Category Archives: Articles

How Outsource Telemarketing Can Help Franchises Grow



By Steve Korn

For decades, businesses have used outsource telemarketing to facilitate their sales efforts. These include direct telephone sales, appointment setting for outside sales teams, toll-free inbound numbers, product and customer satisfaction surveys, and many others. This article focuses on how franchise organizations, which offer products or services to other businesses (B2B), can benefit from using an outsource telemarketing program.

What challenges does a franchisor have that other businesses do not?

It all boils down to control. If a traditional company has a hundred offices scattered across the country, each of those offices is somehow under its direct control, and the people working are employees. If a franchisor has a hundred franchises across the country selling its products or services, it has a hundred independent businesses running their day-to-day operations. This makes it challenging to keep everyone moving together toward the same goal. How can a telemarketing program assist a franchise organization? 

Consider common goals of a typical franchise organization. 

  • Increase the bottom line.
  • Strengthen its members, the franchisees. 
  • Make it easier to sell additional franchises by developing new markets.
  • Standardize the marketing message throughout the organization. 
  • Centralize inbound support for the benefit of the entire organization.

Like any other business that uses telemarketing, they do so because it is not part of their core competency or they lack the needed support staff. Regardless of their need, they rely on a telemarketing agency to design and implement a program that will meet their goals at a price that fits their budget.

Outbound Telemarketing Is Universal

Designed for and shared by multiple parties, telemarketing campaigns use the same script. A consistent sales message or intent occurs regardless of where the calls originate from or for what purpose. 

First, the corporate entity, the franchisor, uses it to build sales in the areas it controls and markets in. Most commonly, it has permanent sales representatives in those areas or a team working the space to build it up for potential sale as a franchise. The call center does the prospecting. It qualifies the business, sets up appointments, and notifies the local salesperson of the appointment details. The healthier the territory, the more opportunity it has. The result is a healthier bottom line for the organization.

The franchisors then offer the same program to the franchisees. Often franchisees will struggle to set up their own telemarketing operations, or they’ll tap a mismatched outbound telemarketing partner that does not do well at representing the local franchisee or the parent franchisor. 

Making the telemarketing program available to the individual franchisees can make them financially stronger. It also allows the franchisor to better control the marketing message delivered throughout their network. 

Sometimes the franchisor will include a certain amount of telemarketing time in the franchise agreements they offer. Others will subsidize the cost of outbound telemarketing or allow the franchisees to buy into the program, knowing they cannot afford to set up a complete call center program independently. 

Regardless of implementation, the franchisor benefits as the franchisees grow their business through outbound telemarketing efforts. This makes their businesses and the overall organization more robust. A healthier franchise business means increased demand for the company, resulting in a higher franchise sales price, improved sales, and healthier financial statements. The franchisee wins, as does the franchisor.

Inbound Telemarketing Support

The inbound side has benefits as well. Of course, websites can direct people to find their closest office or dealer. However, now in a COVID world, many local offices have trimmed staff, who may lack training, unlike an inbound call center agent. Other franchisee offices may let calls route to voicemail if they cannot pick up a call. 

Using a centralized inbound call center can eliminate the risk that inadequate training or unanswered calls might cause in terms of lost opportunities. Trained call center agents take the calls and handle them in a manner approved by the franchisor, often resulting in additional sales, upsells, and fewer lost opportunities. These, of course, get passed on to the franchisee or franchisor depending on the territory, but the net result is a healthier, more profitable franchise organization. 

Every inquiry that hits the company’s website can become a lead. As soon as an inquiry comes in, a member of the call center team contacts them to determine their level of interest and passes that information on to the local franchisee.

Summary

A well-planned outsourced telemarketing effort, both inbound and outbound, will benefit any B2B franchise organization. It can:

  • Develop the value of areas by offering to sell to new franchise buyers.
  • Grow the number of territories owned by the franchisor.
  • Allow the franchisor to better control the sales message across the entire organization.
  • Increase the strength and value of each franchisee.
  • Provide a centralized cohesive inbound support platform.

 These are outcomes that would be hard to achieve in house.

Steve Korn is a business development executive for Quality Contact Solutions. His experience spans forty years and includes ownership of his own call center for over twenty. Contact Steve at steve.korn@qualitycontactsolutions.com or 516-656-4198.

5 Reasons to Implement Call Center Scripting


Amtelco banner

By Amtelco

One of the first person-to-person connections a customer makes with an organization is often through a phone call. Whether the caller’s intent is to schedule an appointment, ask a question, or another reason, the way an agent handles that call plays a key role in customer service and satisfaction. Every phone call is an opportunity for the agent to uphold an organization’s values and provide excellent service. 

Call center scripting helps agents guide customers through phone calls by asking the right questions and providing the right answers. Once the scripts have been programmed into the call center software, agents simply read the prompts and follow the script. Call centers that implement scripting benefit from reduced errors, increased productivity, decreased training time, consistency, and improved customer and agent satisfaction.

1. Reduce Errors

Scripting removes the guesswork by providing agents with the right answers to caller questions. Scripting ensures the agent collects the right data from the caller, the caller receives the most updated information, and the correct action occurs at the end of the call. 

For example, a Midwest company has a call center that uses scripting to manage 850,000 calls per year. The call center supports multiple departments that have departments within departments, so their scripting needs can be quite complex. However, their staff, who may have limited or no IS experience, can easily build customized scripts for any type of call for any department in as little as twenty minutes.

2. Increase Productivity

Call centers typically receive hundreds if not thousands of calls every day. Instead of putting the caller on hold and searching for answers, agents whose call centers use scripting have the information they need in just a couple of clicks. This allows call processing in a matter of seconds. 

“Two-thirds of consumers report that the most frustrating aspect of getting customer service is waiting on hold or having to explain the same information to multiple representatives.” HubSpot Research Consumer Customer Support Survey, 2018.

Scripts help ensure the call center agent gets the right data from the caller, reducing the need to make a return call to request more information or to make a correction in the information provided.

3. Decrease Training Time

Agent training progresses more quickly when scripts are involved. With decision making programmed into the script, new agents can be trained to handle any kind of call in less time. After programming, the system easily guides agents through each call, and provides them with a custom script with the exact information they need, at the time they need it.

4. Promote Consistency

When the call center agent is the front line of an organization’s customer service, what they say matters because they could be creating the customer’s first impression of the organization. Scripting can use language that adheres to the organization’s policy. For example, an organization can include an empathy statement the agent reads before ending or transferring a call. 

Scripts also keep the agents from violating any regulations because they know the next thing to say. And it ensures the agent always keeps the customer’s needs first.

5. Increase Customer and Agent Satisfaction

Efficient and accurate call handling makes everyone happier. Callers no longer need to wait on hold for agents to track down answers to their questions. The agent instills confidence in callers through a series of logical questions to provide clear, succinct answers. Customers can trust the correct entry of their details when the agent is able to read the information back to them without errors. 

Because scripting helps reduce call times and the need to put callers on hold, agents are more likely to meet their goals for number of calls answered per day, length of call, length of hold times, and other metrics deemed significant by their organization. Teams who meet and even exceed their goals report greater job satisfaction and reduced stress. 

Scripting also simplifies the agent’s job, however complicated it may be. 

Summary

When it’s time to choose a scripting program for your call center, look for software that is easy to edit and integrates with your other systems for further efficiency and accuracy gains. 

Amtelco logo

Amtelco and Telescan have a strong history in the telemessaging industry and were founded in 1976 to provide communication solutions to the answering service and medical messaging industry. In operation in all fifty of the United States and more than twenty countries, Amtelco and Telescan focus on providing call center solutions that meet or exceed customer expectations and are backed by top notch service and support. Amtelco and Telescan systems and software process millions of calls every day. By working closely with customers, Amtelco and Telescan continue to develop innovative features and products. 

The Future is Human: Tapping Video Technology as a Call Center Solution



By Craig Radford

In today’s fast-paced and ever-diversifying American society, keeping your call center’s best practices attuned to the needs of all customers can be overwhelming. There are so many languages, communication modalities, and cultural nuances to consider. Customer service and satisfaction have always been an important part of call center work, but with today’s younger consumers making purchasing decisions based on whether a brand or business reflects their own inclusive values, being culturally responsive can mean the difference between gaining a loyal customer and losing one forever. 

One essential piece of ensuring your company is as inclusive as possible is to focus on accommodating callers with disabilities. Deaf and hard-of-hearing customers are largely left out of the conversation about customer service, which means your business is missing out on an entire consumer base.

Capture Lost Business

Though America’s 11.5 million deaf and hard-of-hearing people represent an $86 billion dollar market share, many businesses are unsure how to best serve these customers. The lack of information and training surrounding optimized customer service for the deaf and hard-of-hearing can be frustrating for both callers and agents. Agents who are unprepared for communicating with deaf callers are likely to experience wasted time, skewed metrics, and unnecessary escalations and callbacks. 

One of the main sources of confusion is the use of third-party relay services by deaf customers. As the name suggests, these services relay information between deaf and hearing users. In a text-based relay model, a typist facilitates a conversation by transcribing the hearing person’s speech, then reading the deaf person’s typed message aloud. 

In the more popular Video Relay Service (VRS) model, an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter translates between spoken English and ASL via video call. In both models, the process of transcription or translation takes time and leaves repeated opportunities for miscommunication, especially if the interpreter is unfamiliar with company lingo or call context, which is often the case. 

Cloud-based contact center tools provide the capacity to move seamlessly between modes of communication, like jumping from a telephone call to a text-based chat box, to best serve callers’ preferences. But what if this technology went beyond two-dimensional? What if we eliminate the middleman altogether in interactions with deaf customers? What if a caller could in effect “press one” for English, “two” for Spanish… and “three” for American Sign Language?

American Sign Language Differs from English 

Just like spoken languages, ASL developed organically between people over centuries and is a separate language from English. It has its own grammar, syntax, vocabulary, and cultural context different from, and uninfluenced by, English conventions. In fact, ASL shares more structural similarities with French Sign Language or even spoken Japanese than it does English. 

While many deaf people are bilingual in ASL and English, some deaf people struggle with written English proficiency, just as some hearing people who are bilingual struggle with written proficiency in their second language. 

For the deaf community, this issue is exacerbated by language deprivation, caused by long-standing discrimination and substandard access to educational resources. While English text-based chat boxes may be useful for some deaf clients, for others they remain a frequent source of frustration and miscommunication. 

Implementing an ASL-fluent Team

Providing deaf representatives who are fluent in ASL and trained in company-specific terminology, either by hiring deaf employees or contracting with a specialized ASL call center, is already making tremendous changes: call centers that have ASL-fluent representatives shortened call times by 33-42 percent and increased deaf customer engagement by 300-533 percent. In one case study, Google found that providing an ASL-speaking representative resulted in 83 percent shorter average handle time when compared to using relay services.

Integration Video Communication Between Agent and Caller 

Deaf customers are already using videophones to make calls. So why not leverage the benefits for those callers? For a customer, being able to see a representative restores the element of human connection that only face-to-face interaction can truly offer. For a representative, being able to see a caller can provide valuable context on who that customer is and eliminate friction that stems from miscommunication. 

Psychologists studying human communication concluded that that just 7 percent of meaning comes from words themselves. Thirty-eight percent of the information we pick up on comes from voice tone and volume, and the majority, 55 percent, is from body language. This means traditional phone interactions miss out on more than half of communication potential. A video interface reintroduces a person’s natural use of body language and gestures into call center communication, offering not only a more organic communication experience, but a more efficient one as well. 

The Future of Call Centers Is Visual and Human-Centered

Using video makes spatially-oriented tasks that are typically hard to describe—like demonstrating a product’s functions or explaining which buttons a caller needs to press during a troubleshooting process—intuitive and fast. Video calls also give representatives and callers the ability to screenshare or demonstrate solutions using the product as a prop. 

Agents can show users a button or how to navigate to a site tab, instead of having to explain the step-by-step process. And callers can show agents the errors or problems they’re encountering. A quick game of customer show-and-tell can cut costly minutes off call times, without negatively affecting the value of a customer’s experience and making sure their needs are being met.

Summary

The future of call centers is multi-dimensional: a change that mirrors our evolving society and allows companies to be more inclusive and accessible than ever. Whether it’s using the latest technology to better serve deaf and disabled customers or just having a more individualized customer service experience for any customer, cloud-based computing and video calling can be a momentous change agent. 

With it, call centers can continue to highlight their best asset: human connection.

Craig Radford has been shaping the advancement of the deaf community for more than 20 years. Craig helped launch Connect Direct, a subsidiary of Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD), where he is the vice president of strategy and business development. He works with organizations to help their customer service teams to eliminate the need for third-party translation. Craig has championed the creation of jobs specifically targeted for qualified deaf candidates.

Welcome to Connections Magazine 3.0

Read Connections Magazine Anywhere You Have Internet Access

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter Lyle DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections Magazine

As announced last year, the January 2021 issue of Connections Magazine marks an exciting turning point for us. Following a long-standing industry trend, Connections Magazine is now exclusively an online e-publication. We’ve gone all digital.

This means you can access all our content—articles, industry news, vendor intelligence, and association information—anytime, anywhere you have internet access. Read Connections on your computer, laptop, smart phone, tablet, or any other internet-connected device.

To get you started, here are some links to key sections on our website:

We’ve already successfully navigated this transition with our sister publication, AnswerStat, in becoming an e-publication in 2016. Since that time, AnswerStat has continued its mission of being the information hub for the healthcare contact center industry.

We now seek to build upon this history of accomplishment with Connections Magazine.

Advertiser Supported and Free to You

Throughout our 28-year history, Connections Magazine has been an advertiser supported publication. What’s this mean? Quite simply that our sponsors and advertisers provide the funds to produce each issue.

Thanks to them, you’ve always been able to read Connections Magazine for free and will be able to continue to do so. 

We will have no paid subscriptions, and we won’t hide the information you need behind a paywall. It’s readily available for you and all the industry to read. 

Every vendor and association listed on this website helps make Connections Magazine possible. Key among these are our valued sponsors:

Our other advertisers include TASbiller, CenturiSoft, Call Centre Hosting, Alliant, and Quality Contact Solutions

Please join me in thanking each one of them for doing their part to maintain Connections Magazine as a valued industry resource and to serve the call center industry.

A Milestone

Besides my excitement over transitioning Connections Magazine to a 100 percent e-publication, this year will see another landmark moment for me.

In August, I will have completed twenty years at the helm of this publication and as president of Peter DeHaan Publishing, Inc. It’s been a fun and invigorating, albeit at times challenging, adventure. I look forward to many more years of providing you with valuable, actionable, and helpful industry information.

In addition to Connections Magazine, I also produce TAS Trader for the telephone answering service industry and AnswerStat and Medical call Center News for healthcare call centers. These are also advertiser-supported publications, made free to readers.

A New Year

I can’t conclude this column without noting the passage of another year. Last year was indeed challenging for everyone. Lockdowns, restricted mobility, and social distancing shoved our world into an unprecedented time of confusion and perplexing thoughts.

The call center industry, however, found itself well-positioned to provide essential and safe communication between businesses and their customers. I’m proud to be part of such a resilient and indispensable industry that did much to help us navigate what last year threw at us.

Though turning the calendar to a new year does not return us to business as normal, it marks the opportunity to move forward and embrace a new future with new opportunities. I am confident that the call center industry will help our world successfully embrace what lies before us.

And Connections Magazine will be there every step of the way.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.  Read more of his articles at PeterDeHaanPublishing.com.

Telesales Best Practices: Three Tips to Improve Telesales Training

By Angela Garfinkel

When it comes to telesales best practices, evaluating your training program is typically at the top of the to-do list. Telesales training can be painful, both for the trainees and for the trainer. Why is this? Primarily because the training is typically not that effective. 

Here are three ideas that will immediately improve your telesales training.

1. Intersperse Classroom Training with Hands-On Practice

Telesales training should not be jammed into a condensed schedule, racing from one module to the next. Telesales training is best conducted with a thoughtful blend of classroom training and hands-on experience. When it comes to telesales best practices, I’m an advocate for training 20 percent of the product knowledge and then giving the team some practice with some low value leads. People will not successfully retain all the product knowledge, market positioning, and benefits of your product or service when they don’t get a chance to practice and use what they have learned. 

Ideally, training follows a schedule like this:

  • Day 1: Classroom training on the first 20 percent of the training curriculum.
  • Day 2: Practice with live leads. Pair trainers to cut down on burning through your list with unskilled sales presentations. One sales rep does the talking, and the other sales rep does the call guide navigation and data entry.
  • Day 3: Classroom training on the next 20 percent of the training curriculum.
  • Day 4: Practice with live leads and set some realistic stair-step goals to master and implement the first 40 percent of the information trained.
  • Day 5: Classroom training for half the day with the next 20 percent of the training curriculum. Then spend the second half of the day with live calls.
  • Day 6: Classroom training for half the day with the next 20 percent of the training curriculum. Then spend the second half of the day with live calls.
  • Day 7: Classroom training for half the day with the final 20 percent of the training curriculum and tying it all together.
  • Day 8: Graduation from training.

2. Implement a Training Graduation Bonus

Pay a reward after finishing training and completing a skills assessment certification. This is particularly important if the team is comprised of new hires. Telesales representatives are motivated by money. Pay them a smaller hourly wage for training hours and then offer a bonus for successful completion of training. This includes perfect attendance and skills assessments tests. 

By pairing the training compensation to an end goal—as opposed to just a flat compensation for their hours—the telesales team members will be motivated to attend all training sessions and prepare for the required certifications. This will also cut down on the people that say, “I’ll try this job, and if it doesn’t work out, I don’t have anything to lose.” 

When it comes to telesales best practices, you want people to opt-in for the opportunity to have a high chance of earning the bonus. I recommend the bonus should be 30 to 50 percent of the minimum hourly rate you pay for a training class hour.

3. Integrate the “Why” into the Training

Why do we say the things we say? What is the psychology behind the words? How does the product or service make the world a better place? What is the potential customer missing out on by saying “no” to our call? 

As a telesales best practice, I recommend that you do the deep work to identify the “why” in your training curriculum. Start with answering these questions.

  • Why does the client and product exist?
  • Why do we pitch the product/solution the way we do?
  • Why does this product or service matter?
  • Why should a prospect take our call and listen to us?
  • Why should a gatekeeper provide us with access to the decision-maker?

Put these three training tips into practice to produce better telesales results.

Angela Garfinkel is the president and founder of Quality Contact Solutions, a leading outsourced telemarketing services organization. She leads a talented team that runs thousands of outbound telemarketing program hours daily. Angela can be reached at angela.garfinkel@qualitycontactsolutions.com or 516-656-5118.

Improve Hiring Results with Blind Auditions

By Donna West

Anyone who has ever seen The Voice knows blind auditions are often surprising. The audience knows that the very big voice is coming out of that very tiny girl, but the experts don’t. The guy with the shaggy looks might have the voice of an angel. The blind audition wipes out all prejudices and concentrates on what is important—in this case, the voice.

Dismissing Qualified Candidates 

In all areas of life and work we form opinions about the people we meet as soon as we see them. This occurs before they ever open their mouths. We often miss many excellent job candidates because their appearance sets them up for failure. Their clothes might be untidy or inappropriate. They may need a haircut or wear dreadlocks. Or they have piercings that give the interviewer a bad impression. 

We’re programmed by our own backgrounds and experiences to reject as unworthy some of the styles that others embrace. And it is certainly the prerogative of every employer to choose the culture they want in their business. 

That said, do we unintentionally disregard candidates who are eminently qualified to work in our answering services and contact centers? A friend will not hire anyone who has visible tattoos. Another person abbreviates interviews they consider a waste of time because the applicant is wearing jeans and deemed “not serious” about work. A nervous interviewee may not make eye contact and we disqualify them.

A Shrinking Labor Market

In a world where job candidates are dwindling, despite (or perhaps because of) unemployment, many businesses may stand to improve hiring processes by implementing blind auditions. The jobs offered by an answering service can be perfect for people whom society deems a misfit for whatever social reason. 

We can find the skills we need in people who choose video games as their passion, who wear neon nail polish—a different color on each finger—prefer green hair, or who have gauges in their ears and tattoos up their necks. 

Our industry can offer remote work to people who are afraid to leave their homes or can’t sit for hours at a time as in a typical office job. We can offer split shifts and uncommon schedules. We should let our agents’ compassion, their understanding, and their voices drive our hiring decisions. We should listen and judge our candidates’ attributes by how they could benefit our callers’ needs. 

If we strive to hire people who are computer literate and caring, the guy who tries to eke out a living by streaming live on YouTube might be the perfect candidate. Or the soldier with mild PTSD. Or the mom with kids at home who still needs an income. Our jobs are comparable to waitressing for an actress. Ours is the perfect reality job for those who are trying to live the dream or waking up from the nightmare.

If we seek employee longevity, let’s regularly seek nontraditional applicants who might offer a symbiotic relationship: someone sweet-natured who knows their way around a keyboard. Someone who appreciates the opportunity to work from home and live their life according to their own vision. 

Donna West is president of Focus Answering Service, which she founded in 1987. She began her second company, Business Calls, Inc., specializing in education and communication for the TAS industry two decades ago. She is a pioneer and thought leader, an award-winning speaker, writer, and educator within the telecommunications service arena. 

2020 Contact Center Retrospective

By Donna Fluss

What an amazing year 2020 was. We’ve never seen anything like it and hope we won’t again. Despite all the challenges, a lot of good things happened, including in the world of contact center. Here are six positive mega trends that emerged during the dark hours of the pandemic. All these developments are here to stay and will continue to play a key role in contact centers for the near future:

1. Work-from Home

When the pandemic hit country after country, many companies were ordered by their governments to close their offices. Contact centers were some of the most successful in getting their employees home and back to work. Contact centers all over the world, those with anywhere from ten to thousands of agents, demonstrated their flexibility and agility, along with the amazing commitment of their employees by being there for their customers.

2. Shift from Traditional Retail to Ecommerce

The world has gone virtual. Anything that can be done virtually, including things most people thought highly unlikely, like doctor’s appointments, has moved to the web or video. The need to socially distance has driven people and organizations to be highly creative as they figured out how to make the best out of demanding situations. 

Retail organizations have taken a major hit. Many retailers, particularly those that could not respond quickly enough to the increasingly virtual world, have gone bankrupt. Store traffic is down and unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels for years. The transition to the web is not unexpected, but the demise of many of the traditional retailers was accelerated by the pandemic. 

3. Digital Transformation

After years of talking about digital transformations, companies are being forced to do what they should have done years ago. They are building out digital channels to address the needs of their customers. Though consumers are expressing an increasing preference for interacting in these channels, voice calls are not going away. However, they are increasingly viewed as the channel of last resort. Digital transformations are proving highly beneficial for customers, companies, and their employees. 

4. Artificial Intelligence-based Self-Service Capabilities

Self-service has become the channel of choice for customers in many countries, as surprising as it seems. Customers increasingly prefer to interact with effective self-service solutions that allow them to take care of their business without the assistance of live agents. 

Artificial intelligence (AI)-based conversational systems are automating and speeding up the handling of all kinds of interactions. The key to success, however, remains being able to connect with a live agent, when necessary. 

5. Automation Solutions

Intelligent virtual agents (IVAs), virtual agents (VAs), robotic process automation (RPA), and workflow have emerged as essential enablers for enterprises. These solutions automate activities and tasks that do not require the cognitive capabilities or decision-making intelligence of live employees. These concepts have been around for years, but what is new is the ease with which they can be applied to all types of business challenges. 

These solutions allow companies and government agencies to reduce dependence on outsourcers by eliminating the human element in low-value tasks previously handled by mostly low-wage workers. The benefits for enterprises are clear, as is the opportunity that these solutions are creating for much higher-level employment opportunities. 

6. Analytics-Enabled Quality Management

After over fifty years of performing quality management (QM) the same way, which was highly people-intensive, even when supported by an application, AI-enabled speech analytics is now able to automate and greatly improve the process. Analytics-Enabled Quality Management (AQM) solutions are game changers for companies. They can now “listen” to 100 percent of their voice and digital interactions to gain an understanding of why people contact them and see which of their automated and live agents are doing a good job in handling the interactions and where changes are needed. 

AQM also reduces dependence on manual QM processes, which have not been effective for the last five-plus years because companies could not afford to properly staff this function as contact volumes increased. AQM was important before the pandemic forced employees’ home to work, and it has become mission-critical for contact center employees and other functions since then. 

Bottom Line

The pandemic has changed the world as we know it, but many of these changes are good and will have positive and lasting benefits for society, companies, customers, and employees. AI and automation are the common themes in these six megatrends. 

The pandemic accelerated their rollout but not their viability. The companies that are going to come out of the pandemic well-positioned to succeed in whatever the new normal looks like are those that are taking the actions needed to move thoughtfully into the digital future.

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 AI-Powered Technologies Can Help Reduce Contact Center Agent Burnout

By Seb Reeve

The global pandemic has put more pressure than ever on every one of us. Healthcare workers face untold challenges in treating patients, and not just those who become sick with COVID-19. Grocery store, delivery, and restaurant workers, now rightfully seen as the essential workers they are, must overcome their own fears and risks as they continue to work through a crisis. Contact center and office workers now work from home, trying to balance the demands of their careers with the demands of their families, many of whom are now schooling from home too. 

And as more consumers shift their typically in-person interactions into more virtual and online spaces, the changes have likewise put more pressure on contact center agents to respond to a rising number of calls in an uncertain environment. Working in these high-stress environments—in combination with longer working hours—means many agents are at risk for burnout.

Burnout Basics

Burnout, according to the Mayo Clinic, is a “special type of work-related stress,” marked by physical and emotional exhaustion, a sense of reduced accomplishment, reduced productivity and effectiveness on the job, and even dramatic consequences for overall health and wellbeing. 

From a business perspective, agent burnout often leads to turnover, which is extraordinarily expensive, often about 20 percent of the employee’s salary. In an industry with turnover ranging from 30-45 percent, preventing burnout is not simply good for people, it’s good for business.

Preventing burnout is incumbent on all of us. It can start with small, people-first strategies, such as encouraging teams to disconnect and recharge, as improving communication and feedback, and managing workloads to ensure they’re within appropriate boundaries. 

Investing in technology platforms can go a long way toward supporting agents and helping to prevent burnout. Providing the tools and technologies that help everyone do their job better will not only optimize employee workloads, but it can also alleviate the stressors that contribute to burnout. It’s also worth considering which technology platforms no longer serve agents or the organizational vision, and instead add unnecessarily to agent workflows on a day-to-day basis.

Technologies That Alleviate Burnout Stressors

Today’s contact centers can choose from a range of technologies that help agents do their jobs better and more efficiently. For example, artificial-intelligence-powered solutions such as virtual assistants can shorten call handling times by engaging a broader audience and answering repetitive questions. With a digital, automated interface, the virtual assistant can engage callers in natural conversation—either via voice or text—to respond to requests and answer questions with personalized responses in a self-service environment. When a live agent is needed, the virtual assistant uses skills-based routing to deliver the caller to the best agent to handle their issue.

Enabling the virtual assistant not only delivers prompt, live assistance to customers, it frees agents to handle the more complex, high-value calls that matter most and are most meaningful.

Similarly, automated customer service messaging platforms can help engage customers, providing immediate answers to their inquiries, again while alleviating the burden on live contact center agents. Proactive notifications built into these platforms can deflect the number of inbound calls to a call center, which has the added benefit of supporting customer service efforts. 

Preventing Burnout

AI-powered technologies also provide the analytics and reporting to improve live engagements and deliver frustration-free customer experiences. Analyzing 100 percent of call center customer interactions provides visibility into trends, outliers, and opportunities to build, train, and coach a high-performing contact center team—one that’s free from many of the stressors that can contribute to burnout. 

Beyond supporting agents with AI-powered technologies and tools that can reduce burnout, these solutions can contribute to a healthier bottom line—from improved customer service and digital experiences to reduced employee turnover. 

Seb Reeve is the Market Development VP at Nuance Communications.

Introducing Connections Magazine 3.0

Discover What’s Next for Connections Magazine

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter Lyle DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections Magazine

Over its twenty-eight-year history, Connections Magazine has seen many industry changes, with technological innovation leading the way. For industry veterans, recall what your call center looked like three decades ago. It was a vastly different operation from what you have today. We’ve also seen changes on the legislative and legal fronts, as well as heightened expectations from callers. Our workforce has changed too. We’re now much more diverse. With each iteration, we’ve adjusted and adapted to continue to provide critical telephone and related communication services to callers.

During this time, Connections Magazine has gone through many iterations, too, to reflect the needs of our readers and our vendors who make this publication possible. 

Version 1.0

Connections was launched in July 1993 by Steve and Chris Michaels for the “telecom service provider industry.” Published quarterly, Connections was printed on newsprint stock using black ink, with spot color on selected pages. This was Connections Magazine 1.0.

Version 2.0

In September 2001 I took over the reins of Connections Magazine. With the 9/11 attacks in the United States preoccupying my thoughts, I wondered what I had gotten myself into and what the future would look like. Would there even be a need for Connections? Indeed, there would be. Just as the country prevailed and the call center industry expanded, Connections Magazine was there every step of the way.

We increased circulation to six times a year, switched to magazine stock, and went to color on every page. At its zenith, we published Connections Magazine ten times a year, before settling back down to six. As an advertiser-supported magazine, the vendors who promote their services and products on these pages make this publication possible for you, our readers, to enjoy at no cost.

Version 3.0

The year 2020 is a time to remember—or to forget. Our world has gone through unprecedented change, impacting our economy, our jobs, and how we live our lives. Without a road map to guide us, we’re left to blaze our own trail. Since I have been working at home for two decades, my practices and my workflows have remained unchanged this year. But most people have not been so fortunate, needing to make significant adjustments to how they live and how they work.

Connections Magazine has also been impacted in the past year. As valued sponsors of the magazine, Map Communications, Startel, and Amtelco—our key supporters—have been loyal to us without hesitation. They, along with our other advertisers, have allowed us to continue to produce the magazine. Despite this, we’re in a situation where our costs exceed our revenue. It’s time for change. It’s time for Connections Magazine 3.0. But this isn’t the end. It’s a new beginning.

I’m pleased to announce that starting in 2021, Connections Magazine will go online and become an e-publication. Though we’ve been both a print and e-magazine for several years, we’ll now make the switch—like most other publications—and go all digital.

You will be able to read all the content of each issue online as always. We won’t put information behind a paywall and charge you a fee to access it. It’ll be there for free, like always.

We’ll also email you when each of our six annual issues become available. If you want to receive these bimonthly notices, make sure we have your email address. Just go to connectionsmagazine.com/subscribe, enter four pieces of information, and click subscribe. It’s that easy and will only take seconds.

As we look forward to the future of our work and our industry, Connections Magazine will move forward as well. 

Here’s to a great 2021!

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.  Read more of his articles at PeterDeHaanPublishing.com.

Encryption 101: The Past, Present, and Future of Data Security

Startel delivers best-in-call contact center solutions

By Matt Bogan

You’re aware of the need for data encryption. However, you may not have a clear picture of how it works.

Cryptography—the study of secure communications—is a complex field of science, intersecting a wide range of disciplines and constantly evolving. Cryptography predates computers, with roots reaching back to ancient Greece and Egypt. It’s believed that Julius Caesar sent secure messages to his most trusted staff by replacing each letter of the alphabet with the letter three places after it: A became D, B became E, and so forth. This method of data encryption is sometimes called a Caesar cipher. By the ninth century, mathematicians applied statistical analysis to defeat simple substitution ciphers such as the Caesar cipher. Thus we have perhaps the first historical instance of an encryption algorithm being cracked.

As long as we’ve needed to encode information, there have been others wanting to decode it for nefarious reasons. In WWII, Allied cryptanalysts working to crack encrypted Axis communications are widely credited with shortening the war by months or even years. 

Today, computer scientists called “white-hat hackers” work to defeat existing encryption protocols to identify weaknesses before they can be exploited. The complexity of encryption algorithms and the protocols that implement them have increased dramatically. Despite that, having an uncrackable encryption remains hypothetical. 

Instead, data security aims for a moving target: difficult enough to crack with present technology that it’s astronomically unlikely anyone would be able to. Yet available computing power continues to increase, turning unlikely into likely. A protocol that today would be considered too complex for even a supercomputer to crack in any reasonable amount of time may be trivial to defeat on consumer-grade hardware in a handful of years. 

DES (Data Encryption Standard), a protocol developed by IBM and implemented by government agencies and militaries around the world as recently as the early 1990s, was cracked in less than a day in 1999 by a cluster of thousands of computers working together. By 2016, it was cracked by a single computer using off-the-shelf components, and today, using advanced cryptographic attack methods, DES can be defeated in under a minute with hardware you can pick up at your favorite big-box store. Like their ninth-century counterparts using mathematics to peer behind the curtain of simple substitution ciphers, modern cryptanalysts apply the latest technological advances to accomplish what was previously impossible.

If everyone’s motive in defeating encryption was altruism, this discussion might be academic, but this is not the case. Far from the image of loosely affiliated teenage malcontents portrayed in popular media, hacking in the twenty-first century is big business. With backing from organized crime syndicates and foreign governments, the goals are a lot more sinister than causing a little digital mischief. Your data is a battlefield, and encryption is the arms race. 

The cryptographically secure lifespan of a common algorithm known as MD5 was roughly a decade, and the SHA-1 algorithm fared only slightly better. Concerns over vulnerability have contributed to tech giants like Apple, Google, and Microsoft deprecating protocols based on them. The 1.0 and 1.1 versions of TLS (Transport Layer Security) have recently joined Caesar ciphers and DES in the boneyard of obsolete cryptography. These methods once seemed functionally impenetrable, but with subsequent technological advancements, they now offer only moderate inconvenience to a well-resourced attacker. 

With the successors already being subjected to the scrutiny of security professionals on both sides of the battle, we can be sure more encryption methods will eventually join them. With the target of “safe enough” advancing, as businesspeople, solution providers, and individual consumers, it’s critical to ensure we keep pace.

Ask your vendors what they’re doing to stay current with the latest data encryption advancements. Remember that not all encryption is equal. Older products relying on encryption methods that were state-of-the-art when they were originally developed are unlikely to offer much protection against an attack today. 

When assessing products to sell to your clients or use in your own business, keep in mind that marketing terms such as secure and compliant are only as meaningful as the person or organization making that claim. Savvy consumers should look for products that have been audited by independent security experts. And once you have purchased a solution, make sure you keep it current with vendor-recommended updates. It’s the only way to be certain your data will be as safe tomorrow as it is today.

Startel

Matt Bogan is the product manager for Startel, a leading provider of best-in-class contact center solutions. He has been involved in the contact center industry for over fifteen years. Startel’s upcoming CMC 16.0 release incorporates the latest in encryption technology.