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5 Tips for Agent Customer Service Success

Master the Art of Effective Call Center Communication

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Some people think working in a call center is easy because they like to talk. But that doesn’t guarantee agent customer service success. Instead, successful agents need to work at it. Yes, this is easier for some than others, but no one is born with the ability to readily realize customer service success.

Here are five tips to pursue to develop agent customer service success:

1. Develop Active Listening Skills: Better customer interaction begins with active listening. This starts by removing distractions and giving yourself entirely to listening. But don’t just focus on the words they say, but also how they voice them, as well as what they might not be telling you.

Then address their concerns—both those stated and those implied.

2. Tap Non-Verbal Communication: Communication has three components: the words said, the tone of voice, and body language. Most communication occurs through body language, which doesn’t come across over the phone—unless it’s a video call. (More on this in a bit.)

That leaves words and tone. But don’t just focus on the words said. Key in on the tone of voice as well, which carries more communication information than the actual words spoken.

To build rapport and empathy requires understanding the emotions and needs of customers. This means going beyond what they say. Doing so helps provide a more personalized and satisfactory customer experience.

3. Employ Effective Communication Techniques: Agents should use appropriate language, tone, and non-verbal cues to convey messages clearly and professionally. Yes, your body language comes across over the phone. People can hear you smile. They can also hear you frown. Both impact the way your words come across and how customers receive your message.

Also, avoid industry jargon and insider shorthand. Use simple language that customers can understand with ease.

4. Aim to Solve Problems and Resolve Conflicts: Equip yourself with problem-solving skills to efficiently handle customer concerns. This means addressing fully the reason for their call. Don’t just do the minimum and assume it’s good enough. Each call should end with the customer having full confidence that you addressed their issue. There should be no need for them to call back.

Sometimes, however, before you can tackle their concern, you’ll first need to address conflict. To master both problem-solving and conflict resolution, take classes, go to seminars, and read books to learn how to better deal with difficult or irate customers, resolve conflicts, and de-escalate tense situations. This brings us to the fifth tip of agent customer service success.

5. Embrace Continuous Training and Feedback: Agent success is not something you learn once. Instead, it’s something you continue to learn. Be open to regular training sessions to further hone your skills. Embrace feedback to improve your communication skills over time. This includes learning from your mistakes and receiving constructive feedback from trainers and coaches.

Summary

Follow these five agent customer service success tips to help you enhance your customer service effectiveness.

Peter Lyle DeHaan 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. Learn about his books and read more of his articles at  Peter Lyle DeHaan.

AI is Ready for your Contact Center


By Donna Fluss

2024 is fast approaching, and contact center executives and leaders are trying to figure out how to incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) into their operations. Decision-makers are considering many factors, including:

  • Is it safe to use AI?
  • What goals can AI help them achieve? Enhancing self-service? Boosting agent engagement? Increasing agent productivity? Reducing operating expenses? Improving the overall CX?
  • Which AI technologies should be used?
  • What AI-enabled applications are already delivering quantifiable benefits in the market?
  • Which large language models (LLMs) should be used for generative AI initiatives?
  • What resources are needed to deploy AI-based solutions?

Ultimately, contact center leaders are trying to figure out which technology partners and applications will make practical and meaningful contributions to help them achieve their goals.

The Good News

There are several AI-based or AI-enabled applications delivering significant quantifiable benefits to contact centers. DMG’s current recommendations due to their features, ease of deployment, and proven value are:

  1. Analytics-enabled (or automated) quality management (AQM)—these applications use interaction analytics (IA) technology, specifically natural language processing and understanding (NLP and NLU), and frequently other AI-based technologies, including generative AI, to automate the process of evaluating how well agents perform their job and whether they are in compliance with company policies and procedures. Interaction analytics technology has been in the commercial market for more than twenty years and AQM for more than twelve of them.
  2. Intelligent virtual agents (IVAs)—these conversational AI-based self-service solutions use NLP, NLU, natural language generation (NLG), generative AI, and other AI technologies to automate the handling of customer inquiries that do not require complex human reasoning or logic. IVAs have been discussed (and slowly adopted) during the past several years, but recent advancements in the use of generative AI technologies and LLMs are paving the way for faster and broader adoption.
  3. Post-interaction summarization—these applications use the call or digital transcript to automatically generate a short summary of the interaction. Typically, the summary is shared with the agent for review and corrections prior to posting to the system of record or customer relationship management (CRM) application. This is the newest of the three capabilities and has the potential to reduce post-interaction wrap-up time by at least 50 percent, which is massive for most contact centers.

There are many other AI-based/enabled applications making large contributions to contact centers today. If you’d like to discuss them with us, including their potential ROI/payback for your operation, please reach out to us at info@dmgconsult.com.

The Challenge

At present, there are limited third-party resources (outside of the technology providers) with experience in building AI-based solutions. This means companies are either going to have to rely on their technology vendor, pay for expensive professional services firms, or take a calculated risk and learn on the job. Because AI is here to stay and contact centers are going to migrate to new AI-based or enabled applications during the next five years, DMG recommends companies that can allocate resources should invest in the training they need, even if it slows them down by a couple of months.

Final Thoughts

AI is reinvigorating all aspects of contact centers through the delivery of technology that truly makes things easier for agents and customers. It’s not a question of will a contact center invest in and use AI, but a question of when. DMG is benchmarking the adoption of AI-based/enabled solutions in our annual contact center survey of goals and technology.

Donna Fluss, founder and president of DMG Consulting LLC, provides a unique and unparalleled understanding of the people, processes and technology that drive the strategic direction of the dynamic and rapidly transforming contact center and back-office markets. Donna can be reached at donna.fluss@dmgconsult.com.

Donna invites you to take this quick two-minute survey so we can share the results with you. And as an added incentive, survey participants can elect to be included in a random drawing in which DMG will contribute to a charity of your choice, in your name.

Striking the Right Chord: Balancing Automation and Human Touch in Call Centers


By Genevieve Carrenard

In the ever-evolving world of customer service, call centers are at a crossroads. Technological advancements have ushered in an era of automation, promising efficiency, and speed. Yet, in this digital age, the value of the human touch remains irreplaceable. To succeed, call centers must master the art of balance, harmonizing automation with the essential element of the human connection.

The Automation Advantage

Automation in call centers has revolutionized service delivery. From interactive voice response (IVR) systems that route calls efficiently to chatbots that provide instant responses, automation has streamlined processes, reduced wait times, and improved overall operational efficiency. Customers today expect quick resolutions and greater availability, and automation can deliver precisely that.

The Human Touch: An Unmatched Asset

While automation excels at many tasks, it falls short in one crucial aspect: empathy. Human agents possess the ability to connect with customers on a personal level, understanding their emotions and providing a reassuring presence. The human touch goes beyond solving problems; it fosters trust, loyalty, and positive brand experiences.

Finding the Perfect Balance

The challenge for call centers lies in finding the ideal equilibrium between automation and the human touch. Here’s how they can strike that balance:

  1. Identify Routine Tasks for Automation: Begin by identifying routine, repetitive tasks that can be automated without compromising the customer experience. For example, routing inquiries, providing account information, or offering basic troubleshooting steps can be efficiently handled by automation.
  2. Empower Agents with Automation Tools: Equip human agents with tools that complement their abilities. Integrated customer relationship management (CRM) systems, knowledge bases, and AI-powered suggestions can provide agents with valuable insights and recommendations, allowing them to personalize interactions and resolve issues more effectively.
  3. Embrace Chatbots and Virtual Assistants: Chatbots and virtual assistants can serve as the first point of contact, handling routine queries swiftly. When necessary, they can seamlessly transition customers to human agents, ensuring a smooth handover without losing context.
  4. Training and Soft Skills Development: Invest in training programs that focus on soft skills such as active listening, empathy, and problem-solving. Agents armed with these skills can turn routine interactions into opportunities for meaningful engagement.
  5. Regular Customer Feedback: Continuously gather customer feedback to assess the effectiveness of automation and human interactions. Use this feedback to fine-tune strategies and prioritize areas that require improvement.

The Road to Exceptional Customer Experience

In a world where customer experience reigns supreme, call centers must evolve to meet the demands of a diverse customer base. Finding the perfect blend of automation and the human touch isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s a dynamic journey of adaptation and optimization.

The call center of the future is one where automation and human touch coexist in harmony. Automation handles the routine, mundane tasks, leaving human agents free to focus on what they do best—building genuine connections, providing emotional support, and delivering exceptional customer experiences.

In the end, the balance between automation and human touch isn’t a choice between efficiency and empathy; it’s a commitment to delivering the best of both worlds. Call centers that master this balance will not only meet customer expectations but also set new standards for service excellence in the digital age.

Conclusion

Striking the right chord between automation and the human touch is the call center’s symphony of success, where technology and humanity harmonize to create unforgettable customer experiences.

Genevieve Carrenard is the business manager at Connections Magazine. She has a decade of call center experience in the US and Canada. She is committed to helping clients meet their advertising and marketing needs. Contact her at clientsupport@connectionsmagazine.com.

Navigating Cybersecurity Challenges in Answering Services


By Justin Massey

Artificial intelligence and the rising significance of cybersecurity present an evolving landscape. To ensure the future success of their business, answering services must embrace continuous adaptation.

Making Operators More Productive

Answering service operators answer calls from many unique companies in different industries each hour, requiring them to perform a significant amount of context switching. However, the complexity intensifies as answering services expect operators to learn and navigate multiple clients’ websites and their unique business software. This additional responsibility places a significant cognitive load on operators, impacting their efficiency and effectiveness.

Moreover, answering services’ number-one problem is hiring and retaining skilled operators, further exacerbating the situation. Onboarding new operators becomes time-consuming, especially when they need to familiarize themselves with multiple business systems and software.

One solution to reduce the onboarding time is for TAS vendors to support the integration of robust, two-way APIs within the TAS (Telephone Answering Service) software. Operators gain seamless access to clients’ business systems directly from the TAS software, eliminating the need for extensive training on each client’s website. This streamlined approach expedites the onboarding process and alleviates the cognitive load on operators, enabling them to perform their tasks with enhanced efficiency.

Furthermore, the utilization of two-way APIs in TAS software not only enhances operational efficiency but also strengthens security measures. With this integration, TAS operators can no longer log in to client websites directly. This eliminates the risk of an attacker compromising an operator’s workstation and stealing credentials from the local machine.

By removing the need for individual log-in credentials, the TAS software acts as a secure intermediary, ensuring operators don’t retain access to client websites once they no longer require it. This streamlined approach enhances data security and minimizes the potential vulnerabilities associated with operator turnover, providing answering services with an additional layer of protection for their client’s sensitive information.

TAS Vendors Security Architecture Improvements

In recent years, answering services have witnessed a significant increase in cybersecurity attacks, prompting a paradigm shift in the industry’s approach to security. With healthcare and other sectors demanding stricter cybersecurity controls, answering services must adapt to these evolving requirements.

This not only necessitates changes in the way answering services handle IT within the business but also calls for improvements in the security measures implemented by the software provided by vendors. Vendors responsible for developing and maintaining the software used by answering services must address these emerging challenges and protect sensitive data.

To achieve this, vendors should consider implementing the following practices:

Secure Handling of Customer Secrets: As TAS vendors become responsible for handling customer secrets like passwords and API keys, ensuring their secure storage and transmission is crucial. Vendors should implement robust encryption mechanisms, secure storage practices, access controls to protect sensitive customer information and log who accessed the customer secrets. By prioritizing the security of customer secrets, vendors can maintain trust and confidentiality in their relationships with answering service customers.

Implement Secure Connection Methods: Vendors should prioritize supporting secure methods for connecting to answering service customers’ applications. This includes implementing encrypted communication protocols such as HTTPS and adhering to industry-standard security practices. Additionally, vendors should explore supporting a variety of secure authentication techniques like oAuth, JWTs, and other forms of secure authentication.

Applications may require different authentication methods, and by providing flexibility and compatibility with various authentication mechanisms, vendors can ensure that answering services can securely connect to all types of applications they interact with. By establishing secure connections and offering a range of authentication options, vendors can empower answering services to maintain robust security across their entire ecosystem of customer applications.

Support Single Sign-On (SSO): By utilizing a single sign-on provider, such as Google Workspaces or Azure AD, vendors can enable seamless authentication to their TAS solution. This simplifies the log-in process for answering service operators and enhances security by reducing reliance on multiple log-in credentials. With SSO, operators can securely access and navigate various business systems without remembering numerous usernames and passwords.

IT Responsibility Model for Answering Services

If you are an answering service owner, you didn’t get into the business because you wanted to manage IT infrastructure. Your passion lies in providing exceptional customer service and ensuring smooth operations for your clients. That’s why shifting the responsibility of infrastructure management to a TAS vendor can be a notable change for your business.

By entrusting the hosting of the software to a reliable vendor, you can off-load the burden of maintaining servers and infrastructure, allowing you to focus on what you do best: answering calls and delivering outstanding service. This shift also transfers the risks associated with managing the infrastructure to the TAS vendor, as they take on the responsibility for hardware, operating systems, and network management. It empowers you to streamline your operations, optimize resources, and have peace of mind, knowing that the critical IT components are in the hands of experts.

Regarding the responsibility breakdown between answering services and TAS vendors, the dynamics can vary depending on who hosts the software. Understanding these distinctions is crucial for establishing clear expectations and ensuring a smooth operational framework.

If the TAS vendor hosts the software, the responsibility for infrastructure-related aspects shifts to the vendor. This includes hardware provisioning, operating system management, and application deployment. The TAS vendor maintains the network infrastructure and ensures its availability and performance. Additionally, they are responsible for regular updates and patches to the infrastructure, guaranteeing that it remains secure and up-to-date.

On the other hand, when answering services host the software themselves, they are responsible for managing the underlying infrastructure. This includes procuring and maintaining the necessary hardware, managing the operating system and application stack, and ensuring network connectivity. Answering services must stay vigilant in implementing security measures and updating their infrastructure to protect against potential vulnerabilities.

Regardless of the hosting scenario, answering services and TAS vendors must collaborate and align on responsibilities related to data security, access controls, and incident response protocols. Clear communication and a shared understanding of each party’s role are essential for a successful partnership and a robust security posture.

Justin Massey is the founder of Relay Hawk, a cybersecurity company building products exclusively for the telephone answering service industry.

Reducing Work Friction Helps Retail Call Center Agents Hate the Holidays Less


By Christophe Martel

Today’s retail call centers face a chronic problem: crushing call volumes for most of the calendar year, followed by a holiday spike that threatens to bring the whole operation crashing down.

Many call center leaders are able to make it through. But the unrelenting strain on agents contributes to sky-high burnout and turnover rates. And even in a high-profit season, there’s a real impact to the bottom line.

Call centers need an evergreen solution that eases agents’ burden—not just over the holidays, but throughout the year. One approach: Find and remove sources of work friction in your organization.

Essentially, these friction points keep agents from pursuing their work goals and ultimately from doing their best work. By identifying moments when work friction crops up, you can implement solutions that make the holidays easier for agents to navigate.

In this piece, I’ll define work friction, explain the impact of holiday stressors, and show how leaders can uncover agents’ biggest friction points to prepare for the next holiday season.

Call Centers Already Have a Work Friction Crisis

Chances are your agents regularly experience work friction in the workplace. Think:

  • Headsets with stuttering audio
  • Software that’s slow to load
  • Workflows with multistep approval processes
  • Managers that take ten minutes to walk over when they know there’s an angry customer on the line
  • Irregular shift patterns that disrupt work-life balance (and increase burnout)

It’s important to note that these friction points aren’t mutually exclusive. In many cases, multiple ones can crop up in a single moment—just picture an agent who’s waiting for an approval page to load while fifth in the queue for their manager’s support. It’s a frustrating experience at best. At worst, an agent can feel immobilized while they’re trying to help a customer.

Over time, work friction takes a serious toll on agents. But there are also steep business costs, such as:

  • Flagging productivity and performance: Work friction makes it harder for agents to efficiently execute support tasks and power through call queues. The effect is “wasted work”—to the tune of two hours per worker every day.
  • Low customer satisfaction: When agents don’t have the right environment in which to work effectively, customers may not receive the quality of support they expect.
  • Hiring and training expenses: High-friction environments drive agent turnover, forcing call centers to invest in expensive hiring and training programs—even if they’re unlikely to see long-term returns on that investment.

To mitigate these costs, many call centers have tried and tested dozens of short-term solutions: chatbots to defray call loads, performance incentives to boost morale, etc. More often than not, though, these solutions amount to applying Band-Aids. They don’t actually heal the work friction infecting employees’ work lives. And during the holiday season, the worst symptoms of work friction start to show.

Work Friction Snowballs during the Holidays

There’s a good chance you remember the headlines about Southwest Airlines’ colossal failure last year. Several major friction points—legacy staff scheduling software, a point-to-point flight model, and a historic regional blizzard—combined at the peak of the holiday season.

Flights were canceled due to severe weather. Flight crews couldn’t view their next assignments. Customers were stranded in airports. And Southwest’s call centers couldn’t handle the influx of calls from all sides. The result: nearly 17,000 cancellations and a total airline meltdown.

This is a real-world example of how regular work friction can quickly snowball over the holidays. And while most retail call centers won’t face the same challenges as Southwest, the holiday crush does mean thousands more inbound calls and messages about:

  • Billing issues
  • Order delays
  • Return processing
  • Technical support

A huge chunk of these calls are likely to happen during Cyber Week, which claims roughly 25 percent of ecommerce holiday sales. But the tail often extends into January as customers set up new devices or return clothes that don’t fit.

This extra load can push even a well-oiled call center to its limit. In high-friction workplaces, though, the impact can be devastating.

Picture, for instance, a call center that’s relying on a new AI assistant to help triage customer support requests. The AI works fine under standard conditions, but it’s not equipped to handle the number of requests during Cyber Week.

The AI might take several minutes to process a batch of requests. Or route customers to agents at unpredictable intervals, creating a hard-to-manage queue. It might even buckle completely—leaving customers and agents hanging while the system reboots.

Of course, this is just a single friction point. There’s a good chance agents will experience several at once. During the holiday season, compounding friction points can have a snowball effect—and can quickly bring an operation to its knees.

All of this might sound like doom and gloom so far. But there’s a way for call center leaders to rein in the work friction crisis and make the holidays easier to manage. The next section has the details.

To Find Friction Points, Talk to Agents

To create a frictionless call center environment, leaders have to identify the biggest sources of friction and design a sustainable strategy to eliminate them. The best place to start? Ask agents where they see friction every day.

I can’t emphasize this part enough. As leaders, it’s easy to brainstorm solutions based on our own industry knowledge. But work friction is a problem that frontline workers know best. Without their firsthand perspective, there’s no way to define work friction at your organization—and any problem solving amounts to a guessing game.

In my experience, short, targeted surveys are one of the most effective ways to learn when work friction occurs and exactly how it impacts workers. They’re also a helpful tool for tracking how effective solutions are over time.

Of course, this approach is a long-term investment. Don’t have time for that in the thick of the holiday season? Even asking a handful of agents about their work friction experience can yield helpful insights (e.g., that Slack or Teams messages are overwhelming agents on top of high call loads). You can use these data points to uncover low-hanging fruit (such as implementing a few seasonal norms that limit nonessential communication).

The bottom line: By talking to agents about work friction, you can learn what’s gumming up agents’ workflows and reduce headaches during the holiday season.

Reducing Work Friction Has Benefits Long after the Holidays

For retail call centers, work friction has an outsize impact on holiday operations. But the truth is that a high-friction environment isn’t healthy at any time of year. And as long as work friction persists, call centers will continue to suffer from low productivity, high turnover rates, cratering morale, and more.

It’s time to take the work friction crisis seriously. The sooner leaders can make work smoother for agents, the sooner they’ll reap the benefits year-round.

Christophe Martel is cofounder and CEO of FOUNT Global, Inc., a SaaS company that helps global organizations reduce work friction and improve employee experiences. Christophe has held a range of business leadership roles, including heading the EMEA region of CEB, a global research and advisory company, and serving as CHRO in the leadup to the company’s acquisition by Gartner in 2017.

Don’t Forget the Human Touch

Technology May Save Money, but Human Agents Make the Difference

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

We’ve been hearing a lot about artificial intelligence (AI), and we’re going to hear a lot more about it. Some claim AI is the future of the call center industry, saving money and retaining business. Others fear it’s the end of customer service as we know it. Neither is right; nor are they both wrong.

But AI isn’t the only technology in our call centers. We have digital assistants to help our agents and automated bots to help our customers. Before that, we had interactive voice response (IVR) and auto-attendant solutions.

Regardless of the technology or the era it comes from, each innovation brings with it the inherent promise to speed resolutions and reduce labor expenses. To some degree, past technology accomplished this. Yet it also fell short of meeting expectations.

In most cases, however, the implementation of technology has brought with it a corresponding ire of the customers it’s supposed to help.

In some cases, technology—especially AI—can make a real mess of things. When this happens, human intervention is the only way to correct the problem. This assumes, of course, that people are available to intercede to fix technology’s error.

Here are some things human agents can do that technology can’t do or can’t do well:

Correct Miscommunication

Technology struggles to correct its mistakes. When it determines what path to take, it persists on that course even if it’s the wrong one. Often, miscommunication devolves into such a quagmire that the simplest approach—sometimes the only one—is to terminate communication and start over later.

Yet this is an ideal time for human intervention to clarify the customer’s concern and redirect action toward the right solution. This means that human agents need to have the ability to override technology. They also need to have both the training and confidence to know when to do so.

Calm Frustrated Customers

Technology isn’t good at realizing when customers are upset or responding in a truly comforting way. Through algorithms, while AI can detect anger or frustration, customers will likely discern any attempt to diffuse their concerns as disingenuous. This will escalate their tension, not defuse it.

A successful outcome requires a real person, someone who will listen, comprehend, and offer sympathy. Though no human agent can accomplish this all the time, their chance of success is much higher than that of a machine.

Respond to Complex Issues

Convoluted problems can escape the ability of AI to accurately comprehend and successfully navigate. This is especially true when a situation is unique, something AI has not yet encountered and never will again. Human ingenuity shines in these situations.

Offer Empathy

Sometimes customers feel a need to vent. Ironically, this is often over the failure of technological solutions to appropriately address their concern. Though AI can determine the need to give an apology and mimic the right words to say, can it do so with empathy? Will the customer feel they were heard? Will the response come across as sincere?

A person has a much better chance of doing this successfully than a computer.

Conclusion

Though AI technology will continue to improve, causing fewer problems and producing more satisfyingly complete solutions, don’t plan on replacing your staff. Though you will not need as many, you will need some. And the skill set of these super agents will carry higher requirements than current ones.

Being able to offer the human touch will distinguish contact centers from their technology-only counterparts. In an era when technology surrounds us and threatens to overwhelm, a human customer service agent stands as a core distinction between offering solutions that are close versus ones that are comprehensive and complete.

Don’t forget to offer the personal touch of a human agent to best serve customers whenever needed.

Peter Lyle DeHaan 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. Learn about his books and read more of his articles at  Peter Lyle DeHaan.

AQM Enhances CX and EX


By Donna Fluss

All companies should strive to deliver an outstanding customer experience (CX), as it’s a primary driver of customer satisfaction, retention, and relationship-building. The question is how to achieve this objective, which remains an elusive goal for most companies. And even if a company has a moment in time when they deliver a great service experience, ever-changing customer expectations require them to update their strategy again and again.

Companies need tools and processes to capture and measure the quality of the service experience they deliver to their customers continuously so they can see how they are doing on an ongoing basis. This is where analytics-enabled quality management (AQM) comes in. This solution gives contact centers an automated, timely, and cost-effective tool for monitoring and evaluating 100 percent of voice and digital interactions.

Since an AQM system uses artificial intelligence (AI) technology to conduct evaluations, its findings are more objective and useful than quality evaluations performed manually by a QM specialist or supervisor using a traditional approach.

AQM is an application (and process) that leverages interaction analytics technology along with business rules and automation to identify, classify, and score voice- and text-based conversations between agents and customers based on defined quality criteria. An AQM solution can be a module of an interaction analytics (IA) suite or a stand-alone best-of-breed application. See Figure 1.

Figure 1: Analytics-Enabled Quality Management

Source: DMG Consulting LLC, July 2023

Proven Benefits of AQM

AQM solutions can elevate the performance of contact center agents and the brand, as they use machine learning and other AI technologies to self-improve. Analytics-enabled QM provides a comprehensive, fair, and effective method of assessing many aspects of agent and contact center performance. Although humans are still required to address certain elements of conversations, AQM can monitor 100 percent of customer interactions on a timely basis, providing valuable insights that cannot be captured when a contact center uses traditional QM and is able to evaluate only a few interactions per agent, per month.

Automated solutions are likely to reduce the number of QM and coaching specialists required, but they are not intended to eliminate the QM function or team entirely. However, because they evaluate a much larger sample of customer interactions, AQM solutions provide more insights into agent performance, engagement, and the CX. Analytics-enabled QM solutions improve many aspects of a contact center, including the agent coaching process, which is essential for agent engagement and retention and also delivering a great CX.

Personalized Coaching

A feature-rich AQM solution comes with a coaching module that generates personalized coaching and eLearning content for agents. Equally important, it has the ability to monitor and assess the effectiveness of the training content and trainers. These sessions can be triggered automatically by low QM scores, negative customer feedback results, or even negative sentiment ratings, and can be delivered to agents immediately following a transaction.

Additionally, the AQM application should be set up to monitor how each agent performs after they’ve received guidance or coaching and provide agents with ongoing support while also recognizing when they perform well. Giving agents a consistent flow of positive and negative feedback is a best practice that generally improves the customer experience and agent retention, which reduces hiring, onboarding, and training expenses.

Final Thoughts

It should be clear, given the increasing volume of complaints, that most companies need to enhance their CX. Enterprises need an actionable flow of insights into their customers’ needs and wants to understand what is required for them to deliver a great CX. This is where AQM fits in, as these applications are designed to provide feedback and coaching to the people who represent the brand and interact directly with customers.

AQM applications improve the performance of contact center agents, but their benefits are broader because they find issues on a timely basis, enabling a company to take rapid corrective actions. This improves the CX, EX, and the bottom line, all while enhancing the brand.

Donna Fluss, founder and president of DMG Consulting LLC, provides a unique and unparalleled understanding of the people, processes and technology that drive the strategic direction of the dynamic and rapidly transforming contact center and back-office markets. Donna can be reached at donna.fluss@dmgconsult.com.

Consider How Artificial Intelligence Can Help Us in the Call Center

We Should Embrace AI as a Useful Toolset and Not Fear It.

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is not a fad that will soon go away. It’s a fundamental shift in how all businesses—and even every person—will function in the future. And though you may not yet realize it, that future is here. Even if you haven’t openly invited artificial intelligence into your call center operation, it’s already arrived, albeit via circuitous points of entry.

Many people already use AI and don’t even know it. Artificial intelligence helps us draft email messages and compose text messages. It facilitates online searches. And it targets advertising—both the ads we receive and the ones we send. AI also works to keep us secure online. In doing these things—and many more—AI saves us time and helps us be more productive.

We’ll talk about artificial intelligence in general terms because the specifics will be out of date within days. That’s how fast artificial intelligence technology is advancing.

Consider these areas where artificial intelligence can help us in our call centers to do our jobs more effectively and efficiently.

AI Management Tools

Artificial intelligence can help us manage our call center operation and our call center staff with greater ease. One key area, for example, is in quality assurance (QA). AI can perform a QA analysis on our agents to measure the overall effectiveness of their work. This not only removes the tedium of doing so manually, but it also makes sure it is actually done and not put off. And it also does so for every call, which is something that is not feasible from a human standpoint.

This is just one example of an AI management tool that will fundamentally change how we oversee our call center staff.

Interdepartmental Interactions

While we typically think of how artificial intelligence can facilitate interactions with clients and callers, we shouldn’t overlook its potential to assist in internal communication and collaboration between departments. Consider a customer service event and the ripple effects its resolution causes. AI could serve to automatically notify all stakeholders and even support their work that relates to it. As appropriate, AI could trigger a billing adjustment, escalate a QA report, reprogram an account, update a service record, and so on.

Agent Support

Though artificial intelligence could—and one day may—replace much of the human involvement in call center work, we’re best to view it now as supporting our agents so they can do their jobs better and faster. The above mentioned—and presently available—AI-assisted email and text messaging tools are an obvious start. Though these still require agent involvement or agent approval, imagine being able to compose these messages in less time and with greater accuracy.

Customer-Facing Communications

When many people think of AI in the call center, they envision frustrating bots that hamper effective communication and thwart timely resolution. Though reports of AI run amok confirm just that, it doesn’t need to be—and shouldn’t be—the case.

Chat bots are an obvious example. Though they don’t presently function well as a holistic solution and can make a mess of unusual situations, they work great as a front-end resource to solve basic problems, gather key information, and appropriately route customer requests to agents.

Now consider the same concept occurring with telephone calls. Then imagine text-to-speech technology producing canned responses in each operator’s voice and indistinguishable from their own speech when they need to take over a call.

Summary

We need not fear the forward march of artificial intelligence. There is much we can do to make our call centers function faster and more accurately than ever before. We’ll benefit and so will those we interact with, both inside our organization and without.

Artificial intelligence can help us, if only we will let it.

Peter Lyle DeHaan 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. Learn about his books and read more of his articles at  Peter Lyle DeHaan.

A Protocol Droid for Your Call Center

Startel contact center software that delivers happiness to your customers

A Guest Editorial

By Vince Vitale

Did you ever think about the implications if “goldenrod” hadn’t been programming binary load lifters and didn’t know a lick of Bocce? It probably would have been a deal breaker for Uncle Owen and those two droids would have never made it into the hands of the galaxy’s original favorite lightsaber-wielding protagonist.

You see, even long ago and far, far away, they understood the importance of having software interface with other software. Think about how convenient it is for the rebels when R2D2 simply interfaces with the Death Star and turns off “all the trash compactors on the detention level.” Nobody knows how he did it. Although I might venture to guess he just pasted some Java Script and boom… it just worked.

From long ago and far, far away, to right here and right now…

In today’s business environment, contact management software must be interactive to be successful. You and the software you use are expected to take your customers’ clients on a personalized journey to enhance their experience ultimately leading to more interactions and sales.

That interaction cannot be limited to one software company’s users; it must also extend to other platforms as well. So, the amount of data your contact center is required to record and process increases every day, and the need for APIs is becoming increasingly prevalent.

An API integration allows connection between two or more applications, via their APIs, and allows those systems to exchange data. The acronym stands for Application Programming Interface.  

Application refers to almost any software. Programming is the common language between applications. Interface can be considered a connection agreement between two applications which defines how the two communicate using requests and responses. 

It’s important to note however that an API isn’t the same as a user interface, or UI, which is the front-end interface layered on top of software that lets you give applications various commands to get it to do what you want. UIs are what humans use to interact with software; APIs are what machines use.

We know space odysseys aren’t everyone’s cup of adventure tea so let’s think of it in another way, maybe something food related will help. Let’s try imagining a waiter in a restaurant or, better yet, a barkeep in a Pirate Tavern.

The barkeep provides the menu with a description of each item that the sailors can order from. When the sailors specify what menu items they want, the barkeep relays the order to the tavern chef who prepares the items, and then the barkeep retrieves those items and delivers them to the sailors.

The sailors (of course) don’t know how to read or write, so they can’t prepare their own ticket. The barkeep doesn’t know how the chef prepares the food, and she doesn’t really need to because her job is to put the order in and bring it to the customers.

That’s how an API, like Startel CMC with RestAPI works. You basically tell it to interact with other applications, and it does the talking for you. All while keeping the scallywags and bad actors at bay.  

Just like the barkeep holding a menu at our pirate tavern, an API lists a bunch of functions that developers can use, along with a description of what they do. The developer doesn’t necessarily need to know how these functions work behind-the-scenes, because the API will figure that out for them. 

Check out this video a visual take on this comparison and a more detailed explanation.

You May Already Be Quite Familiar with APIs and Not Even Know It

In this way, APIs enable two software components to communicate with each other using a pre-defined set of definitions and protocols. For example, how does the sports app on your phone know the score of all the big games at the same time?

Well, that sports association’s software system contains data that can be shared directly with that app. The sports app on your phone is connected to hundreds of sports affiliations’ websites and software systems via APIs. Thus, you can see the scores in real-time on your phone.

Why Is an API an Important Feature

Eating out certainly makes dinner easier than sourcing ingredients, cooking them, and cleaning up after yourself. In the same way, it’s much easier for application developers to create apps to display sports scores when real-time data about the game is made available to them through an API.

The proper commands in an API will allow you to instruct any other program you use to view, pull, and update your data. APIs in effect, enable contact center owners to grow their businesses and be more efficient by automating processes to save time and money.

Here Is a Short List of Benefits to Your Call Center

1. Integration: APIs can allow your contact center to easily embed data from many connected websites, software, and application interfaces. API integration can automate and connect contact center processes so that data is constantly updated, and relationships are well maintained while interfaces are closely monitored. Interface integration helps save time accessing valuable organizational data, which can further increase your contact center’s overall productivity.

2. Personalization: Contact centers can use software with an API to personalize and customize their content and services. API tools can use pre-stored visitor data to import consumer details in custom applications and content automatically. 

Eighty percent of customers are more likely to purchase a product or service from a brand that offers personalized experiences. This is something a contact center owner can use when pitching the value of their call answering business. By using API interfaces to personalize your services and content, you can increase your contact center’s overall revenue.

3. Flexibility: As we mentioned, our modern business climate continues to evolve and the amount of data that contact centers are required to manage effectively is increasing exponentially. API network architecture can help consolidate systems to create an effective communication network in which data can easily be shared throughout the organization. API-focused platforms can import and export data so efficiently that it eliminates other software management systems’ need to maintain data records.

4. Automation: Application Programming Interfaces can perform certain repetitive, time-consuming agent processes that would’ve otherwise been performed manually. This reduces the chance of human error and frees up your agents’ valuable time. Eventually, this will consequently improve your contact center’s efficiency, productivity, and profit.

Contact Centers Are Covered with Startel CMC RestAPI 

The Startel CMC RestAPI allows custom designed software to request information directly and in real time from your CMC database. Startel’s CMC RestAPI allows you or your customer to create custom applications to meet specialized needs.

Do your customers want to automate pulling information into their CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software? Do you want to have your own reporting tools, designed by you and your staff? Do you have great ideas for a mobile app for your business? This tool is the first step toward all of that.

Use the CMC RestAPI to customize dashboards that suit your site’s specific needs, develop web-based applications for analyzing and monitoring staffing levels, and build your own tools for managing on-call calendars.

Improved Agent Efficiencies

Startel’s CMC RESTful APIs can improve your agent efficiencies by taking the data they collect and automatically synchronizing it into other applications for the client rather than training your agent on new software so they can manually re-enter that information. 

Agents no longer have to make a bunch of quick decisions in real-time to ensure individual messages end up where they should be, RESTful APIs allow system administrators and client account programmers to make deliberate, focused decisions to redirect the flow of data en masse according to the client’s request.

Powerful Integration

Startel’s API is integrated with Zapier. Zapier empowers you to automate your work across 5,000 plus apps so you can move forward, faster. Zapier allows you to create from one to one hundred step automated workflows. It’s a Do-It-Yourself solution that does not require expensive development with programmers.

Startel Contact Center Solutions That Bring Happiness to Your Customers

Startel Contact Center Solutions use smarter technology, stronger partners, and expert guidance to bring your contact center’s production and customer satisfaction to the next level.

Since its founding in 1980, Startel has established a loyal customer base from a variety of industries, including contact centers, education, government, healthcare, insurance, telephone answering service and utilities.

Today, Startel has customers in forty-three states across the United States as well as Canada, Central America, New Zealand, and Switzerland.

Vince Vitale is the director of marketing for Startel. Startel customers depend on Startel’s solutions and services to increase business efficiencies, identify performance opportunities, and deliver quick, secure, and accurate communication 24/7 x 365. For more information give them a call at 800-STARTEL or schedule a demo of the Startel CMC.

Unmasking the Threat of SMS Pumping Attacks


By Justin Massey

Is your call center vulnerable to an SMS-pumping attack? What is an SMS-pumping attack? This attack gained media attention recently when Elon Musk said that Twitter was paying over $60 million in fraudulent text messages due to hackers exploiting this attack technique. In this article, we’ll break down if your operation should be concerned with SMS pumping fraud and how you can ensure you do not wind up with a $60 million invoice from your telco provider.

What Is an SMS Pumping Attack?

What is the attacker’s motive? Before understanding how the attack works, knowing the attacker’s motive is important. In this scenario, the attacker wants to find a way to trick your business into texting a premium-rate phone number. Your telco will be charged a premium rate and will pass this cost to you. The attacker will then receive a portion of this premium rate. The price earned per text message is minimal, so the attacker must work at scale for them to make their time worth their money.

How does the attack work? Attackers scour the internet for websites that will send them text messages for any reason. Some websites will send users a confirmation text when registering for an account. Some websites will send one-time passwords. Other websites will send two-factor authentication (2FA) messages. Some websites will send a text message after a sales lead completes a landing page.

There are many different use cases for automatically sending text messages, so keep your mind open when reading this article.

After the attacker has identified a website that sends text messages, they must write the attack tooling to automate the attack. The attacker will automate any process associated with the attack, such as creating an account and logging the user in.

The attacker will then launch their attack, and the website owner will be on the hook for the charges associated with the texts to the premium-rate numbers.

SMS Pumping Attack Example

Let’s take, for example, that an attacker identifies a website that sends users a 2FA text message when logging into the account. The attacker will also research how quickly they can request new 2FA messages from the same account. Some applications may only send one text every 30 seconds. Other applications may not implement any rate limiting and allow the user to request as many 2FA codes as humanly possible.

The attacker must send many text messages to earn enough money to make the attack profitable. This means they will need to increase the number of accounts on the website to send 2FA messages. After the accounts have been created and configured with the premium-rate phone numbers, the attacker will automate the login process and request as many text messages as the system will allow.

Where has this attack been seen? This attack has increased in prevalence over the past several years, according to Vladimir Smal with Lanck Telecom. It recently made the headlines when Elon Musk mentioned that Twitter (now X) was being scammed $60 million per year in fraudulent text messages due to this style attack. Lanck Telecom estimates that 6% of all SMS traffic is artificially generated by these sorts of attacks. Artificial traffic is much higher, 50-80%, for some mobile networks.

Is my call center vulnerable to an SMS pumping attack? To know if you’re service is vulnerable to this attack, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does my sales process involve receiving a phone number to text and automatically text the phone number?
  • Does my application support 2FA via text message?
  • Does my application send one-time passwords via text message?
  • Does any other part of my application send text messages?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you could be vulnerable to this attack. However, you should remember that the attacker must be able to easily scale this attack to make it profitable.

If your operation requires a human to be involved with the onboarding of your customer, then the attacker is not likely going to target this application. It is, however, important for you to think through all possible scenarios that you may have implemented that involve text messaging.

How Can I Prevent SMS Pumping Fraud?

  • Anti-Bot Measures: One of the primary sources of SMS pumping fraud exists when a website allows a user to register and send a text message to the phone number the user provided. The first component to prevent this attack is to ensure that the user is a human. You can implement anti-bot technology such as Google’s reCAPTCHA to identify whether the user creating the account is a human or a bot. If you implement reCAPTCHA, an attacker will manually have to run this attack against your application which would not be profitable.
  • Extending reCAPTCHA: You should also consider adding reCAPTCHA to other parts of your applications, such as user logins, password resets, or anywhere that an attacker may try to trigger a text message.
  • Rate Limiting: Another mitigation strategy is to implement rate limiting. If a user requests the same information 10,000 times within one minute, you do not want to text the user 10,000 times. Consider implementing a rate limit to reduce the number of text messages sent to this number.
  • Geographical Restrictions: Many fraudulent text messages are sent to non-US countries. You can contact your telco provider and request they disable texting to non-US countries or countries in which you do not conduct business.
  • Billing Spike Notifications: Implement billing spike notifications with your telco provider. If your telco detects your application sending an abnormal number of messages, they should notify you when they detect it rather than you see the high price on your next invoice.

By adopting these proactive measures, you can protect your operation against SMS-pumping attacks.

Justin Massey, the founder of Relay Hawk, started answering phones for his family’s answering service at 16. Later, he became an IT administrator at a managed service provider. He now runs Relay Hawk, a cybersecurity company building products exclusively for the Telephone Answering Service industry.