Category Archives: Articles

Why Call Centers Are Important for Your Branding Strategy



By Guy Dilger

For many business leaders, branding means the company logo, website, sales material, direct marketing, social media, and online content. Devoting resources and marketing activities to these types of communications is important to creating brand awareness and sales opportunities.

However, it’s not just the company’s marketing that creates a brand. Every touch point in the customer journey becomes part of a buyer’s perception of the company’s brand.

Call Center as a Brand Experience

One department that may require a portion of the branding budget but is often overlooked is the inbound call center or customer service department. For many customers who purchase products or sign up for services online, the call center is the only human interaction with a company. This is especially true for online and e-commerce companies that don’t have a physical presence.

Consumers and decision-makers are more likely to judge and create an impression of businesses based on the over-the-phone service. That’s the reason it’s crucial for businesses to incorporate their branding into their customer service and call centers.

Companies make major investments to support call centers and customer service departments. This includes telecommunications technology, customer response management software, training, and scripts. But does the call center training cover the company’s brand standards and personality? Are the founder’s story and company mission part of the scripts? Can the team easily insert the company’s unique value proposition and point of differentiation for the products and services into customer conversations? All these key message points shape the buyer’s brand experience, which influences customer acquisition, retention, loyalty, and lifetime value.

Call Center Agents as Brand Ambassadors

When an insufficiently trained call center or customer service representative focuses more on ending a customer call rather than solving the issue, the company takes a hit.

First, this tarnishes the brand. That interaction had a greater impact on the customer’s perception than a scheduled message from the company’s CEO. Second, all the marketing, product development, and innovation were made ineffective because of a frustrated call center agent. Even worse, that unsatisfied or angry customer may choose to post a negative review or rant on social media.

Ensuring that your call center and customer service department are properly trained and engaged is the best way to avoid these types of interactions. An engaged call center pays for itself in improved productivity and reduced turnover of customers and employees. This communication allows an opportunity for a resolution, rather than seeing a complaint or negative review online. Click To Tweet

Essential Training Elements

Key elements of the call center training include:

Empathy: Prospects and customers call because they need information or have an issue. Some call center agents and customer service representatives mistakenly use a falsely cheery phone voice. Call center agents and customer service representatives need to be sensitive to the fact that customers may be confused or upset. After the caller explains the reason for the call, the first response is sincere empathy. The company’s brand personality and brand voice should guide the tone of this initial interaction.

Ease Anxiety: Next, ease the caller’s anxiety by reassuring them that they have called the experts and solution providers. At this point, the call center agent should consider thanking the customer for calling. This communication allows an opportunity for a resolution, rather than seeing a complaint or negative review online. A calm, confident, and reassuring attitude will go a long way in easing communications and clearly understanding the issues.

Educate: Once the issue is defined, the call center agent can provide information and guidance for the next steps. Guidelines for various scenarios and scripts with key message points provide the greatest support for the agent and result in faster resolution. Some companies provide checklists, step-by-step instructions, links to the company website, and other resources to address their customers’ needs.

Enable Follow-Up: After the call, a brief online survey or follow-up email continues to improve the brand experience. Marketing and sales leaders may consider a follow-up phone call to make sure the issue was resolved and offer an additional customer touch point.

In some cases, business leaders “mystery shop” their own call center, take customer calls themselves, or listen to recorded conversations. Getting customer feedback and monitoring performance will ensure that the call center is part of the brand experience.

Guy Dilger is the vice president of product and marketing at Plain Green. With twelve years of experience designing marketing strategies for Fortune 500 companies and financial technology brands, he is known for generating engaging content and compelling concepts that resonate with targeted consumers.

Telemarketing Appointment Setting Best Practices—Part 1



By Angela Garfinkel

Telemarketing appointment setting is a cost-effective way to use less expensive people resources to set appointments for your salespeople. The best telemarketing appointment setting initiatives have these things in common:

  • A targeted contact list with phone numbers
  • A friendly, open phone voice
  • A nutshell message
  • A reason for the prospect to schedule the appointment with you: WIIFM (what’s in it for me)
  • A timely calendar invite sent via email with a very brief summary of what the appointment will cover
  • Productive outbound dialing—ideally about thirty-five dials per hour, 262 dials per day from a B2B telemarketing appointment setting program

If any of these core components aren’t optimized, then your telemarketing appointment setting program won’t produce the highest possible return on investment (ROI).

Telemarketing appointment setting requires tenacity and creativity. The tenacity is having the willpower to make hundreds of phone calls a day, resulting in a handful of appointments. The creativity is identifying what works and what isn’t working to come up with the best approach to secure more appointments that are kept. Some people agree to appointments because they don’t like conflict or don’t like saying no. Click To Tweet

In this first article in a three-part series, I’ll cover the concept of appointment kept rate and what you can do to ensure the highest appointment kept rate possible.

What Is the Appointment Kept Rate?

The appointment kept rate is the percentage of appointments that are kept (not cancelled or no-showed) by your prospect divided by the total number of appointments set for the period you’re measuring. For example, if your outbound telemarketing appointment setting team set five hundred appointments last month and three hundred appointments were kept (including those that were rescheduled), your appointment kept rate is 60 percent. That’s a pretty good rate.

As an outsourced telemarketing appointment setting resource, our company works with many clients in many different industries, and we find that the methodology of getting a high appointment kept percent is relatively simple.

The first critical component for a high appointment kept rate is making sure the prospect is told clearly WIIFM (what’s in it for me). Some people agree to appointments because they don’t like conflict or don’t like saying no. So they agree to the appointment but don’t honor their commitment because it is easier to say yes and then not show up. Make sure that you reinforce with your appointment confirmation (wrap-up) verbiage what your prospect will gain by attending the appointment. If you can’t put that in one or two sentences, you need to work on creating an effective nutshell message.

Next, be sure you send a calendar invite immediately following the telemarketing call to lock in the appointment time on your prospect’s calendar. It’s best if you can get access to the salespeople’s calendars and set the appointments on their calendar on their behalf, inviting them to the appointment. In the calendar invite, include the nutshell language in the appointment notes or comments to reinforce why it’s worth them keeping the appointment.

Another nice touch is to send an email from the appointment setter to the prospect (copying the salesperson for whom the appointment is set). Thank them for their time, let them know that they should have received a calendar invite, and ask them to please accept the appointment to lock in the time.

If you set appointments too far in advance, expect a high rate of no-shows or reschedules. As a rule of thumb, we limit our outbound telemarketing appointment setters to set appointments no more than one week from the date of the call. If the prospect insists they can’t do an appointment sooner, then set a callback to set the appointment; don’t set the appointment and hope for the best.

In the next two articles on this topic, I’ll share best practices for finding a good prospect list and best practices for writing an appointment setting script.

Angela Garfinkel is the president and founder of Quality Contact Solutions, a leading outsourced telemarketing services organization serving the healthcare, financial services, automotive, market research, professional associations, and other B2B focused verticals. Angela leads a talented team that runs thousands of outbound telemarketing program hours daily. She is also a certified Self-Regulatory Organization (SRO) auditor with the Professional Association for Customer Engagement, and she is a designated Customer Engagement Compliance Professional (CECP). Contact Angela at angela.garfinkel@qualitycontactsolutions.com or 516-656-5118.

PCI Scope Reduction Can Save Tens of Thousands of Dollars Per Year



By Art Coombs

High-profile stories of compromised credit cards and data breaches and their sobering aftereffects have dominated the headlines in recent years. As such, increasing security and reducing fraud is on the minds of many business leaders. This is particularly true of call centers, where credit card transactions are at the heart of their operations. These companies are challenged to provide a secure environment to accept credit cards while keeping the associated costs down.

The leading credit card companies set up the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) to help businesses that take card payments reduce fraud. Built on solid security principles that apply to all sorts of data, it covers areas such as retention policies, encryption, physical security, authentication, and access control. According to the Verizon 2017 Payment Security Report, almost half of companies that accept credit cards fail to protect their payment card data on an ongoing basis.

The explanations vary widely as to why this is the case, but one of the primary reasons is the expense associated with maintaining full PCI compliance. In many cases, it’s prohibitively expensive. Fines levied by banks and credit card institutions for not being PCI compliant in the event of a breach can range from five thousand dollars to five hundred thousand dollars, highlighting the need for compliance despite the cost.Two approaches call centers can employ to reduce or even eliminate PCI scope is to use DTMF (dual-tone multi-frequency) suppression and SMS text messaging. Click To Tweet

Companies Face Mounting Costs

PCI-compliance costs add up quickly. Companies can expect to pay handsomely for items such as vulnerability scans, penetration testing, training, and policy development. Overall, there are twelve standards and more than four hundred controls outlined in the PCI DSS.

Often the largest direct expense (aside from remediation requirements resulting from a breach) is usually the PCI assessor and assessment fees, which, depending on the complexity of an organization, cost tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. These annual and biannual assessments are conducted by Qualified Security Assessor (QSA) companies, independent security organizations that have been qualified by the PCI Security Standards Council to validate a company’s adherence to PCI DSS.

The PCI Security Standards Council maintains an in-depth program for security companies seeking certification as Qualified Security Assessors and recertification each year. The requirements are stringent and comprehensive. Because of the time and energy individuals and companies invest in certification, they are justified in charging a premium for the assessments they conduct.

Reduce PCI Scope and Save Money

The litany of requirements is as costly as it is formidable, but call centers, as well as any company accepting credit cards, need to be aware that there are distinct ways to reduce the burden of applicable PCI controls. This means they can easily reduce the number of areas in the scope of PCI compliance that the company is responsible for. Reducing or eliminating areas of PCI scope can greatly reduce costs now and in the future and still provide a secure system.

Two approaches call centers can employ to reduce or even eliminate PCI scope is to use DTMF (dual-tone multi-frequency) suppression and SMS text messaging. These bypass the agents and contact center infrastructure, going instead directly to a tokenization service provided by the company’s payment processor and acquiring bank.

DTMF represents the tones the numbers on a phone make when pressed. DTMF suppression is a method that enables customers to enter their credit card information using the keypad on their phone. The agent stays on the line and never sees the numbers or hears the tones.

The second approach is to leverage SMS, or texting, so customers don’t have to give their credit card information verbally over the phone to the agent. SMS and an accompanying payment portal are a secure and smart solution for accepting payment for several reasons. Most consumers are already familiar with their mobile devices and SMS. This saves agents from having to explain a complicated web portal and payment screen. The consumer doesn’t need to download an app or go through a credit card terminal to make payments via SMS. SMS payments can be accepted around the world without any agents seeing or hearing the information.

The systems the company uses (CRMs, CMS, and payment systems) receive a confirmation or token validating that the transaction went through, but the credit card data never touches the company’s infrastructure. This greatly reduces risk: the company doesn’t have the credit card data, and it isn’t present, stored (recorded for quality assurance), or transmitted within the company’s systems. This reduces or eliminates PCI scope.

It’s important to note that regarding fraud prevention, even the most robust, 100 percent PCI-compliant environment could still be at risk when human agents, including employees, decide to commit fraud or theft. If they verbally receive numbers over the phone, they can memorize the critical information and then write it down once they leave the office or record the numbers and use them for their own nefarious purposes. In any card-not-present environment, there is risk. These approaches take that risk out of the picture.

Reduce Scope to Qualify for Self-Assessment

By using technologies that employ DTMF suppression and SMS, companies can reduce the scope of what’s required under an assessment so much that they’re no longer required to hire a consultant to conduct an assessment. Instead they can conduct a self-assessment, write a report, and submit it to the PCI council themselves, instantly saving tens of thousands of dollars or more while dramatically improving security.

Art Coombs is a published author on leadership and methodologies for BPOs, contact centers, and technical support. Art has more than twenty-five years of experience with several global firms and their call and BPO centers worldwide. He is president and CEO of KomBea, a fifteen-year-old software company that develops solutions for contact-center environments to help deal with the myriad of regulations and standards they face, including PCI compliance and HIPAA. For more information visit www.kombea.com.

Important Forecasting Considerations for Inbound Contact Solutions



By Rich Hamilton

The heart and soul of most companies is their inbound contact solutions operation (their inbound call center, including voice, email, text, and chat). This vital department within an organization has an opportunity to get key customer insights, and the call center interactions often make or break the customer relationship.

Have you ever sat on hold, trying to get through to a company, and finally gave up, never to interact with that company again? Making sure your inbound contact solutions operation is properly staffed is important. Whether this is a first impression or an angry customer giving the company one last chance, each inbound contact is vital.

Forecasting call volumes and appropriate staffing and scheduling is critical. Keep in mind that there are some sophisticated algorithms used to forecast call volume and the needed workforce to answer those calls. I’ll focus more on the data that needs to be considered. Here are the key data points used for forecasting and scheduling: call volume, average handle time, absenteeism, service levels, and occupancy rates.

Now that we have listed the key data points, let’s break these down and look at a few other considerations for workforce forecasting and planning for any inbound call center operation.

Historical Data

Data is king. The best place to start is with data from the past. The more data you can get your hands on, the better. The key metrics to focus on are call volume and average handle time. Look at these metrics by day, week, month, and time of day. If possible, instead of just looking at the last couple of months, consider the same period over the last several years. This especially will be helpful in industries where there are seasonal call volume changes (think Christmastime for anyone selling consumer products).

Looking at call volume and average handle time will give a good picture of the number of FTEs you’ll need in your inbound contact solution. This will get you about 80 percent there.

Don’t forget to look at absenteeism. You will need to know what percentage of your workforce may call out sick on a given day. This can be hard to forecast, but with enough data at least you can forecast more precisely. For example, let’s say your call center needs to staff twenty FTEs for Monday. Based on your absenteeism, historically one person calls out sick on Mondays. Wouldn’t it be prudent to schedule twenty-one FTEs on Monday, so that when the one person calls out sick, you still have the right number of call agents to handle the expected call volume?

There are still a few more factors we need to consider to get the whole picture, which we will discuss in the following sections.The heart and soul of most companies is their inbound contact solutions operation (their inbound call center, including voice, email, text, and chat). Click To Tweet

Future Events

Not only do you need to look at metrics from the past, but you also need to look at any events happening in the future that are out of the ordinary.

Marketing and Company Initiatives

The marketing department might plan to send out an email announcing a new product or a new promotion that they predict will increase call volume.

Weather

This one is tougher, but it could affect you in a couple different ways. One would be if your industry relies on the weather. Maybe there will be extra snow forecasted over the next month, and your call center takes ski resort reservations.

The other way is how it affects your employees. Increased snow may mean your absenteeism will be higher than normal, so schedule more employees to cover all the inbound calls.

Other Events

These events could be specific to an industry or a specific group of industries and the amount of calls the call center will receive. It might be a new federal law that affects a certain industry and the volume of calls they will receive. For example, when HIPAA was first implemented, healthcare providers received more calls, and the calls were longer than normal.

Management Expectations

Each call center has specific metrics from management that need to be adhered to. These metrics might include service levels (the percentage of calls to be answered within X amount of time) and occupancy rates (the percentage of time actively working on calls, including talk time and after-call work time). The higher the service level required, the more call center agents needed to answer phone calls. Higher occupancy levels mean you won’t need as many call center agents, but it also means agents will burn out faster, and sometimes it is difficult to achieve higher occupancy levels and higher service levels if the call volumes aren’t consistent.

But you’re still not done. Here are some more considerations to keep in mind as you identify the inputs for forecasting and scheduling for your contact solutions operation.

Human Resources Policies

HR policies concerning required break times and lunchtimes will impact your workforce management and scheduling plan. Obviously, there is a huge difference in scheduling when a call center agent has a thirty-minute lunch versus a sixty-minute lunch. Other HR policies could include union rules that dictate start and stop times for shifts, and possibly when the breaks would need to occur (after so many hours of work).

Agent Skills

If your call center has multiple departments, this adds another level of complexity. Calculating call volume and average handle time, along with the other considerations, will have to be done for each department because the skill required will vary most times from department to department.

When scheduling, it’s good to know which call center agents are cross-trained. I’m not saying that you can count a call center agent for both departments if they are trained for both, but at times when one department is slow, and another is busy, knowing that a few agents can help with the overflow is helpful.

Forecast and Workforce Management Resources

Typically, the larger the organization, the larger the budget for workforce management software and systems. Smaller inbound contact solutions operations typically get by with spreadsheets.

Conclusion

Whether you have access to sophisticated forecasting and workforce management software or you’re working with Excel spreadsheets, you’ll find this aspect of the business is equal parts math and art. In my organization, we often gain a little more flexibility by adding some outbound calls into the queue. This helps justify more staffing while getting a higher occupancy rate.

 

Rich Hamilton is the director of marketing and product development for Quality Contact Solutions, a leading outsourced telemarketing organization. Rich works to bring new products to the teleservices and call center market. In addition, Rich is a telemarketing compliance guru with a Customer Engagement Compliance Professional (CECP) certification. Contact him at rich.hamilton@qualitycontactsolutions.com or 516-656-5105.

Fill Your Contact Center Seats with Passion, Not Just People!



By Tom Cunningham

World-renowned soccer superstar, Mia Hamm, once said, “If you don’t love what you do, you won’t do it with much conviction or passion.” As leaders, it’s not only our job to achieve the goals set before us but to assemble a team that will turn goals into reality. Far too many of us have the mentality of just “getting people in seats” instead of taking the time to find the team members who have the passion and drive to achieve our key performance indicators (KPIs) and make brand ambassadors of our customers along the way.

We get hundreds of resumes that sum up a potential team member’s education, job history, tenure at each stop, and what they accomplished along the way. It’s impossible to gauge the person’s passion and fit within our culture by reading resumes. It’s a process that can become monotonous at times when we search for the checklist of required qualifications and skills based on a sheet of paper. Do we see this person fitting in with our culture? What are they passionate about? Click To Tweet

The sad part is that we have been trained to accept this as the way the recruiting process has always been done. We typically look for two or three things that seem to align with our job qualifications and duties, interview potential candidates with age-old questions—which many applicants have researched online for tips or make up stories to fit what they think we are looking for—and decide if we should choose them to fill one of the available seats.

This mentality has us in a vicious cycle where we are always in the hiring mode, dealing with people who only show up for a paycheck, or, worst of all, are detrimental to our culture. To combat this issue, my team and I have evolved our hiring process over the last year to approach it as if we were looking for the next Mia Hamm to lead our team onto the field.

How did we do this? We put our culture and core values at the forefront of our recruiting process. Yes, we still must go through resumes and review an applicant’s basic information to ensure they meet the required qualifications, but we don’t talk about their job history or technical aptitude in detail until the final round of the process. We can always teach our platform and business model, but we can’t teach passion or change an applicant’s character.

Phone Interview

The first step is the phone interview. During this phase, we talk about our core values with the potential candidate, outline each value in detail, and explain how each value affects every aspect of our team members’ workday. From employee evaluations to each interaction on the phone with a customer, our core values will be the judge of an employee’s success, so it’s critical applicants understand that from the beginning. We share with our applicants the following examples of how we rate our employees:

  • You have passion, drive, and perseverance.
  • You show respect to others, no matter what position you hold within the company.
  • You understand that every opinion is valuable and that great ideas can come from anyone.
  • You seek opportunities to learn and further your understanding of our business.
  • You share knowledge and experience with others in a constructive way.
  • You contribute positively while in meetings.

Providing concrete examples of what the applicant would be evaluated on during our phone interview process has filtered out many people just looking for a job where they can occupy a seat. It lets them know it will be impossible to hide within our center and merely collect a paycheck.

Instead, applicants know up front that we will be looking at them every day—from their performance on the phone to how they engage with every staff member in the company—to gauge if they are successful members of the team. This approach either energizes applicants to become more excited about our company or it drives them away to find an employer who will accept their desire to do the minimum.

Play a Game

The second step is where we interview the applicant for culture fit and determine if they have the passion to help us deliver the greatest customer service possible. Applicants come to the office dressed in their best, with crisp copies of their resumes, expecting the same old questions they have heard repeatedly.

Surprise! We casually greet them at the entrance, conduct brief introductions, and lead them not to a conference room but to our break room. Once there we enthusiastically ask, “What game are we going to play?”

Once applicants get over the shock of what they just heard, we invite them to put their resumes, ties, purses, portfolios, and jackets on a couch and choose between pool, air hockey, supersized Jenga, or Connect Four.

During this phase of the process, our goal is simple: Do we see this person fitting in with our culture? What are they passionate about? Finally, how did they adapt to our environment versus the old, traditional interview process? It’s a time to pull back the layers and see who this person is and what they are all about. We ask questions such as:

  • Do you consider yourself a nerd? Why or why not?
  • Do you prefer DC or Marvel or neither? Why?
  • What do you like to do for fun or to relax?
  • What does customer service mean to you?
  • What is the greatest customer service experience you ever had and why?
  • What is the latest book you’re reading? Tell me about your favorite parts and why?
  • What core value have you connected with the most during your career? Why?
  • Do you prefer Apple or Android? Why?

Spending some time playing whatever game they have chosen while making conversation with these types of questions is the catalyst of our evaluation process. Does their tenacity, passion, and drive about their personal and professional lives translate to what we seek in an employee? If the consensus is yes, only then do we set up a sit-down interview with some of our other leaders within the customer service department.

The Interview

The sit-down interview is when we look at the candidate’s resume and technical aptitude. If we believe they can learn our platform, we’ll give them the chance to join our team. However, instead of making this phase the quintessential part of the interview process, it’s the conclusion.

This process has led to two main changes. First, we turn away a lot more people than we hire compared to the past. Second, we have yet to lose anyone to attrition during the training phase.

Have the courage to do something different. Not only will your results be different, they will be rewarding.

Tom Cunningham is the North American director of SAAS Operations at PerfectServe. Tom has over twenty-two years of call center operations management experience. He can be reached at 865-719-6960 or Tcunningham@perfectserve.net.

Science and Technology Revolutionize the Customer Experience



Applications that Improve the Customer Journey

By Deborah Navara and Jana Benetti

Recent advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) technology, coupled with consumer preference for digital channels, are driving interest in and adoption of intelligent virtual agents (IVAs) and a related technology, robotic process automation (RPA). Voice biometrics is another high-tech solution that is going mainstream. A leading bank’s recent ad campaign publicizes that they know customers “by the sound of their voice.”

Organizations are starting to leverage these sophisticated technologies to re-engineer service experiences that combine the best of self-service with live agent support, a winning experience for enterprises, who have a fiduciary responsibility to reduce operating costs while also providing a highly effective personalized customer experience.

DMG defines IVAs as “specialized technology that utilizes artificial intelligence, machine learning, advanced speech technologies, and free dialogue understanding to simulate live cognitive assistance for voice, text, or digital interactions via a digital persona. IVAs are self-learning. Their intelligence is continually evolving based on data inputs from each new interaction. The acquired knowledge is assimilated and leveraged in future interactions.”

In essence, IVAs use science to elevate the art of self-service. IVAs are catching on in a variety of verticals, where they serve as personal shoppers, ensure compliance with healthcare protocols, book reservations, schedule appointments, assist with financial or investment decisions, and determine how to manage utility expenses more efficiently.

For agent-assisted interactions, IVAs pull information from knowledge bases, customer profiles, and other online sources that agents need to optimize each interaction. In the enterprise, they are being leveraged to assist with benefits, compensation administration, and other HR issues.

Contact centers are inherently complex environments, and agents routinely must enter the same information into two or more systems, such as a transaction processing system and a CRM solution. This is where robotic process automation comes in. Attended RPA is being used to automate cut-and-paste tasks and for populating the same data in more than one solution.

This greatly speeds up the processing time for customers and prospects, while reducing errors. Attended RPA can also be used to create a composite servicing screen to reduce the number of systems and screens agents need to access to resolve inquiries. And unattended RPA can fully automate some end-to-end contact center processes, with little or no human involvement.

Voice biometrics is another solution whose time may finally have come, as adoption of these solutions by contact centers is on the rise. (Adoption of biometrics in general is increasing.) The primary use for voice biometrics in the contact center is to automate speaker authentication. Once a voiceprint is obtained, it eliminates the need to answer security questions, which may, ironically, contain the same information they are trying to protect. IVAs, RPA, and voice biometrics enhance the customer experience, improve productivity, and reduce the cost of service. Click To Tweet

Security concerns, regulatory requirements, and the pressure to reduce operating costs and improve the customer experience, along with improvements in technology and much faster servers, are paving the way for companies to adopt voice biometrics for customer identification, verification, and e-signatures. The following chart provides a synopsis of how these solutions work and are being used to deliver customer and enterprise benefits.

Technology How it Works Contact Center Application Customer Benefit Enterprise Benefit
Intelligent virtual agents (IVAs) Utilizes AI, machine learning, advanced speech technologies, including natural language understanding, natural language processing, and natural language generation (NLU/NLP/NLG) to simulate live and unstructured cognitive conversations for voice, text, and digital interactions via a digital persona Omni-channel self-service Enhanced self-service; reduced customer effort Improved productivity;

lower cost of service; increased use of self-service solutions; enhanced CX

Robotic process automation (RPA) Leverages AI, machine learning, workflow, and other technologies to emulate the processes performed by human workers; can be trained to adapt to changing conditions, anomalies, and new situations Automating processing of repetitive tasks;

automating cut-and-paste; data propagation across multiple applications; initiating actions and communicating with other systems or employees; agent/employee assistance (attended automation)

Reduced errors; reduced processing time Improved productivity; lower cost of service; improved accuracy
Voice biometrics Compares the unique voice characteristics of a live audio stream to an enrolled voiceprint to authenticate the speaker Fraud and risk mitigation; automating verification; primary component of multifactor authentication; authorizing transactions; legally binding digital e-signature Accurate and nonintrusive authentication method; enhanced data protection; expedited digital transactions Reduced risk and exposure; decreased fraud; enhanced CX

IVAs, RPA, and voice biometrics enhance the customer experience, improve productivity, and reduce the cost of service. They simplify how customers interact with companies in many channels, including phone, interactive voice response (IVR), websites, and smartphone apps to facilitate a consistent and personalized omni-channel customer journey. When planning for the near-term, all companies should carefully evaluate these solutions, as they achieve the primary goal of helping companies deliver an outstanding customer experience cost effectively.

Deborah Navara and Jana Benetti are with DMG Consulting LLC, which helps emerging and established companies develop and deliver outstanding customer experiences.

Vendor Profile: Szeto Technologies



Szeto Technologies has been a leading vendor of answering equipment and communication systems since 1986. As the industry has evolved extensively over the last thirty-two years, Szeto has continued to remain on the leading edge of technology in providing solutions in voice-plus data processing and telephone switching. Technology has certainly changed over time, but Szeto’s greatest strength has not changed—they continue to provide their customers with turnkey, customized communication systems to meet their client’s needs.Szeto Technologies recently added the capability of automatically handling the check-in and check-out procedures using satellite SPOT (satellite positioning and tracking) devices. Click To Tweet

Call Linx & SSS-100

Powered by Linux, Szeto’s Call Linx TAS system is built to be reliable, flexible, and user-friendly. Through the years, Call Linx has expanded add-on features to complement its traditional telephone answering service applications. In 2013 Szeto Technologies modified the generic Asterisk software and tailored it to be their Call Linx telephony switch, the SSS-100. This approach replaced their proprietary hardware strategy in their telephone switch and allows them to provide redundancy and reliability using virtual servers. Another advantage of adopting Asterisk is the freedom of having multiple technology suppliers.

The company’s latest wireless features secure text messaging for HIPAA compliance and employee safety monitoring for remote or isolated workers. The popularity of webchat has grown in the past years, and Szeto Technologies makes it easy to provide businesses with this feature, which was once available only to large corporations.

The story of Call Linx, SSS-100, and Linux is still evolving. The TAS service industry is striding into the future in full force. So is Szeto Technologies.

Secured Text Messaging App

Szeto’s secured mobile app ensures that messages transported via wireless mobile devices are secured for HIPAA compliance. This protects medical patient privacy and personal health information.

In conjunction with the Szeto-designed mobile app, the company also has special APIs (application program interfaces) designed to interface with third-party vendors such as TigerText, OnPage, eVigil, Qlig, Doc Halo, Secured Bridge, and Med Tunnel.

Employee Safety Monitoring

Employee safety is a concern for most employers. All employers are expected to take reasonable precautions to ensure the safety and the well-being of their employees. Workers in remote areas, unsupervised, working with dangerous equipment, or in hostile environments need assurance of their safety and well-being. Business owners must offer the workers additional means of security, by routinely monitoring their safety in the field.

Szeto’s employee safety monitoring provides preventive monitoring of employees working in potentially dangerous environments. In the event of an employee found in danger or requiring emergency help, the system will trigger a rescue procedure to alert the appropriate personnel for human intervention. Those who can benefit from such monitoring are organizations with workers in remote locations or dangerous environments, handlers of dangerous and hazardous materials (such as oil and gas field workers), maintenance crews in remote areas (electricity, telephone, antenna sites), employees vulnerable to possible hostilities (visiting nurses, social workers), and security guards.

Features include:

  • Automatic identification of current or next work location by satellite or mobile apps
  • Automatic detection of a worker-down situation
  • Check-in devices (telephone, SMS text, and mobile APP)
  • Alert methods (telephone, SMS text, email, and pager)
  • Time-stamped logs of transactions and activities
  • Web access to work team status

Szeto Technologies recently added the capability of automatically handling the check-in and check-out procedures using satellite SPOT (satellite positioning and tracking) devices. This monitoring equipment is a stand-alone system but can also be tailored to integrate with existing data equipment.

Web Chat

Web chat enables your operators to offer online help via text chat for people visiting your clients’ websites. Szeto has recently enhanced its web chat to be friendlier, including the option of displaying the agent’s picture. While large companies can have their own agents for web chat support, this may be too expensive for small- and medium-sized businesses. Szeto’s web chat gives call centers the opportunity to supply this feature to clients who can benefit from this opportunity.

SIP Service

Szeto Technologies has partnered with Pulsar 360 to offer SIP services to its customers. The company also recently developed software to directly interface with SIP services without relying on any third-party middle piece of conversion equipment. This eliminates a potential source of hardware failure and the necessity of providing spare parts, not to mention saving having to rent the equipment. If a customer already has the setup with gateway arrangements, they can continue with that approach.

Szeto TechnologiesFor additional information please contact Szeto at info@szeto.ca or 877-697-9386.

Are You a Call Center or a Contact Center?



Consider the implications of the call center versus contact center debate

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineIn Connections Magazine we use the terms call center and contact center interchangeably. Some authors who write for us are content to use the more traditional label of call center, while others prefer the more accurate label of contact center. Other authors seem to not care and use both phrases in the same piece, I suppose to provide variety or maybe to subtly communicate that the labels don’t matter.

Some Definitions

The term call center is a descriptive one. It’s a centralized place that receives or makes phone calls. This label has served our industry well for several decades.

Nevertheless, most call centers have expanded their service offerings to handle more than just telephone calls. They may also process email and text messages, as well as perform various social media functions. Some also handle faxes and snail mail. These go beyond the meaning of the word call, with contact being a more inclusive description. Hence we get the term contact center.

Nevermind that in both scenarios, the word center emerges as a misnomer, since many call/contact centers have decentralized their operation. Instead they have a distributed workforce, with staff no longer in a single location. Should we make another adjustment to our industry’s label to find something even more accurate than contact center? I’ll leave that for others to ponder.What counts the most isn’t the label we self-identify with, but the quality of the service we provide. Click To Tweet

Effective Communications

Though I don’t have the data to back it up, nor do I really care to know conclusively, more people seem to understand call center than contact center. When people ask me what Connections Magazine covers—since the title could apply to a multitude of subjects—the phrase call center pops up in my explanation.

Some people nod with understanding, even though they function outside the industry, while other people give me a confused look as if I just spoke gibberish. I fully suspect that if I told them Connections Magazine covers the contact center industry, I’d confuse them even more.

Therefore, sticking with the label of call center, even though it’s no longer as accurate a description as it once was, is the best way to communicate with people outside the industry. When effective communication is the goal, using the term call center is the best way to accomplish that.

Strategic Branding

People who contend that the term contact center is best may be purists who want to use an accurate label (but then they’re only halfway there until they figure out how to deal with the no-longer-accurate use of center). However, I suspect most people who insist on the label contact center do so for branding purposes.

For their brand they may want to distance themselves from the negative public opinion about call centers, courtesy of the people who did it badly and soiled the reputation of the entire industry. I get that. But unless everyone in the industry decides to be ethical and do their work with excellence, the contact center label risks becoming just as toxic as call center to those folks who’ve had bad experiences.

Another branding reason to use contact center instead of call center is to emphasize an operation that handles multiple forms of communication beyond just phone calls. But with most call centers having already expanded to cover additional communication channels, I suspect that most people who want to hire a call/contact center already know that the labels don’t really matter anymore and that they can get the service they require regardless of what providers call themselves.

Moving Forward

I’m not attempting to end the call center versus contact center debate. First, I know I never will, and second, it doesn’t really matter. What counts the most isn’t the label we self-identify with, but the quality of the service we provide.

So the next time your organization dives into the “are we a call center or a contact center” debate, shift the focus of the discussion from words to action—actions that produce quality service and heighten our industries public perception. That’s what really matters.

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.

Best Practices for Surviving a Ransomware Attack


Startel, Professional Teledata, Alston Tascom


By Jim Graham

In 1989 the first known ransomware attack occurred when twenty thousand floppy disks containing malware were distributed to researchers across more than ninety countries. In 2017 Symantec recorded an average of 1,242 ransomware complaints per day, not including the infamous WannaCry and NotPetya attacks. According to a survey conducted by Malwarebytes, one in six organizations impacted by a ransomware attack were down for twenty-five hours or more.

A recent attack on one of our clients was a painful reminder that ransomware continues to be a genuine threat to individuals and businesses worldwide. Our client received the virus upon clicking on a bad link in a “spear phishing” email. Their business was down for twenty-four hours before they were able to process calls.

The longer a business is down, the harder—and costlier—it is to recover. The financial impact can be just as staggering, with one hour of inactivity costing small businesses as much as $8,500. That doesn’t include lost business opportunities or the personnel cost associated with downtime.

Common Best Practices

There are many best practices, tips, and recommendations to mitigate a ransomware attack. The options can be overwhelming. However, you can lessen the likelihood you’ll become another statistic and decrease the impact of an attack by implementing these best practices.

1. Be Educated: Staff training is the first and best line of defense against ransomware. In most cases, systems are infected by user-initiated behavior such as clicking a malicious link in an email, opening an executable email attachment, or unknowingly giving a password to a potential hacker.

Educate staff about recognizing suspicious links and attachments. Phishing expeditions have become more sophisticated and targeted. These “spear phishing” attempts typically include client-specific information you’d assume no one else knows, making them much more believable. Never click on email links unless you’re absolutely certain of the identity of the sender.The longer a business is down, the harder—and costlier—it is to recover. Click To Tweet

2. Be Prepared: No matter how well-trained your staff is, be prepared for the possibility of a ransomware infection. This is where robust system and data backup strategies become essential. It’s critical to backup your data, software, and configuration settings frequently. Without a backup, you could permanently lose data. Create three copies, on two different media, and keep one copy stored securely off-site. Then test all backups to ensure you can successfully recover data.

A detailed incident response plan can make these instances a little less daunting. Take the time to put together an incident response plan, and test it each year. Also, consider investing in a business continuity and disaster recovery solution. These solutions minimize downtime and help ensure customer data remains secure and accessible 24/7.

Finally, in the unfortunate event you’re impacted by ransomware, consider enlisting the assistance of qualified IT professionals skilled at recovering from an attack. They’ll be able to get your company up and running and help minimize the impact on operations.

3. Stay Proactive: Once staff is well-trained and you have a strategy in place, continually monitor other areas of your business that may be vulnerable to ransomware. Implement these approaches to stay proactive:

  • Update operating system patches and antivirus software. On average, Microsoft releases several “critical or security”-related updates each month.
  • Limit administrative rights to only those that need to have them.
  • Deploy strong spam filters that block executable files.
  • Consider using a secure email gateway (SEG) in addition to your email client filter.
  • Set firewalls to block known malicious IP addresses.
  • Lock down your firewall from inside out to prevent data from being extracted.

HIPAA and Other Compliance Implications

A breach caused by a ransomware infection can have significant HIPAA and other compliance-related implications. Whether or not data has been taken, a successful attack is still considered a breach by HIPAA standards. Be sure you’re maintaining backups and log files for all systems that touch electronic protected health information (ePHI), because your company security policies will be subject to review by auditors. Proper HIPAA training is also essential in protecting ePHI.

Disclaimer

No matter how well prepared your business is, you can still be a victim of ransomware. However, following these recommendations will lessen the likelihood and impact of an attack.

StartelJim Graham co-founded Professional Teledata (PTD) in 1993 and served as vice president until the merger with Startel in September 2015. As the CTO of PTD, Jim draws upon his thirty years of computer and software development experience and twenty-three years of call center experience. Startel, Professional Teledata, and Alston Tascom provide unified communications, business process automation, and performance management solutions and services. They leverage their solutions and industry knowledge to empower organizations to improve agent productivity, reduce operating costs, and increase revenues. For more information, call 949-863-8776 or visit www.startel.com.

Develop the Habit of Monitoring and Coaching—Part 1



By Kathy Sisk

I often write about agent training; however, once the initial training is completed, the next step is to ensure that the floor manager continues the process. Here are some tips for proper agent coaching. This will motivate agents and help them adhere to what they’ve learned, as well as integrating accountability into the process.Always treat your agents professionally. Click To Tweet

An Effective Coach Should Know How to:           

  • Provide on-the-spot personal attention on a regular basis
  • Recognize other people’s needs for coaching and counseling
  • Coach on a consistent basis
  • Schedule time each week to conduct hands-on assessments
  • Hold agents accountable for improved performance
  • Address performance or attitude issues in a timely manner
  • Be patient, offer encouraging words, and always bring out the best in agents prior to critiquing them
  • Know what to listen for, how to recognize when the correct skills are exhibited, and how to give constructive feedback
  • Use professional language
  • Learn how to resolve conflicts and develop the ability to negotiate

Motivational Techniques to Get Agents Producing:

  • Give a specific goal or target to reach each day. For example, for outbound calling you could say: “Today I would like you to preselect fifty potential contacts you will make tomorrow.”
  • Get your agents to meet at least one daily requirement each day.
  • Don’t force agents or make threats—such as job security—to get them motivated to do their best.
  • Always treat your agents professionally.

In the next issue, we’ll talk about how to develop a departmental motivation plan.

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.