticipated issues in order to deliver an outstanding customer experience.

4) Reducing operating costs: Contact centers and customer service departments require staff, and people are expensive. Executives are more motivated than at any time in the past to deliver an outstanding customer experience, but the winning investments will be those that improve service while reducing operating expenses.

5) Complying with regulatory requirements: Whether it’s the new Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) regulations or other Do Not Call (DNC) requirements in the US and many other countries, governments are introducing laws to protect their citizens from bad business practices.

6) Avoiding social media firestorms: Companies are investing in social media to avoid bad public relations. Never in the history of business has there been a tool like social media that can affect the bottom line and stock price of a company due to the public airing of consumer opinions.

7) Retaining customers: This is a top goal in tough economic times, but it is still important when people are more freely spending money. It is always more expensive to acquire customers than to retain existing ones.

8) Increasing sales and collections: Companies are in business to make money. Inside and outside sales teams need to pick up the pace of sales. Collections departments need to follow best practices to increase their contribution to the bottom line. And executives want their contact centers to pick up the slack and become major players in generating revenue.

Many of these goals are similar to those in prior years; however, the priorities have changed, and there are new twists enabled by a more open, creative, and flexible view of the role of contact centers and service organizations.

The top technology and application areas of investment for 2014–2015 will be:

  • Unified communications contact center solutions
  • Customer relationship management, servicing, and sales applications, including desktop analytics
  • Speech analytics and analytics-enabled quality assurance
  • Real-time guidance and next-best actions
  • Workforce management, including intra-day management
  • Social media applications to improve the effectiveness, timeliness, and quality of these interactions
  • Performance management to improve the management of front- and back-office operating areas
  • Back-office applications for work allocation and workforce management
  • Big data and proactive analytics to support all of these initiatives

A lot is going to change during the next few years, including the contributions and perception of contact centers. Now is the time to start making these changes.

Donna Fluss is the founder of DMG, a vendor-independent research and consulting firm that analyzes contact center and back-office technology and best practices. DMG uses this information to help enterprise and contact center leaders build their servicing strategies and select the right solutions for their environments. Contact Donna at donna.fluss@dmgconsult.com.

[From Connection Magazine Mar/Apr 2014]

Call Centers Are Helping the Economy to Rebound

By Robin Vaughn

The teleservices outsourcing industry is having a significant impact on the current economic recovery. Call centers are providing more and more companies with cost-effective solutions that streamline and improve communications. Business organizations from various industry segments are saving time and money by choosing this route.

Utilizing a call center helps the economy by putting a positive chain reaction in motion. Engaging telephone receptionists is an increasingly viable option for companies seeking to conserve valuable resources. They can reduce operations costs in two distinct ways by outsourcing telephone experts who can field after hours or overflow call volumes and eliminating the need for a costly in-house phone system. This way, the sales staff can better target core responsibilities and facilitate increased profit. Companies that generate higher profit margins increase tax revenues that boost the economy. The fiscal upswing is more likely to repeat as it takes on momentum.

Busy call centers are job creators. By hiring from a local demographic, they reduce the unemployment rate. Their focus enables them to recruit, screen, and expertly train telephone agents to provide exceptional customer care for business owners who don’t have the time to coordinate such efforts. Exceptional phone care management results in repeat clients and referrals. The cycle then continues: Business expansion demands greater administrative support to match and propel the local economy forward.

No company can afford communications downtime, especially in a rebounding economy when a reputation for reliability must be earned. Call centers provide relief services that keep businesses and government agencies operational during emergencies and natural disasters. They offer essential services under a variety of extraordinary circumstances, from technical messes to electrical failures, in order to maintain critical client contact 24/7/365. A sophisticated network that includes a backup power supply and redundancy system gives public institutions and private practices the assurance of total accessibility, and this in turn upgrades the economic forecast with the ability to be highly competitive.

Government agency managers, corporate CEOs, and start-up entrepreneurs want to reach out to a wider demographic, and they can do so with extended telephone hours and bilingual live operators. Outsourcing provides the chance to expand beyond traditional markets with dependable, capable assistance.

A call center offers vital communications support to help organizations grow, while rebuilding economy in the process.

Robin Vaughn has written on a wide range of topics for the teleservices industry and has extensive experience developing instructional materials for enrichment education. For more information, contact Robert Porter, president/CEO, at 212-868-1121 or rob@weanswer.com.

[From Connection Magazine Jan/Feb 2014]