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September/October 2019 Issue of Connections Magazine

The September/October 2019 Issue of Connections Magazine, covering call centers and the teleservice industry

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Sept/Oct 2019 Issue

Using Speech Analytics to Improve Customer Relationships in the Call Center



By Jeff Gallino

Here are answers to some questions I often hear about call center speech analytics.

Question: What’s the biggest trend you’ve seen when it comes to managing customer relationships, and how has that evolved over the past five to ten years? 

Answer: With the rise of digital transformation, we’ve seen a major shift in consumer preferences, and customer experience (CX) has arguably replaced traditional marketing in terms of becoming the number-one brand differentiator. More companies are realigning their business strategy to focus on delivering exceptional CX. This is because customer demands for personalization, innovation, and consistency are on the rise. 

As a result, it’s never been more critical for companies to understand the voice of their customer—not only within the C-suite but across all levels of their organization. Sure, companies have more opportunities to connect using email, live chat, social media, and other channels. But we’re seeing many organizations spread themselves too thin, thereby actually doing more harm than good. While it’s critical in today’s digital and omnichannel world to stay agile, companies must remain focused on what is truly important: building and nurturing customer relationships. 

Q: What are the main factors that lead to customer churn? 

A: Resulting in an estimated deficit of 136 billion dollars per year, customer churn is a sore spot for most US businesses. The good news is that it’s entirely avoidable. 

Speech analytics technology provides a holistic view into 100 percent of customer interactions. Click To Tweet

From an agent standpoint, the answer is much more fundamental than one may think—40 percent of consumers just want someone to listen to them. However, many agents fail to deliver on that simple request, as only 23 percent of callers feel listened to. Another major factor when it comes to delivering an unsatisfactory experience is the agent’s inability to show empathy. 

The emotional state of the caller at the beginning of the call is a tough situation for agents—regardless of their level of emotional intelligence—as 42 percent of callers arrive annoyed, 28 percent arrive upset, 22 percent arrived confused, and 17 percent arrive angry. Yet despite these strong emotional tendencies, 43 percent still express the need for a more polite and caring representative.

As for as the role played by the call center itself, sticking to the status quo just isn’t working anymore. Whether outdated scripts, ill-advised metrics, or a lack of knowledge in general, legacy call center management methods aren’t up to speed with the demands of today’s consumer base. 

Customers not only expect solutions to their problems, they want solutions in a timely manner with minimal disruption. When management fails to arm agents with the tools, training, and resources necessary to do their job, they’re only contributing to the problem. 

Q: What kind of insights does speech analytics offer? 

A: There’s no one-size-fits all definition for speech or engagement analytics, but at its core, speech analytics is a way to generate insights from conversations. But it’s much more than a transcription tool. It automates the process of listening to customer interactions, regardless of the communication channel used. This allows agents to make accurate and informed decisions based on customers’ needs. 

Speech analytics takes the unstructured data directly from both ends of the conversation and turns it into structured data. Once in this format, sophisticated categorization and tagging methods allow for searching and analyzing of information. These are all built in accordance with an enterprise’s unique business objectives. While this sounds like a lot, it streamlines the process and offers speed to actionable insights, which random call sampling would have missed. 

Take sales effectiveness, for example, and think of the behaviors of your most successful sales agents. This technology can create scores leveraging those behaviors, transfer that into historically proven, interactive suggestions, and automatically provide feedback and guidance to agents, which eventually raises top-line revenue.

Q: How do agents benefit from this technology in real-time versus post-interaction? 

A: Whether it’s on the back end for management purposes and corrective action, or on the front lines of the conversation to improve accuracy and compliance the first time around, agents benefit from speech analytics by receiving timely guidance and accurate feedback to help them improve performance. This results in increased first-call resolution rates, shorter average handle time, and increased customer satisfaction. 

For example, say a customer is becoming increasingly frustrated with the agent’s responses, or lack thereof. Based on preconfigured verbal or acoustic measures, agents can receive alerts to take a suggested action, such as an offer to save a customer from churning, or be immediately redirected to a supervisor to correct the problem. Companies can also track the customer journey across channels, so consumers don’t have to repeat the problem. This allows for a more personalized interaction.

When used for post-interaction analysis, speech analytics technology can track trends and make root cause discoveries to improve contact center performance and business intelligence across the enterprise. This is a direct result of agent’s receiving feedback on 100 percent of their calls. This gives them praise or coaching on performance to make them more equipped to address similar situations in the future.

Q: What is the difference between speech analytics versus traditional customer feedback methods? 

A: Surveys and net promoter scores (NPS) face limits by the number of responses they receive, accumulating a response rate of anywhere between 5 to 15 percent. Therefore, they’re limited regarding the story they tell. This is mostly because they will never be able to show you exactly what’s going wrong and how to fix it. Sure, they offer a glimpse into customer satisfaction, but they only skim the surface. 

Simply put, you can’t improve NPS and overall CX without first understanding the root cause of the problem. In addition, these feedback methods only offer a glimpse of the customer’s perception of your brand. You can’t rely on these methods alone to revamp your CX strategy. However, speech analytics technology provides a holistic view into 100 percent of customer interactions. This allows for a consistent, accurate analysis of a variety of performance indicators such as effort and empathy.

Jeff Gallino is the CTO and founder of CallMiner, a software company that develops speech analytics software. Founded in 2002, it’s headquartered in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Unified Communications: How Endpoint Management Delivers the Goods



By Jeff Kalberg 

Enterprises, now working diligently to execute on digital transformation, are adopting unified communications (UC) as a means of enhancing competitiveness and collaboration. Yet it must come with a deployment that brings more productivity, not additional time and headaches for the end-user and for IT. For unified communications to reach its highest potential, enterprises need to address how endpoint management factors into the equation and how it can help support the business objectives of UC.

In today’s culture of a mobile, often remote workforce, endpoints delivering an optimal user experience is the engine behind unified communications, working at a level of effectiveness the enterprise needs to compete digitally. The world has changed from a static desktop environment to one of OS (operating system)-powered endpoints serving a workforce accustomed to using a multitude of devices.

Endpoint management is essential to unified communications succeeding because it:

  • provides easy, secure access to UC devices, virtual apps and desktops, local and mobile apps, and content across devices and networks.
  • delivers a consistent user experience so an employee can access the UC tools and applications they need to do their job well, regardless of device or location.
  • simplifies IT operations with profile management, app layering, and hybrid and multi-cloud management.

As enterprises add more elements to the unified communications mix, such as interactive whiteboards, even chatbots, advanced endpoint management is a critical factor in helping ensure that the breadth of UC technologies can deliver on their promise of collaboration and productivity.

Citrix Call Center Case Study

Enterprises also need to prepare now for technology enhancements in unified communications. Click To Tweet

Citrix itself has made inroads in deploying unified communications for its operations. Its Citrix call center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, had several challenges: aging laptops, the need for a reliable, always-on end-user experience, and improved security. It also needed an intelligent OS that could support Citrix Workspace and integrate with UC elements like Skype for Business, teams, and headset hardware. Not a small task. 

To provide its 120 inside sales representatives with UC and other tools they needed, Citrix found its answer in a Linux-OS-driven endpoint solution. By relying on purpose-built, Linux-based endpoints, Citrix can benefit from improved security, and management simplicity it may not otherwise realize. Now, regardless to what physical workspace an inside sales rep is assigned, in conjunction with Citrix Workspace, the user can access all the applications they need. Additionally, for the road warriors, employees can use a mobile USB drive that provides smart boot technology to ensure validity of the OS to prevent manipulation and malware attacks. 

Unifying all Citrix call center hardware endpoints to a common read-only operating system that is identical across platforms has proven to be of great value. “The reliability of the solution ensures that our inside sales representatives have uncompromised and secure access to mission-critical apps they need to perform at their best,” said Kurt Heusner, vice president, SMB digital transformation sales, Citrix. 

Future Proof 

Three factors in unified communications will continue to advance: 

  1. The desire of enterprises to rely more on the endpoint for UC-related applications 
  2. The increased need for security on all devices 
  3. A plethora of emerging technologies that will find their way into the overall UC category

Citrix noted that as part of its OS-endpoint deployment, they plan to eventually run web conferencing directly on Linux-powered endpoints. “The vision is that any Citrite can walk into any conference room, log into their web conferencing system, and conduct a meeting,” Citrix said.

The lines will continue to blur between peripheral devices and what an advanced, Linux-OS endpoint can do. As legacy hardware is repurposed, software-defined endpoints will be the answer to keeping pace with UC progress.

As devices proliferate, along with applications, preventing malware and other attacks is top of mind for enterprise IT and security teams. It’s crucial that endpoint software and management solutions offer features such as single sign-on, two-factor authentication, and fingerprint readers for effective risk mitigation.

Enterprises also need to prepare now for technology enhancements in unified communications. AI-driven chatbots are already in use at call centers, but internal AI conversations between call center reps will be the future. Imagine conversations run on Linux-OS powered endpoints and integrating AI into communication and collaboration. That is the future.

Jeff Kalberg is the chief technology evangelist at IGEL, which provides endpoint management and smart boot technology solutions.

Vendor Profile – Startel


Startel, Professional Teledata, Alston Tascom

The Unification: Startel, Professional Teledata, and Alston Tascom

It was only two years ago when three companies with long, rich histories in the evolution of software for telephone answering services were united. Startel and Alston Tascom’s resumes go back to 1980, while Professional Teledata started in 1983.

Since the merger in September 2017, Startel, Professional Teledata (PTD), and Alston Tascom (Tascom) have expanded their product offerings and expertise. Here’s a look at some of their latest innovations.

Secure Messaging Gateway Powered by Startel

As messaging technology has grown and evolved, healthcare organizations have been presented with many secure messaging applications from a wide variety of providers. In some cases, a single organization may have multiple platforms used in various departments and locations.

The secure messaging gateway, powered by Startel, allows users to send and receive electronic protected healthcare information, or ePHI, to the most popular messaging providers—OnPage, TigerConnect, DocbookMD, Twistle, Mediprocity, DocHalo, pMD, HipLink, Telnyx, Imprivata, TelmedIQfrom one HIPAA-compliant application.

Startel's Secure Messaging Plus allows users to send and receive electronic protected healthcare information, or ePHI, to the most popular messaging providers. Click To Tweet

Secure Messaging Plus 

In today’s mobile and fast-paced world, the use of secure messaging applications has become the preferred channel of communication among business and institutional professionals as well as technicians in the field. It’s quicker, more efficient, and less invasive than a phone call. Because of that, Startel offers Secure Messaging Plus.

Accessible from the web or an application downloaded to one’s smartphone or tablet, Secure Messaging Plus (SM+) offers a secure, HIPAA-compliant way to safely exchange sensitive information via text. Users experience all the benefits of texting, but in a secure manner and environment. With Secure Messaging Plus, users can:

  • Maintain compliance: Stay HIPAA, GLBA, and SOX-compliant with messages and attachments that are encrypted in transit and at rest on devices using SM+ as well as on the servers which house the content prior to expiration. Startel also undergoes an extensive annual HIPAA audit to ensure it has met or exceeded compliance standards.
  • Control message expiration: Set messages to expire at a predetermined time or when marked as read or filed. Messages that do not have a defined expiration will expire within the originating subscriber’s default number of days, not to exceed thirty. This feature offers users an additional layer of security.
  • Send attachments: Securely send and receive attachments such as voice recordings, audio, and image attachments for better collaboration with colleagues. This is a key feature for physicians and staff to consult on patient files.
  • Track message status: Subscribers can know when a message from their device has been sent, viewed, read, and filed. Using SM+ in conjunction with the Startel CMC, messages and their content are fully tracked, archived, and encrypted. Administrative personnel can generate real-time reports based on several criteria, including duration of time and subscriber use.
  • Forwarding of messages: Prior to sending a message, users can indicate which messages can be forwarded. Administrators can also enable certain accounts to not allow message forwarding.
  • Group response and messaging. When replying to a group message, users can choose to reply directly, either only to the sender or to the entire group.

Flex Agent Interface 

Startel took their agent interface to the next level with Flex AI (FAI). This new design allows agents to process calls easily and quickly by allowing them to move vital information where they need it. Designed with dockable windows, FAI allows agents to take full advantage of large and multiple monitors. 

Startel recognizes the continued need for simplicity and efficiency within their community. Classic AI will still be available in future CMC versions to support the needs of those call centers who choose not to transition to FAI.

SS 2.0 Deployment

The Startel softswitch routes calls based on skill level, queue priority, and user-defined scenarios. In addition, it also provides real-time status of contact center activity via the Startel dashboard. The softswitch resides on a Linux server and uses software to route calls, eliminating the hardware needed in legacy switches and creating a more reliable platform with fewer points of failure. The softswitch includes Startel’s embedded voicemail and voice logger solutions, eliminating the need for separate servers and expensive cards for integration.

In Startel Softswitch 2.0, a new call return feature allows callers to opt out of a queue and request a callback when an agent is available. Upon the request, a call is generated to wait in queue. When the agent answers, the agent is asked if they will accept the callback call. If accepted, the agent is connected to an outdial attempt to the number left by the caller. If the agent does not accept, the call goes to another agent.

The Startel softswitch is more reliable, because it uses servers with redundant drives and power supplies, and there are fewer points of failure. A second softswitch server provides redundancy and disaster recovery for the switch, voicemail, and voice logger, and it can even deploy at a second location, giving additional options to enhance business continuity.

The dashboard gives an organization a real-time view of traffic and SLAs via a PC on the network, a remote PC, a smartphone, a tablet or even a large flat-screen TV mounted in the contact center.

Organizations now capture more accounts by offering services that their competition cannot. The Startel softswitch uses open architecture software protocols, which enables companies to develop integrations into third-party software.

Secure web access to voicemail, voice logger, and system dial plan provides easy access for programming and enables remote diagnostics, soft fixes, and software uploads.

The Startel softswitch is a native SIP platform, enabling the integration of SIP-trunking and utilizing the latest VoIP protocols while also allowing the use of analog, T-1, and PRI circuits as well.

TBS Payment Portal

ThePaymentPortal.com is a hosted, online, secure e-commerce site where a company’s accounts can access statements, view invoices, and pay bills at their convenience. It is an optional feature for Professional Teledata’s accounts receivable billing system, Total Billing Solution 3 (TBS3). The system requirements to run ThePaymentPortal.com are:

• Total Billing Solution version 3.1

• Advantage Database Server version 11.1

• An updated TBS3 license, one for each database

• A USAePay account for each TBS3 database to collect payments online

The Customer Spot 

The Customer Spot (TCS) is the self-service customer portal where Startel, Professional Teledata, and Alston Tascom users can create new cases, track existing cases, access the knowledge base for relevant company and product resources, and stay up to date with company news and announcements

Custom Branded Resource 

Need some marketing materials to help grow your brand? Startel has created a variety of marketing materials that they will brand for customers to grow their contact center, call center, or telephone answering service. This is possible because Startel knows they are not just a vendor to their customers—they are a valued partner. Startel recognizes that their customer’s success is tantamount to their own success.

What’s Next? 

Startel

Stay tuned for Project Nova and more exciting innovations from Startel.

Three Tactics to Transform a Call Center into a Care Center



By Gina Tabone

Healthcare strategists must lead the campaign to transform call center agents into caregivers and move from a call center mentality to a care center functioning as the doorway to an organization. Medical call centers have evolved over the past decade from call centers to contact centers to the current title of centralized access center. The goal for the patient is a seamless connection to a call center agent equipped to resolve any need presented within the confines of the first call.

Agent positions are often entry-level, which they historically abandon once they are eligible to bid on a higher-paying, more prestigious role within the organization. What a shame that frontline call center employees do not realize the immense value they play in the continuum of care and their potential impact an exceptional patient experience.

Change, as usual, must happen. Here are three easy-to-implement tactics to begin transforming the mind-set of call center agents from telephone operator to a caregiver acknowledged as a vital contributor in the continuum of care.

1. Communication

Healthcare chatter and verbiage flood nightly news reports, political rhetoric, and patient newsletters. It’s hard enough for industry leaders to comprehend what’s being said and expected, let alone the people on the front line doing the work.

There is nothing more motivating than realizing that the work one does is meaningful and makes a difference. This is most true in the delivery of healthcare. No matter what the role, everyone interacting with a patient can contribute to a positive experience. Here’s how:

Every level of management is most effective when present and visible to those working on the phones. Click To Tweet
  • Messages must be clearly stated from the top-level leadership involved in the call center transformation. Be honest and frank. Leadership is supportive but must be mindful of the ever-present business impact of every department.
  • Tell agents: “You are very important to our organization, and your contribution to the organization is unique and essential.”
  • Think of the call center as the front door to the organization. Agents are the ones answering the knock at the door.
  • Agents have the power to communicate either “Hello, welcome; we are expecting you,” or slam the door in a patient’s face by being robotic, irritated, and impatient.

2. Collaboration 

Caregivers working in a centralized communication operation don’t have a group of patients specifically assigned to them. Rather, they are there to provide a plethora of services to the patients from a variety of locations, specialties, practices, providers, or payers. The role they play augments the meaningful care provided in an office or clinic setting. Efforts must focus on viewing the call center caregivers as a vital component of the outpatient team.

  • They are the first point of contact for new patients. They can convey compassion and trust in the initial interaction as a precursor of what to expect in a face-to-face visit with a clinician.
  • First point-of-contact caregivers set the tone for what to expect from the organization. Hopefully, they demonstrate a flawless, coordinated experience by being a knowledgeable person who has the skills and resources to satisfy their current need.
  • It is valuable for call center employees to spend a day with the clinic team and for the clinic staff to spend a day shadowing the call center caregiver. Bonds are forged, and there is an appreciation for the work each group performs.

3. Circulate 

Call center leadership is not a stationary job. Every level of management is most effective when present and visible to those working on the phones. The environment is dynamic and requires constant supervision and direction.

  • Seeing team leads, managers, and higher-ups walking around and interacting with staff builds confidence and is a sign they’re available when needs arise.
  • Wireless headsets allow for designated support staff to move about, mingle with agents, and overhear calls that may benefit from a higher level of intervention. It’s a defensive method for avoiding a potential problem—or even worse, a discontented patient.
  • Call center leaders who take live calls for a portion of their workweek can lead by example.
  • Circulating staff are there to advocate for the best possible patient experience, while at the same time nurturing and engaging the caregivers.

There is a need to develop a platform of soft skills training that teaches call center caregivers how to convey interest, concern, and competency to callers. These tactics are fantastic ways begin the transformation of a call center team into a care center team.

Gina Tabone, MSN, RNC-TNP, is the vice president of strategic clinical solutions at TeamHealth Medical Call Center. Prior to joining TeamHealth, she served as the administrator of Cleveland Clinic’s Nurse on Call 24/7 nurse triage program. 

[This article first appeared in AnswerStat, answerstat.com.]

The Advantages of Analytics-Enabled Quality Management



By Donna Fluss

For most of the past forty years, contact centers have performed quality management (QM) the same way. Calls are identified for evaluation from recordings, and then a QM specialist listens, assesses, and completes a monitoring form for each of them. While traditional QM applications have been enhanced over the years, the QM process remains highly manual, even in the best of cases.

QM Challenges

A major challenge facing contact centers is that there is an increasing variety of interaction types, and they are coming from a growing number of channels, including calls, emails, tweets, SMS, chat, social media, and more. While many companies perform QM on their calls, too few apply this practice to other channels. This means that companies receive an incomplete view of why people are contacting their organization, how well agents are performing their job, and whether customers or prospects are satisfied with their experience. Companies must perform QM on interactions in all channels and evaluate many of them; otherwise, they won’t know what is happening with their customers, and they may be out of compliance with regulations without knowing it.

The benefits of using AQM are far-reaching and include valuable contributions to the enterprise, contact center, its agents, and customers. Click To Tweet

The Future of QM

Analytics-enabled QM (AQM) is the future for QM and can address many of these issues. DMG defines AQM as “an application that leverages interaction analytics, business rules and automation to identify, classify, and score as much as 100 percent of voice and text-based interactions based on defined quality criteria.” At the same time, AQA measures critical interaction components to evaluate agent performance and to assess their impact on the customer experience and customer effort. 

An important feature of AQM is that it “understands” what customers are saying; it identifies customer needs and wants, automatically surfaces trends and operational opportunities, and spots problematic interactions in which agents do not comply with an established script, policies, procedures, or other requirements.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technology are being incorporated into AQM modules to further enhance their effectiveness by enabling them to automatically evaluate interactions and to identify new and emerging trends and opportunities. Additionally, sentiment analysis is being applied to interactions handled by the AQM module, which enriches these solutions with a new level of analytics and helps companies to better understand their customers’ reactions to their policies and procedures.

Why AQM Is Better Than Traditional QM

There are many reasons why AQM is substantially better than the traditional method of performing QM:

  • It can automatically review up to 100 percent of calls and text-based communications.
  • It can provide feedback on a timely basis.
  • It can identify and assess the importance of each issue, regardless of the channel in which it is received.
  • It can surface emerging issues and opportunities not previously known.
  • It can identify coaching opportunities at an employee and group level.
  • It can automatically schedule and deliver individualized coaching.
  • It realizes all the benefits of traditional QM, including improving the effectiveness of the contact center, reducing operating expenses, and improving the customer experience.

Why AQM Adoption Is Slow

The adoption of AQM applications is very slow, despite its many benefits. The reason for the market’s reticence to purchase this solution is that it is expensive. AQM is an application provided by speech analytics vendors. To acquire AQM, end users typically must buy a complete speech analytics solution and then spend more to purchase the AQM package. The sad story is that a high percentage of end-user organizations that purchase a full speech analytics solution do not have the budget to add on AQM.

How to Get Enterprises to Invest in AQM

If vendors want to open the large addressable market for AQM, they need to reduce the price for this add-on module, include it as a standard component of a speech/text analytics application, or improve its business case and return on investment. Most prospects for AQM, including the thousands of companies that have already invested in speech or text analytics, have made it clear that they are not willing to pay a large incremental fee for an AQM add-on module.

Final Thoughts

The benefits of using AQM are far-reaching and include valuable contributions to the enterprise, contact center, its agents, and customers. With the addition of AI, ML, and sentiment analysis, the benefits are increasing, and interest in these solutions is growing, particularly as contact center leaders question the efficacy of their traditional QM applications and practices. As soon as the vendors come up with more appealing and attractive pricing for their AQM solutions, this market is expected to take off.

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. 

How to Use Outsourced Telesales for Increased Market Share



By Megan Hottman

What is outsourced telesales?

Outsourced telesales is partnering with an external organization to help sell your products or services directly to the customer by telephone. An outsourced partner can help transform the way your company gains market share while maintaining and supporting your current customer base.

There are several reasons a company may look at outsourcing all or part of its business. Some of the reasons include efforts to reduce internal costs, to have an increased focus on internal core objectives, to free up internal resources, and to help support or maximize and achieve overall growth objectives while increasing market share. It’s this last point that is important to call out and to take note of.

Yesterday’s outsourcing focused solely on reducing costs, with perhaps a dash of technology improvements. Today, outsourcing is all about collaboration with the right outsourced telesales partner that has the experience to help achieve and support strategic organizational objectives.

There are several ways outsourced telesales partners can help support increasing market share. Here are a few of those ways.

Tapping the expertise of the right outsourced telesales partner can help mitigate potential costly mistakes. Click To Tweet

Outsourced Telesales Will Increase Contacts

That’s right. Outsourced telesales will increase the number of dials and contacts. The outsourced telesales team will be 100 percent focused on picking up the phone and calling someone to offer a product, solution, or service. It may seem obvious, but today too many salespeople rely on email, social media, and inbound leads. Think about it for a minute. Having a question answered, an issue resolved, or someone that took the time to listen to the person on the other end of the phone leads to higher customer satisfaction. 

Now, what does customer satisfaction have to do with gaining market share? According to an article from Salesforce, when customers are satisfied, they are loyal to your brand and more likely to have repeat sales. They also point out that this helps reduce the costs associated with finding new customers, which speaks directly to market share.

The right outsourced telesales partners are not just skilled at outbound calls. They have the skillset, expertise, and capacity to support various functions that interface with customers. Other benefits of phone calls that help gain market share:

  • Speaking to people, which is much more personal and leads to a two-way dialogue where callers can ask questions and receive answers 
  • Having the ability to check for understanding and clarify if needed
  • Negotiating larger deal sizes and generating more sales
  • Receiving feedback from customers/prospects live and in real-time rather than a web form

An Outsourced Telesales Team Will Generate More Leads and Opportunities

Telemarketing is one of the most effective ways to generate qualified leads. The landscape today demands that the process of lead generation provides high quality and relevant information, understanding what business challenge you’re addressing and being diligent with follow up—all while providing the best experience for the prospect. Organizations use outsourced telesales partners to help increase market share through lead generation services.

Lead generation is effective for companies of every size and helps support consistent growth when done correctly. Partnering with the right outsourced telesales partner that has expertise in lead generation will help achieve the desired results of gaining market share. The ideal outsourced telesales partner to support and drive lead generation efforts will:

  • Demonstrate their capabilities of building a bridge between your organization and the prospect
  • Help identify the right prospects by continually making suggestions to refine the process
  • Serve as a true partner and act as an extension of your team

An Effective Outsourced Telesales Team Will Demonstrate Relevant Experience

Today, experience matters more than ever. An outsourced telesales provider should not just “talk the talk” but should be able to provide insight and give suggestions based on previous experiences and lessons learned with helping organizations increase market share. 

Tapping the expertise of the right outsourced telesales partner can help mitigate potential costly mistakes. The best-outsourced telesales partners can help demonstrate their experience by:

  • Being nimble and flexible. This is crucial as changes to market conditions or other objectives can change in an instant.
  • Being objective. An outsourced telesales provider can view your company and operation from a different lens. Their fresh and unique perspective has the power to help model a successful outcome.
  • Being willing to dig in. They can figure out what tactics, scripts, and resources will be most successful. Outsourced telesales partners should be willing to figure out what will work best to drive reaching organizational objectives rather than just saying something isn’t working.

Outsourced Telesales Will Make Your Business More Nimble

No matter the size of the business, speed to market really matters when looking at increasing market share. If you can’t get to market before your competition does, it doesn’t matter how great your product is. Slow speed to market is like handing over a giant competitive advantage to your unwelcomed competition. Time to market requires a strategic approach so you can get products in front of the desired audience as swiftly and organized as possible. Partnering with the right outsourced telesales provider can help increase speed to market, which in turn increases market share.

Conclusion

Outsourcing has a proven ability to deliver regardless of the size of business. For companies of all sizes across all industries, outsourcing can be a complete game-changer for achieving organization-wide objectives.

Megan Hottman is an operations manager for Quality Contact Solutions. Megan’s experience includes working as an outbound telemarketing manager for a Fortune 100 company. Megan has been both a client and an employee of QCS, so she knows firsthand the quality, productivity, and passion the team brings to work each day. You can reach Megan at megan@qualitycontactsolutions.com.

Robotic Process Automation: It Is Here to Make the Change


Onvisource

By Ray Naeini

The impact of emerging technologies on our lives and our businesses cannot be ignored, dismissed, or avoided.

The replacement of plain old telephones (POTs) by smartphones, fax machines by emails, pagers by text messaging, and in-store shopping by online buying are all examples of the inevitable impact of technology on our lives and the way we do business. We should embrace these new technologies, not resist them. 

The latest wave of emerging technologies delivers intelligent automation solutions that play an important role in the implementation of a digital transformation strategy—a strategy embraced by businesses around the world in response to demands from today’s digitally oriented customers—as well as the need for productivity and optimization in managing businesses in a highly competitive and global environment.

The two most essential technologies that power intelligent automation solutions are artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA). AI and RPA are rapidly changing everything in our personal and business lives.

Many enterprises have employees manually performing repetitive tasks—such as order processing, customer profile updates, and claims processing—every day. As the volume of workloads increases, they must add more manual labor, which may not be cost-justifiable. 

Robotic process automation (RPA) can automate such repetitive tasks and empower companies to cost-effectively manage large or fluctuating workloads. RPA does not necessarily replace employees, but it can augment the work of each employee to be more productive in processing larger workloads.

Additionally, AI can empower RPAs to become intelligent process automation, analyzing and automating more complex tasks that require AI-based analysis of data to reach certain decisions. RPA solutions provide a variety of options in automating processes. 

Attended, Unattended, and Hybrid RPA 

RPA can automate repetitive tasks autonomously and without any human intervention, with human interaction, or using a combination of both.

Unattended RPA automates processes without human intervention. The workflow is created by a process manager and activated based on a schedule or triggered by an event. It usually runs on a server and in the background, independent of human involvement.

There are certain processes, however, that cannot be entirely automated. Hence the need for attended RPA, which automates certain segments of the process. Attended RPA interacts with humans at certain points of a process that require intervention by an employee. Attended RPA increases the productivity of employees and eliminates errors by automating certain portions of a workflow previously executed manually by employees. 

Last, both attended and unattended RPA can work together as a hybrid to maximize automation and productivity. 

Rule-Based or AI-Powered Analytics-Based

RPA’s process automation can be rule-based for evaluation of structured data used in the workflow, making decisions by applying rules to such structured data. For example, if the city of residence is in a structured field, rules can evaluate the city in that field and make decisions. 

Analytics-based RPA, powered by AI-driven analytics, is intelligent process automation. It can analyze unstructured data and discover actionable knowledge, intent, categories, named entities, or sentiment to make decisions.

PrePackaged or Customizable Process Automation 

Prepackaged RPA offers a plug-and-play solution for predefined process automation. An example is using automated and adaptive intelligent real-time routing to direct customer service calls to the most-optimized point of service. 

Another example is a desktop transaction automation, which is an attended RPA. It runs on an employee’s desktop and interacts with the employee to optimize his or her performance. Prepackaged RPAs do not allow changes to the workflow by users.

Customizable RPA, on the other hand, provides users with a no-code platform to map, create, and customize the workflow of their processes using drag-and-drop desktop tools without any need for software engineers. They can test or place into production custom workflows, activated based on user-defined schedules or triggered by an event. No-code platforms are popular due to their capability in customizing a variety of processes rapidly and without generating software codes.

OnviSource

Ray Naeini is the CEO of OnviSource.

Five Realities of Contact Center Customer Service Reps



By Kim Houlne

There’s nothing like real-world experience to put on-demand customer service in proper perspective. To gain more insight, Working Solutions recently surveyed several thousand of its remote contact center agents across the United States and Canada. Their responses and experience offer insight into the realities of frontline service today. 

While a number of these workers came from brick-and-mortar call centers, many also moved into virtual customer service from a wide variety of corporate and commercial jobs. Click To Tweet

1. Agent Age

The survey results show that more than half of the respondents (57 percent) were ages thirty-four to fifty-four, with an additional 18 percent reporting between fifty-five and sixty-four. Fewer than one in five was under thirty-four, with a mere 3 percent under the age of twenty-five. 

More than half of the respondents were college graduates with practical work experience.

For instance, Jennifer, an on-demand agent in North Carolina, works on a client program that provides learning-enhancement instruction from pre-K to high school. She has a degree in finance and once worked as a director of a preschool. On one occasion, she received a call from a mother in New York City with a son in preschool who was desperate to help him read. Drawing from her background, Jennifer was able to help the woman find an appropriate educational program.

2. Agent Experience

Respondents most often reported sixteen years or more of experience in customer service delivery (37 percent). An additional 26 percent reported six to ten years of experience, with 15 percent having been in the business for eleven to fifteen years. (The rest had less than five years of customer service experience.) Clearly, more experienced agents are migrating to the virtual world to work. 

Sophisticated customers expect this level of experience. In today’s connected world of ready search and online purchasing, consumers can access lots of information and buying options that don’t require customer support. On-demand agents most often come into play when situations become too difficult for self-service solutions. At that point, buyers need the help of a more mature, well-versed agent to navigate the complexities.

Another example: Kathleen began working from home in the late 1990s after several years as a customer service representative in the offices of Continental Airlines and DuPont. Afflicted with polio as a child, Kathleen now deals with later complications that make remote work a much more practical option. She serves on a client program for a corporate travel booking site. Once Kathleen received a call from a businesswoman at 11:00 p.m. who was in Paris and needed a flight early in the morning to return home to the United States. As Kathleen searched for a flight, the woman fell asleep. She could hear her snoring and kept holding—for thirty minutes. Eventually, Kathleen texted her the new flight reservation.

3. Agent Location

More than half of the agents reported they chose to work from home to take advantage of the flexible hours (57 percent). Another 14 percent said they preferred an entrepreneurial lifestyle that allowed them to manage their own resources and career paths. (The rest had other reasons.) 

While a number of these workers came from brick-and-mortar call centers, many also moved into virtual customer service from a wide variety of corporate and commercial jobs. This real-world experience makes these agents knowledgeable about the work and lives of the customers they serve.

Case in point: Barb managed her own travel agency for ten-plus years. She knew the business inside out. When her family needed more attention, Barb gave up running the brick-and-mortar business. Today, she’s a remote travel agent plying the trade and applying her well-honed skills as an on-demand call center agent. Plus, the entrepreneurial style enables her to balance family needs and work from home. 

4. Geographic Location 

After forsaking offshore call centers in recent years, many businesses now know onshore service providers provide more culturally attuned agents to their customers. The current hot spots for hiring remote workers are Atlanta; Miami; Dallas-Fort Worth; Chicago; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Orlando.

This widespread, home-shore availability of contact center workers is especially important when customers want to speak with someone from their own region. Recently, a client that makes products marketed to a specific Northeast US region requested agents from there, believing they would relate better with its customers. Having an onshore network of on-demand agents made this possible.

5. Requisite Skills

When asked to identify the most essential skill for successful customer service, almost half (44 percent) pointed to empathy and understanding as the most critical. Third among responses was problem-solving or conflict resolution (25 percent), topped only by knowledge of company products and services (31 percent). Clearly, among educated and experienced agents, connecting with the customer comes first.

For example, twenty years ago Teresa began her role as an on-demand customer service agent. She’ll tell you that the key to customer service is showing compassion and knowing you can make a difference. Today, Teresa works for a client that provides assisted-living services for seniors and others. One day a young woman called, distraught because her father was ill and unwilling to accept his limitations. Based on experiences with her own dad, Teresa felt empathy for the caller. Teresa shared what she’d learned with the woman, telling her to comfort him, remember the good times, and see this as an ongoing life process. With care and understanding, Teresa helped this caller better care for her father.

Final Thoughts

The realities of today’s customer care call for an experienced agent workforce to serve clients and their customers. Even as artificial intelligence (AI) self-service increases, intelligent agents will be needed to pick up where technology leaves off. Customer service that blends high tech and high touch will be required to serve and satisfy.

Kim Houlne is chief executive of Working Solutions, an on-demand contact center outsourcer.

Common Verbal Communication Blunders



By Greg Alcorn

Have you ever said something at work you wish you hadn’t? Sometimes you just blurt out the wrong words to another employee or a client. The first step in fixing common communication blunders on the job is to know what those blunders are. Then you can say something the smart way versus the dumb way. 

Here are the biggest, most common verbal communication blunders:

Using Bad Bookends

The biggest blunder is starting and ending what you say with the wrong phrasing. Conversation bookends are the small comments or questions just before or right after a full statement or request for action. Learn to be better with your starting and ending bookends. Presentence bookends as a tool can be engaging, demeaning, or distracting. 

Names are great bookends. Starting a sentence with the name of the person you are talking to warms up that person. “Mary, may I put you on hold?” Saying your name last in your introduction makes it easy for the person you are talking with to remember your name. “This is the helpline. My name is Jack.” 

Starting with the Wrong First Words

Are you familiar with the term “getting off on the wrong foot”? Conversations have first impressions, and they begin with your first three words. Hint: one of the words should be the other person’s name. Using names is important when speaking on the phone, especially on conference calls. Conference call principle number one is that if you’re going to call on somebody, start with their name. Instead of saying, “What were the metrics on our operations yesterday, Frank?” ask the right way: “Frank, what were the metrics on our operation yesterday?” 

If you don’t start with the name, you might catch the person by surprise. It certainly catches people’s attention when you say their name first.

The first step toward reducing the number of dumb things you say is to know what the dumb things are. Click To Tweet

Not Choosing Your Words Well

The words you choose paints a picture for the listener. Your words express your attitude and your personality. Keep it positive. Don’t start a sentence with the word no

Even in introductions, you can’t go wrong with saying the person’s name first. A person’s name followed by “I need your help” is a winner. “Rachel, I need your help.” This is especially powerful in a situation in which you might be the boss and the other person might be a manager or you might be in a perceived superior position.

Poor Questions and Bad Listening

Meaningful questions always stay on subject, keep a conversation moving forward, and ensure that the other person feels heard and understood. Becoming a better listener is easier than you might think. It starts by committing to master the skill and making an active choice to listen. Ask good questions and then really listen. This is the “two ears and one mouth” principle.

Focus-on-Me Attitude

Making it all about you is a turnoff for others.  This is not a technique; this is an attitude. The best way to describe a benefit is to describe the feeling received. “I came by as soon as I heard you lost the sale; I’m sad.” Your fellow employee can recognize the extra effort and surely appreciates the sentiment. It’s a powerful sentence: a special visit, a sense of urgency, and a sincere feeling. Empathy shows feelings.

The Wrong Tone

People feel more comfortable with pleasant, variable tone quality. Voice tone consists of rate, pitch, and volume. Think tone and don’t drone. The tone of our voice helps others to hear our empathy. 

The rate, pitch, and volume of our statements of empathy help express feelings. Usually, but not always, we hear implied empathy when somebody slows down speech and lowers the pitch and volume. 

Say “I’m sad to hear that you lost the supermarket account,” and I’ll bet you will automatically say it slow and low. The same with excitement at the opposite end of the spectrum. Say “Team, we won the hotel account!” You can’t help but say it fast, high, and loud. Tone expresses empathy.

Not Diffusing Difficult Drama

Avoid stressful conversations, or drama, by mastering word selection, listening, and questioning skills. Drama can be inevitable, however. You can defuse most stressful situations when you apply the three Rs: recognize, restate, and reassure. 

Ask others: “What would you like to see happen?” Those are seven magic words that can defuse difficult drama. Speech is just a tool, like electricity, is a tool. And like any tool, words can help or harm. Electricity can cook a meal, or it can burn dinner. Words can turn people on or turn people off.

Summary

Nobody wants to say dumb things, but we all do. The first step toward reducing the number of dumb things you say is to know what the dumb things are. Then don’t say them—say something smarter.

Verbal communication expert Greg Alcorn, CEO of Global Contact Services of Salisbury, North Carolina, is the author of 7 Dumb Things We All Say. He speaks to thousands of people each year on improving verbal communication at work. His company has one thousand employees and averages thirty thousand customer service conversations every day. GCS, which Alcorn founded in 2001, serves retail, insurance, financial, and government clients.