Are Insurance Call Centers Putting Customer Data at Risk?



By Ben Rafferty

Imagine if you had to read your PIN out loud at the ATM to make a transaction. With the possibility of someone overhearing and maliciously using your information, this notion is unthinkable. So why is it still commonplace for call centers to ask customers to read their card numbers, sensitive authentication data (SAD), and other personally identifiable information (PII) over the phone?

A recent secret shopper survey of leading insurance companies’ call centers unveiled that insurers are inclined to use the outdated, risky practice of asking customers for verbal confirmation of payment card details. In fact, ten of the top insurance companies in the United States anonymously surveyed said that they require customers to read their card numbers out loud to pay for insurance services over the phone. Moreover, four out of those same ten insurers admitted that customer services representatives (CSRs) read card numbers back to customers. Although many customers and CSRs may not think twice about verbalizing sensitive data, there are far too many risks involved. And, given the 371 percent increase in data breaches in the insurance industry, and the 113 percent increase in call center fraud, insurers cannot afford to be complacent.

Inside, or CSR fraud, is a real threat. As customers read their information aloud, the CSR could be copying it down for fraudulent use. Without clean rooms (no bags, pens or paper, or cell phones) and other stringent security measures, there is no telling what the CSR may do when exposed to sensitive data. Also the customer may be reading the information aloud in a public place, such as the grocery store. Who knows who may be listening and jotting down their information? Insurers who practice stop/start or manually scrub recordings of PII are noncompliant. Click To Tweet

When it comes to call recordings, the verbal confirmation of card numbers poses additional security concerns. This survey showed that eight of the ten insurers record calls, but how (and if) they remove PII from recordings varied. Some CSRs said they rely on a program to automatically block card details from the recording as callers talk. Others said PII is manually removed from the recordings after the call is completed. One insurer said they randomly record calls and keep recordings for thirty days before deleting them. Overall, it was also clear that CSRs were unaware or uninformed about how to shield sensitive information from recordings.

Unfortunately, the problem goes beyond the ambiguity and lack of a standardized approach to avoiding capturing card details. Most notably, a common method of removing card details cited in the survey was some form of “stop/start” or “pause and resume,” whereby the call recording is stopped, paused, or muted, either manually by a CSR or automatically. It is then restarted, resumed, or unmuted once sensitive information is captured. Stop/start systems are particularly inadequate, as the CSR is still exposed to verbalized information and in some cases is also responsible for pausing and resuming the call recording. Here there is opportunity for CSRs to misuse the system, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

What if the CSR pauses the recording to leave out portions of the call while he or she engages in fraudulent behavior? Or what if the CSR accidentally forgets to pause the recording? This could log sensitive information, leaving it vulnerable in the event of a data breach.

On top of these risks, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), which governs all card payments, explicitly prohibits the recording of card security codes and the manual intervention of staff to remove data from recordings. Thus, insurers who practice stop/start or manually scrub recordings of PII are noncompliant.

Fortunately there is a simple security solution for call centers in the insurance industry and beyond, and it involves de-scoping the call center. This is most effectively accomplished by using dual-tone multifrequency (DTMF) masking technologies. Such solutions allow customers to enter payment card information on their telephone keypad and shield the numbers from the CSR and recordings by replacing DTMF tones with flat tones. Payments are sent directly to the payment processor and never touch the call center’s systems. These technologies enable call centers to keep customer data safe and out of their infrastructure, thereby reducing the risks associated with a reputation-damaging data breach. This also cuts compliance costs.

Because insurance call centers hold so much PII, from credit card numbers to social security numbers, it is in the companies’ and their customers’ best interests to ensure that their security and compliance efforts are in order—before it’s too late. This begins with making the practice of reading payment card numbers aloud over the phone a thing of the past.

Ben Rafferty has fifteen years of experience of delivering speech recognition, IVR, and contact center automation on CPE and hosted platforms. At Semafone, Rafferty is responsible for the smooth deployment of solutions into hosted environments and for the overall management of Semafone’s hosted offering.

Choices and Consequences


Alston Tascom


By Wayne Scaggs

Events in our lives seldom just happen to us, regardless of what we tell ourselves or our friends. Somewhere along the way, we made a decision that caused certain events to happen. We make choices every day that put us on the path that leads to the events that occur in our lives. We go to school, get a diploma, and find a job or start a business. Somewhere along the way, we have a family.

Believe it or not, we made all the choices that guided us along the way; things did not just happen to us. Some of our choices were excellent (sheer genius), and we stick our chest out for a while. And then some of our other choices . . . well, let’s just say they did not make us, or anyone else, proud, and we won’t say any more about that.

Some may say we are lucky, although in most cases luck is a by-product of desire, choice, and continual productive efforts that pave the way for opportunity to cruise by. If we are aware, we can latch on and ride opportunity (luck) as far as it will take us. Choices affect not only us but others in the process, so the choice should be the very best one. Click To Tweet

My choices along the way have given me the opportunity to write this column and express the delight in knowing I have made a positive difference in the lives of many people. Some I know, and others I don’t.

Being part of this industry, which is people-oriented and service-driven, has allowed me to fulfill a childhood and adult desire. Deep within myself I know that through the choices I’ve made, I have helped more people than I will ever know in more ways than I can imagine. One of the ways came from someone who told me I was the reason they could start their own business, feed their family and, on top of all that, provide employment to others who were also able to feed their families. There is no substitute for the feeling we get when we help someone fulfill their dreams.

Few times in our lives do we get to make such monumental choices that affect not only us but others in the process, so the choice should be the very best one. Choices of this magnitude take time, forethought, and many restless nights weighing the pros and cons. In the end, when we are offered an opportunity that only comes along once in a long while and it is all that we wanted it to be, we take it. We jump at the opportunity and make it better than we thought it could ever be.

The recent merger between Alston Tascom and Startel Corporation is the very best possible next step for Alston Tascom, Tascom Systems, and the industry. This merger has answered questions most wouldn’t ask, such as “How long will Wayne be around?” “Is he getting up there in age?” “What is going to happen to Tascom?” Or more specifically for some people, “What is going to happen to my Tascom System and my business?”

Startel and Alston Tascom share the same technology. The biggest challenge ahead is not the competition. The elephant in the room is the speed of changing technology. The company’s road map is to bring the best minds in our industry together, sit down at the same table, and combine our talents to evolve what we have into the best-in-class system needed to stay in front of our customers and the competition. Staying ahead of what your clients need to be competitive in their market is the target. We are all in this together, and my desire is that we will be better than we were yesterday.

Alston TascomWayne Scaggs is the president of Alston Tascom, provider of call center database information and network telephony systems.

Vendor Profile: Szeto Technologies



Szeto Technologies is a manufacturer specializing in developing equipment for telephone switching and voice and data communication. For over thirty years it has provided technical solutions for the answering service industry to automate and enhance service offerings. Szeto Technologies develops equipment for telephone switching and voice and data communication. Click To Tweet

Open Source: Its latest products include the SSS-100 Call Linx, a Linux-based system with an internal built-in Asterisk telephone switch. Linux, being an open-source operating system, is reliable, secure, and constantly maintained by thousands of technical users worldwide. Its license-free availability makes this operating system very cost-effective.

Asterisk, being a Linux-based telephone switching software, harmoniously forms a natural bond with Call Linx with its internal built-in voice logger and VoIP SIP trunk capabilities. Szeto has integrated Asterisk software seamlessly with its Call Linx TAS system.

Innovative Solutions: Call Linx comprises local and remote work stations, which are connected to active, redundant servers via a computer network. Functions and features are always designed with an architecture that emphasizes redundancy, reliability, capability, and flexibility, the main criteria for a service-provider system.

As telephony, computer, and internet technologies evolve, Szeto relentlessly experiments and develops new features and functions for its products, as well as tools to help its customers stay ahead of their competitors. These capabilities help Szeto users streamline operations and diversify revenue streams. Sometimes they are custom-fit to a user’s specific requirements; other times they are separate modules that create new service offerings.

Szeto products offer turnkey solutions. Users of its equipment include a vast variety of industries: telephone answering services, call centers, radio-paging services, airlines, and the U. S. military.

Powerful Design: The Szeto Call Linx TAS system is designed with reliability, flexibility, and user-friendliness, where all human interface is conducted via graphical tables in window-style displays. All functions are easy to navigate. No command keys need to be remembered. Auto-fill technique keeps typing at a minimum.

Call Linx has many expanded features to reduce the stress in telephone answering, not only making the task pleasant and enjoyable, but most importantly minimizing errors and ensuring service reliability. Its fully integrated and versatile Linx scripting, OnCall reminder, and built-in appointment features, coupled with automatic “chain deliveries” and many automatic functions, form a powerful system.

Evolving Technology: The technology behind telephone answering services has changed in the past thirty years. While answering calls, taking messages, and delivering information continues to be the basic service offered, the nature of how this service is handled has changed considerably. Computer technology has given rise to service automation. The widely accessible internet has fueled market expansion.

The major characteristic of Szeto Technologies can be summed up in one word: customization.

Streamlined Operation: Call Linx provides many automatic functions to relieve operators from manual executions of routine functions. This is especially valuable during high rush-hour traffic. These functions are designed to improve work quality and reduce operator workload. Some examples are:

  • Automatic verification of call-forwarding lines and confirmation of forwarding calls
  • Automatic identification of subscriber calls to operators
  • Automatic telephone line audit to assure the phone lines are working properly
  • Automatic follow-up calls and reminders
  • Automatic inhibition of call recording during credit card entry

Call Linx also provides many automatic functions to facilitate call processing and message delivery efficiencies. It helps to decrease operator training time, minimize typing errors, and increase delivery accuracy. Some examples are:

  • Auto-fill for “repeat entry” in scripted processing
  • Auto-fill entries based on caller profile
  • Auto conditional call branching based on caller answer
  • Automatic selection of message recipient dynamically from on call lists
  • Automatic web launch
  • Order entry and nearest dealer locator

Secured Messaging: Information security and privacy has become a major concern to clients using answering services, especially for the medical professions with the need to ensure HIPAA compliance. Szeto Technologies offers bidirectional secured message mobile apps under a generic label (with a Szeto designed icon) or a private label (with a unique icon dedicated specifically to the call center).

Software for both options resides in the customer’s equipment and is solely owned by the call center. Key features include:

  • Bidirectional service operators-to-users and users-to-users among groups
  • Speedy operation coupled with cell battery conservation
  • User and operator reminders for unread messages after timeout
  • Message transactions logged for traceability
  • Mobile APP locked for added security
  • User-defined quantity and duration of message retention in the device
  • Personalized ringtone for certain models of cell phones
  • Multiple recipients and contact groups for message broadcast
  • Option for delayed message delivery
  • Note attachments with transmitted messages

To ensure the flexibility of services in the offering of secured-message service, Szeto Technologies also provides software interfaces to third-party providers (TigerText, OnPage, eVigil, DocHalo, and SecureBridge) via specially designed APIs (application program interface).

Summary: The digital communications and internet world is continuously developing new technologies and protocols. The engineering team at Szeto Technologies is committed to keeping their clients ahead in this ever-changing industry. Szeto firmly believes that every piece of equipment its customers use should be oriented to their unique business needs. All Szeto products are customizable and flexible. They are designed to be simple to use, smart in functions, and cost-effective.

Szeto TechnologiesFor additional information please contact them at info@szeto.ca or 877-MY-SZETO (877-697-9386).

AI: On the Right Path but Not Yet Real



By Donna Fluss

It’s hard to find a product today that doesn’t claim to use machine learning to provide artificial intelligence (AI). The funny thing is that while the marketing has changed, most of the products have not. It’s amazing how so many products have supposedly morphed into AI-based solutions overnight, despite little evidence of any product development effort. This, of course, means that most of these solutions do not offer AI, and what we’re reading in their marketing materials and websites is merely aspirational messaging.

AI Today

To be fair, it’s going to be hard for a vendor to attract attention today if they don’t claim to use AI to improve the performance and output of their solution. Given the choice between purchasing a product that continues to do what it always did or one that uses AI (which typically means machine learning) to enhance its capabilities, most people are going to go for what they believe to be the latest and greatest cutting-edge offerings.

The problem is that most of what people are buying is hype, and this is going to result in disappointment as enterprises realize that AI is still in the early stages of commercialization. The potential is great, but the current generation of technology and applications are far from fully AI-enabled. As I look through the market, the vendors who are closest to delivering AI-enabled applications are selling a great deal of professional services with each solution to build out their products.

A Push for Improvements

The driver behind the AI revolution is the need for productivity and quality improvements, which are important for all enterprise applications and essential for people-intensive front- and back-office service organizations. Imagine a voice self-service solution, also known as an interactive voice response system (IVR) that self-corrects when it realizes customers are dropping out at a certain point in the script (application). If machine learning were applied, the solution would identify the issue by itself and then make a change to the appropriate components of the script without human intervention.

Another great use of AI would be to embed it into an automatic call distributor (ACD) to improve and optimize routing. Imagine an ACD that continuously enhances its routing algorithms, ensuring that the right transactions are delivered to the best-suited agents or associates. These examples sound great, but they are not fully-baked today. Most of what is currently referred to as AI are business rules created and modified by humans. These approaches are not new, although there are changes in how they are being applied and rolled out as vendors strive to make their solutions more intelligent and AI-ready.

The Past and the Future

The first AI application I was introduced to over thirty years ago was knowledge management (KM), and it’s a perfect example of how AI is not yet ready for prime-time commercialization and adoption in enterprise applications. KM is still an ideal application for machine learning-enabled AI, as the number-one challenge with these applications is keeping them up-to-date. If AI worked, this would have been addressed years ago; more development work is still needed before AI can truly drive the processes in enterprise solutions.

DMG is bullish on the current AI revolution. What’s different this time is that companies in many IT sectors are making investments to try to embed AI-like capabilities in their solutions. The benefits for the contact center technology market are going to be tremendous, even though it will take a few more years before AI is ready for prime time.This generation of systems is not yet fully AI-enabled, but it is on the right path. Click To Tweet

 Final Thoughts

AI is driving a much-needed round of investment in many systems and applications for various IT sectors, including contact centers. AI is not yet ready for broad commercial adoption, but the push to include it in many solutions is driving vendors to rethink their application logic and deliver a new generation of technology that is easier to implement and use, as it is designed to be smarter and faster than anything that came before.

Many of these solutions, including intelligent virtual agents (IVAs) and robotic process automation (RPA) applications, can deliver significant productivity and quality improvements, even though the underlying technology is not true AI but typically a basic form of machine learning. This generation of systems is not yet fully AI-enabled, but it is on the right path, and many of these solutions are generations ahead of the twenty to thirty-year-old systems that many companies are using.

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.

Will Customer Service Chatbots Ruin the Contact Center?



By Peter L. DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineBots, sometimes called chatbots, are applications used to automate responses to social media and online inquiries. The purpose of bots is to speed answers to customer information requests. And they do this automatically. They’re programs, after all. They can do in seconds what it might take a person minutes to handle, or even longer if the message gets stuck in a lengthy queue.

Chatbots respond quickly, expedite communication, and relieve customer service staff from handling basic inquiries. What does this mean to contact centers and their staff? Could chatbots signal the end of the contact center as we know it? Could chatbots signal the end of the contact center as we know it? Click To Tweet

Although it’s easy to imagine these chatbot programs one day taking over a contact center and sending all the agents home because they have no work left to do, this is unlikely. Go back through the history of the call center industry; every year or two we see some new technology coming along that carries the threat of devastating the call center. So far it’s never happened.

Although emerging technologies have served to change how the call center operates, in most cases these innovations have opened new opportunities to serve customers and provide more work for agents. Historically, these technologies have not been disruptive but enabling.

Bots are not a threat to contact center agents but a tool that can aid in communication, assist contact center agents, and speed answers to customers. Just as web self-service and FAQ sections on websites help customers resolve problems, so too will self-learning bots. And though online self-service was heralded as the end of contact centers, this proved false, with frustrated users demanding to talk with people to resolve their most difficult problems. Bots will have the same effect.

However, as the saying goes, “To err is human, but to really foul things up requires a computer.” Bots could accomplish this too. They are, after all, self-learning. What if they learn the wrong thing? What if they reach an errant conclusion and then perpetuate it, spreading their misinformation to thousands of people?

Who will suffer the fallout? The contact center will, as agents field calls, emails, and text messages from confused customers who were led astray by erroneous bots. Who’s going to fix the mess? Contact center agents, that’s who: real people solving big problems caused by well-meaning technology that’s run amuck. This possibility, though likely, will only happen in isolated cases.

Yet there’s a bigger issue at stake. Unlike a typical computer application that can only do what it was programmed to do, bots have an element of artificial intelligence built into them. They can grow, they can evolve, and they can change. They could take over! Though this may sound like an intriguing plot for a sci-fi thriller, it’s a possibility, even if far-fetched. But if bots take over and turn customer service into a nightmare, it will be the contact center agents who come to the rescue and save us all!

My attempts at humor aside, bots present more opportunities than threats. We need to implement them to better serve our customers. Let the bots do the easy things—just like we expect from self-service, FAQs, and interactive voice response—so that contact center agents can focus their attention on the more challenging inquiries. In this way, bots will take some of the drudgery out of routine contact center chores and defer to real people for the really interesting work.

In all likelihood, chatbots will not ruin the contact center industry. They will empower it to become more.

 Peter L. DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, AnswerStat, TAS Trader, and Medical Call Center News, as well as a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his writing blog, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from www.authorpeterdehaan.com.

Maximize Results with B2B Outbound Marketing



By Ryan Apodac

“What’s the secret sauce?” This is a common question new clients often ask me. But there is no simple answer. Of course, there are a multitude of variables for evaluating B2B marketing campaigns to maximize performance. However, it’s easy to overlook the small details that can make a huge impact on your overall results. Here are a few creative techniques that a great telemarketing service partner will use to maximize results on your B2B outbound marketing campaign.

 Daily Program Scheduling

One of the keys to B2B outbound marketing project success is identifying when the prospect or customer will answer the phone. In most B2B outbound marketing campaigns, the ultimate decision maker is typically in an executive or at least a mid-level management position. Knowing that, you have to ask yourself, “When would be the best time to make contact?”

It is much more productive to dial the majority of the time Monday through Thursday and half a day on Fridays. Statistically, in B2B outbound telemarketing, Friday afternoons are typically the worst time of the week to reach decision makers. While this may not apply to every B2B campaign, it could definitely be a key ingredient.

 Use a Local Caller ID

How many times have you received a call, noticed an out-of-state caller ID number, and let it go to voicemail? Conversely, I’m sure we’ve all seen an unfamiliar local number on our Caller ID and answered it out of curiosity. “Is that my spouse’s office? Maybe it’s my child’s school. Well, it’s a local number, so maybe it’s someone I know calling from a different phone.” Pushing a local caller ID can only improve results.

 Ring-to Number

What’s the best way to speak to a decision maker? Have them call you. One of the best ways to increase decision-maker contact is to create an inbound campaign. In conjunction with using a local caller ID, routing that number to an inbound campaign and ultimately a live agent, gives you another opportunity to speak with the decision maker.

A good best practice is to route to a live agent instead of voicemail. Routing to voicemail creates the additional step of calling back the customer or prospect. Whether or not you leave a voicemail message, some decision makers will return a missed call just by seeing your phone number on their Caller ID. Outbound marketing agents sound confident if they can speak in their own words. Click To Tweet

 Rotating Time-Zone Attempts

While Eastern Standard Time leads are the first leads to call each day, it is likely not a best practice to run through all those leads before moving on to Central Standard Time, and so forth. The same would apply to calling Pacific Standard Time leads late each afternoon. Granted, you can dial Eastern Standard Time leads earlier and Pacific Standard Time leads later each day, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best time to reach decision makers.

The key here is to rotate the times during the day you are calling these time zones. Be flexible with how you manage your time zones. Review the data, and you’ll likely find that sweet spot to maximize contact.

No More Scripts

It may seem counterintuitive to eliminate your script. After all, how can you expect an agent to call an outbound B2B marketing campaign without a script? Instead, provide outbound call agents with a call guide or a call flow that outlines all the objectives and important information to relay to the customer. Then let the agent communicate that message to the customer.

For some agents this inevitably results in them creating their own script. So be it. It can empower the agent to contribute to his or her own success. Ultimately outbound marketing agents will sound more confident in their presentations if they can speak in their own words.

Careful monitoring and coaching of agents to calibrate their thoughts of effective verbiage with your expectations is key. While there is no easy recipe to maximizing performance in B2B marketing campaigns, these are definitely ingredients to consider. Think outside the box. Little changes can make big differences.

 Ryan Apodac is an operations manager and training leader at Quality Contact Solutions, a leading B2B outsourced telemarketing organization. With a background of more than a decade in sales, Ryan is passionate about developing and delivering training that ultimately results in improved performance for client programs.

Outbound Script-Writing Principals



By Kathy Sisk

How can an outbound agent overcome the pitfalls of heavy legislation that affects agent burnout? By incorporating script-writing principals using the “12 Steps to Successful Telemarketing.”

Since the national do-not-call registry took effect, many telemarketers have inundated unregistered consumers with outbound calls. Furthermore, many call centers have discovered just how crucial it is to have properly designed scripts that are in compliance and distinguish them from their competition.

Today’s heavily legislated environment forces companies to make drastic changes to their script-writing principles. This change ensures that agents adhere to legal compliances while meeting demanding production requirements.

When making outbound calls, particularly more challenging-type calls such as cold calls, scripts require careful step-by-step planning to help agents get through the call professionally and personably while meeting the legal compliance requirements enforced by both state and federal authorities.

Throughout the years I have had many opportunities to visit call centers across the globe, and I have identified two primary weaknesses in agents’ call scripts:Scripts require careful step-by-step planning to help agents get through the call. Click To Tweet

  1. Poor Flowing Script: Most scripts do not provide enough focus on the flow that allows agents to easily move from the “introduction” to the “post close.” Typically, it’s expected that the agent “think outside the box,” but that isn’t always possible when the agent struggles with inexperience, poor training, or a new campaign they have little-to-no experience with. A poor delivery will reflect negatively on the company, ultimately causing a decline in sales and customer retention.
  2. Inadequate Responses for Negative Encounters: The agent may not know what the primary fears their prospects have and how to overcome them before they surface in a negative encounter.

For the past thirty years I have trained agents’ in my “12 Steps to Successful Telemarketing” (with modifications to meet legal requirements). When following the twelve steps, agents’ productivity surpasses production goals while meeting demanding compliance issues.

Script writing is an art and needs careful attention to the direction, verbiage, and style of the presenter. If agents handle customer service, tech-support, sales, and especially cold calling, the twelve steps will enhance an agent’s style of delivery, give them greater control of their calls, and produce positive results.

Kathy Sisk Enterprises Inc. has forty years of experience providing call center setup, reengineering, assessments, training, script development, and project management services to centers globally

Three Steps to Ensure That Live Chat Agents Support Your Brand Identity



By Tony Medrano

AI and machine learning are more than just trendy buzzwords. In many industries, including e-commerce, rapid advances in Artificial Intelligence and machine learning are giving companies huge competitive advantages right now. These technologies power live chat agent communications and help companies scale faster than ever before. However, if your brand is your most valuable asset, you want to make sure that your live chat agents support your brand identity, not tarnish it, before you set them loose on potential customers.

Brand conscious e-commerce companies find that chat agents have an increased impact on customer satisfaction, build a more resilient brand identity, and foster lifelong customers, while freeing up chat team leaders to tackle unique issues. Empowering human chat agents with these insights from machine learning enables brands to make the strongest emotional connection with customers.

1. Understand Your Customer’s Expectations: The first key to training live chat agents is to make sure that your agents have a solid understanding of what the customer’s expectation is when using live chat. After all, you cannot exceed expectations until you know what the expectations are. A live chat agent is not a replacement for an entire customer service team. Click To Tweet

Customers who opt for live chat most often want immediate service, clear answers, and positive interaction. Fast service is not enough for most customers. They’re used to texting with friends and getting an immediate response. Your live chat agent needs to be able to react right away.

The way your live chat agent responds is important as well. They need clear answers they can act on to questions they ask. This means that answers should have direct links when appropriate and incorporate information specific to the customer. If you can personalize customer service, you’ll improve brand loyalty.

A live chat agent also needs to make the customer feel good about the interaction. You already know people buy more when they are in a good mood. This means your live chat agent not only needs to be efficient but also friendly. This includes using appropriate greetings, asking if the customer has any other questions, and ending a chat session with an appropriate sign off.

2. Understand Your Brand’s Identity: Brand-conscious e-commerce companies have these goals:

  • Present a correct representation of the brand
  • Offer high-quality service for each customer interaction
  • Communicate accurate information about products and logistics

Are you a luxury brand that fosters attention to detail about your products? Are you a big box e-retailer working in many verticals that prioritize order size and a flexible return policy? Communicating your brand identity to live chat agents is crucial to ensuring that your customer service strategy represents you correctly.

A high quality of service ensures that chat conversations reinforce customers’ positive brand associations while increasing the chances your brand is top of mind for your customer base. Achieving these tenets of brand identity through live chat will strengthen brand recognition, association, and loyalty.

Often a customer service interaction falls into one of two categories: product information or logistics. The former interaction likely occurs before a customer has made a purchase. The customer may need more information about a product before deciding to buy. The latter interaction usually occurs when the customer is ready to check out or already has. They may have a question about the purchase process, shipping, or product delivery.

3. Understand the Role of Your Live Chat Agent: It can be difficult for brand conscious e-commerce companies to provide immediate service while communicating accurate product information. When accurately representing a luxury product to support a purchasing decision, for example, a chat agent’s accuracy trumps the speed of the interaction.

The good news is that brand-conscious companies prefer using in-house customer service agents, eliminating many possible pain points. It’s easier to maintain brand voice when chat team leaders are in contact with other brand representatives in the company. Furthermore, the quality of interaction is facilitated by increased monitoring of chat conversation management. Chat team leaders can communicate immediately with superiors to adjust human resources to meet contact center traffic.

Solutions: Develop Proper Management Structure: The biggest mistake a brand can make with live chat agents is expecting them to do too much. A live chat agent can solve most of the customer service issues that come in. However, a live chat agent is not a replacement for an entire customer service team. A live chat agent can deal with 80 to 90 percent of customer queries. But if you try and force your live chat agents to deal with things that require too much improvisation or that the agents do not have authority to handle, you will trigger negative customer interactions.

If you are clear that your live chat agent will only deal with a specific set of issues, then you can train them to quickly get assistance from a team leader when issues are beyond the scope of their power or authority to resolve. Few things are more frustrating for a customer than spending fifteen minutes on live chat only to find out that the chat agent needs to bring in backup. This situation can often be avoided by training live chat agents to know when it is time to escalate the chat for resolution.

If you don’t want your e-commerce company to be left behind, you need to synthesize an AI and machine learning tool with your live chat training to improve your brand’s identity online.

Tony Medrano is the co-founder and CEO for RapportBoost.AI, provider of a suite of live chat agent training solutions that use advanced machine learning and deep conversational analysis to organizations to guide their human customer success and chat sales teams to build stronger connections with customers. He can be reached at tony@rapportboost.ai.

10 Reasons Call Center Coaching Fails to Improve Customer Experience and Employee Morale and Performance



By Melissa Pollock

Call center coaching has long been a challenge for both outsourced and corporate contact centers alike. Here are ten top causes that contribute to stagnant customer experience, waning employee morale, and disappointing performance improvements.

1. No Agent Availability for Coaching: Given the inherent pressures in call centers to achieve high agent availability and reach service-level targets, there is little time available for off-line training or coaching.

2. Lack of Time to Coach: Call center supervisors, team leads, and QA representatives who are typically responsible for coaching contact center agents don’t have time for coaching—either at all or not in the necessary frequency. In many cases, frontline leaders are over-tasked with a multitude of reporting, escalations, and performance management duties. Plus they often have too many direct reports. Sometimes these competing tasks take away from coaching time. Sometimes coaching is a personally distasteful task, so other work provides easy justification to procrastinate or avoid it.

3. No Commonly Accepted Coaching Model: There is often no coaching model to structure the coaching conversation. Each coach has strengths and challenges in different parts of the conversation. But without a structure it’s difficult for managers to identify these areas. It’s even more difficult for employees to follow the coaching conversation. Without a common language to discuss, understand, and evaluate coaching effectiveness, employees, coaches, and leaders all have limited insight.

4. No Standardized Coaching Process: There is often no standardization of the overall coaching process. These include a lack of expectations, evaluation, frequency, methods, behaviors, documentation location and formatting, follow-through steps, timelines, processes, and individual coaching efficiency or effectiveness. In the absence of well-established, communicated, and supported processes, coaching becomes a more casual and overly corrective kind of activity.

5. Underdeveloped Coaching Competency: Coaching occurs, but the quality of results suffers based on the coaches’ competency. In so many cases, newly promoted coaches (QAs, team leads, supervisors, and managers) are promoted from within. Though this is a wonderful practice, it only works when coaches receive proper training and tools. Being top performers may have earned them promotions, but their prior roles likely had little to do with leading and developing people. Millennials want to be more than just workers; they want to matter in the bigger picture. Click To Tweet

6. Not Based on Observing Actual Work Performance: In this scenario coaching is conducted without first observing actual work performance. Instead it’s based on metric outcomes without any analysis of correlating behaviors; there is no discussion of what actions are successful or unsuccessful in producing the desired outcomes. Without behaviors, there can be no coaching. Instead the conversation sounds more like a reinforcement of requirements, which ends with an empty agreement to improve.

7. Insufficient Relationship and Trust Building: Coaching occurs, but the quality of the relationship and subsequently the coaching interaction suffer based on the coaches’ interpersonal skills. If it’s all business and there’s no time spent connecting—talking, asking questions, listening, and trying to understand interests and concerns—then coaches don’t know what’s important to each person and therefore cannot demonstrate interest. And without being able to establish a genuine human connection, there’s little incentive for employees to invest much in return. Millennials, in particular, say they want to be more than just workers; they want to matter in the bigger picture.

8. Unbalanced Feedback: Coaching occurs, but it is too heavily focused on corrective feedback or challenges. Appreciation, recognition, and praise aren’t given or are given ineffectively. Few people know how to praise well; without behavior-specific positive reinforcement, there’s little incentive to course correct as requested, except for compliance-driven fear over job security.

9. Ineffective Follow-Through: Coaching occurs, but the timeliness of results suffers based on coaches’ lack of follow-through. Having a productive coaching conversation but then never checking back, or doing so a month later, makes it clear there is no accountability to force change. Even worse, some coaches check back but focus their comments on changes that still need to be made instead of first acknowledging and appreciating the progress already made.

10. Post-Coaching Failure: Coaching occurs but does not result in behavior change or performance improvement. Few contact center leaders can answer who their best high-performing coaches are, and even fewer can speak to the specific behaviors and practices that make those individuals good coaches. But how many leaders observe their coaches while they coach and then coach their coaches? Beyond that, how many leaders themselves are experienced at evoking willing behavior modification? In the absence of knowledgeable training and mentoring, coaches do the best they can with whatever prior experience they have and whoever they’re able to watch coach.

There are proven approaches for remedying each of these coaching effectiveness challenges, but as with anything, acknowledging the current state and understanding the causes are always the first steps.

Melissa Pollock is a practitioner of human and organizational learning and development and operational process improvement. She has twelve years’ experience with contact centers, specializing in creating transformational change through communication, alignment, and structure of processes and employee development practices. Her joy and skill in evolving leaders into better communicators and coaches has resulted in turnaround performance in centers around the nation. Mrs. Pollock is known for inspiring and organizing positive vision and change; she has a stellar record of strategic interventions that have strengthened engagement and improved overall performance and quality. Visit AmplifAI.com to learn how AI and machine learning are driving improved coaching and performance.

A PCI-Certified Level 1 Call Center Will Better Protect Your Customer’s Data



By Rich Hamilton

You’ve made the decision. Your organization is seeking an outsourced call center to work on your behalf. Outsourced call centers are often referred to as service agencies, telemarketing vendors, or business process outsourcing (BPO). Regardless of what they are called, many factors will need to be considered, including call center size, location(s), management, technology capabilities, and experience with different types of calls such as helpdesk, customer service, or sales. One factor that should not be overlooked is information security. How secure will your customer data be with a potential call center? Let’s look at how a PCI-Certified Level 1 call center will be able to best protect your customer data as opposed to a call center that is not PCI-Certified Level 1.

No Brainer for Credit Card Processing: If your outsourced call center will be processing credit cards, the decision is a no brainer. A PCI-certified call center should be used. What is PCI? PCI DSS stands for “payment card industry data security standard” and is an information security standard for organizations that handle credit cards from the major card providers, including Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover. Standards for becoming PCI-certified are so high, makes customer data will be more secure. Click To Tweet

There are four PCI-certification levels available. Levels 2–4 only require a self-assessment in order to receive certification. Level 1 is more rigorous and requires a third party to audit corporate governance (policies and procedures), the operations and processes, and all technology involved. Through this thorough review, along with penetration tests, the third-party qualified security assessor (QSA) is able to determine if all systems and processes are secure with the proper protocols and encryptions. Obviously becoming PCI-Certified Level 1 involves more time with a higher cost, but having a third party review all aspects of your organization ensures that your customer data will be very secure.

If your organization’s outsourced call center will handle credit card data or other sensitive personally identifiable information (PII), you really don’t want to take any chances. Depending on the volume of credit card transactions you process with your merchant account provider, being PCI DSS compliant will be a requirement, either at a low level or at the Level 1 extreme. In addition there are also other negative consequences that can result from a data breach of your customer data, including financial penalties, bad publicity, and possibly losing credit card transaction processing privileges. Taking the proper steps to become PCI-certified will help protect both your customer data and your organization’s well-being for the long term.

 What About Call Centers Not Processing Credit Cards?: If your third-party outsourced call center does not need to process credit card transactions, you’re probably wondering why you would require the organization to be PCI-certified. Keep in mind that since the standards for becoming PCI-certified are so high, your customer data will be more secure.

The following items are required for a PCI-Certified Level 1 Call Center—but not for a call center that is not PCI-certified:

  • Detailed policies such as password policies, physical security policies, acceptable use policies, and information handling policies
  • Processes to support the detailed policies
  • Secure firewalls: protecting customer data from cyber-attacks
  • Proper encryption while customer data is at rest and in transit
  • Yearly security awareness training for all employees
  • Quarterly and yearly penetration scans to ensure that customer data is secure

Based on this, which call center do you think would be able to more securely handle your customer data? Clearly, a third-party outsourced call center or teleservices agency that is PCI-Certified Level 1 is the best choice. They have committed the additional time and money needed to ensure that the proper policies, processes, and technologies are in place (with a rigorous third-party audit) to handle customer data in a 100 percent secure manner.

Rich Hamilton is the director of marketing and product development for Quality Contact Solutions, a leading outsourced telemarketing organization. Rich works tirelessly to bring new products to the teleservices and call center market. Rich is also the creative powerhouse behind executing on a wide spectrum of marketing initiatives for the organization. In addition, Rich is a telemarketing compliance guru with a customer engagement compliance professional (CECP) certification to back it up. Rich can be reached at rich.hamilton@qualitycontactsolutions.com or 516-656-5105.

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