Category Archives: Articles

The Costly Impact of Unanswered Outbound Calls on Call Centers

By Krishna Korlepara

The relationship consumers have with their phones has changed. Before the age of cell phones, landlines were the call center’s primary form of near immediate connection with customers. Prior to caller ID, the phone would ring, the consumer would pick it up and call center agents could do their jobs. 

Consumers couldn’t be sure who was waiting on the other end of the line, but they picked up the phone regardless. Fast forward to the twenty-first century and everyone is walking around with cell phones in their pockets, where over 90 percent of unrecognized numbers go unanswered.

Call Avoidance 

It’s not that those conversations with the enterprise and call centers are less important. Sure, the ability to listen to a voicemail has granted consumers some amount of freedom, but that convenience is rarely the primary reason for ignoring a call these days. Rather, consumers are trying to avoid the calls they don’t want about the “extended auto warranty” they do not have.

The number of spam, robo, and fraudulent calls continues to increase year over year, warranting this avoidance. During the COVID-19 pandemic, daily call volumes increased to an average of 800 million wireless calls each weekday on Verizon’s network. That’s two times the call volume of Mother’s Day, the typical highest call volume day of the year. Estimates show that 16 precent, or just over 129 million, of those daily calls were robocalls.

For some consumers it is an easy decision to send all unrecognized numbers to voicemail to avoid scammers, but that behavior—while warranted to evade swindlers—has long lasting effects on the enterprise and call centers and their ability to do necessary work. Legitimate businesses and call centers with real reasons to reach out are trying to contact consumers from unrecognized numbers too. This consumer engagement leaves the enterprise in a hard place as they seek to share information only suitable for a secure phone connection.

United States Regulations

Attempts to remediate the issue have taken place on the federal level in the form of the recent STIR/SHAKEN regulations, which are protocols and a governance framework to ensure a caller ID isn’t spoofed, thereby reducing the number of illegal robocalls.

Under those FCC standards—set to be fully in effect by the end of June 2021—carriers would, in theory, be able to validate the authenticity and legitimacy of a caller. However, STIR/SHAKEN has its pitfalls, like smaller carriers having more time to comply to the standard,  flagging numbers at a lower attestation level even if they come from a legitimate source, and calls coming from international markets not having to adhere to the U.S. STIR/SHAKEN standards. 

Provider Initiatives

Carriers have also developed approaches to decrease the number of nefarious calls by implementing various network-based call tagging solutions. Using calling number analytics, these systems recognize suspicious calls coming from specific calling phone numbers, but they also routinely have false positives by categorizing good calls as “spam likely.” 

Cell phone manufacturers have tried implementing similar blocks, but they face identical issues when calls originate across varying devices.

High Costs

While these solutions do alleviate some of the effects of deceptive calls, the financial and operational costs put on the enterprise and call center as a result is far too great to consider these solutions as adequate.

Every weekday in the U.S., call centers lose $685 million due to time wasted on unanswered outbound calls. These are calls made from legitimate businesses attempting to reach customers for legitimate reasons. In fact, voice calling is the primary method of contacting customers for the financial, healthcare, and insurance industries due to the often sensitive nature of the calls, and each industry utilizes call centers to manage the large volume of calls needed each day.

For every second that a call center agent is making and waiting for a call to be answered, it costs the call center 1.5 cents. Due to consumers’ previously mentioned reluctance to answer 94 precent of unrecognized numbers, which means 127 of a call center agent’s estimated 135 outbound calls made during one daytime shift go unanswered, wasting the call center an estimated $403.20 for each agent. That number continues to compound as we consider the total number of call center agents in the U.S.

When those calls go unanswered, thwarting connections vital to the enterprise, banks are unable to share alerts of suspicious activity, healthcare providers fail to share important test results in a timely manner, and insurance agencies are unable to connect with their customers to discuss a claim or have an adjuster setup an appointment to evaluate damages. 

Every time a call fails to reach a customer, the enterprise delays handling a customer’s issue. This produces a bad customer experience that lowers their standing in the eyes of the customer.

Conclusion

The risk to the enterprise and call center is too great to leave this consumer behavior unchanged and in the hands of band-aid solutions that only work over certain carriers or specific devices or wait for government-mandated regulations that will require years to fully implement. 

Rather, a more well-rounded approach that takes all aspects into consideration should be the only solution we look for. This is a solution that makes it possible for the enterprise and call center to reach its customers for the conversations that are too important to miss.

As director of product management at Sevis Systems, Krishna Korlepara leads the product strategy and long-term vision with specific focus on cloud-based identity solutions for telecom operators across the world. 

Transform Voice of Customer Insights with Artificial Intelligence Powered Speech Analytics

By Matt Rocco and Jim Iyoob

Customer experience is the latest challenge faced today; brands must consider far more than simply the point of sale. To be specific, you need to analyze and understand the entire life cycle of each customer interaction. If your business has a contact center service, your agents are on the frontline. Whenever your customers have a question or need resolutions to their problems, they will reach out to your customer service team. This makes the contact center and agents the most important touchpoints for memorable customer service.

According to Microsoft, 61 percent of customers will never go back to a business if they have a poor customer experience. This scenario can remarkably improve if companies leverage the power of artificial intelligence (AI)-driven speech analytics to improve the way of engaging and serving customers.

In the age of customer experience, businesses must understand the power of AI and speech analytics. When combined with human intelligence, AI and speech analytics can take the customer experience to the next level. By utilizing AI, you can tap into all customer interaction data, making your contact center more effective, transforming your agents to be more efficient, and producing positive customer interactions that could create better customer satisfaction.

What are the Challenges Today’s Contact Centers Face?

It is a frequent problem for contact centers to face different service delivery issues. It has always been a challenge to find a balance between the number of agents available and the call volume. Due to the lack of available agents, customers often experience long wait times, which is one of the main reasons behind customer frustration.

In addition to agent availability challenges, there are overwhelming problems that contact centers face with data management. Contact centers need to continually leverage data for improving their processes and agent performance so they can understand customers well and satisfy changing needs. Many contact centers struggle with the growing volume of data and various issues with data collection, duplication, complexity, and data silos. 

Data comes from many sources, often with different formatting. Additionally, the data that you get from the customer relationship management (CRM) system of your company can sometimes be flawed or incomplete. These challenges make it tough for modern contact centers to transform unstructured and structured data into meaningful insights that can help you understand what needs and expectations your customers have.

Why is Traditional Call Center Quality Monitoring Not the Solution?

Transcribing and analyzing every call or customer interaction is formidable. However, monitoring and understanding these interactions manually and resorting to a small sample of interactions is simply not enough. A few monitoring programs have a sound idea of what to look for but still tend to focus on specific metrics, such as abandonment, hold times, or interaction resolutions. While this information can be helpful, this type of monitoring tends to miss valuable information between agents and customers, leaving actionable insights buried in mounds of dark data.

Bridging the Gap with AI-Powered Speech Analytics

Gaps in quality monitoring for contact centers are nothing new. This leaves valuable insights left unobserved, meaning contact center agents are conducting business without the necessary information to provide the best support and services to their customers. This results in agents and customers feeling frustrated, with neither understanding how to find solutions to customer problems. 

Finding solutions for agents and customers while trying to fill the gaps of quality monitoring can seem overwhelming. Artificial intelligence integrated speech analytics technology, however, can provide contact centers with valuable insights and resources for their agents, while meeting customer expectations and providing an excellent customer experience.

How Can Speech Analytics Make a Difference?

Contact centers can access a vital source of data while using speech analytics technology. Companies use it to analyze recorded customer calls to discern valuable insights to improve the customer experience. These analytics provide a more detailed view by covering a variety of data points such as the topic of the call, relevant keywords and phrases, the emotional intent of the agent and customer, and the duration of talk in the calls. The next step is to convert this gathered data into text or transcripts so that further analysis can occur.

This data is very crucial for businesses to understand and analyze the pain points for why customers end up leaving a negative review about the company or altogether abandon their purchase. For instance, if speech analytics in an e-commerce store’s contact center reveals that many customers take twice as long to complete the checkout and payment, this could signal to the business that it needs to make changes to its website and payment gateway to improve the user experience.

Additionally, speech analytics derived data can gather insights on agent performance which helps companies understand where to concentrate training, how to empower team members, and ways to create a more effective work environment for agents. Undoubtedly, analytics is an invaluable tool that can help your company grow and build strong relationships with customers. 

What is the Power of AI-enhanced Speech Analytics?

Artificial intelligence is what brings the effectiveness of automation, speed, and predictive insights to speech analytics technology. There is an ever-increasing volume of data that modern contact centers must mine in today’s business environment. The standard contact center technologies like legacy call tracking software or CRMs are not able to help companies leverage this data in the best way possible.

AI is the differentiator. It provides businesses with the advanced capabilities to improve agent performance and service delivery. The real-time insights into each interaction from AI-powered speech analytics help them identify patterns and trends that cause customer churn. AI-enhanced analytics are also helpful for your business to reduce the number of calls in the contact center as it identifies patterns in repeat calls. 

This can lead to a better understanding of your customer problems, and your business can take the appropriate steps to solve them. It can be anything from improving your brick-and-mortar or online experiences to optimizing agent training for better customer service resolutions. In some cases, artificial intelligence can even provide insights in real-time that agents can instantaneously use to improve their customer interactions.

AI Solutions for Evolving Problems 

The contact center environment is constantly advancing. Each day brings different information, products, and ways of interacting with customers, as well as how agents are set up to provide those services.

Fortunately, the solution is here with the flexibility needed to solve these ever-changing concerns using AI-powered speech analytics. Brands have been mining for customer insights in small samples, but AI-speech analytics has the power to take vast amounts of data while sifting through every interaction.

By using AI, contact centers have an effective lens to dissect interactions, taking the guesswork out when the agent is interacting with customers. AI gives businesses insights into what their customers are experiencing and needing now. Today’s customers expect immediate results and with AI speech analytics, you can provide it. 

Transform Your Contact Center Experience 

Today’s business environment is that every customer interaction produces a data point that companies can leverage to understand their customers better. AI is the revolutionary tool that has the immense capability to help your business bridge the gap between the agents and your customer base. If you want to make the best use of AI-powered speech analytics in your contact center, the first step that your company needs to take is centralizing all the data across your organization into a unified platform that integrates and analyzes insights from multiple sources in a single place.

Along with these technological shifts, however, your business needs to leverage the power of human intelligence to deliver an effortless customer experience. Your team members are more data-aware than you know and can analyze this information to help your business accomplish both short and long-term objectives. Together with the efficacy of AI and speech analytics, along with your people’s valuable knowledge, experience, and unique skill set, your business will be able to make the most out of analytics to meet customers’ changing needs and deliver an experience that can transform your customers to brand advocates.

In Conclusion

With AI-powered speech analytics, organizations can drive efficiencies and performance as never before, allowing an overall view of end-to-end customer experience across every channel. It automatically mines crucial data from contact centers which in turn help drive value into the business and future customer interactions. As a result, businesses get a clear view of what customers want and need, how to train agents better, and how to provide an overall excellent customer experience, every time.

Are you ready to see what your customers say?

Make artificial intelligence and speech analytics, the two most revolutionizing technologies of this time, the integral parts of your contact center quality monitoring.

Matt Rocco is the president and CEO of Etech Global Services. He is a 37-year business executive veteran of the call center/BPO industry having spent time in every facet of call center operations and outsourcing processes.

Jim Iyoob is the chief customer officer at Etech Global Services. He handles strategy, marketing, business development, IT, program implementation, operational excellence, and product development across all Etech’s existing lines of business: Etech, Etech Insights, Etech Technology Solutions and Etech Social Media Solutions.

To learn more about how these intelligent innovations can help your business result in happy customers, dive into Etech’s white paper: “Improving CX and Contact Center Performance.”

Happy Employees Mean Happier Customers for Telemarketing Companies

By Patrick Gilbert

The phrase “attitude is everything” is vital for telemarketing companies. Those working in telemarketing face unique challenges every day. Aside from the abundance of factors that affect call center agents both personally and professionally, telemarketers face the exact thing that makes this line of work interesting and unique: every call is different. 

Call center agents aren’t just the face but the heart and soul of your company. They’re the first—and last—voice customers hear and have a massive influence on customer experience. A cheerful call center agent versus a crabby short-fused agent provides a distinct experience. 

Happier employees mean happier customers, and what business doesn’t want that? Here are four ways to cultivate a culture of happy employees.

1. Open Communication 

How do you know if your employees are happy? You may think the pizza Friday you just provided communicated you are pleased with them, but have you considered not all may see it that way? Perhaps you have a perception of your employees’ overall mood because none of them have brought their concerns to you. 

It’s a common misconception that discussing workplace issues in the breakroom is the fastest way to see change. Are you part of those breakroom discussions? The only way to know how they feel or what they need is to have regular, individual communication with your team members. 

Access to Tools and Training

There’s nothing worse than setting call center agents’ expectations without providing the proper tools or training to help achieve them. State-of-the-art technology is great only if it facilitates appropriate training. Ordinary soft skills training like sales or customer service skills will demonstrate that their long-term success is a priority. 

Training promotes autonomy. Increased autonomy produces more engagement, pride, and ownership in call center agent’s work.

Employee Engagement 

Engaging in your work is a clear indication that satisfaction exists. Telemarketing companies have an excellent opportunity to have their employees involved in the overall big picture. Your agents have more interactions with your customers than all other areas of your business. 

Gathering insight they have acquired, asking their opinion, and implementing changes based on their recommendations is the fastest way to ensure they are engaged. Involvement in the day-to-day operations and the respect given to the knowledge they contribute leads to a significant cultural development. They begin to care. 

Rewarding Performance 

 Most people respond well to praise. They will also give up on trying when they receive none. Having initiatives in place to ensure a consistent flow of praise is vital. Programs such as employee of the month or recognition of your team on your company website are great ways to ensure the regular delivery of praise. 

Incentive programs that offer financial gain are always welcome but not always in the budget. Often the increased incentive given to high performers, however, is much less than the cost of onboarding replacements for those who left due to a lack of recognition. 

For telemarketing companies, it’s essential never to lose sight of the work your employees do for you. They spend the entirety of their workday on back-to-back phone calls with your customers, all while juggling maintaining performance, call quality, problem-solving new questions, ideas, personal issues, and so forth. Talk to your employees, get them involved, provide training, and reward them when they perform. 

Focus on making employees happy, and in turn, they will make your customers happy. What occurs on the inside of your business will certainly be felt on the outside by your customers. 

Patrick Gilbert is an operations manager for Quality Contact Solutions. With over twenty-five years of leading call center operations, Patrick brings a refined yet refreshing approach to the sales and service environment. His breadth of experience makes him an adept problem solver who expertly crafts creative solutions, implements best practices, and develops winning strategies for his clients.

The Benefits of Home-Based Call Center Agents

Discover Why Every Call Center Should Move Toward Having a Remote Staff

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter Lyle DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections Magazine

Many businesses struggle to find entry-level employees. This includes the call center industry. Though the technology to allow for remote work has existed for a long time—and continues to get better—some call centers are reluctant to embrace the option of home-based call center agents.

This may be due to several factors. A key one is the challenge of managing a distributed workforce. Another is being able to ensure quality. A third is a tendency to want to continue doing what we’ve always done and are comfortable doing.

Yet business dynamics continue to change. And the rate of change has accelerated in the past year. If your call center continues to pursue a paradigm of having all employees work from a centralized location, now is the time to challenge that perception and reconfigure your operation to address today’s needs and prepare for tomorrow’s opportunities.

Here are some of the key benefits of hiring home-based call center agents.

Tap Homebound Workers

Some otherwise-qualified employees want to work but for varying reasons are homebound. This may be due to their preference or their circumstances, but the fact remains that they are eager candidates. It’s just that they can’t go to work, so you need to bring the work to them. Fortunately, this is easy to do, as well as being a perfect fit, for call center work.

Though some situations don’t fit, such as people tasked with childcare or eldercare, other contexts are a nonissue. This includes people who lack transportation, live too far away from your office, have mobility issues, or struggle with social anxieties. These people can potentially work remotely and function as ideal home-based call center agents.

Expanded Labor Pool

If your local labor market lacks qualified or willing candidates, has unrealistic compensation expectations, or suffers from a low unemployment rate, explore an untapped or under reached labor market to find home-based call center agents to staff your operation and round out your roster.

Flexible Scheduling

Many call centers could benefit by scheduling people for split shifts, working an hour or two at various times throughout the day to meet traffic peaks. In addition is the dream of having on-demand workers who could login to process calls to deal with an unexpected deluge of traffic, be it for a few minutes or several hours.

Both these dreams are a realistic option with home-based call center agents. Many are willing to accept odd schedules or be available for on-demand work. They measure their commute in steps, not miles or minutes. And, unless your operation uses videoconferencing, their appearance doesn’t matter. They don’t need to follow an office-based dress code. Since there working from home, they can login within seconds and take calls for short shifts or on-demand, as well as regular shifts.

Of course, not every home-based employee will embrace this paradigm, but some will, and they may even prefer it.

Save on Facility Costs

With home-based call center agents, you have less people working in your office. This means you can scale back on your facility. Taken to its logical conclusion, you will have no staff working in your office. As a result, you’ll be able to close your office or sell your building. This will cut your costs and bolster your profits.

Provide Safe Employment

Though this concern is not as high as it once was, we should prepare for the possibility that it could one day reemerge, perhaps as an even more dangerous threat.

These are all benefits that have been around for as long as home-based call center agents have been a possibility. Yet there is one more benefit—a key consideration in this uncertain time—that you should not overlook and will be wise to embrace. This is, quite simply, working from home removes employees from the physical contact of others, eliminating the possibility of getting a virus from their coworkers.

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

Vendor Profile on Amtelco

Amtelco banner

Amtelco, a family-owned business located in McFarland, Wisconsin, has been a trusted name in call center communication systems, software applications, and telephone switching technologies for forty-five years. Amtelco and Telescan, a division of Amtelco, offer a unique breadth and depth of technology and service to meet the needs of call centers, contact centers, and enterprise environments. Processing millions of telephone calls every day, Amtelco and Telescan software applications are in operation in all fifty of the United States and more than twenty foreign countries. 

Amtelco’s guiding values are:

  • Prioritizing all members of the Amtelco family (customers and employees), providing five-star service.
  • Creating reliable products that empower others to communicate quickly and securely. 
  • Growing and improving thoughtfully, evaluating what elements meet long-term needs. 
  • Embracing members of the Amtelco family with compassion and transparency.
  • Encouraging creativity and innovation, considering and fostering innovative ideas that come from all members of the Amtelco family.

Both employees and customers are treated like family. Amtelco received a Top Workplaces honor in 2020 and 2021. Gerald Brosseau, president of Always On Call, an Amtelco customer, states, “Moving to the Amtelco system, and really the Amtelco family, has been the best decision we’ve ever made as a business. The relationships are invaluable, and you feel like you are a partner within their company.”

System Designed for Flexibility and Growth

Genesis is the latest advancement in Amtelco’s extensive line of call center solutions. This technology is entirely software-based and virtualized, with cloud-based capability. Genesis provides skills-based automatic call distribution (ACD), built-in speech recognition, text-to-speech (TTS), and voice services to improve call routing and management. Agent training happens quickly and easily using prompts, lookups, and navigation built into database-driven call scripts to automatically guide them through even the most complex calls.

Technology that Simplifies Remote Agent Deployment

Web Agent is a web browser-based telephone agent interface that makes working from home easy. This fully functioning call-handling web application can transform any personal computer into a professional telephone agent station. Web Agent is accessible through a web-browser so remote agents can work from anywhere with an internet connection. Establishing a VPN connection ensures the connection is secure. With no software to load or maintain on devices and updates completed via a web server, Web Agent is easily configurable and convenient for the remote workforce.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to Increase Efficiency

Amtelco’s Service Level reports specifically monitors agents’ interaction with callers, traffic patterns, agent abandons, and system abandons. Visual warnings can indicate if agents are reaching the requirement settings configured in the parameters. Various reports are available that show calls or agent statistics that do not meet the service level criteria. This allows managers and supervisors to easily spot when an agent abandoned a call, how long it took for the agent to answer a call, and how long a call sat on an agent’s station.

View real-time call handling data with the miTeamWeb Dashboard. The miTeamWeb Dashboard provides call center staff and clients with real-time information about automated call distribution (ACD) activities, agent call handling statistics, and Intelligent Series dispatching tasks in both graphic and text formats. Sounds and visual thresholds help monitor KPIs. An emergency call alert setting can play a siren sound when an emergency client call comes into the system but is currently in queue. Calls waiting for longer than the number of seconds specified can display highlighted in yellow. 

The IS supervisor dashboard displays historical data and live data to help monitor call center analytics. This user-friendly dashboard displays various charts of call data including total calls, calls per agent, calls per station type, calls per call type, calls per client, and service level performance. Tables, bar charts, and pie charts make it easier for supervisors to spot performance issues. 

Easy and Encrypted Messaging Solution

The intuitive design of miSecureMessages ensures fast, reliable communications with end-to-end encryption for communications. All types of industries who need to ensure their communications are secure use the miSecureMessages business text messaging tool. These include call centers, healthcare, and enterprises.

Track the progress of messages, increase agent efficiency, improve security, and reduce errors, while providing audit logs, reports, and client accountability.

Some of the new features that miSecureMessages version 6.8 offers include:

  • Prevent downtime with the optional high availability feature to allow miSecureMessages configuration for multiple servers, with automated failover from one server to another when the primary server goes down.
  • Phone number masking allows phone calls placed from the miSecureMessages app to route through Genesis. This displays the organization’s phone number instead of the device’s phone number.
  • Shared device licenses allow device registration for use by multiple miSecureMessages users.
  • Convenient single sign-on authentication allows miSecureMessages administration logins and user login configuration for one of two authentication modes: 1) the miSecureMessages server keeps track of passwords and performs authentication and 2) the single sign-on identity provider keeps track of passwords and performs authentication.

Reliable Five-Star Service and Support 

Amtelco has a reputation for complete, professional system support, offering training, installation, and technical staff on call on a 24-hour basis. When customers need assistance, Amtelco’s customer support staff provides fast and reliable service.

Amtelco’s customer support staff includes implementation specialists, installers, project managers, and technical support staff. The customer support staff has an average tenure of sixteen years, which is unheard of in technology and IT businesses. All support staff members reside in the United States. 

Looking into the Future

Amtelco and Telescan work closely with their customers and continue to develop innovative features and products that empower call centers, contact centers, and enterprise environments to operate efficiently for their clients. New web and mobile solutions, miSecureMessages capabilities, and artificial intelligence (AI) features are just a few items that are in development. Watch for future updates.

5 Techniques to Optimize Agent Productivity and Reduce Attrition in a Remote Workforce

By Greg Hanover and Tricia Yankovich

As we begin to see people shift back into traditional workplaces—be it an office environment or co-working spaces—we should remember the lessons learned from 2020, a year of remote working. In fact, these lessons may be even more immediately actionable as many organizations will have a hybrid work environment with some team members working onsite, others working remotely, and having that mix of people change day-to-day. Forrester recently announced that remote work will rise to three times pre-COVID levels

Many enterprises managed to work through the logistics of having a remote team, and many even found it to be more productive. As they adapt moving forward, unique challenges persist. How do companies ensure that their teams remain efficient, productive, and satisfied while working from home as well as in the office? 

Translating this macro working trend to customer service agents, a McKinsey report found that 50 percent of contact centers rate retention as a key challenge. Retention of agents relates not just to satisfaction but to engagement and meaningful work. An engaged agent is more than a happy agent. They have an emotional investment in their company and their work. As a result, they go beyond basic expectations. 

As such, here are five proven methods to building engagement in a hybrid workforce of call center agents:

1. Give Your Agents Time to Adapt

Yes, people have adapted to working from home so much so that working in pajamas has even lost its luster. In this year, many contact centers have changed their recruiting practices, bringing in agents who have the specific capabilities needed but live nowhere near a brick-and-mortar facility. These people will remain remote while others will start working in an office. This will change team dynamics.

In determining who works where and when, it is important to remember that remote work isn’t a one-to-one replacement for an in-office environment, and it is important to identify the right talent that can succeed in a remote environment from the start. Working from home successfully requires agents to be self-motivated, disciplined, and organized. A star performer in the office may have difficulty adapting to working from home. 

It’s important to give these agents the training and tools critical to build work-from-home skills, as is communicating the benefits they may see in returning to in-office work. This learning curve may be fluid in the beginning, but as companies understand the skills they need within their teams, this adjustment period will get shorter. 

2. Measure Engagement and Productivity

Measuring engagement and productivity is not a one-size-fits-all model. There are many routes to take and many platforms to use. An important piece to integrate is real-time feedback. Engaging with agents on a regular and frequent basis allows you to get a quick check on their productivity and overall sentiment. Quarterly surveys are common. However, they tend to be lagging indicators. 

In addition to frequent checks with agents, allow them the ability to provide feedback to managers in real time. This can be done through technology tools or with built-in check-ins. As part of this measurement make sure to not equate happiness with engagement. Agents can be promoters and say they’d recommend their place of work while still feeling disengaged because they don’t have the right tools or support to help them be successful.

3. Equip Agents with the Right Technology

Technology in the remote environment is crucial, yet there is no secret formula for what works for each business. Creating engagement may require several tools, so it’s important that they complement each other to reach your company’s goals. 

To help nurture emotional intelligence and prevent potential burnout, building a virtual community allows team members to connect in a remote environment. Private corporate social networks can also act as a hub for agents to interact and access company information, participate in events, and link into gamification challenges. 

With technology implementation, it’s important to keep in mind the fatigue that sets in when you lean too heavily on one platform. Zoom fatigue is common after a year of virtual meetings. Be sure to add variety to your tools to create connections without burnout. 

4. Provide Professional Development

If agents aren’t growing in their position, they tend to leave. It’s vital to encourage constant professional growth. Effective distance learning helps maintain competencies and upskill in any environment. Having a platform that provides short digestible sessions can really help individual development, particularly programs that give agents the flexibility to learn around their schedules. This should include a mix of instructor-led sessions as well as self-paced content that agents can review on their own and refer to whenever they need. 

A shift to virtual or hybrid working intensifies the need for training around emotional intelligence. This includes how to provide feedback to team members, how to manage a distributed team, and how to organize your time when working from home.

5. Create a Virtual Community 

Creating a virtual community in a remote world is a challenge many enterprises face since the shift to virtual work. Brick and mortar offices have organic culture and community, where you can roll over to your co-worker and ask them about their day. In a virtual world, you need to have the right tools and technology in place and be intentional about fostering community. 

A successful virtual community involves more than having great collaboration software. Hosted events can merge fun with networking, as well as encourage buddy systems within the organization. 

Conclusion

The post-COVID call center will look incredibly different from what it once did, but the keys to agent engagement remain the same. Empathy remains an essential character trait for agents and leaders. Agents who are empathetic to their customers perform at higher levels, and leaders who manage with empathy to agents meet their needs and concerns, keeping them engaged and successful in their work. Empathy also helps in understanding which agents are suited for remote work and which thrive in an office environment. 

Giving agents the same resources, feedback, and opportunities for collaboration no matter where they work will be critical to succeeding as a hybrid organization, reaping the benefits of both in-person and virtual work.

Greg Hanover is the CEO at Liveops and Tricia Yankovich is the SVP of people and human resources at Five9.

Components of Successful Outbound and Inbound Telemarketing Training

By Claire Coffman

In today’s ultra-competitive landscape, businesses place a greater emphasis on customer satisfaction, retaining customers, and providing world-class customer service. Tailoring training programs to focus on the skills needed to reinforce positive customer interactions is crucial. Consumer confidence is key to maintaining long-lasting customer relationships. 

The success of telemarketing campaigns depends on how well trained the agents are. The combination of skill, product, and technology education helps establish a foundation to set call center agents up for success. 

The Learning Environment

Teaching or training anyone anything requires a sturdy knowledge base on the instructor’s part, a willingness to learn on the student’s part, and a well-structured instruction guide. If any of these components are missing, learning can’t happen. At least not without increased frustration for everyone involved.

Trainers have an innate ability to switch between teaching a concept to provide support effortlessly, sometimes in the same breath. They must be able to quickly process when a learner is frustrated and how to alleviate that emotion. No one learns when they are upset. 

Teachers, trainers, or anyone in any instruction position must mix in a little compassion in their subject matter. By understanding that everyone learns differently, treating learners with compassion, and exercising patience during every step of the learning process, we can cut back on the time it takes to train agents on new material and cut back on attrition rates.

A One-Size-Fits-All Approach to Training Is Ineffective 

As different as the job descriptions for inbound and outbound telemarketing are, the training required to perform these jobs is just as diverse. Inbound telemarketing agents need instruction in customer service areas and cultivating relationships with new and existing customers. 

Inbound telemarketing training is typically seen as less strenuous than outbound instruction, primarily because most people calling into a company’s service center are already customers or want to become customers. 

Outbound telemarketing agents need to learn all the above and how to reach sales quotas, which adds to the stress of calling customers when it may not be a convenient time for them. Outbound telemarketing agents also need to be more prepared to hear a no than an inbound telemarketing agent will.

Components for Inbound Telemarketing Training

When training for outbound and inbound telemarketing, the critical focus is to develop sales through service. Customer service develops through connecting with people—treating every caller as a human with a name instead of an account number and dollar signs. That means showing empathy, documenting and understanding customer complaints and compliments, and creating a positive experience for the customer. 

For inbound telemarketing training:

  • Inform agents about the company’s history, product, and expectations.
  • Train agents how to use the company’s technology for remote workers, including how to access any remote desktops and use any customer tracking programs the company has.
  • Have a session on customer service and what the company expects from their agents. Some companies have specific ways of speaking to customers. Agents need to learn to meet those expectations and practice company-specific speech.
  • Practice, practice, practice. A quote I love to share is “Don’t practice until you get it right; practice until you cannot get it wrong.” Build up the confidence of your agents. An agent with no or low confidence in their ability to navigate a call, customer, or company system will always need help. You can never practice too much. 
  • Roleplay with your agents. Let them listen to recorded or live calls of other agents in the same campaign. Use quizzes or games to help the information stick in their brains.
  • Listen. This is crucial. You cannot be a good instructor if you are not listening to your learners. Note not only the words the agents use when expressing concern or asking a question. You also need to note the tone and stress levels of an agent’s voice. Being a good listener is half of a trainer’s job. We cannot expect others to learn from us if we do not practice what we preach. As instructor’s when we listen, we also learn. We learn what concepts stump our learners; we learn what concepts build confidence. Training is not a one-way street. We must make constant adjustments to be sure our agents are grasping the information. If some training technique isn’t working, try a different approach. Everyone learns differently, and instructors need to adapt.
  • Smile. Teach your agents the importance of smiling, even if no one is looking. Customers can hear a smile through a phone line. It also helps an agent sound engaged and confident.

Components for Outbound Telemarketing Training

For outbound telemarketing training:

  • Practice scripts to help your agents sound like they aren’t robo-reading. Nothing will lose a listener’s interest more than an agent that sounds like Ben Stein reading a script.
  • Practice with your agents how to react to hearing a no and the sound of a phone hanging up. Rebuttal and objection guides and scripts are excellent for this. When cold calling, if a person hears a telemarketer on the phone, they tend to hang up without even listening to the offer. When outbound agents call existing customers to check in, offer deals, or update information, they are slightly more likely to keep a customer on the phone. Outbound agents need thick skin and practice how not to take hearing a no personally.
  • Plus everything in the inbound telemarketing training tips.

Confident agents who know that they will be heard when they ask for help tend to stay in their position more often than agents who don’t feel supported in their learning journey. Confidence leads to happiness which agents pass on to customers. 

Claire Coffman is the corporate trainer for Quality Contact Solutions. After teaching for 15 years, Claire took her love of sharing knowledge to the corporate world to help improve customer relations. Claire enjoys a good challenge, is highly competitive, especially against herself, and constantly strives to be better than the day before. Contact Claire at claire.coffman@qualitycontactsolutions.com or at 516-656-4103.

The Modern Contact Center

Trends Driving Customer Service and Experience

By Aakash Kumar

Today’s customers require new and varied ways of interacting with businesses. The traditional call center has proven ineffective and is therefore becoming obsolete. In a dynamic, tech-savvy, digital world with consumers demanding excellent customer relations, a fixed number of phone agents working standard shifts doesn’t efficiently or effectively meet stakeholder needs. 

Traditional Contact Centers Must Evolve Beyond Phones and Full-Time Agents

Traditional contact centers are inherently constrained by the number of available stations. Whether an organization uses an internal contact center staffed by a set number of employees or an outsourced model, its ability to handle spikes and react to market changes (a worldwide pandemic, for example) faces constraints.

Prior to COVID-19, those limitations were not ideal, but managers continued to apply existing scheduling tools semi-effectively. Companies were able to hire seasonal employees and create schedules based on history or forecasts tied to marketing plans such as holiday rushes or new product announcements. Months prior to these anticipated increases in consumer calls, training was developed and schedules adjusted to meet predictable surges in call traffic. 

Organizations relied on past records to create forecasts to plan for their staffing needs. As expected, they were often over or understaffed leaving consumers unhappy with their service or product which, in turn, affected revenue. 

This is no longer the case. Businesses must now be prepared to shift in a moment, adapting instantly to changing circumstances. It may be prudent to consider outsourcing the call center functions to a firm specializing in flexible contact centers powered by the modern workforce.

Every city, state, and country faces its own combination of government restrictions and consumer behaviors, and all those elements can evolve daily. From surviving through imposed lockdowns, severe weather events, volatile governments, and the boom in online shopping, organizations need to be able to react quickly to maintain quality customer service.

The Modern, Digitally Diverse Contact Center 

Two interdependent trends define the modern era of customer service: 

  • The expectation of an always-on, digital customer support experience
  • The importance of that experience to consumers’ buying decisions

In 2019, 78 percent of customers reported that they preferred to use different channels depending on their context. That number has continued to grow since COVID-19 forced so many interactions online. Now most of the purchasing process happens digitally, and consumers want to engage with brands via chat, social channels, and email. 

Consumers continue to migrate to digital customer service offerings because the experience is convenient and faster. 

Ninety percent of customers rate an immediate response as important or very important when they have a support question, and 82 percent expect immediate answers to their sales and marketing questions. Consumers define “immediate” as thirty minutes or less, a measurement that shrinks each year. In addition, 40 percent of consumers prefer on-line self-service options rather than communicating with customer support agents. (This, however, implies 60 percent prefer the telephone.)

The consumer’s experience makes a significant impact on future buying decisions. Consider these statistics:

  • Fifty-one percent of customers will no longer do business with a company after just one negative experience.
  • Ninety-three percent of customers are more likely to purchase again from brands with exceptional customer service.
  • Fifty-nine percent of customers care more about customer experience when they decide what company to support or buy from than they did prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and another 38 percent care the same as they did pre-COVID, which was already high. 

Given these numbers, “waiting for the next representative” is a tremendous cost to the business.

Four Ways to Modernize the Customer Contact Center 

Consumers now demand immediate customer support, on their preferred channel, which is rarely the phone. It’s clear that traditional call centers must evolve into modern, multi-channel contact centers that can adjust on the fly and keep up with today’s always-changing climate. 

A successful modern contact center requires four things:

1. Able to react quickly: It’s impossible to accurately forecast agent needs in three, six, or twelve months in this dynamic, globally interconnected environment. Once dependable forecasting models can no longer be trusted. Organizations must find a more flexible option for staffing their contact centers that enables them to react quickly—within hours and days, not months—and across multiple channels.

A flex model contact center provides the ability to manage increases and decreases in demand to improve utilization and reduce costs. Businesses can adjust their workforce hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly. 

2. Good talent: An exceptional customer experience depends on the people who provide it and the processes that support them. 

Tens of thousands of people became used to a new work model while working from home during the past year. Those individuals are now looking for flexible, remote work. Organizations that embrace a remote contact center model can build a strong bench that brings new skills into the agent pool.

3. Multi-channel approach: It bears repeating: modern consumers demand customer support that spans digital channels. 

Diversifying across the digital landscape benefits businesses as well. Highly skilled workers can span multiple channels at once, providing coverage across any vehicle that a customer may choose. With skilled talent, businesses gain the opportunity to create a contact center where agents can answer phones, respond to emails, tweets, Facebook messages, chats, and other channels. 

4. Automation and self-service: Remember, many consumers don’t want to talk to anyone at all. Automation and self-service, often powered by AI, will continue to grow as efficient and often preferred outlets for customer service. 

Summary

Organizations that plan to modernize their contact centers should consider how to combine the best people with the best technology to optimize their customer service capabilities. 

Aakash Kumar founded Shiftsmart to execute his vision of empowering today’s rapidly expanding labor workforce to maximize their employment opportunities and help usher in a future where they can work exclusively based on their preferences. Along with providing strategic thought leadership, Kumar is responsible for developing and ensuring that Shiftsmart’s “people-first” philosophy is pervasive throughout all aspects of the company’s relationships and technology.

How to Keep Remote Agents Engaged

By Jennifer Lee 

In 2020 BP (Before Pandemic), contact center agents typically spent their days navigating between upset customers and harried supervisors. Stress was often high, but the supporting structures of office and colleagues in proximity usually made it manageable. Then the pandemic sent agents home to work, cutting off those vital support structures.

The good news is that intelligent automation technology was already proving effective at helping customer service centers increase engagement, reduce costs, and boost productivity. The better news is that it also provides the connection, camaraderie, and shared culture that agents need to stay engaged while working remotely.

Connection: Teamwork Starts Here

There’s certainly some truth to the notion that “people quit their bosses, not their jobs.” But those bosses are not always to blame. Often, they’re just overwhelmed, and simply unable to avoid passing some of their burden on to agents.

Manual execution of repetitive tasks is a big part of the problem, eating up time that could otherwise go for training and coaching, which not only improve agents’ skills but also nourish the vital connection between agents and supervisors. But when call volume spikes, training and coaching are quickly put aside. This can leave agents feeling like their professional development is not a company priority, which may in turn cause them to disengage from their work. The complexity of scheduling training and coaching in the context of unpredictable shifts in service-level demands got a lot more difficult with the addition of a remote workforce into the mix.

Intelligent automation attacks this problem from two angles: First, automating time-consuming, repetitive tasks yields back time that agents can dedicate to customer service, or to training. Second, an AI-based solution able to process millions of data points can detect idle agents or a dip in calling demand in real time, and immediately deliver offers to complete training or coaching opportunities. This helps maintain the vital connection between agents and supervisors even when they don’t share an office. 

Camaraderie: We Are Family

A shared sense that “we’re all in this together” has always been a useful antidote to the unrelenting pressures of call center work, especially for extroverted agents who thrive on personal contact. In the office, physical proximity made it possible for agents to compare notes and share stories with each other, or for supervisors to detect troubled agents and call team huddles to correct personal or process problems that arose. But that’s impossible when the whole team is working remotely. 

An AI-based, intelligent automation solution—integrated with ACD and WFM systems and able to monitor activity in real time—can quickly identify struggling or idle agents and send offers of assistance, training, or other ways to reestablish occupancy. Armed with real-time visibility into call flow and agent activity, supervisors are free to focus more on the human side of being team leaders. When supervisors and agents engage each other as human beings, it strengthens their shared commitment to working together to deliver the high-level service that customers demand.

Culture: Appreciation Creates a Virtuous Circle

Customers demand a lot, and agents get an earful whenever a customer feels poorly served. That’s not fair—the problem is seldom within the agent’s control. To counteract agents’ exposure to the wrath of unhappy customers, companies need to cultivate a culture of appreciation in their customer service departments. Sending messages of recognition for a job well done, birthday wishes, or offers to leave early when call volume falls off reminds agents that they’re valued as people as well as agents. This contributes to their sense of belonging, which in turn deepens their commitment, which in turn results in better customer service. And around and around.

Intelligent automation encourages this virtuous circle. An AI-based solution, monitoring activity in real time, provides a dashboard of relevant stats—agent performance, relative seniority, and call volume—that helps supervisors guide distribution of the personal, morale-boosting messages mentioned above. 

Conclusion

Agents are often the face (voice, really) of a business, interacting directly with customers who are rarely calling to give a compliment. Anybody can have a difficult day or moment, but when an agent does, it may cost a business a customer for life. And thanks to social media, that negative impression can be amplified further and faster than ever before.

A contact center agent’s job was already stressful, and the shift to remote work has removed the connection, camaraderie, and office culture that helped make that stress bearable. But intelligent automation technology reestablishes these vital links and enables customer service departments to thrive in the post-pandemic business world.

Jennifer Lee is the chief strategy officer at Intradiem.

Paying Attention to Agent Well-Being Will Improve Your Brand



By Donna Fluss

The pandemic has had a dramatic impact on contact centers, most of it positive. As described in DMG’s new report, Contact Centers in a Post-Pandemic World: A Strategic and Tactical Guide to the Future, COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation by two to six years. This is driving major upgrades and enhancements in existing operating systems, expansion of digital channel support, a self-service replacement cycle, as well as investments in new artificial intelligence (AI) and automation-enabled applications. All these activities were long overdue for contact centers and, if executed properly, should enhance the customer and agent experience and improve productivity.

An Agent Perspective 

The pandemic is also driving enterprise and contact center executives to consider the ramifications on agents of having to deal with consumers. While, in general, customers are pleasant or at least civil, the negative conversations (both voice and digital) take a toll on agents. Studies show that in normal times, fewer than 5 percent of interactions are difficult, but in troubling times, like during a pandemic, the percentage is much higher. 

The degree of difficulty in handling live interactions with customers varies based on many factors, but the challenge is incredibly significant when an agent cannot do anything to fix a situation. This occurs when an agent must uphold a company policy that they agree is outdated or unfair. Another scenario occurs when a customer, mistreated by someone else in the company, takes out their frustration on the agent. Or when a customer experiences something traumatic that they dump on an agent, just to mention a few common scenarios. I have joked for years that contact centers double as free counseling centers. Unfortunately, it’s not funny for the agents who must deal with these tough situations. 

Sure, training can help agents handle tough situations, but agents are human, and it’s going to impact them. Many an agent will talk about how one bad customer ruined their day. And since agents cannot take a break after a difficult experience (because they typically must wait until their scheduled break time), it often carries over into their subsequent inquiries, which is not pleasant for the agent or their customers. 

It’s tough to be a contact center agent. While striving to deal effectively with consumers, management often pushes them to reduce their average handle time, which doesn’t allow them to show the empathy that most of them would, if they had the time. And when not encouraged to shorten interactions, an alternate expectation is to sell additional products and services, even when they know customers are not interested. 

Agents must know the details of dozens of products and services and navigate anywhere from a few to over fifty operating systems while managing interactions within tight time frames. It often requires them to stay at their desks except for three times during the day: their scheduled lunch and two breaks. And they earn the lowest rate of any employee in many companies. The question is what companies should do to address this situation. 

Positive Changes

The good news is that enterprise leadership is finally acknowledging the challenges of being a contact center agent, and we can thank the COVID-19 crisis for these insights. During the pandemic, contact center agents were the first responders and, for a time, may have been the only responders in some organizations. Agents all over the world demonstrated their agility and mettle in dealing with extremely stressful situations while keeping their own emotions and concerns under control. 

It’s great that executives are finally recognizing the amazing contributions contact center agents make to their companies, but this recognition needs to translate into action if companies want to retain these highly valuable employees. Companies should re-evaluate and increase the salary structure for their agents to pay them fairly for the work they do. 

Contact centers should give their supervisors the time they need to be available to assist, coach, and encourage their agents, instead of pulling them for projects and reporting. Invite agents to select training and coaching sessions in addition to the courses assigned to them by quality monitoring systems.

Contact centers should transform their agent evaluations and scorecards to measure what matters most, which should not be average handle time and the number of transactions per day. Last, elevate the overall agent role, as these employees have one of the broadest bases of knowledge in a company, which if given the opportunity, could effectively work in other parts of the organization. 

Conclusion

Contact centers should be employers of choice, and it’s time for enterprise executives to make this happen, for the benefit of their employees, customers, and the bottom line. 

Donna Fluss (donna.fluss@dmgconsult.com) is the president of DMG Consulting, a provider of contact center and back-office market research and consulting services.