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.


Job Diversification for Call Center Agents

By Kathy Sisk

An agent’s job diversity is as important as salary and is vital for long-term employee commitment. Additionally, advancing qualified agents gives recognition to those who deserve it and leads to higher levels of job satisfaction.

How can you achieve advancement within an agent’s current position? By increasing responsibilities and diversifying job functions. Here are several tips:

  • When appropriate, allow agents to conduct public relations with a client.
  • Have agents contact previous clients and ask questions to determine how the company performed.
  • Each week offer clear objectives on something new agents can spend designated time
  • Allow agents to contact clients and ask for referrals or upsell and promote other products or services.
  • Rotate agents into the QA department to monitor and evaluate other agents. Then discuss how they would handle the calls differently. This helps determine if they are ready for more challenging tasks, but it’s also an excellent training tool to help them perform better.
  • Provide advanced training opportunities to prepare agents for higher-level positions.Offering agents variety and empowering tasks helps them have greater self-worth. Click To Tweet

These activities achieve three key benefits. First, by offering agents variety and empowering tasks helps them have greater self-worth. Second, the company improves its relationship with clients. And third, agents feel supported when the company offers training for advancement opportunities.

When a company provides rewarding opportunities, it increases the agent’s motivation and reduces burnout. This also improves the attitude of employees toward the company and its customers.

Many opportunities exist for agents to have more challenging roles and help stimulate career opportunities within the company. This is especially important for a company that wants to provide staff with clear direction and achievable goals. In turn, agents become more dedicated, and the company improves its retention rate.

When a company extinguishes their agents’ motivation by displaying a lack of interest, support, or potential advancement, it is essentially spending its dollars to train capable employees to advance themselves just enough to work elsewhere, including for the competition.

Kathy Sisk, founder and president of Kathy Sisk Enterprises Inc., is a trainer and consultant, contributing thirty-five years of expertise to the telemarketing, sales, and customer service industries.

Great Customer Experience Starts with Customer Service Essentials

By Peter L. DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineIn the call center space, customer experience looms as the hot buzzword of our industry. But beyond all the talk, I wonder if it’s not just a new label on a proven theme that’s been around for a long time. The basis for customer experience resides in customer service. Customer service is the reason call centers exist in the first place and serves as the distinguishing factor between excellence and failure.

Here are some customer service elements that all call centers should pursue. These customer service essentials provide for great customer experience. Keep an upbeat attitude, even when dealing with difficult situations. Click To Tweet

Timely Reactions: First on the list is the imperative to not waste the caller’s time. This means answering calls quickly, with minimal hold time, no transfers, and a quick conclusion. Too many callers brace themselves for a long ordeal each time they dial a call center. This is the wrong message to send.

Yes, you need to match optimum scheduling with a desire for speed, but you can strike an agreeable balance. Having the right number of agents available to meet projected call forecasts and adjusting to unexpected traffic spikes is key.

Efficient Interactions: Callers also want their communication with your call center to be proficient. They object to giving their account number again when they’ve already entered it earlier in the call. They also bristle at the need to repeat information each time their call is transferred. And if they must be placed on hold for the agent to check something, they will usually understand, but try to keep the hold time short and restrict the number of holds to a minimum.

Just as you want your agents to be efficient on every call, callers also expect you to be efficient with their time. Respect them and honor the investment they made in calling you.

Positive Responses: Keep an upbeat attitude, even when dealing with difficult situations. Tell callers what you can do for them, not what you can’t. Learn positive phrases and interject them into conversations whenever possible. Talk with a smile on your face, and callers will hear it in your words.

Accurate Results: Most of all, callers expect the information you provide to be correct. Too many callers have experienced agents who will say anything, whether it’s correct or not, just to end the call. Callers want to trust the information you give them. They also expect you to follow through and do what you promise. They want results they can depend on.

Memorable Outcomes: Beyond the length of the call, callers want to feel good about what occurred, both when they hang up and in the days and weeks that follow. Sometimes it takes time for the veracity of a call to become known. Customers may not realize, until it’s too late, that they received wrong information or that the steps the agent took didn’t solve the problem. Then they must call back, and they won’t be happy about it. You want to avoid this. Instead make each outcome memorable and eliminate the need for follow-up calls.

When call centers offer these customer-service essentials, they’re on their way to delivering a great customer experience to their callers. And that’s what customer service is all about.

Though you can spend a lot of time fixated on providing great customer experiences—or whatever the current industry buzzword is—the reality is that this hot-topic-of-the-day usually goes back to customer-service essentials. Start there and build upon it.

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.

Customer Experience Management Powered by Intelligent Automation


By Ray Naeini

Establishing positive customer experiences leading to customer loyalty is today’s major objective for all enterprises. Customer loyalty differs from customer satisfaction in that it establishes a long-lasting relationship for retaining customers. Achievement in customer satisfaction is an ongoing journey, not a single set of actions.

Enterprises first focused on customer interactions with agents by capturing and analyzing customer calls, emails, and chat. They followed this by training agents to better serve customers during calls. To a great extent, this approach delivers certain objectives toward customer loyalty, but it ignores several other steps of the customer journey critical to customer experience management. For example, no matter how well-trained agents are in interacting with customers, customer satisfaction is already impacted negatively if a customer struggles with a confusing interactive voice response (IVR), has to wait on hold for a long time, gets routed to the wrong agent, or has to repeat information.

Customer experience management demands a holistic view and improvement of the entire customer journey. This consists of four major segments:

  • Routing customer service requests to the right center, organization, and agent rapidly, accurately, and without the customer repeating information
  • Managing the customer interaction for the best outcome for the customer
  • Processing customer service requests accurately and on a timely basis
  • Capturing and analyzing customer feedback and sentiment from all customer touchpoints, both during and after the completion of service, and implementing calibrations and corrective actions.

Achievement in customer satisfaction is an ongoing journey, not a single set of actions. Click To TweetThis is, however, hard to do. Enterprises face major challenges in effectively integrating and implementing these four critical elements of customer experience management. This is where intelligent automation (IA) technologies can greatly power the customer experience management initiative. As the name implies, automation is achieved by intelligently analyzing data and making decisions to launch an automated action. The nucleus of IA, commonly used the same way in all four segments, is comprised of:

  • Data and media capture, aggregation, and unification, with big data management performed on an enterprise-wide basis from all entities critical to the customer journey. This includes telecom platforms (network routers, IVR, PBX, and ACD) and key performance indicators (KPIs) from workforce optimization and management, CRM, and ERP.
  • Multi-channel analysis (speech, desktop, and text) of unified data and creation of actionable knowledge
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) drives learning decision-making engines (LDME) to further analyze actionable knowledge to make best decisions and continuously learn from historical data and analysis.
  • Automated activities driven by LDME to launch actions and automate functions

Recent advancements in AI and learning machines that have transformed these concepts from theory to real products are the key to making IA a feasible solution in powering the four steps of customer experience management.

In the customer service routing segment, IA continuously and automatically captures, monitors, and analyzes the status and performance of all entities engaged in the customer journey, makes the best decision, and in real-time, launches the action to intelligently route the service request. It also captures customer information from each touchpoint and deposits it in a single place accessible to all agents and systems to prevent customers from having to repeat information.

During agent interactions with customers (calls, emails, chat, and desktop transactions), IA captures and analyzes interactions to automatically conduct QA, compliance management, and customer sentiment analysis, to then automate agent interactions through real-time coaching, workflow automation, reminders, and notifications. The recent developments in AI, AI-based chatbots, and intelligent virtual agent (IVA) technologies intelligently automate customer interactions while reducing enterprise expenses.

When it comes to processing customer service transactions, IA utilizes robotic process automation (RPA) to automatically, intelligently, and rapidly process repetitive tasks in various processes without human errors. Business process automation (BPA) then performs data collection, unification, and analysis of customer transactions to automate business processes.

Finally, IA continuously and automatically captures customer sentiment and feedback from every customer touchpoint during and after service (including social media content and customer surveys), analyzes the data, and provides actionable knowledge to LDME that can offer conclusions, trends, and actions. This is all designed to improve systems, processes, and the interactions engaged in the customer journey.

OnviSourceRay Naeini is the CEO and chairman of OnviSource, Inc.

How to Move Leads through Your Sales Funnel

By Janet Livingston

All people in sales depend on the sales funnel. Salespeople at outsource call centers are no different. As the metaphor goes, you pour leads into the top of the funnel, and sales flow out the bottom. Of course, this presumes you have an effective sales team in place to work the leads. Conversely, an empty sales funnel will produce no sales, regardless of how good your salesforce is. No leads mean no sales.

To better understand how a sales funnel functions, let’s look at the life cycle of a lead.

Acquisition: To start, we need a source of leads. This lead acquisition phase occurs through marketing, either directly or indirectly.

  • Direct marketing initiatives for call centers include paid promotions, such as print media, online ads, and direct mail. A target audience receives a marketing piece tailored to them. If they respond, they become a lead, which feeds into the top of the sales funnel.
  • Indirect marketing initiatives are those where certain elements are put into place to facilitate lead generation. One example is an organic internet search that directs potential buyers to your website. This hinges on having a professional website with relevant content that is strengthened with search engine optimization (SEO). A second example is word-of-mouth recommendations from satisfied clients. To make this work, you need to provide quality service, and it helps to ask for referrals. Again, these leads feed into your sales funnel.Each hour of delay, even each minute, serves to lessen the chances of sales success. Click To Tweet

Qualification: The next step is evaluating the quality of these leads. Ask strategic questions to help make this determination:

  • Do they seek a service you provide? If not, they aren’t a viable lead; don’t waste time on them.
  • Do they have the budget? Some people want to buy, but they can’t afford to. Move them into the nurturing track. In this phase, encourage them to add your services to their budget for next year or help them find the money in this year’s budget.
  • Do they have an immediate or future need? Immediate needs should be assigned to sales without delay. Future needs should be nurtured. Keep them engaged until they are ready to buy.
  • Do they have the authority to buy? Some people may be gathering information. Others can merely make recommendations to decision makers. And the rest have the authorization to make purchasing decisions. Nurture the first two groups, and assign the third group to sales.

Nurturing: Leads that are qualified but not ready to buy must be nurtured—that is, prepared to one day purchase from you. This is often done most cost-effectively by using a form of email marketing, often called a drip campaign, where strategic messages are automatically sent out at prescribed intervals. Nurturing should provide engagement, deliver information, and offer encouragement.

  • Provide engagement to keep your call center in the prospects’ minds so that when they are ready to buy or their situation changes, you are the first call center they think of—and the only one they call.
  • Deliver information to communicate the value of your service, the cost-effective nature of what you offer, and how you can help their business be more effective and profitable. This includes sharing success stories of other clients. But before you disclose their results, get their permission or obscure their identity.
  • Offer encouragement to move the process forward. This might include suggesting that they add your services to their budget or doing a cost-benefit or ROI (return on investment) analysis.

Assignment: Leads that are qualified, have a current need, and possess the authority to buy must go directly to sales for immediate attention. All other leads stay in the nurturing phase until they are ready and able to buy.

  • Be strategic in who you assign leads to. Some salespeople do better selling certain services or interacting with different personalities of buyers. Make a good match to maximize the opportunity for success.
  • Hold salespeople accountable for the leads you provide them. Accept no excuses.

Sales Opportunity: By only passing vetted leads on to sales, the assigned salesperson can focus on quality prospects who are ready to buy. This keeps them from wasting time on leads who aren’t yet ready or never will be.

  • The first key to working these leads is to respond. At too many organizations, there is no response at all. Though this happens at other call centers, it should never occur at yours.
  • The second key to sales success is to respond fast. In today’s on-demand, instant-gratification society, people expect an immediate response. Each hour of delay, even each minute, serves to lessen the chances of sales success.
  • The third sales key is following up diligently. If the prospect has a question, answer it. If the prospect needs more information, provide it. If the prospect gives you their time frame, respect them by not making contact too soon or delaying too long. And if you have none of these scenarios, contact with the prospect periodically, but be sure that each contact counts by striving to move the buying process forward.

Close: When the lead is ready to buy, be ready to close. There are many techniques to close sales. Learn them, apply them, and use the ones that best fit you, your personality, and your style. Just be sure not to bungle a sales opportunity, because you may not get a second chance. After all the work you and your call center have done to move this lead to this point in the process, don’t give your prospect an excuse to go with your competition. Make the sale and close the deal.

And each time you do, another sale drips out the sales funnel.

Janet Livingston is the president of Call Center Sales Pro, a premier sales and marketing service provider for the call center and telephone answering service industry. Contact Janet at contactus@callcenter-salespro.com or call 800-901-7706.

Keep Your Call Center from Suffering a Privacy Incident

By Sachin Kothari

Call center managers have plenty to worry about. Just recruiting and keeping staff, watching margins, and managing stakeholders (external or internal) can keep you busy.

In addition, you know privacy and data protection are rapidly becoming major issues for any organization gathering or using customer data. The last thing you need is a privacy incident to mar your organization’s reputation or lead to aggrieved customers.

You might even be pitching breach remediation work as part of your business plan. That pretty much becomes moot if you have an embarrassing breach yourself. Therefore it’s vital to know where a call center’s vulnerabilities are and how to prevent them. The breach experts all say the same thing: Speed matters. Click To Tweet

Social Engineering: Terms like phishing, spear phishing, and whaling all refer to the practice of criminals misrepresenting themselves to employees—even high-level employees (the whales)—and convincing them to give away important information of their own accord. While movies and television might make hackers into scheming geniuses behind souped-up laptops, a simple phone call is almost all they need to get some unsuspecting employee to hand over a username and password or other compromising information.

Luckily the solution is relatively simple: Train, train, train. Employees must understand how important it is to stick to your policies about how information is handled and think critically about what it is they’re being asked to do for a customer. Most phishing techniques are apparent once you know what to look and listen for.

In truth, it’s likely some of the good training you’ve given your employees—designed to help them deliver great customer service—has created good intentions that can have bad results.

Consider the case of an important client calling a frontline call center employee and explaining that he wants to make some adjustments to his account. Suddenly, right in the middle of verifying his identity, this big fish says that he must take an important call and explains that his assistant will finish up.

Of course, this woman doesn’t know her boss’s credentials. That’s silly. He was just there on the phone, right? This shouldn’t be a problem. No one would fault that call center employee’s instinct to be helpful and make sure this assistant gets the important changes accomplished. This is an important client, and the assistant sounds nice and seems harried.

Of course, the call center employee has just found herself victim to a data breach.

Teach your employees about these scenarios and emphasize the importance of verifying identity according to your policy, without exception. Hackers are smart. Give them even the tiniest bit of personal information, and they can exploit it.

Who Can See What?: Even in today’s digital world, people need to write things down when working with customers. It’s a part of the call center job that will likely never go away. Make sure there’s a policy in place for destroying that piece of paper. How handy is your shredder?

Unless the shredder is in steady use, the janitorial staff could be selling client info to the highest bidder. Ideally your cleaning personnel has training and knows to destroy compromising information pronto, but custodial staff are often third-party vendors. Does your contract with them require training in information handling?

You should also make sure that your call center employees don’t have keys to every digital door. Invest in software that redacts information based on role and scenario. That way employees only see the information necessary for the call they’re handling.

Procedures for Escalation: Perhaps the most common issue is a lack of proper plans for what to do should something bad happen. What does your employee do if she gets a call from a customer saying someone has accessed their account? Does that employee know where to go for help?

The breach experts all say the same thing: Speed matters. The faster your security team knows that something is amiss, the faster they can act.

Just a single sign of improper access could mean a typhoon is coming. Maybe your security team recognizes a hot new piece of malware and knows how to quickly contain it. It’s vital that all employees, from frontline staff and shift managers right up to the chief information officer, know what the response plan is. 

Conclusion: Unfortunately, this is just the start. There are books that address this issue in detail. I hope you have auditing capabilities and smart procedures in place for screening potential employees to make sure they are who they say they are. If not, you should start by addressing this.

Regardless, the simple message is this: People make mistakes. They make more mistakes, however, when they don’t have any training to help them avoid making them.

Privacy and data security should be standard at call centers, no matter where you’re operating. Otherwise you might find you’re not operating at all.

Sachin Kothari is CIPP/US and director of online privacy and compliance at AT&T.

Machine Learning Puts the “Intelligence” in Contact Center AI

By Bob Kasten

With the advent of computers, thoughts quickly turned to speculation that a computer could someday match human intelligence. In 1950 Alan Turing devised the Turing Test that became a threshold for when a machine is said to become intelligent. The test uses a human evaluator that watches a conversation between two parties. The evaluator knows that one of the parties is a machine, and if the evaluator cannot distinguish between the human and the machine, the machine is said to be intelligent.

While the notion of artificial intelligence (AI) can bring thoughts of computers someday becoming self-aware, we do not have to worry about this just yet. In our era, AI has become an important tool that can be used in contact centers to become a performance differentiator.

Machine learning is a branch of AI. It uses data to feed algorithms that automatically learn and improve. Machine learning falls into two broad categories: supervised and unsupervised. In supervised learning, the output datasets are provided and used to train the machine and get the desired outputs for future datasets. Unsupervised learning does not use output data, but instead the data is clustered into different classes and then analyzed.Having a conversation in a text format gives the ability to mine agent and customer interaction. Click To Tweet

Many industry verticals have become commoditized to the point where offerings are similar or the same across the competitive market. This applies to BPOs (business process outsourcers) as well as the companies that use their contact center services. In order to gain and keep market share, it is essential to give a best-in-class customer experience. Machine learning can help with this process.

Contact centers generate a multitude of data. Data sources include systems for CRM (customer relationship management), billing, collection, agent QA (quality assurance), call recording, chat, email, CSAT (customer satisfaction), social media, and so on. All this data tells a story about the customer and the contact center’s interaction with them.

The recent progress made in AI parallels similar progress with voice recognition and natural language-processing technology. It is now possible to convert real-time conversations or voice recordings to text with a high degree of accuracy. Having a conversation in a text format gives the ability to mine agent and customer interaction.

The easiest way to understand how data and machine learning can work together in concert is to describe a common scenario. The process uses an archetype that can be applied generally to supervised machine learning.

Here is a list of generic process steps, followed by a specific example that uses a voice recording as the data source. Note that the data could come from any of the above sources.

  • Identify data source: Locate a voice recording.
  • Generate learning data: Convert the voice into text.
  • Machine learning analysis: Process text data.
  • Machine learning correlation: Connect success and failure outcomes with patterns in the agent and customer conversation. Find out how the best agents generate success. Identify the criteria of the call that causes the interaction to be successful. The output of this step will produce actionable insights.
  • Make improvement suggestions: Use the insights from the previous step to make enhancement recommendations. Improvements can come in many forms, including agent training as well as agent and customer matching. This provides real-time customer data the agent can use during future sales opportunities or script changes.
  • Implement recommendations: Take action by improving the script or training the agent.
  • Predict success: The insights gained from machine learning can be used to predict the likelihood of success. A benefit of predictability is that an action can be taken based on the predicted behavior.
  • Feedback: Verify that agents are using the training recommendations by running the process iteratively to confirm that the feedback is contributing to attaining key success metrics. Feedback is also used in the success prediction.

Determine what successful agents say is the basis for building on that foundation and give it to agents who are not as successful. Once you know the why of success, you have taken the first step in answering how to improve it. Positive customer experience plays directly into understanding the success equation. A customer who makes a purchase or gives a positive customer satisfaction rating for the service they received will be identified by using the machine-learning process.

Other data sources can be added into the model to improve the predictability quotient. CSAT could be used to help further identify success patterns. Another possibility is using customer attributes that can be obtained commercially. Commercial data includes purchase habits, household income, age, gender, home market value, and occupation.

These data marts are a good way to give agents more direct information about customers. In addition, they are used to improve the accuracy of the predictive modeling. Customer attributes are used to enhance the customer experience and increase the likelihood of success. Many attributes about the customer that are found using their phone number or email address can give further insights.

Using a computer-generated call that speaks as if it were a human being brings this model full circle. This application has been deployed in the past couple of years. It still has a long way to go, because customers can tell the caller is a computer rather than a person. In 1950 Alan Turing probably never envisioned that his Turing Test would be used with automated dialing systems.

Using machine learning in conjunction with learning from the mined voice text, with the advances in natural language constructs, brings new opportunities, as seen with assembly-line automation in the early twentieth century. Calling and speaking using a computer reduces staff and leads to labor cost savings. It should be noted there are TCPA requirements, as well as state and federal laws, that should be thoroughly understood and followed before using this type of technology.

When we get to the point that a customer cannot tell that a machine called and is speaking to them, the Turing Test will pass, and the machine will be considered intelligent. Once that happens, we may be closer than we would like to the day when computational awareness becomes a reality.

 Bob Kasten is the founder of contactcentertools.com. His tools provide a holistic suite of agent performance management modules that includes KPI performance tracking dashboards, voice analytics, QA scoring, knowledge testing, goals, coaching, and secure clean desk agent communication. He spends his time consulting on contact center information technology projects and enhancing his agent performance management tools. He can be reached at bob.kasten@contactcentertools.com or www.linkedin.com/in/bob-kasten/

Should Customer Service be a Sales Channel?

By Donna Fluss

Wells Fargo is no longer making daily news headlines, but the impact of their overly aggressive cross-selling culture will be felt by contact centers throughout the United States for a long time. This is a case where one poorly managed organization has hurt an entire industry, as cross-selling is a positive activity when managed properly.

Setting the Record Straight: It’s highly unlikely Wells Fargo’s management was unaware of what was happening in their contact centers. There are many checks and balances in contact centers to ensure that renegade agents do not negatively impact customers or a company’s brand. It’s standard procedure (and a requirement) to record sales calls, and in many cases both the call and screens are captured.

Some recordings are reviewed by a quality management team who evaluate, score, and coach agents on their performance. While DMG does not have any insight into the specifics of Wells Fargo’s contact centers, it’s likely that agents were given sales and up-sell goals that were closely monitored by management. And agents surely participated in training courses where they were instructed in how to improve their sales skills. Agents should deliver an outstanding customer experience. Click To Tweet

Customer Service Is an Art: Delivering an outstanding and personalized service experience is an art that is supported by systems, knowledge, and training. The best customer service reps are innately friendly, love helping people, and enjoy solving problems. They are fully trained and knowledgeable about a company’s products and services and are comfortable using technology to perform their job.

Good service reps are insightful and adept at figuring out what products or services will benefit their customers. As a result, they are excellent at up-selling and cross-selling, particularly when this task is facilitated by a good customer relationship management (CRM) sales system.

Most service reps say they don’t like to sell, but that doesn’t mean they won’t sell when they think it is the right course of action for their customers. Agents do not want to be held accountable for sales goals because it detracts from their primary goal of delivering great service.

Forcing unrealistic sales targets on reps, as was done at Wells Fargo and in many other organizations, changes the dynamic of interactions with customers, which makes agents uncomfortable and unhappy with their jobs. The outcome is often poor service experiences, resulting in unhappy customers and disenfranchised reps who are likely to look for a new job where they can dedicate themselves to doing what they signed up for.

Reward Reps for Enhancing Customer Relationships: This is not to say customer service reps should not be invited and motivated to enhance relationships by offering their customers products and services that are right for them. There is a big difference between requiring agents to attempt an up-sell on every call and encouraging them to enhance relationships by using incentives and perks. The most important difference is that when agents are rewarded for doing more, the company gives them the respect they deserve by leaving it up to them to decide when it’s appropriate to attempt a cross-sell.

Case in Point: A few years ago DMG was asked to help a telecom contact center where agents were threatening to go on strike. There were many issues in this operating environment, but the most offensive to the agents was the requirement that they attempt an up-sell on every customer service call, even if the customer was angry and yelling at them. Fortunately, management backed away from this onerous and inappropriate requirement, at which point the staff was willing to work things out with the company.

Final Thoughts: Agents should be empowered to do what is right for their customers and deliver an outstanding customer experience. In some cases, this may mean talking an angry customer “off a ledge.” In others, it will be offering customers additional products or services.

Give your agents the credit they deserve, and let them choose the right course of action.

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.

Three Steps to Establishing Positive Training ROI

By David Mathews

Training is one of the last remaining areas in business whose value and ROI are taken on little more than faith. We all get it.

Training is important. People need to know how to do their job. Managers need to know how to effectively lead. Companies need to protect themselves legally through annual compliance courses.

Luckily, training resources are everywhere. Whether you have a robust in-house learning and development team, outsource all of it to third parties, or are somewhere in between, there are thousands of companies, consultants, books, and platforms to help you accomplish the never-ending task of knowledge transfer.

But one area where there is shockingly little discussion or resource allocation is in what some call learning effectiveness or training analytics: How effective is your training as it pertains to your bottom line? Measured effectively, employee and manager training can verifiably produce dividends that far exceed the initial training investment. The key word here is verifiably.

Consider the following three steps to discover and then improve your organization’s total return on training.Capture data at a macro and micro level before and after the training. Click To Tweet

1) Ask the Right Questions: Learning effectiveness is more than a survey that learners fill out after a class. And while there are good reasons to know how your employees feel about a given training, ROI isn’t one of them.

Hopefully they liked it, but so what? Did they do anything differently because of it, or did they simply have an enjoyable four hours off the phones?

It’s the same thing with knowledge tests. No one would argue that knowledge is irrelevant. It’s clearly important, but by itself it isn’t predictive of behavior change. We all know eating pizza isn’t good for us. We all know exercise is important to our overall health.

The overarching goal of any training is to increase the profitability of the company via some intermediate objective. These objectives are simply a means to an end. They could be things like increased first call resolution, higher close rates, reduced average talk time, higher morale, lower attrition, and so forth.

If you want to accurately quantify the fiscal success (or lack thereof) of a given training, start with asking whether and by how much the metric of the objectives moved. From there it’s just a matter of translating that into dollars.

2) Acquire Data: Now that you’ve defined the appropriate questions, it’s time to collect data. This can be as simple or as complex as the metrics you are measuring. If you have an analytics team in place, they likely can help you acquire the data you need. In many cases you probably won’t need anything more complex than a spreadsheet. The important thing is to collect the data.

It’s usually a good idea to capture data at a macro and micro level before and after the training. This will help you to effectively isolate other variables that could affect the metric, thus leading to a purer training impact analysis.

3) Analyze the Results and Create a Plan: Take the results at face value, but also dig deeper. Numbers on their own are great for a PowerPoint presentation, but the story they tell is where you will get the biggest impact. Maybe you find that post-training, first call resolution improved by 10 percent—but why? Was it isolated to a particular group or manager? If there were folks that didn’t complete the training, did they show a similar increase? Find the story.

Monetize it. This is where training analytics has a chance to really shine. If you were measuring the impact of a coaching class for managers and you find that final written warnings decreased by 20 percent as a result of more effective coaching skills, then that can be quantified. If you know that 50 percent of all final written warnings end up in employee separation, know the onboarding cost of a new rep, and know how many fewer final written warnings there were, you can easily assign a fiscal return on that training. Put that number against the overall cost of the training program and you’ll have an accurate training ROI.

But why stop there? People learn by association and through repetition. Now you have concrete evidence to justify a phase two of your coaching class. Act on this new plan, keep measuring, and you will keep achieving.

The Bottom Line: A small step for training is to say that training is a bottom-line issue. Any job posting for training director job titles is likely to include some verbiage about business results. This is a good start.

A giant leap for training is to measure things that really matter, tie them to your bottom line, and take that data to make your training program even better. It’s a positive feedback loop.

With verifiable positive training ROI, it’s much easier to budget for more.

David Mathews is president of Training Analytics and Consulting LLC. With over fifteen years in the learning and development field, he has helped pioneer robust training analytics operations at some of the most well-known companies in the world. David is a recognized expert at translating raw data into meaningful and actionable business insights that will increase the impact and ROI of any training organization. Contact David at david@trainingtac.com or 469-626-7980.

Vendor Profile: Alston Tascom

Alston Tascom

Many years ago AT&T contracted with Alston to build a telephone answering system they could install in their central offices. Tascom built that system. However, the business portion of the deal fell through, so Alston had a system with no customers. They then decided to sell the Tascom system directly to end users. The first Tascom system was installed in 1980.

It was a thirty-two-seat Tascom redundant system, and for many years Tascom dominated the large system market. Tascom was the system most everyone wanted—it was considered the Cadillac of the industry. Today, Tascom’s largest system is over one hundred seats, far larger than the thirty-two seats in the early days. Call center systems are at the heart of the information age and will remain an intricate part of information distribution for small businesses for many years to come.Tascom technology goes beyond the systems that helped start the information age. Click To Tweet

Tascom technology goes beyond the systems that helped start the information age. All Tascom systems are a seamless design of Microsoft™ SQL database and Asterisk softswitch and have the following feature tools in common: http and native SIP connections for all system communication (trunk, operator, and internal), HIPAA compliance, monitoring of operators to train and improve callers’ experience, and client web to enable customers to manage their own accounts to the degree allowed, such as handling their own on-call schedule.

Tascom ADAM (Alston Developed Asterisk Machine) is their full-featured large premise-based system. One of the special things about ADAM is that the communication is accomplished through http, which makes configuration easy because the stations communicate to a web server. Their wallboard apps are web accessible, making it easy to see what ADAM is doing.

ADAM in its purest software configuration has only a LAN connection. Virtually everything is possible because it is all programmable.

Tascom-Express, also a premise-based system, is for answering services with a smaller client base that still want to provide top-tier service at prices affordable for small businesses. Tascom-Express has virtually everything the large ADAM system incorporates, with some space and size limitations (up to eight seats).

Tascom’s hosted system installed its first two clients in 2006 and continues to service numerous businesses in multiple states on their multi-tenant hosted platform. The hosted system is like a large office building that leases office space to businesses. In this case, the flexible Tascom hosted platform leases system space to call centers and tele-messaging businesses. The space is measured by the number of operator seats or workstations wanted.

The hosted system has all the essential features as their premises ADAM or Tascom-Express system, with a few restrictions that Tascom personnel perform for their clients due to access security. They have a true multi-tenant hosted platform; customers do not buy a system.

Tascom follows the same model as most other hosting industries, whereby the cost of the system is far less than a system purchase. They add their customer’s business to their robust hosted system and spread the cost of software, software licenses, hardware, secure datacenter, SIP ports (talk path or voice trunks), and technical expertise to all users so that the individual site cost is reduced.

Tascom’s cloud system is a single-tenant hosted system located in their secure datacenter and designed for larger businesses or clients that want to offer a wider array of services. Clients on the cloud have decided that they are much better at managing their business than managing a system, so more of their resources can be dedicated to their business.

In their cloud solution, each business has its own complete system. This is a proprietary system exclusively for Alston Tascom’s customers with special needs. Although users share the facility and their technical expertise, they do not share software, hardware, or SIP ports. Businesses on Tascom’s cloud system tend to be larger corporations that require greater access or special requirements that are not available on the hosted system.

Alston TascomWhen looking for a call management system, consider Tascom. Contact them at www.alstontascom.com, info@alstontascom.com, or 866-282-7266.