Category Archives: Articles

Vendor Profile on Amtelco

Amtelco banner

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

Amtelco’s guiding values are:

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

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

System Designed for Flexibility and Growth

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

Technology that Simplifies Remote Agent Deployment

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

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to Increase Efficiency

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

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

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

Easy and Encrypted Messaging Solution

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

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

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

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

Reliable Five-Star Service and Support 

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

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

Looking into the Future

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

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

By Greg Hanover and Tricia Yankovich

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

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

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

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

1. Give Your Agents Time to Adapt

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

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

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

2. Measure Engagement and Productivity

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

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

3. Equip Agents with the Right Technology

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

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

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

4. Provide Professional Development

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

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

5. Create a Virtual Community 

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Components of Successful Outbound and Inbound Telemarketing Training

By Claire Coffman

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

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

The Learning Environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Components for Inbound Telemarketing Training

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

For inbound telemarketing training:

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

Components for Outbound Telemarketing Training

For outbound telemarketing training:

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

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

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

The Modern Contact Center

Trends Driving Customer Service and Experience

By Aakash Kumar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Modern, Digitally Diverse Contact Center 

Two interdependent trends define the modern era of customer service: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four Ways to Modernize the Customer Contact Center 

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

A successful modern contact center requires four things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

How to Keep Remote Agents Engaged

By Jennifer Lee 

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

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

Connection: Teamwork Starts Here

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

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

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

Camaraderie: We Are Family

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

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

Culture: Appreciation Creates a Virtuous Circle

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Jennifer Lee is the chief strategy officer at Intradiem.

Paying Attention to Agent Well-Being Will Improve Your Brand



By Donna Fluss

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

An Agent Perspective 

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

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

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

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

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

Positive Changes

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

A Vast Repository of Call Center Industry Articles

Three Decades of Valuable Industry Content Available at No Charge

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter Lyle DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections Magazine

Every article that appeared in Connections Magazine for the past twenty years is available here online, as well as most of the articles that occurred in the eight years prior to that, starting with Volume 1, Number 1 in July 1993. That’s twenty-eight years of valuable industry articles.

I’ve grouped each one of these articles by topic, allowing you to quickly find all our content relating to a specific subject. You can also use the above search option to find content by keyword, author, or company.

ConnectionsMagazine.com currently has over 1,600 call center industry articles and over 600 news items. That’s a lot of content waiting for you to explore and use. Though we incurred much expense to curate, edit, and post this information, we happily provide it to you at no charge. Our sponsors and other advertisers, which you can see on the left sidebar, make this treasure trove of information available to you whenever you need it. Please join me in thanking them for their continued and invaluable support.

More Peter Lyle DeHaan Articles

This column marks my 188th column for Connections Magazine, give or take a couple. As shocking as it sounds, that means I’ve written over 11 percent of the articles on this website. 

Besides 188 articles here, I’ve so far written 95 for TAS Trader, 140 for AnswerStat, and 56 for Medical Call Center News. That’s 479 industry-related articles.

People sometimes ask if I’ve published an article about a certain topic. Most of the time, I can’t remember. Over my career, I’ve written millions of words, so please don’t be too critical if my words began to blur. And when I have a vague inkling that I’ve covered a subject, I’m not sure which publication it might have been in.

To address this, I’ve combined all my call center industry articles in one place. (I also include over 100 articles about business and 600 about writing and publishing, for over 1,400 of my articles all in one place.) On that website, I grouped my articles by category. It also has a handy search feature.

Peter Lyle DeHaan Books

With all this content, you might wonder if they will ever appear in book form. The answer is yes. They will. I’ll start with some general business books—with an underlying call center perspective—covering customer service, leadership, and sales and marketing.

Look for the first of these books, Sticky Customer Service: Stop Churning Customers and Start Growing Your Business, later this year. More books in the Sticky series will soon follow. 

I’ll also compile content from my various publications to produce some call center industry books as well. These are also in progress. All I need is the time to complete them.

I will announce these books’ availability here as soon as they’re available.

Thank you for reading these call center industry articles and thank you for your encouragement. It keeps me writing.

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

6 Tips to Improve Your Call Center’s Brand on Social Media


Startel delivers best-in-call contact center solutions

It’s no secret that the use of advanced technology and social media is empowering potential clients and team members like never before. This empowerment is requiring call centers to refine their social media strategies to attract the best quality job candidates as well as nurture lasting relationships with clients.

By Vince Vitale

Here are some tips to help refine your social media branding so that you can attract and keep new clients and team members.

1. Be Personable

Social media forums like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter help promote your company culture and humanize your brand. Engaging infographics, photos of company events, smiling employees, and captivating content contribute to that.

Present your business as having a friendly and welcoming culture. This helps attract talented candidates, but it also appeals to prospective clients and customers. 

Be genuine. People can easily tell when a call center is just giving off a perception rather than living and breathing the culture. One place you can start is by referring to staff as “teammates” rather than employees. It’s easier for team members to believe in their stake in a company while those dubbed “employees” don’t retain that same perception of themselves.

Be professional, but don’t hesitate to inject humor and personality into photo captions and content. Just make sure it’s appropriate and relevant. It is all part of humanizing your brand.

2. Use Team Created Content

User-generated content involves posts and images created by your audience, which in many cases, especially at call centers, is your team. This demonstrates how much they enjoy being part of your company.

Engaging with the company on social media should not be mandatory but do encourage participation. Suggest posting group photos at company events and outings. Recommend that team members share these images on their own social media accounts as well as your company’s. Consider offering incentives like rewarding the post with the most likes. 

Do not set unnecessary barriers to the content your team members can contribute. Providing a glimpse behind the scenes allows potential team members and customers alike to better understand what your company culture is all about. So if there is something in your office you don’t want your audience to see, fix it. 

Too many barriers will lead to less posting.

3. Showcase Your Team Members

A post with a picture always garners more engagement than plain text.

Content, videos, and photos of those who receive Team Member of the Month recognition, win industry-related awards, celebrate a work anniversary, or make positive contributions to the community make team members feel appreciated and positively promotes your call center’s culture.

Remember to get permission before posting photos of your team, especially before tagging and sharing on their personal Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and other social media profiles. Consider having them sign a waiver on the first day of employment that is valid for the team member’s entire time at the company. 

4. Engage

Don’t just look at posts. Responding to comments represents another opportunity to reflect a positive company culture; it lets followers know you notice them and value their feedback.

A key element of building and maintaining a positive company culture is reflecting your values by how you interact with existing and prospective customers as well as team members.

Listen to your customers and engage in conversations regarding your brand. Create content and hashtags on social media that communicate the “why” factor of your service. Your customers are constantly conversing about their issues, experiences, reviews, and much more about anything and everything. 

The trick is to have sharp ears and a vocal mouth. 

+Invest in social media management applications to help find relevant conversations you should be aware of. Hootsuite for example allows you to set up, monitor, and manage all your social media accounts in one place. It also has a neat feature called “Social Media Listening” that allows you to track key phrases and terms across other users posts. This can be an excellent way to bring in new clients. Other paid platforms with similar features include HubSpot, Marketo and Social Pilot. There are also plenty of free alternatives, but features vary.

Social media is where many customers directly interact with their brands regarding doubts and queries. As much as you may want to overlook negative comments, never miss an occasion to cultivate a better relationship with your customer by responding to both positive and negative interactions. 

Simply informing customers on social media of protocols is the best way to interact with those who are upset. When things become complicated it’s best to handle the problem offline. 

5. Video is King

Instead of relying solely on online job sites, expand your reach by creating videos to post on your social media forums. Engaging videos display your company’s energy and enthusiasm. 

Another strategy many call centers use is the creation of a behind-the-scenes video tour with graphics and music. It gives clients and potential team members a snapshot of places you deem worthy of highlighting in your office. 

Keep in mind that call center customers are interested in exactly who answers their calls. Wherever possible, post real people from your call center and not stock footage of actors. Stock photos can cause people to ask, “What are you hiding?” So be careful. 

6. Implement a Diverse but Consistent Social Media Strategy

If you visit a company’s social media platform and notice the latest posts were from a year ago, chances are you will not return. Call centers must remain active with their audience on a regular basis. Develop an editorial calendar, and post regularly with relevant and engaging content.

Start conversations that will attract visitors and give people a reason to return. Writing general posts that ask readers for their insight and viewpoints can foster more engagement then just telling clients what to do. 

A consistent experience for customers across all channels is essential in promoting your call center. The voice of your posts should reflect your call center’s values. The overall tone, regardless of the matter, must be steady and clear. You must cross-check the consistency between what you tell customers on social media and what you communicate over phone or email.

Final Thoughts

If you don’t have a social media plan in place, don’t despair. You can implement a sound social media strategy within hours. The best place to start is in highlighting your team and your accomplishments. Start small and before you realize it your plans will grow.

Startel

Vince Vitale is the marketing director for Startel, a leading provider of best-in-class contact center solutions. He has over fifteen years of marketing experience in education, urgent care, and the call center industries. Before his years in marketing Vince worked in journalism as a writer, producer, and reporter for several TV news stations.

How Outsource Telemarketing Can Help Franchises Grow



By Steve Korn

For decades, businesses have used outsource telemarketing to facilitate their sales efforts. These include direct telephone sales, appointment setting for outside sales teams, toll-free inbound numbers, product and customer satisfaction surveys, and many others. This article focuses on how franchise organizations, which offer products or services to other businesses (B2B), can benefit from using an outsource telemarketing program.

What challenges does a franchisor have that other businesses do not?

It all boils down to control. If a traditional company has a hundred offices scattered across the country, each of those offices is somehow under its direct control, and the people working are employees. If a franchisor has a hundred franchises across the country selling its products or services, it has a hundred independent businesses running their day-to-day operations. This makes it challenging to keep everyone moving together toward the same goal. How can a telemarketing program assist a franchise organization? 

Consider common goals of a typical franchise organization. 

  • Increase the bottom line.
  • Strengthen its members, the franchisees. 
  • Make it easier to sell additional franchises by developing new markets.
  • Standardize the marketing message throughout the organization. 
  • Centralize inbound support for the benefit of the entire organization.

Like any other business that uses telemarketing, they do so because it is not part of their core competency or they lack the needed support staff. Regardless of their need, they rely on a telemarketing agency to design and implement a program that will meet their goals at a price that fits their budget.

Outbound Telemarketing Is Universal

Designed for and shared by multiple parties, telemarketing campaigns use the same script. A consistent sales message or intent occurs regardless of where the calls originate from or for what purpose. 

First, the corporate entity, the franchisor, uses it to build sales in the areas it controls and markets in. Most commonly, it has permanent sales representatives in those areas or a team working the space to build it up for potential sale as a franchise. The call center does the prospecting. It qualifies the business, sets up appointments, and notifies the local salesperson of the appointment details. The healthier the territory, the more opportunity it has. The result is a healthier bottom line for the organization.

The franchisors then offer the same program to the franchisees. Often franchisees will struggle to set up their own telemarketing operations, or they’ll tap a mismatched outbound telemarketing partner that does not do well at representing the local franchisee or the parent franchisor. 

Making the telemarketing program available to the individual franchisees can make them financially stronger. It also allows the franchisor to better control the marketing message delivered throughout their network. 

Sometimes the franchisor will include a certain amount of telemarketing time in the franchise agreements they offer. Others will subsidize the cost of outbound telemarketing or allow the franchisees to buy into the program, knowing they cannot afford to set up a complete call center program independently. 

Regardless of implementation, the franchisor benefits as the franchisees grow their business through outbound telemarketing efforts. This makes their businesses and the overall organization more robust. A healthier franchise business means increased demand for the company, resulting in a higher franchise sales price, improved sales, and healthier financial statements. The franchisee wins, as does the franchisor.

Inbound Telemarketing Support

The inbound side has benefits as well. Of course, websites can direct people to find their closest office or dealer. However, now in a COVID world, many local offices have trimmed staff, who may lack training, unlike an inbound call center agent. Other franchisee offices may let calls route to voicemail if they cannot pick up a call. 

Using a centralized inbound call center can eliminate the risk that inadequate training or unanswered calls might cause in terms of lost opportunities. Trained call center agents take the calls and handle them in a manner approved by the franchisor, often resulting in additional sales, upsells, and fewer lost opportunities. These, of course, get passed on to the franchisee or franchisor depending on the territory, but the net result is a healthier, more profitable franchise organization. 

Every inquiry that hits the company’s website can become a lead. As soon as an inquiry comes in, a member of the call center team contacts them to determine their level of interest and passes that information on to the local franchisee.

Summary

A well-planned outsourced telemarketing effort, both inbound and outbound, will benefit any B2B franchise organization. It can:

  • Develop the value of areas by offering to sell to new franchise buyers.
  • Grow the number of territories owned by the franchisor.
  • Allow the franchisor to better control the sales message across the entire organization.
  • Increase the strength and value of each franchisee.
  • Provide a centralized cohesive inbound support platform.

 These are outcomes that would be hard to achieve in house.

Steve Korn is a business development executive for Quality Contact Solutions. His experience spans forty years and includes ownership of his own call center for over twenty. Contact Steve at steve.korn@qualitycontactsolutions.com or 516-656-4198.

5 Reasons to Implement Call Center Scripting


Amtelco banner

By Amtelco

One of the first person-to-person connections a customer makes with an organization is often through a phone call. Whether the caller’s intent is to schedule an appointment, ask a question, or another reason, the way an agent handles that call plays a key role in customer service and satisfaction. Every phone call is an opportunity for the agent to uphold an organization’s values and provide excellent service. 

Call center scripting helps agents guide customers through phone calls by asking the right questions and providing the right answers. Once the scripts have been programmed into the call center software, agents simply read the prompts and follow the script. Call centers that implement scripting benefit from reduced errors, increased productivity, decreased training time, consistency, and improved customer and agent satisfaction.

1. Reduce Errors

Scripting removes the guesswork by providing agents with the right answers to caller questions. Scripting ensures the agent collects the right data from the caller, the caller receives the most updated information, and the correct action occurs at the end of the call. 

For example, a Midwest company has a call center that uses scripting to manage 850,000 calls per year. The call center supports multiple departments that have departments within departments, so their scripting needs can be quite complex. However, their staff, who may have limited or no IS experience, can easily build customized scripts for any type of call for any department in as little as twenty minutes.

2. Increase Productivity

Call centers typically receive hundreds if not thousands of calls every day. Instead of putting the caller on hold and searching for answers, agents whose call centers use scripting have the information they need in just a couple of clicks. This allows call processing in a matter of seconds. 

“Two-thirds of consumers report that the most frustrating aspect of getting customer service is waiting on hold or having to explain the same information to multiple representatives.” HubSpot Research Consumer Customer Support Survey, 2018.

Scripts help ensure the call center agent gets the right data from the caller, reducing the need to make a return call to request more information or to make a correction in the information provided.

3. Decrease Training Time

Agent training progresses more quickly when scripts are involved. With decision making programmed into the script, new agents can be trained to handle any kind of call in less time. After programming, the system easily guides agents through each call, and provides them with a custom script with the exact information they need, at the time they need it.

4. Promote Consistency

When the call center agent is the front line of an organization’s customer service, what they say matters because they could be creating the customer’s first impression of the organization. Scripting can use language that adheres to the organization’s policy. For example, an organization can include an empathy statement the agent reads before ending or transferring a call. 

Scripts also keep the agents from violating any regulations because they know the next thing to say. And it ensures the agent always keeps the customer’s needs first.

5. Increase Customer and Agent Satisfaction

Efficient and accurate call handling makes everyone happier. Callers no longer need to wait on hold for agents to track down answers to their questions. The agent instills confidence in callers through a series of logical questions to provide clear, succinct answers. Customers can trust the correct entry of their details when the agent is able to read the information back to them without errors. 

Because scripting helps reduce call times and the need to put callers on hold, agents are more likely to meet their goals for number of calls answered per day, length of call, length of hold times, and other metrics deemed significant by their organization. Teams who meet and even exceed their goals report greater job satisfaction and reduced stress. 

Scripting also simplifies the agent’s job, however complicated it may be. 

Summary

When it’s time to choose a scripting program for your call center, look for software that is easy to edit and integrates with your other systems for further efficiency and accuracy gains. 

Amtelco logo

Amtelco and Telescan have a strong history in the telemessaging industry and were founded in 1976 to provide communication solutions to the answering service and medical messaging industry. In operation in all fifty of the United States and more than twenty countries, Amtelco and Telescan focus on providing call center solutions that meet or exceed customer expectations and are backed by top notch service and support. Amtelco and Telescan systems and software process millions of calls every day. By working closely with customers, Amtelco and Telescan continue to develop innovative features and products.