Add Resilience to Your Call Center


Alston Tascom


By Wayne Scaggs

Do I get up after a knockout event? My first, second, and third answer is “yes.” Why? It’s because it is in me to find a way over, around, under, or through the issue.

For the purpose of this article, issue refers to your call center system, the beating heart of your business. The processors in your system clock millions of cycles per second, and the software sends the data you need through wires to the screen or printer to provide the information needed.

I do not know who discovered the following proven method of troubleshooting, but I will say that I have used it and it often works. One of the first places to start to look for issues in your system is to verify what is happening between the keyboard and the monitor. This should be approached delicately, because you do not want to disrupt the balance that exists. It can be a tremendous time-saver when this intricate part of your system is at its peak form.

Here are some of the mitigating approaches to data loss you may want to consider to protect and preserve your company’s most valued resource: the data on your servers. This information is based on our experience and research in creating both the hosted and cloud systems that protect and preserve our clients’ data. We are required to protect and preserve that data. Click To Tweet

Procedures you may want to have in place and verify their readiness include Windows updates, snapshots, planned failover, checkpoints, server replication, virtual servers, SQL transaction log shipping, backups, and spares. All procedures may not be applicable to all systems; use the procedures that work best for your business.

  • Windows updates can be an issue. Sometimes they won’t let you shut off your computer or allow you go to work until the update is completely installed. Updates break things, and updates rearrange your comfortable setup that you worked so long to get the way you wanted. Something to remember about Windows updates is that they help keep your computers secure, and the longer the time between updates, the longer it takes to update your computer. More importantly, you cannot operate your business without computers and computers must be updated; it’s mandatory.
  • Snapshots of your server are taken at an instance in time, which you can go back to in order to restore your computer to the time the snapshot was taken. You should use snapshots before a major update or component change-out. Snapshots are performed automatically, and there is a limit to the number of snapshots before they are overwritten.
  • Planned failover is used when you want to use a different server for operations and replicate back to a server. This method keeps the operating server and the replicating server in sync.
  • Checkpoint is a manually created mirror of your server used to retreat to a known working point of your server.
  • Server replication is a scheduled event that replicates your server—both the operating system and all the programs.
  • Virtual servers can operate multiple servers in one physical computer. The physical computer has enough resources (disk drive space, processing power, and memory) to accommodate servers that require fewer resources. A virtual server can be used to house your replicated server. If a failure occurs on your operating server and you have that operating server replicating to a virtual server, you can now bring your virtual server online and continue to operate your business while the failed server is being attended to.
  • Transaction log shipping is a SQL server tool to reestablish your SQL database back to a point, determined by the frequency of the transaction log shipment. To make the transaction log work, you must have a separate and complete SQL server where you can ship the transaction logs.
  • Backup options include online storage, flash drives, physical hard drives, and cloud storage. Performing multiple routine backups and maintaining off-site storage is mandatory.
  • Spares could include virtual servers, disk drive raid arrays, network switches, backup Internet access, and backup online servers.

We live in a software-driven world, with software controlling the data of our businesses; we are required to protect and preserve that data. This article provides a view of a variety of systems from a higher level. Know what you have in place, and then choose to incorporate other options that add resilience to your call center.

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

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Vendor Profile: OnviSource


Onvisource


For over a decade OnviSource has delivered reliable, affordable, and innovative solutions for teleservice companies, contact centers, and enterprises, offering premise products and cloud services for front- and back-office applications. With a vision to offer intelligence and automation to enterprises and call centers, the company has delivered workforce optimization (WFO), workforce management (WFM), multichannel analytics, trend analysis, and analytics-based decision-making engines.

It also launched enterprise-wide customer experience management (CXM) solutions, addressing the customer journey at all touchpoints. This includes intelligent and automated customer service routing, customer interaction management, customer service processing, and customer and employee feedback through surveys, social media, and other sources of data.

OnviSource is currently pursuing next-generation innovation in intelligent automation in which complex call center and employee tasks, interactions, and workflows are automated utilizing advanced AI and learning machine technologies, offered to users through cloud and mobile services.

Intelligent Automation: OnviSource has created a nucleus of intelligent automation called iMachine™, which consists of:

  • Integrated intelligence extraction engines, such as speech-to-text, voice biometrics and authentication, diarization, voice classifications, and natural language processing
  • Analytics, including speech analytics, desktop analytics, text analytics and cross-channel analytics
  • Adaptive and learning machine decision-making engines
  • Robotic process automation (RPA) to automate transaction workflows and processes

These provide the core for OnviForce™ (WFO and WFM), OnVision™ (CXM), Automata™ (robotic process and workflow automation), and OnviCom™ (CRM).

Workforce Optimization: OnviForce is a WFO suite of solutions that provides multimedia capture, recording, and monitoring. It generates valuable information, analyzed by multichannel and cross-channel analytics creating actionable knowledge that can automatically or manually act to improve customer interactions, agent performance, compliance management, and back-office transactions. This fully integrated solution includes automated back-up, replication, recovery, redundancy, and load balancing.

Workforce Management: OnviSource’s next generation WFM solution, Persona™, taps information from multiple sources such as calls, chat, email, and back-office workload to prepare optimized workforce scheduling. Persona offers comprehensive features to forecast and schedule inbound and outbound, intraday change management, adherence reports, customizable performance management, and mobility, with tiered portals for employees and agents, as well as supervisors and administrators.

Customer Experience Management (CXM): OnviSource’s OnVision is a comprehensive CXM solution, which captures, unifies, and analyzes all data from customer interactions, transactions, and feedback, as well as information from all systems and entities engaged in providing the service. Actionable knowledge resulting from such massive data analysis is provided to decision-making engines to determine the best next actions and automatically launch them. It includes four segments:

  1. Customer service routing and omni-channel service start with sending the customer service request to the right centers, the right organizations, and the right agents without having customers repeat information.
  2. Customer interaction management and workforce optimization management offer multimedia customer interactions in full compliance, fulfillment in the first interaction, and a positive customer experience.
  3. Customer transaction management and process automation process large volumes of customer service requests and transactions in contact centers and back offices through an RPA approach, resulting in significant efficiency and cost effectiveness with no mistakes.
  4. Customer sentiment discovery and feedback enables the capture and analysis of customer reactions from social media, surveys, and multimedia interactions to discover customer sentiment.

OnVision creates a knowledge base for multichannel data capture (customer routing and enterprise systems such as telecom, CRM, WFO, WFM, and ERP), media capture (such as calls, emails, chat, desktop transactions, and social media) and concludes with customer feedback through surveys, documents, and social media.

OnVision uses this knowledge base for its rule-based and adaptive learning-machine and decision-making engine. At this point agents can be e-coached to make customer-defined next-best actions, or the data can be used by the learning machine as it adapts to changes and automatically launches an appropriate action.

Automata RPA: Automata processes large volumes of customer service requests and transactions. It captures and processes repetitive actions such as filling out online forms, communicating with other systems, triggering actions or responses, and adapting to change or new situations. Automata is a perfect solution for front- and back-office employees who perform repetitive work.

For example, Automata can be a virtual, digital, self-learning and correcting workforce and can auto-populate different types of forms while exchanging information for automated desktop transactions. It can help with automated desktop recording and monitoring and quality assurance tasks associated with different types of customer interactions.

Workflow automation is available with critical event detection and notification. Human error or data omissions become nonexistent. Sharing accurately completed forms and other information from one department to another is seamless.

By automating desktop transactions, Automata removes the drudgery from repetitive and laborious office tasks to improve productivity by freeing employees to work on other important tasks. Automata can also ensure regulatory and workplace compliance for PCI and other sensitive data, while ensuring enhanced workflow automation, including:

  • Robotic transaction processing
  • Automated desktop transaction recording, monitoring, quality assurance (QA)
  • Workflow automation
  • Compliance automation, employee work compliance
  • PCI sensitive data
  • Critical event detection, notification

OnviCom: The OnviCom suite provides cost-effective solutions for critical areas of a teleservice business. Its CRM products provide a broad range of capabilities such as answering service, dispatch, multimedia messaging (email, fax, and SMS), reports, call recording, and operator QA capabilities.

OnviCom provides network interfaces to PRI, T1, and VoIP, including least cost routing to save telecom expenses. Affordable telecom services include DIDs, 800 numbers, Internet, PRI, T1, and long distance, with a seamless transition to VoIP and SIP trunking to offer more features, flexibility, and cost savings.

HIPAA-Compliant Secure Messaging: OnviSource’s HIPAA-compliant secure messaging maintains private communication and full message privacy with end-to-end encryption, verification, and data integrity through SSL, as well as a web-based secure messaging server accessed by clients through encrypted passwords and other security measures. OnviSource offers additional interfaces with third-party secure messaging providers for its clients to retain existing customers and expand revenues.

Disaster Recovery: OnviSource provides disaster recovery programs in the event that a site becomes inoperable. Clients can upload their database and route their agents to the OnviSource system to maintain business continuity until their site is again operational.

Flexible Financing: OnviSource provides a streamlined payment program (up to forty-eight months of extended payment terms and favorable interest rates) for the purchase of its products and services tailored to fit each customer’s specific financial plans. Monthly savings realized by transitioning to VoIP can be applied to the monthly extended payment program and may deliver a net zero cash result.

Customer Lifecycle Assistance Service: OnviSource is committed to achieving customer loyalty and satisfaction through value-based service programs. The company’s commitment is demonstrated through OnviCare™. OnviCare is implemented by a fully empowered team responsible for its offered services. It is monitored by OnviSource’s executive team to assure its success. This results in a high customer satisfaction level and loyalty.

OnviCare consists of customer-centric services designed to provide excellent customer support and offer programs that deliver operation and business solutions to its customers. This includes requirement analysis, ROI analysis, free trials, financial support, IT and telecom solutions, technical support, and best-practice webinars. OnviCare encompasses service programs developed to support its customers’ efforts to be successful in every aspect of their business and provide the best possible customer experience.

Consulting and Professional Service Programs: OnviSource understands the complexity and the challenges customers face when they try to analyze problems and select a true solution that can meet all aspects of their operational and business needs.

The Advantage Program assists customers with these complicated business issues. It helps analyze specific needs plus identify the root causes, select the solution, justify it, and implement it to properly work for each unique situation. The program uses a client’s own data, processes, and methodologies.

The Advantage Program helps customers select the right solutions, implementations, and ROI recognition of products and solutions to fit their requirements. This includes multichannel analytics and data mining solutions, provisioning of application analysis, ROI analysis, project planning, customization, pilot programs, and business continuity and assurance measures.

OnviSourceOnviSource Equipment Owners (OEO): OnviSource sponsors the OEO user group. OEO members are OnviSource product users, strengthening their investments in OnviSource solutions. This relationship continues to enhance the company’s ability to better serve its customers with their specific technology needs.OnviSource delivers innovative solutions for teleservice companies and contact centers. Click To Tweet

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Kick the One-Size-Fits-All Approach to the Curb



By Chad Hendren

When it comes to customer service, a cookie-cutter approach won’t cut it. After all, a meaningful connection isn’t meaningful if it’s the same for everyone.

Depending on your industry, Harvard Business School reports that increasing a company’s customer retention rate by just 5 percent can increase profitability anywhere from 25 to 95 percent. Additionally, Walker Information predicts that by 2020, customer experience will overtake product and price as the key brand differentiator. This means that how you differentiate your brand depends on how you treat your customers.

Making customers wait on hold for lengthy periods of time, transferring them from agent to agent, and opening the conversation with a canned list of questions that may not relate to the reason they contacted you will leave customers frustrated and ready to hang up for good.

So how do you ensure that an experience is meaningful to each of your customers? Connect with context.

Acknowledge the Customer’s Journey: Smart watches, smart homes, and essentially the Internet of everything has put brands at a customer’s convenience. What they haven’t done is stop phones from being the number one support channel. According to a 2017 customer service trends report by Forrester, 67 percent of people contacted companies by phone for customer support in the last twelve months. How do you ensure that an experience is meaningful to each of your customers? Click To Tweet

But ending up on the phone doesn’t negate the importance of the channels where customers started. With those channels in mind, think about the various pathways or touchpoints customers may have taken before placing a call. Did they go straight to the phone, log in to their account on a website, jump to social channels, or email the helpline? The effort customers take to reach a company should never go unnoticed.

Depending on the complexities of their journey, customers are likely to be scattered, rushed, and frustrated before they pick up the phone. Having a system in place that shows each customer’s route, where they have looked, and their history allows agents to acknowledge who the customer is and where they’ve already been. This shows a company cares about and understands how valuable the customer’s time is, which is a crucial component for making a positive first impression.

Personalize the Experience: When a customer connects with a company, context clarifies why. Without it, agents ask customers for additional information, put them on hold, or transfer them to another agent to repeat the cycle. If the customer wasn’t already frustrated when they first called, they will be after jumping through context-less hoops.

As customer service and retention rise to the top of company priorities, contact center staffing issues also take higher priority. Agent training should focus on improving overall communication through active listening skills, asking questions to unearth other relevant information, and using positive phrasing to help build positive relationships. To take it one step further, every customer should be routed to the most appropriate agent.

Context ensures that customers are given the service and attention they deserve on their first contact. Seek tools to reduce customer effort, automate warm transfers, and provide agents with informative screens that highlight the customer’s past and present journey, including recent channels they have navigated. This information not only arms agents with much-needed context, but it allows the contact center to provide the most relevant agent for the issue.

For example, a customer who looks at their bill online prior to picking up the phone is best matched with an agent well versed in billing. Additionally, that agent can acknowledge that the customer was checking their statement by asking if they have any questions about the bill. From the start, the agent addresses the issue before the customer even speaks.

Arming agents with this information empowers them to solve the customer’s issue quickly, eliminating repetitive, unrelated questions—thus decreasing the possibility of frustrated customers. Additionally, companies primed for future success are the ones that continue to create personalization out of context. Imagine all the opportunities to present customers with a product, idea, or service when they are most attentive and the solution is relevant to their immediate concerns.

Connect with Meaning: When customers connect with a company, a meaningful and personalized experience helps their interaction go off without a hitch. When done successfully, any frustration the customer initially had can—and most likely will—melt away. In fact, CEB reported that 65 percent of a customer’s perceived level of effort is driven by how the customer service representative made them feel during the service interaction. What the customer actually needed to do accounts for only 35 percent of their perceived effort.

What does this all mean? When customers come in with negative emotions and leave feeling more positive, they remember.

Chad Hendren is vice president and general manager of customer experience solutions for Virtual Hold Technology, providers of VHT Navigator, which addresses cross-channel customer experiences by connecting key moments as customers move across channels.

Enhancing Call Center Culture That Increases ROI



By Dwayne King

Many call centers measure success by how fast they can close tickets and get off the phone. In contrast, customers seek deeper connections with the brands they love, and often their only direct human interaction with that brand is through the call center. Even if your company doesn’t push for and track metrics on closure rates and resolution time, call center personnel are trained to treat conversations as transactions. Their goal is to resolve the issue at hand and move on to the next customer. These approaches ignore an opportunity to connect with customers, build stronger relationships, and increase loyalty.

In one study, 87 percent of respondents said they were more likely to recommend a brand based on a great experience, 80 percent were more likely to consider a brand if they knew they would have a great experience, and nearly six in ten organizations were prepared to pay more for a brand that offered a great experience. A transactional interaction, focused on closing the ticket quickly, squanders the chance to build a lasting customer relationship and positive brand appeal. It also misses an opportunity to reinforce the culture and values that build customer loyalty.

In this crowded and noisy world, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to attract and maintain attention all while building a loyal customer base. So how do you ensure that your customer service team is looking beyond merely answering the phone and taking orders? How do you help them empathize with each caller and offer the deep human connection customers crave?

We often see linear customer life cycles that start with identifying the customer and end with support. This reinforces the idea of support as a cost-center. However, with the right culture, training, and mind-set, support centers can become brand ambassadors that provide a human connection to illustrate and reinforce culture and values.Ensure your brand promise by defining how you’re going to treat your customers. Click To Tweet

Yet while customers are trying to connect with a company, call centers are often geographically distanced from the main operations of a company. Without intentional effort to include them, they can develop their own culture and values that separate them from the company’s brand promise. Understanding the values and culture of an organization is pivotal to creating and delivering the experience companies want to give their customers and the experience customers want to have. Here are the ways we encourage call centers to promote a strong and successful culture to drive loyalty, sales, and a higher customer-lifetime value.

Solidify Your Brand: Ensure your brand promise by defining how you’re going to treat your customers. Then make sure it is consistent through every channel, especially for your support team. To create this consistency with agents, we recommend training that includes developing their empathy, deep listening, and reframing skills.

Build Empathy: Conduct an empathy-mapping exercise with your team. Begin by having them list the types of customers they encounter, letting them explore different attitudes, complaints and situations. Now have them create empathy maps for each type of customer. What might the customer be thinking, feeling, doing, or wanting? What are their pain points? Lastly, have the team discuss and document how they could best serve each customer, solving pain points and creating delight.

Understand Deep Listening and Reframing: Train your team on interview techniques that identify a root cause versus a symptom of the customer’s issue. Help them focus on the problem they’re trying to solve and not what customers are necessarily asking for. What is not enough; coach them to ask why.

Henry Ford famously said, “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.” Instead of raising thoroughbreds, though, Ford considered why. Americans actually wanted mobility and speed—an affordable and quick way to move from home to work. Ford’s ability to reframe a request enabled a massive shift in class and quality of life, first in the United States and eventually around the world. To be more like Ford, teach your team that, in order to identify the root cause of a problem, they need to reframe the client’s request to deliver the best experience for the customer and the most value for the company.

Implement Training: Create training sessions where an employee role-plays as one of the customers identified during the empathy mapping exercise. Have him or her call in with a request or issue. Then take turns practicing various scenarios to exercise your employees’ deep listening skills.

Questioning strategies include the following:

  • Use open-ended questions: Avoid questions that lead the caller to a specific answer, and be careful not to introduce a biased opinion.
  • Watch your language: Use simple words and short, single purpose questions. Also, be mindful of internal company jargon that may confuse the caller.
  • Utilize your tools: Understanding a conversation or request may require an agent to combine insights gleaned from the empathy-mapping process with the root cause behind a call. Using these two strategies, call center staff can reframe an order or issue into a more expansive opportunity.

Influence your brand narrative by creating a positive, productive experience that leads to a memorable interaction. Not only will it increase customer lifetime value, but it can transform your contact center from an operating cost to a valuable brand advocate.

Dwayne King is the chief strategy officer at Pinpoint, a design strategy agency in Portland, Oregon. He has led creative teams for over fifteen years. Dwayne believes in digging into business and customer needs first, and he transforms himself in every project from a questioning student to a confident strategist.

How Gamification Can Motivate Customer Service Representatives



By Gerald Major

Call center representatives may never get the chance to interact with customers in person, but they are an integral part of any successful business operation. A call center representative is a crucial team member because he or she often meets customers at a turning point in their relationship with a brand: at a time when callers are displeased and looking for answers.

A recent Better Business Bureau survey found that 40 percent of consumers became repeat purchasers after a company successfully resolved their post-purchase issues. The study also found that 72 percent of customers reported that quality service would drive their repeat purchasing, and loyal consumers spend upwards of 67 percent more than new customers. A great customer service experience can turn a dejected customer into a repeat purchaser with the right tactics and approach.

An engaging customer experience is especially important to businesses that have a strictly online presence, as they look to draw buyers without the benefit of a traditional brick-and-mortar store and human-to-human sales experience. According to Internet Retailer, while e-commerce sales grew 14.6 percent in 2015, many consumers believe you cannot replace the in-person customer experience, particularly for larger purchases. It is the call center representative’s job to reverse this sentiment and prove that meaningful retail experiences can happen over the phone.

This is particularly important for an e-commerce company, where the only human-to-human interaction is between a customer service representative and a customer. Whereas a patron can go into a brick-and-mortar store and chat with an associate about products or needs, the interaction a client has with an e-commerce customer service agent in most circumstances is the first, last, and only exchange they have with an e-retailer. It is a critical opportunity to differentiate from the competition and show that e-commerce stores can maintain a positive customer relationship.Team morale increases as representatives discuss and compare their interactions. Click To Tweet

In order to deliver value to shoppers, you must incentivize your call center representatives to deliver the best customer experience possible. Many agents do not realize they are truly at the front lines of brand loyalty, so they must be encouraged to perform at the highest level at all times. One way to do this is through the process of gamification. Gamification is defined as “the incorporation of game elements, such as points and reward systems, to tasks as incentives for people to participate.”

Gamification is used to turn potentially challenging and taxing tasks into fun, energetic competitions. Most people naturally have the desire to compete and win, so gamification is a way to tap this existing drive to assure that team members have the support they need to deliver great customer experiences.

An example of gamification can be something as simple as leaderboards throughout the call center that display key performance metrics, such as a rating of the representative’s responsiveness, helpfulness, and overall performance. In a healthy competitive environment, seeing other representatives at their peak performance receiving five-star reviews and positive comments will push others in the call center to strive for the same results.

In addition to fostering healthy competition, gamification can also create a more meaningful customer interaction. When customers are able to share their comments after the call for all in the center to see, these individual interactions become more memorable and personal. Team morale increases as representatives discuss and compare their interactions and learn from the constant feedback.

Gamification can also assist call center managers from an internal perspective. Keeping better track of customer feedback and factors such as call rates, talk time, returns, and cancellation rates can help identify the performance of individual team members more accurately. If certain representatives are consistently receiving glowing reviews, a manager can look at their specific tactics and use them to train the rest of the team. If some representatives continuously struggle, using specific metrics can help identify measurable ways to help change their approach to ensure success in the future.

Gamification as a concept has existed for a long time, but only recently have companies begun to study and quantify the results of implementing this tactic in their businesses. According to a study by Hamari, Koivisto, and Sarsa, published in ResearchGate, that analyzed twenty-four studies on gamification, a majority of the studies found that gamification does indeed produce positive effects and benefits.

Of course, for gamification to be effective, it has to be personalized to your work environment; some gamification tactics may not appeal to every company or employee. If you customize your gamification method to fit the needs of your call center representatives and foster their growth, it is likely that your employees will be more motivated to succeed. In a world where an unhappy customer’s voice can be amplified on social media with a click of a button, call centers can’t afford not to invest in proactive tactics to create a superior customer experience.

Gerald Major is the director of customer experience at CARiD, an online seller of all things automotive and more.

Four Ways Raised-Access Flooring Can Help Your Contact Center



By Ryan Hulland

You’ve heard of raising the roof, but the trend in commercial architecture is raising the floor. Solutions allow facilities such as contact centers to enjoy the benefits of raised-access flooring without sacrificing much space. Today’s raised-access flooring is elevated two inches from the subfloor; phone lines, electrical cords, and Internet cables are secure and hidden, yet still easily accessible by simply raising a panel on the floor. Low-profile raised-access flooring can be built into new contact center facilities or installed in existing ones.

Low-profile raised-access flooring is made from concrete and steel, and it can be covered with a custom finish to meet any design need. Concealed with carpet tiles or completed with a custom finish made to look like terrazzo, marble, granite, hardwood, or bamboo, raised-access flooring can seamlessly blend into any design scheme.

With raised-access flooring, there are four benefits you can expect:

Simplify Cable Management: Dealing with cables is a challenge for all IT managers, but especially those in contact centers. Wires and cords need to be tucked away in the interest of safety and aesthetics, but they also must be accessible to troubleshoot connectivity issues or move when cubicles are reconfigured. Many commercial furniture manufacturers make products that hide and organize cables, but facility managers must still route the wires safely to workstations from the IT closet or computer room. The most common means of doing this are using cable runners across the floor, running them up the walls to thread cables through the ceiling panels, or drilling into the floor to lay cables. Many contact center facilities take pride in their modern, streamlined look. Click To Tweet

With low-profile raised-access flooring, cables can safely run underfoot below the access floor. When they need to be accessed or reconfigured, all technicians need to do is simply open the appropriate cable raceway. Large data centers have been using this cable management method for more than fifty years because it works. It’s the simplest way to hide and access cables.

Decrease Fall Risks : According to the US Department of Labor, falls, slips, or trips accounted for 27 percent of occupational injuries in 2014, leading to 95 million workdays lost annually. They cause 15 percent of all accidental deaths in the workplace. OSHA cites electrical cords as one of the most common hazards.

It’s easy to see why it’s in the best interest of your contact center to ensure that all cords and wires are secure. Many businesses use cable runners to contain cords that run across the floor, but these cumbersome covers often become a tripping hazard themselves, not to mention an eyesore. By running all cords and wires under a low-profile raised-access floor, you eliminate a huge cause of potential workplace injuries, protecting both your business and your employees.

Future-Proof Your Infrastructure: Though wireless technology is becoming more popular, some contact centers are concerned with the increased security vulnerability it represents. Raised-access flooring lets these facilities wire agent stations without the security risk.

Technology is constantly evolving, and research is always suggesting new ways to make your contact center operate more productively. The last decade has seen so many changes in the workplace, from Wi-Fi and communal workspaces to remote employees moving back to the office. With raised-access flooring, your facility can easily embrace any change that comes its way. The contact center floor can be quickly reconfigured for new purposes and shifting needs just by popping up the affected cable raceway.

Complement Interior Design: Many contact center facilities take pride in their modern, streamlined look. Nothing ruins a sleek, modern aesthetic like a chaotic mess of jumbled cords and wires. Raised-access flooring allows facilities to easily hide cables from sight—perfect for a clean and contemporary design.

Don’t let cables keep your business twisted up in the past. Investing in low-profile raised-access flooring will give your facility the freedom it needs to grow and evolve with the future.

Ryan Hulland is the president of Netfloor USA. His company manufactures, designs, and installs raised-access flooring that simplifies cable management for facility managers.

Objections Are Opportunities—Part 1



By Kathy Sisk

An objection is not a rejection. In most cases an objection means, “I need more information.” Assume that objections will surface during your presentation. Therefore, be prepared to handle them.

Objections give you an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with your prospect and allow you to sell your products, services, company, and ideas. It is a time to listen, probe, and understand your prospect’s needs.

There should not be any feelings of personal rejection. Your prospect’s objections are not directed at you personally. Do not be defensive or react negatively. More importantly, do not attack the objection with more selling. Instead, remain in control and impress your prospects with your persistence and professionalism. This is a time to discover their real issues so you can overcome them. Objections give you an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with your prospect. Click To Tweet

For the next few columns we will focus on common objections and how to best counter them. Let’s begin with some basics.

If early in your presentation, prior to asking questions to qualify and establish your prospect’s wants and needs, your prospect sounds or behaves in a negative manner, it usually results from a concern they had prior to your contact with them. If your prospect seems rude during your presentation, try to release the barriers.

Defuse the prospect’s resistance by saying: “I appreciate you letting me know this. Please share with me some of your concerns.”

This serves to clear the air, and your prospect is more likely to open up and tell you the real issue. When you find out what bothers them, it’s easier to overcome and outweigh your prospect’s concerns. After you defuse their fears, the following is an example of how to overcome the objection of “It’s too expensive.”

“I understand price is a concern and you want the best price possible. To determine how we can better meet your needs, I just need to ask a couple of quick questions if you don’t mind.” Now you can begin to probe in order to gain more insight so you can overcome the price concern by justifying it with your features and benefits.

Next time we will look at interpreting objections and the best techniques to overcome them.

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

Looking Ahead


Amtelco

By Bob Vornberg

Telephone answering services (TASs) have played a unique and important role in our economy, from the early days of cord boards to the current era of smartphones and soft switches. A TAS combines people and technology in support of the business processes of their clients, helping small companies to grow and larger companies to continue to prosper.

As a creator of products for the industry, we at Amtelco and Telescan have this same relationship with you, the users of our products. We strive to create tools that are general in function and still powerful enough for you to service a wide range of clients’ needs and assist you in assimilating these tools into your operation in a timely and cost-effective way.

With today’s mobile workforce, servicing your clients’ needs means supporting them in their workflow in ways that were until recently not feasible. In the past, reception of a message meant an interruption to the workflow and consisted of several discrete steps of notification, message delivery, and follow-up. But now, thanks to the pervasiveness of wireless and smartphone technology, these steps are seamlessly combined and serve to enhance the workflow rather than interrupt it. This also implies a TAS now can participate more fully in the workflow itself.

Timely, reliable, and secure communications always have been a characteristic requirement of the medical community, and they have been the first to benefit from the ability to use these new communication tools. But the technology used to support it also can be applied effectively in other business settings. When working with your clients, analyze their business processes and be attentive to how new technology can be applied.

For example, when dispatching to on-call personnel, a secure message delivered using the Spectrum Secure Delivery app can keep the TAS informed automatically throughout the lifecycle of the message, from “viewed” to “in process” to “completed.” The on-call personnel can exchange notes with each other through the app or can optionally notify the TAS through the app to enlist backup support. Supervisory personnel can log in to the desktop or tablet version of the app as an admin to obtain access to the status of all outstanding and completed calls. As an admin, supervisors can create messages and notes, thus joining and supporting the workflow as appropriate.

Or consider Amtelco’s MergeComm, the Intelligent Series feature that automates a myriad of dispatch scenarios. It is being augmented to provide a dashboard for the status of its programmed workflows, providing real-time monitoring. This enables response delays to be identified and corrective action to be taken when needed. For the TAS itself, the Spectrum Charts application provides powerful analytical tools for evaluating agent performance and staffing requirements.The goal is to provide a service to a company that you do better than they do. Click To Tweet

These are just a few examples of how you can apply new tools to make your service and your clients more productive.

Todd Kamp of Business Centers in St. Louis, and a TUNe (Telescan Users Network) users group member, recently shared with me a maxim of how to acquire and keep clients. Citing research from an early market study done by the National Amtelco Equipment Owners (NAEO) users group, Todd said, “The goal is to provide a service to a company that you do better than they do and do it more cost-effectively.” He went on to say, “If you only do one of those two, they will keep [the service] in-house.”

As you analyze your client relationships, strive to identify the critical components of their workflows that can be improved by your involvement and at the same time lead to a reduction of their overall costs. Look for ways that new technology can be applied, perhaps in ways that were not anticipated. This is the key to innovation. This is the key to seizing opportunity.

Through our partnership with our customers, Amtelco and Telescan developers stay keenly aware of our responsibility to provide the tools needed to meet these challenges. This is the spirit that guides our development process.

AmtelcoBob Vornberg is general manager and director of product development for the Telescan division of Amtelco, a manufacturer and supplier of call center solutions located in St. Louis, Missouri. Contact Bob at bvornberg@amtelco.com

Be Nice



By Peter L. DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineA friend works for a company that helps government agencies provide better service to its customers. One division works with call centers, and another addresses walk-in traffic. That’s where my friend works.

Often his company needs to address the basics. Sometimes they must start with a simple instruction that seems common sense: “Be nice to the people you serve.”

Inevitably someone asks, “Why?”

So the second step is to explain the reasons behind the instruction to be nice.

While it’s laughable that anyone needs to teach this seemingly self-evident idea to someone in the service sector, apparently not everyone understands it. These staffers need to first learn this lesson, then master the concept, and finally apply it to the people they serve. Be nice to others and most of the time they will be nice to you. Click To Tweet

In a practical sense, “be nice” also stands as an astute guiding principle. After all, if our call center agents are nice to callers, doesn’t that direct the bulk of their actions?

And yet, I can’t imagine day one of agent training opening with a lesson titled “Be Nice.” The ability to be nice should stand as a requirement for hire, a trait we screen for in the interview process.

But if one person slips through who isn’t nice, then short of termination, Be Nice training is in order. Or perhaps an entire shift—or even the whole call center—has degraded into a staff of not nice employees. Instruction on how to be nice is required to overhaul the shift or remake the center.

What would Be Nice training entail?

Again, it seems self-evident, but here are the high points:

Follow the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” stands as the guiding principle for Be Nice. When we treat others as we wish to be treated, we take a huge first step toward being nice.

Smile: Though no one can see a smile on a telephone call, people can hear it. We should smile often at the people we talk to on the phone. If it helps, have a mirror at your station to remind you. Personally, I find a mirror disconcerting, yet as I use Skype more—which allows me to see myself as others see me—I realize the importance of smiling when I talk.

Be Friendly: Don’t be surly. We’ve all encountered surliness in customer service situations, both in person and over the phone. Surly repels; friendly attracts. By the way, it’s much easier to be friendly when we smile, while surly is more likely when we frown.

Respond Fast: Part of being nice is being responsive. It’s frustrating to have to wait to have our question answered or pay our bill while an employee completes a trivial conversation with a coworker or wraps up a personal phone call. Yet this happens all the time. We notice it when we’re in person, but over the phone we can’t see unresponsiveness. However, agent indifference toward callers results in us enduring more rings or listening longer to on-hold music.

Solve Problems: The main reason for customer service is to resolve customer issues, so the ultimate goal of Be Nice training is to solve problems. This includes actually resolving the issue and callers agreeing that we did. This is where first call resolution (FCR) comes in, which most of the time promotes effective problem resolution. However, call centers that focus on average call time effectively encourage agents to offer pat answers, refer callers to someone else, or transfer the caller. This doesn’t solve problems, and it isn’t nice.

Be nice at work, and be nice at home. Be nice to others, and most of the time they will be nice to you. Be nice in all you do, and then you will make a nice difference.

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.

Continuous Improvement for Telemarketing Programs



By Rich Hamilton

After countless hours of planning, preparation, and implementation, you finally have the new telemarketing program in place. The program is running smoothly, and more importantly, client goals and expectations are being met. You have a great operations team in place to keep a close eye on KPIs (key performance indicators), and you make adjustments as needed to continue to reach and exceed client goals.

But does the work stop there? Absolutely not. Even though the telemarketing program is running smoothly and considered a success, you should always look for ways to improve it. Strive for continuous improvement.

Continuous Improvement Process: Each program assessment or evaluation should start with a specific objective. The objective could be focused, such as trying to figure out why the contacts per hour (CPH) is low. Or the goals can be broad, such as assessing all aspects of the telemarketing program to look for possible efficiencies or automation that could be implemented. Knowing the objective in the beginning will guide the rest of the assessment.

After understanding the objectives or goals of the assessment, dig into the program. This can be done in many ways, depending on the type of program. Here’s how to start to dissect the program:

  • Interview: Conduct interviews with stakeholders (executive team, vendors, and the client—if this is an outsourced telemarketing program) and those on the operations team (managers, supervisors, agents, and IT or dialer team). Ask specific questions to better understand how the program is running. This is also a great way to learn about pain points or areas for improvement. Provide these questions ahead of time to help others come to the meeting better prepared.
  • Evaluate: Ask managers and supervisors to provide scripts, training material, and several recorded calls. If there are multiple campaigns involved, have these items for each campaign. Listen to the calls to better understand how the scripts are being used. This will also reveal if the script is organized well for the telemarketing agents.
  • Review: Ask IT for a copy of each dialer report. Look for trends in the data. Focus on the KPIs that are the objective of this assessment.
  • Understand: Gain an understanding of any processes that are happening outside of the dialer. Are there spreadsheets being used for tracking or reporting? Are there processes that could be automated?It’s important for the company to have a culture of continual improvement. Click To Tweet

After analyzing the information, write a report of the findings and possible solutions. Prioritize the findings by importance or ROI (return on investment). This helps stakeholders see the results in an organized way so they can better make decisions on which items to focus additional hours and resources.

Once decisions are made, work to make changes or implement new processes. Give proper testing and training for new processes or applications.

The last step is to evaluate the whole process. First, see if changes are having the desired effect. Second, evaluate the overall process to make any needed adjustments for the next program assessment.

Having someone from outside assess the program is the most effective. This doesn’t mean it needs to be someone from outside the company. It could be someone from another part of the organization. This person can give the program a fresh look and be objective in evaluating the telemarketing program.

To be successful, it’s important for the company to have a culture of continual improvement, and it’s vital that employees are willing to be a part of the process.

Continuous Imrpovement Benefits: Though this appears to be a lot of work, I have been evaluating telemarketing programs for over four years and have seen some positive outcomes to continual program assessments, such as:

  • Improved Employee Satisfaction: If done correctly, an assessment can have a positive effect on frontline agents by showing that their input matters. Many times ideas told to a supervisor never make it to upper management, but a person coming from the outside with a new perspective encourages sharing and sparks ideas. The possibility of seeing their suggestions become a reality can be a real morale booster for employees.
  • Decreased Costs and Increase Sales: If done properly, a program assessment should show areas for improvement. It could be as simple as adjusting the script or as complex as using a different dialer or application. The results are lower costs or more sales—often both.
  • Increased Opportunities: During one evaluation I found that we weren’t dialing wireless numbers. We presented our findings to the client and did a trial calling wireless numbers. It was such a success that currently about 35 to 40 percent of our dialing for this particular campaign is now to wireless numbers.
  • Enhanced Client Relationships: Telling a happy client that we will do an assessment to improve even more really impresses them. This shows we care about their goals and expectations and want to exceed those expectations through improvement. Many times clients have given us extra work based on this approach.

The moment we decide not to focus energy on improvement will be the time another company will come along that can do the same job we can, but better. Program assessments allow us to evaluate the program and look for ways to make it more efficient, thereby better retaining the business. Not only will the assessment improve the KPIs for the program, it will also strengthen the morale within our companies and set us apart from the competition.

Rich Hamilton is the director of implementation and team improvement leader for Quality Contact Solutions, a leading outsourced telemarketing organization. Rich is responsible for implementing new programs and managing the continuous improvement process of existing programs. With a background of nearly a decade in managing small and large call centers, Rich is passionate about improving efficiencies and decreasing cost per call for every client. In addition, Rich is a telemarketing compliance guru with a Customer Engagement Compliance Professional (CECP) certification. Reach Rich at rich.hamilton@qualitycontactsolutions.com or 516-656-5105.