Category Archives: Articles

How to Enhance the Customer Experience



Pursue Big-Picture Solutions, Not Incremental Improvements

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-customer experience

There’s a lot of talk about customer experience and ways to enhance it. Though this is the right outcome, too often the approach to get there is shortsighted. Making incremental changes to improve one metric may help a bit, but how many metrics must you improve and by how much for the customer to realize an enhanced experience? And how much stress will your frontline staff endure to get there?

Instead of focusing on the minutia of data that call center systems are so good at producing, take a step back and address big-picture issues. These will have the greatest impact on improving customer experience. And the side effect of these changes will make it easier, not harder, for your staff to do their job with excellence.

Integrate Isolated Repositories of Information

How many places do you store customer data and the information your staff needs to serve callers? How easy is it for agents to get all relevant information displayed on a single monitor—or even two?

Ideally you want everything in one place, in a unified database. However, sometimes this isn’t feasible. In those instances, it’s critical to be able to seamlessly move from one to the other. Consider how often customer service representatives give wrong information simply because they aren’t looking in the right place.

Integrating or interconnecting databases for seamless customer experience is something for vendors to accomplish; it’s too complex for end-users to solve. However, investigate whether your implementation of your vendor’s solutions hampers your team from fully using the tools you already have. Sometimes the solution is there, but you can’t tap into its power because of how you deployed it.

When agents can’t serve customers to the best of their ability and keep those customers happy, you end up losing those customers’ business. Click To Tweet

Remove Internal Silos of Control

Many companies operate as a group of disengaged fiefdoms. This occurs in departments such as operations, marketing, sales, accounting, tech support, and so forth. When management measures each department head for that unit’s individual performance, disconnected from the company’s overall objectives, the result is managers doing what is in the best interest of themselves, their job, and their staff. Customer needs and the overall good of the company comes in second. 

To correct this, deemphasize—but don’t eliminate—individual department objectives and performance incentives. Instead elevate company-wide results and the way in which each department plays a role to achieve those objectives. 

For example, companies are in business to make money, regardless of what their corporate vision and mission statement affirm. Look at how each department contributes to this, either directly or indirectly. It comes down to two activities: how much money they spend and what they do to drive revenue. It’s true that there are secondary metrics, often unique to each unit, that affect this. But to remove internal silos of control in your company, downplay the importance of the specific measurements and instead look at overall company metrics.

Empower Agents So They Can Best Serve Customers

Everyone knows to empower frontline people. However, this is easier to say than to do. It’s hard to let entry-level employees make decisions that cost money. Yet prohibiting them from doing so has an even worse result: it costs customers.

When agents can’t serve customers to the best of their ability and keep those customers happy, you end up losing those customers’ business, both now and in the future. Yes, sometimes empowered agents go overboard and make ill-advised decisions. Although undesirable, wouldn’t it be better for them to do that than being prohibited from doing what’s right for the customer, thus losing those customers?

Integrate Communications Channels

With omnichannel, the goal is to provide contact options for customers. Again, this requires sophisticated technology from vendors. Yet as end-users of contact center platforms, make sure that your implementation of the technology doesn’t interfere with your ability to use it to its fullest and enjoy integrated communications channels.

Final Thoughts

These are big-picture considerations. You won’t solve them quickly or easily, but you must pursue them if you want to provide the customer experience that callers expect—a customer experience that will retain them as your customers and not your competitors’.

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.

Three Hosted Services Considerations

By Bill Curtin, IV



With many advances in communications technology come changes in the call center industry. These advances allow the use of remote agents and the opportunity to downsize pricey office space. Some call centers are now 100 percent virtual. These changes enable vendors to offer fully hosted solutions, off-site backup, and co-location solutions.

1. A Fully Hosted Solution 

With a fully hosted call center, you can service customers without purchasing a system. Phone calls arrive at the switch, agents process the calls, and they deliver messages as needed. At the end of the month, your billing application prints the invoices. This sounds ideal, but getting to this point takes effort.

A fully hosted solution can reduce call center responsibilities by not having to maintain or worry about software and hardware. But in most cases, a fully hosted solution will have a higher total cost of ownership than a purchased solution. There is also the intangible cost of less control. While there are no more urgent trips to the office to fix system problems, you are now reliant on the sense of urgency of others.

You need to find a hosted solution provider who will be a good business partner and is willing to work with you to address your customers’ needs. With this model, your business continuity plan is a joint venture between you and your hosting provider.

Also, if your call center processes protected health information (PHI) you will need to have proper agreements in place with your hosting provider for this confidential information.

The biggest challenge in co-locating your data center is finding the right partner. Click To Tweet

Depending on how you structure your hosted solution, there are many ways to lower the cost. You may need fewer technical staff to support a hosted system, but there remains a need for technical support for on-premises workstations, phone lines, and internet connectivity.

Before signing a hosted solution contract, identify every piece of hardware the call center’s data will touch. Also identify all hardware that is not redundant or shared, along with all hardware dedicated to your solution. If the solution has nonredundant or shared hardware, this could impact the quality of service.

Likewise, identify every circuit that data travels over. All phone lines should travel on SONET (Synchronous Optical Networking) rings, and all internet connections should use border gateway protocol to freely access multiple internet providers. Phone calls should only travel on the PSTN or on an MPLS network, and never over the internet. 

Most importantly, check references before signing any agreement. A good reference check contains questions that address level of service, technical support responses, and interactions with the hosting facility’s billing department.

2. Off-Site or Hosted Backup Solution

For call centers that are happy with their on-premise solutions, there are still ways technology advances can improve call center reliability and potentially reduce costs.

By creating an off-site backup system in a geographically diverse location, call centers can protect themselves from unforeseen local problems, thus preventing a situation in which a call center can’t take calls for hours or days. 

Call centers with multiple locations can create off-site backup solutions at their other offices. For single-location call centers, consider working with another trusted call center, so that both call centers can provide emergency backup service to the other.

Another solution is to contact your switch vendor about hosted backup solutions. Vendors that have infrastructure in place for their own systems could also host or co-locate a backup solution.

When creating an off-site backup solution, coordinate with your telephony provider. Many providers have options to forward calls to another number in the event of a service outage. And SIP providers can forward telephone calls to another IP address on an MPLS network or sometimes even an IP address.

The challenge with off-site backup solutions is finding the best solution to protect your business needs while keeping the costs in check.

3. A Co-Located Call Center 

Lastly, consider co-locating your system at a data center. This will improve the reliability of your telephone, internet connectivity, and electrical power.

When using a telephony solution at a data center, be sure your telephony provider delivers a “meet me” telephone line. This line terminates at the phone company’s central office, and the data center provides the information to connect the phone line to its SONET ring. The data center then runs the phone connection into your rack.

The biggest challenge in co-locating your data center is finding the right partner. Data centers come in all configurations and prices. When looking at co-locating your system, check with your system provider. Call center solution providers that offer hosted solutions will have the resources to co-locate your hardware and fully support your system.

Amtelco

Bill Curtin IV is corporate IS/IT manager for Amtelco and manages the three data centers that Amtelco uses to provide customer solutions.

Why Telephone Triage Nurses Are a Perfect Complement to Telemedicine



By Charu Raheja, PhD

Telehealth model

Telemedicine has been a medical buzzword for several years, and the variety and depth of services provided have grown dramatically during this time. There is little argume

nt that telemedicine is a great way to supplement traditional medical practices.

The advantages are clear: more convenient care for patients, more doctor availability, less driving time, and less waiting-room time. But like any new evolving field, there is still a learning curve and a need for developing a process that makes telemedicine viable and profitable and doesn’t require doctors to work 24/7 to meet patients’ requests.

One of the biggest hurdles for doctors is that their time with patients is limited. In a traditional office setting, nurses start the patient visit. Nurses take vitals, talk to patients, and evaluate their needs before a doctor walks in the room. The same type of process needs to be designed for telephone medicine, with the difference being that the nurse will do her job over telemedicine, just like the doctor.

Some practices have the nurses in their office taking patient calls and scheduling visits with a doctor. When managing these calls, the nurse needs to perform two tasks. First, the nurse must evaluate whether the patient actually needs the doctor or whether the nurse can help the patient over the phone with home care advice. Second, the nurse must document patient symptom information before making an appointment for the patient to speak with a doctor.

This is where having a good platform to document patient calls and ensure standard protocols comes in. This can ensure patient safety and help make the process efficient. Medical protocols—such as Dr. Schmitt and Dr. Thompson’s protocols—ensure a standard care process every time a nurse takes a call. These protocols are also available electronically, making them easier to use than textbooks. Electronic protocols can also allow the care advice to be documented directly on the patient chart for review by the physician during the telehealth visit.

However, not all doctors offering telehealth services have nurses available to answer patient calls when they first come in. An alternative for these doctors is hiring a telephone nurse triage service. This can serve as an extension of the office by providing patients with a trained nurse to evaluate patient symptoms and determine what actions to take.

Telephone nurse triage allows a practice’s telemedicine program to work seamlessly, whether the office is open or closed. Click To Tweet

What sets a high-quality telephone nurse triage service apart is the ability for the physician to have custom orders and preferences built into the system so the nurses can act as a true extension of the physician. A high-quality nurse triage service is also able to schedule patient appointments when necessary.

Providing patients with access to triage nurses can also be helpful for those doctors who don’t have the ability to provide telehealth services 24/7. If given the appropriate instructions, triage nurses are typically able to resolve over 50 percent of callers’ issues without the need of a doctor.

From a survey of over 35,000 patient phone calls, in over 50 percent of the cases, the nurses were able to resolve the caller’s medical symptoms by giving them home care advice. These nurses were also able to determine which callers required a physical visit to an urgent care or an ER in an event of an emergency (such as symptoms of a potential heart attack).

Telephone nurse triage allows a practice’s telemedicine program to work seamlessly, whether the office is open or closed. Setting up a nurse triage system where nurses use standardized protocols to answer patient questions increases the productivity and profits for a doctor’s practice.

When nurses use triage protocols, physicians can have confidence that they are asking the right questions and not missing anything. The basic patient information, the protocols used, and the nurse notes can also be used as a quick reference for the physician prior to the telehealth visit—similar to the notes doctors receive when their nurses first see a patient during a physical office visit.

Charu Raheja, PhD, is the CEO of TriageLogic a leading provider of quality, affordable triage solutions, including comprehensive after-hours medical call center software, daytime triage protocol software, and nurse triage on call. Customers include both institutional and private practices. If your hospital or practice is looking for information on setting up a nurse triage service, contact TriageLogic to get a quote or set up a demo.

Why Hackers Target Medical Records Instead of Credit Cards


Amtelco-medical records

By Nicole Limpert

Despite the care most of us take to protect our credit card information, credit card fraud is the most common form of identity theft in the United States. According to a report from Javelin Strategy & Research, 15.4 million consumers were victims of identity theft or fraud in 2016, which cost US consumers more than 16 billion dollars.

However, cyber criminals increasingly target electronic protected health information (ePHI) because hackers can get a premium price for this personal information on the dark web.

Sold to the Highest Bidder

Raw credit card numbers—those that are missing PIN and user information—are worth a dollar or less each on the dark web. More complete credit card records that include personal information command a higher price—up to thirty dollars each, depending on the country of origin. However, the most valuable prize for fraudsters is someone’s medical record. Estimates vary, but in general health records consistently sell for seventy to ninety dollars each. Some hackers claim to sell blocks of thousands of records and receive over one hundred dollars per individual record.

Historically, healthcare data breaches were the result of internal staff actions (both accidental and intentional), but the Ponemon Institute’s Fifth Annual Benchmark Study on Privacy & Security of Healthcare Data in 2015 discovered that the primary reason for healthcare data breaches was due to criminal attacks.

The report states, “Employee negligence and lost or stolen devices still result in many data breaches, according to the findings. However, one of the trends we are seeing is a shift of data breaches—from accidental to intentional—as criminals are increasingly targeting and exploiting healthcare data.”

While the progress is slow, it appears that more hospitals are using ePHI and beginning to catch up with the technological needs to protect it. Click To Tweet

Why ePHI Is So Valuable

It is estimated that the global healthcare industry will be worth 8.7 trillion dollars by 2020. Cyber criminals are cashing in by using stolen patient data primarily for insurance fraud, medication fraud, and financial fraud.

The Identity Theft Resource Center, a US nonprofit that provides victim assistance and consumer education, reported there were 355 healthcare breaches in 2016 affecting 15 million records.

Information contained in a medical record is particularly useful for lucrative fraud schemes because it’s high-quality, deeply personal, and permanent. On the dark web, this type of data is referred to as “fullz” (full packages of personally identifiable information). Fullz can’t easily be replaced (the way credit card numbers can), so it is more useful and provides more value to criminals.

Because the information contained in a health record is complete and comprehensive, it’s extremely versatile, and it takes much longer for fraud to be detected. The information can be used in a variety of fraud scenarios.

Sometimes personal identities are stolen to receive medical care. The Ponemon Institute provides an example where a patient learned his identity was compromised after receiving invoices for a heart procedure he hadn’t undergone. His information was also used to buy a mobility scooter and medical equipment, amounting to tens of thousands of dollars in fraud.

Why Is ePHI So Vulnerable?

In response to increasing threats to patient health data and poor security, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act was enacted in 2009. The act provided a 27 billion-dollar incentive to encourage health providers to switch from paper medical records to electronic files.

The results have been disappointing. Many healthcare organizations were slow to adopt electronic files because of struggles connecting different technologies. These disparate technologies need to work together so electronic health records (EHRs) are available to the appropriate staff.

When Barrack Obama was interviewed by Vox’s Ezra Klein and Sarah Kliff on January 6, 2017, he explained that this lack of interoperability was something he and his administration didn’t expect:

We put a big slug of money to encouraging everyone to digitalize and catch up with the rest of the world here. And it’s proven to be harder than we expected, partly because everyone has different systems. They don’t all talk to each other, it requires retraining people in how to use them effectively, and I’m optimistic that over time it’s inevitable it’s going to get better because every other part of our lives, it’s become paperless.

But it’s a lot slower than I would have expected; some of it has to do with the fact that it’s decentralized, and everyone has different systems. In some cases, you have economic incentives against making the system better; you have service providers—people make money on keeping people’s medical records—so making it easier for everyone to access medical records means that there’s some folks who could lose business. And that’s turned out to be more complicated than I expected.

As a result, hospitals and clinics have been operating, at least in part, with outdated technology, thus exposing them to the dangers of cyber-attacks.

Are Paper Medical Records Better?

It may be tempting to think that paper medical records are a safer option, but according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Managed Care, paper and films were the most frequent location of breached data.

Verizon’s 2018 Protected Health Information Data Breach Report also found that 27 percent of data breach incidents were related to sensitive data on paper. The Verizon report authors wrote:

Medical device hacking may be in the news, but it seems the real criminal activity is found by following the paper trail. Whether prescription information sent from clinics to pharmacies, billing statements issued by mail, discharge papers physically handed to patients, or filed copies of ID and insurance cards, printed documents are more prevalent in the healthcare sector than any other. The very nature of how PHI paperwork is handled and transferred by medical staff has led to preventable weaknesses—sensitive data being misdelivered (20 percent), thrown away without shredding (15 percent), and even lost (8 percent).

The Future of ePHI

While the progress is slow, it appears that more hospitals are using ePHI and beginning to catch up with the technological needs to protect it.

In 2017 the American Medical Informatics Association released a report using information from an American Hospital Association survey about hospital information technology. They measured “basic” and “comprehensive” EHR adoption among US hospitals and found that 80.5 percent of hospitals had at least a basic EHR system. Data breaches in the US healthcare field cost around six billion dollars annually. Even though the latest IBM Security/Ponemon Institute study found that, in the United States, healthcare data breach costs are higher than any other industry sector, the average cost per record is decreasing. The average data breach cost per record in the healthcare industry was 380 dollars in 2017, down from 402 dollars the year before.

Amtelco-medical records

Nicole Limpert is the marketing content writer for Amtelco and their 1Call Healthcare Division. Amtelco is a leading provider of innovative communication applications. 1Call develops software solutions and applications designed for the specific needs of healthcare organizations.

Telemarketing Appointment Setting Best Practices: Part 3



By Angela Garfinkel

In Part 1 of “Telemarketing Appointment Setting Best Practices,” we discussed how to maximize the appointment kept rate when conducting telemarketing appointment setting. In addition, we introduced the six primary components of a successful telemarketing appointment setting program.

In Part 2, we discussed how to write an effective script that delivers a powerful nutshell message with a clear WIIFM (What’s In It for Me?).

All outbound telemarketing appointment setting professionals know that the third key component of success is the list you’re calling. In Part 3 of this series on telemarketing appointment setting, I’ll share my experience with curating the best outbound call list. Because my primary list purchase experience is in B2B appointment setting, I’ll focus there.

Because NAICS is more specific than SIC codes, we prefer to purchase outbound telemarketing call lists using NAICS. Click To Tweet

What Makes a Good List?

How do you identify what list to purchase? If you already have existing customers for your product or service, start by identifying what characteristics make up your best ones. Pinpointing your best customers and their similar characteristics become your criteria for purchasing prospect data from which to make outbound telemarketing appointment setting calls.

In the US there are about fifteen million businesses. There are many different list companies that will sell you business data, but knowing which segment(s) of the fifteen million businesses you should target is critical.

Here are some common B2B list selection variables:

• SIC (Standard Industrial Classification)
• NAICS (North American Industry Classification System)
• Revenues
• Number of employees
• Geography, typically by Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA)
• Type of location (single, headquarters, branch)
• Credit rating
• Holding status (private, public)

Because NAICS is more specific than SIC codes, we prefer to purchase outbound telemarketing call lists using NAICS. This allows us to narrow the list to ensure we aren’t purchasing data that isn’t applicable for a client. For example, a travel solutions client is looking for businesses that have employees who travel. One of our good segments is construction. The NAICS code for construction starts with 23. We know that purchasing all available data with a NAICS code that starts with 23 is a waste of money. By narrowing it down to the type of construction, we can get better results. Single family home construction companies (NAICS 236115) don’t tend to have employees who travel. Specialized large project construction companies (such as NAICS 236210) tend to have employees who do travel. They go where the work is because large projects often aren’t in the geographic region where the construction company is located. This is just one example.

Create a Model, Validate, and Test

Once you’ve identified your best customers, purchased a list of more prospects that have the same characteristics as your best customers (called a look-alike model), then start placing calls. As you get call result data (disposition data) from the outbound B2B telemarketing appointment setting campaign, feed the results back to your data scientists to validate the model. Then tweak the model based on real performance.

Expertise Is Invaluable

Depending on the size of your company, it may even make sense to hire a list analyst to work full-time on developing your prospecting list. The alternative is relying on account reps from the list companies you purchase from. Their experience can be varied, and their ambition of selling you a larger list doesn’t necessarily align with your objective of buying just enough of the right list to achieve your goals.

If you could increase your telemarketing appointment set percentage by even a small amount, what would that be worth to you? List acquisition is a specialized field, and the options are varied. As a rule of thumb, we like to purchase data from compiled resources such as D&B, InfoUSA, and Accudata. Knowing who you want to target with your calling effort, knowing the results of the calls, and tracking performance by list segment will help drive smarter list acquisition efforts.

Angela Garfinkel is the president and founder of Quality Contact Solutions (https://qualitycontactsolutions.com), a leading outsourced telemarketing services organization serving the healthcare, financial services, automotive, market research, professional associations, and other B2B focused verticals. Angela leads a talented team that runs thousands of outbound telemarketing program hours daily. She is also a certified Self-Regulatory Organization (SRO) auditor with the Professional Association for Customer Engagement, and she is a designated Customer Engagement Compliance Professional (CECP). Contact Angela at angela.garfinkel@qualitycontactsolutions.com or 516-656-5118.

Maximize the Impact of Your Profit per Sale



Make Sure You’re Dedicating Your Resources to the Right Clients

By Jill J. Johnson, MBA

Few enterprises truly understand the actual profits generated by the individual sales they make. Most metrics for sales effectiveness are monitored by reviewing top-line revenue results. Yet the most critical determinant of ongoing business viability is understanding what revenue drops to the bottom line after all costs have been considered. You must understand what profit is generated by sales to each of your clients. Then consider the benefits and vulnerabilities the cumulative impact these sales mean to your business. Knowing the breakdown of profitability by individual sales to your clients can have a significant impact on your ability to achieve your business goals.

1. Understand the Impact of Profit per Sale

Many expenses go into determining profitability for a company. The same is true for determining the profitability of a sale. Each sale has multiple components impacting its final profit. You should consider your total cost of goods sold, including investments in promotion and delivery expenses. Factoring in the costs associated with the staff time required to generate a sale is also necessary. Unfortunately, few companies consider all these expenses when developing their marketing and sales strategies. Whether you are working on growing your business or struggling financially, the impact of the true profits generated by each individual sale takes on greater importance.

You may get clients who keep you busy but do not generate the profits you need to build a sustainable enterprise or increase your net worth. Click To Tweet

2. Know Your Profit per Client

Frankly, not all clients are worth the effort to generate a sale. Sometimes the growth goals you’ve set for your business mean that you are growing beyond clients you have historically served. This transition period is a vulnerable point for any enterprise. It is also stressful because you might be wrong and wind up losing a client that could have provided even revenue value if you had not been afraid to maximize your relationship.

Carefully study the costs associated with serving each client. Perhaps you have long-term clients you like personally, but if you have not taken the time to explore the costs of the sale, their value to your business may have changed dramatically over the years. Before abandoning these clients, try to identify options to trim your expenses without jeopardizing your quality. But it may be time to move on if they are not generating any real profit to your company.

3. Review Your Customer Segments Revenue

Using a target-marketing approach to group your customers into similar client segments provides you with a more detailed understanding of what is working and what is not. The key to effective target marketing is focusing your sales activities and expenditures toward those type of customers your enterprise can best serve as well as those who will stay with you over the long-term and generate solid profitability. 

4. Evaluate Individual Sales Profitability

There are two ways of looking at your sales profitability data. One is by the individual client. The other is by combining clients using some specific target-marketing components. Grouping clients by similar characteristics makes it easier to identify trends in the data that you can use to assess the profitability of each of these major segments.

There are many options for grouping your customers into segments. For a B2B client, you could group them by industry sector, number of employees, location, and so forth. For a B2C customer, you could group them by where they live, personal attitudes, age, family size, or income level.

If Client Segment A generates solid profits for you, but all your marketing efforts go to Client Segment B which is barely break-even, the choice is obvious. You must retool your marketing and sales activity to attract more prospects from Client Segment A.

5. Monitor Individual Client Profitability

A complete review of the mix of your customers and sources of sales will reveal your potential vulnerabilities if market conditions change. It is not enough in today’s complex and competitive marketplace to look only at your total overall sales. If you have one customer that generates more than one-third of your sales, you are in an extremely vulnerable position if you lose that client to a merger or change of staff—or if it goes out of business. Controlling and monitoring client profitability and cost of sales allows you to take corrective action before your business’ survival is at risk. This takes on even greater importance if you are overly dependent on key clients for your profitability.

6. The Impact of Pricing on Profitability

A close companion to client profitability is understanding the impact of various pricing strategies on the perceived value of your goods and services and how they intertwine when attracting customers who will buy from you. Engaging in discounted pricing strategies often attracts customers who buy from you based on price, not value. If you are in a service-oriented business, this can be a slippery slope. You may get clients who keep you busy but do not generate the profits you need to build a sustainable enterprise or increase your net worth. It is a delicate balancing act, but one you must realistically consider given your business objectives.

7. The Impact of Strategy on Profits

You must also consider the financial consequences of your business direction and your vulnerability to setbacks. This assessment allows you to make better business decisions and set a more realistic strategic vision for your organization. Picking your niche through target marketing must also incorporate a true understanding of the costs of reaching them, as well as their ability to add to your bottom line in a meaningful way.

Final Thoughts

Reviewing the trend information for each of your major client segments is a highly impactful approach to evaluating the effectiveness of your sales and marketing efforts. It removes your emotions and the relationships with your clients to allow you to be more detached in considering your clients’ impact on meeting your business objectives. They are no longer just people you like—they become part of a bigger grouping of customer segments that impact your future costs and business growth. If you are not attracting the kinds of clients generating the profitability to move your enterprise forward, it is time to reconsider all your sales and marketing efforts.

Jill J. Johnson is the president and founder of Johnson Consulting Services, a highly accomplished speaker, an award-winning management consultant, and author of the bestselling book Compounding Your Confidence. Jill helps her clients make critical business decisions and develop market-based strategic plans for turnarounds or growth. Her consulting work has impacted more than four billion dollars’ worth of decisions. She has a proven track record of dealing with complex business issues and getting results. For more information on Jill J. Johnson, please visit www.jcs-usa.com.

Marketing and Sales Integration: Optimizing Your Business



By Adam Mergist

With the rise of the internet and streamlined conversion paths provided by megabrands such as Amazon, consumers expect more from every company they interact with. These higher expectations start at the very first communication—whether that interaction is via email, phone, or some other channel. According to Forbes contributor Stan Phelps, “76 percent of customers expect organizations to understand their individual needs,” while 81 percent demand “improved response time,” and 68 percent “anticipate organizations will harmonize consumer experiences.”

Those are high expectations for every part of the customer journey, from marketing to customer service. Such a demand poses an important question: How do companies meet such lofty expectations on a consistent basis?

The best place to start is with corporate integration. Here are four reasons you should take your company to the next level by integrating your sales and marketing data.

Better Cater to Consumers

The most dominant company in the world, Amazon, has set the customer service bar higher for every company. As an accounting of Amazon’s success, founder Jeff Bezos says, “We’re not competitor obsessed; we’re customer obsessed. We start with the customer, and we work backwards.” That’s an easy thing for the world’s richest person to say; what’s harder is backing it up. To follow through on Bezos’ big words, Amazon works to learn what a consumer wants before even the consumer knows for sure.

To get on Amazon’s level, you, too, need to anticipate your consumers’ needs. The best way to do that is to learn as much about them as possible. Integrating your sales and marketing data is the first step in gathering the customer knowledge you need.

A marketing team’s goal is to attract potential customers while retaining existing ones. Through a variety of marketing tactics, marketing teams gain information and learn about their customers. A sales team hopes to take those intrigued customers and begin a dialogue that will convert them to paying consumers. During this process they also gain insights and information about their customer base.

Each group, through their work, has an opportunity to learn about their customers’ buying habits from different perspectives. Compiling this valuable customer information from a sales perspective helps marketing teams—and vice versa. And the numbers back it up; according to MarketingProfs, “Organizations with tightly aligned sales and marketing had 36 percent higher customer retention rates and achieved 38 percent higher sales win rates than their competitors.”

Only 37 percent of companies characterize their marketing approach as “somewhat advanced". Click To Tweet

Reduce Marketing Spending

Sharing consumer information between sales and marketing teams is step one in improving your overall sales. To take your sales and marketing data to the next level, pool it and turn it into advanced analytics. Too many companies think the answer to improved sales is upping their marketing budget. Smart companies take the information they already have and put it to better use.

That’s no pipe dream either. According to a McKinsey review of over four hundred organizations of different types and locations, “An integrated analytics approach can free up some 15 to 20 percent of marketing spending. Worldwide, that equates to as much as 200 billion dollars that can be reinvested by companies or drop straight to the bottom line.” The key to creating an effective advanced analytics model is having the right mix of marketing and sales data.

Improve Communication

In most organizations, the marketing department oversees generating leads before passing them on to sales to seal the deal. Other approaches, such as account-based marketing, focus on removing silos for better communication and an improved customer experience.

Instead of two silos of people working independently to make a sale to a single consumer, sales and marketing teams get together, share their data, and create a marketing campaign based on that collaboration. This helps both teams stay on message and most importantly, on the same page. Increasingly B2B companies are taking this approach but it is still vastly underutilized. If you want to pull ahead of your competition, try this tactic.

Get Ahead of the Curve

Despite the effectiveness of the varied approaches we have laid out thus far, many organizations have yet to take the data-sharing plunge. Data sharing and data strategy are the future of marketing and sales. According to Radius and Harvard Business Review, “Sixty-three percent of B2B marketers say data and analytics will be very influential on marketing activities within the next two years.”

Despite the overwhelming proof of the efficacy of this type of integration, only 37 percent of companies characterize their marketing approach as “somewhat advanced.” The trend of advanced strategic marketing is only becoming more prevalent as companies see the numerous benefits. If you start integrating now, you can get ahead of the curve.

Consumers continue to expect more from organizations, and businesses must make changes to meet those expectations. Organizations must learn about their customers and anticipate their needs. The companies that make the customer journey as enjoyable, intuitive, and efficient as possible will be the most successful. Integrating the data from your sales and marketing teams is the best way to reach that goal.

Adam Mergist is a chief operating officer and president of Home Services at Clearlink, an award-winning digital marketing, sales, and technology company and a trusted partner for Fortune 500 companies since 2003.

Innovation Enhances the Cloud-Based Contact Center Infrastructure Market



By Donna Fluss

The past year was excellent for the cloud-based contact center infrastructure (CBCCI) market. DMG had projected that the market would grow by 22 percent in 2017, and the actual growth rate was 25.4 percent. Most of the sales were to existing contact centers whose management made the decision to migrate to the cloud. The introduction of contact center platforms from companies such as Amazon and Twilio also contributed to the growth of the market.

DMG remains bullish on this IT market, particularly now that we see some of the larger contact centers either moving to the cloud (albeit not all their seats at once) or considering a move. DMG expects the market to grow at a minimum of 23 percent in 2019 and 2020, and 21 percent in 2021 and 2022.

Robotic process automation (RPA) is another valuable tool, relieving contact center agents of repetitive, noncognitive tasks, including the time-consuming processes required for compliance with two-factor authentication. Click To Tweet

Adoption Rate for the CBCCI Segment

The adoption rate of the cloud-based contact center infrastructure market as of the end of 2017 was 14.1 percent. This includes hosted and software as a service (SaaS), up from 11.4 percent at the end of 2016. Assuming an average cost per seat of 125 dollars per month, this is already a 4.1 billion dollars market. The amount of 125 dollars per seat per month takes into consideration implementation, professional services, and add-ons such as WFO.

Differentiation Drives the Market Forward

CBCCI vendors have begun to differentiate themselves with innovative routing capabilities that can optimize the outcome of each interaction. Incoming transactions in any channel can be evaluated and directed to the agent or advisor ideally suited to handle the issue. The result is higher sales rates, larger collections, and greatly improved customer service.

At the same time, this enhances productivity, as inbound agents benefit from guidance and recommendations on handling transactions as they occur, without having to spend as much time researching the customer’s background and the context of the inquiry. The solutions also help organizations comply with various governmental regulations for required disclosures and prohibited activities during agents’ conversations with customers.

Artificial Intelligence Enhances Contact Centers

Artificial intelligence (AI) is having a profound effect on the CBCCI market. Customers show a preference for self-service, and AI-enabled intelligent virtual agents (IVAs) are playing a vital role in addressing the self-service challenge. IVAs can automatically verify callers and allow customers to ask questions in their own words. IVAs also support seamless migration from one channel to another and provide agents with information from diverse online sources to optimize and personalize each interaction and make the most of each sales opportunity.

Robotic process automation (RPA) is another valuable tool, relieving contact center agents of repetitive, noncognitive tasks, including the time-consuming processes required for compliance with two-factor authentication. This gives agents more time to spend on resolving customers’ issues, enhancing their job satisfaction as well as customer experience.

Contact Center Infrastructure Platforms Are Game Changers

Contact center infrastructure platform vendors are having a positive and disruptive impact on the CBCCI market. The new paradigm of “platform as a service” allows for the quick creation and deployment of customized solutions. Application programming interfaces (APIs) facilitate the build-out of functional capabilities rapidly and easily.

What’s Next?

The advantages of hosted/SaaS applications in the cloud are no longer the sole value proposition for buying a CBCCI solution. The CBCCI solutions are compelling because vendors are delivering outstanding and differentiated capabilities, either natively, by acquisition, or through integrations with best-of-breed providers.

During 2019, more contact center systems will incorporate AI, machine learning, and natural language understanding and processing (NLU/NLP). This will present companies with an opportunity to vastly improve their performance and gain insights into customer needs. The use of robotic process automation (RPA) and IVAs will enhance the customer and agent experience. The next few years will be exciting as market innovation enables companies to start delivering the personalized service their customers expect.

Donna Fluss is president of DMG Consulting LLC. For more than two decades, she has helped to emerge and established companies develop and deliver outstanding customer experiences. A recognized visionary, author, and speaker, Donna drives strategic transformation and innovation throughout the services industry. She provides strategic and practical counsel for enterprises, solution providers, and the investment community.

Four Reasons Every Professional Should Have a Personal Development Strategic Plan



By Tra Williams

If you are serious about growing your business, everyone on your team needs a strategic plan for their own development that is separate from and exceeds the company’s current needs. Here’s why:

Every year millions of business leaders spend days, if not weeks, collaborating with their peers to develop a strategic plan for their company to execute. They set goals, outline tactics, and cascade information to all levels of the organization. If done properly, each department and each person will understand their role in the plan, and throughout the twelve months that follow, everyone will strive to do their part.

If you are serious about growing your business, it is important that each person on your team develop their own plan. It should not include additional expectations prescribed by the company. Click To Tweet

However, in doing so, they hitch their personal development wagon to the company star.

Without a separate strategic plan for themselves as individuals, they unwittingly limit their development to the skills required to achieve the goals of their employer. Most don’t realize the limitation because their employer usually acknowledges and rewards them for their efforts. Therefore, their development feels like an accomplishment, not a limitation. But here are four reasons why the company-prescribed linear path isn’t enough for either the individual or the company.

1. White Space

Great companies build growth strategies around the opportunities their existing infrastructure affords them. If every team member develops only in ways and at the pace their employer’s goals require, this limits the organization’s growth to the plans for that year. However, if team members develop with their own momentum, unplanned opportunities can be immediately seized. There are no crystal balls, so growth-focused organizations need untapped talent on their bench if they want the corporate agility that unplanned opportunities require.

2. Stronger Partnerships

When contemplating potential business partnerships or joint ventures, due diligence should (and usually does) include an asset assessment—and people are every company’s most valuable asset. The nature of new partnerships means growth and change. Both sides of the equation want to know that the other side has the existing talent the venture requires.

3. Marketability

Individuals are more marketable when their skill set advances with its own momentum. Fortunately, these individuals also add marketability to the company itself. Most business owners have an exit strategy that usually involves a merger, an acquisition, or going public. All three require an investment from outside the company.

Investors always expect growth in addition to a return on their investment. Potential shareholders may not examine employee development prior to buying Apple or Amazon stock, but venture capitalists look for companies that have growth opportunities and a talent pool to turn those opportunities into profits. Untapped talent means additional revenue opportunities, and that’s like ringing the dinner bell for hungry investors.

4. Succession

Succession planning is always a fickle challenge. As businesses mature, so does their leadership. Often, members of the existing executive leadership team are close in age. When they begin to hit the retirement horizon, a difficult choice arises: promote from within or hire from without.

Hiring externally is always a gamble, and studies show it is more cost-effective to develop your own leaders. A study by the Wharton School of Business showed that hiring externally costs 18 to 20 percent more than promoting from within and performs worse—at least in the first two years. A Harvard study showed that replacing a CEO with an external candidate results in an average performance drop of 6 percent. New faces come with unknown consequences, and culture is binary. Someone may look good on paper, but a C-Level exec who is culturally inconsistent with the company can have catastrophic consequences, especially in smaller organizations.

If you are serious about growing your business, it is important that each person on your team develop their own plan. It should not include additional expectations prescribed by the company.

However, the company should set parameters for what is in each person’s plan. For instance, every person’s plan should include both hard and soft skills. At least one of their personal development goals should be a hard skill that is unrelated to their current duties. The plan should also include short-term and long-term development goals. With enough practice, it may only take a few months to become a better public speaker, but it may take years to speak another language. And finally, every person’s plan should include at least one goal that builds upon his or her previous plan. While not too prescriptive, parameters like these assure development breadth and depth.

Conclusion

We spend a lot of time developing plans for our businesses. And to be fair, most of us work hard to facilitate people development as well. There is a difference, however, between working hard to facilitate something and having a strategic plan that includes tangible tactics and measurable outcomes. The former shows that you care about your people. The latter shows that you recognize personal development is the lynchpin for success.

Tra Williams is a celebrated speaker, business consultant, and author of the forthcoming book Feed Your Unicorn. He is a nationally recognized thought leader in small business, franchising, leadership, and entrepreneurship. Tra works tirelessly with people, professionals, and organizations to help them define success on their own terms and build the framework required to sustain it. For more information, please visit www.TraWilliams.com.

Channel Surf to Enhance Your Customer’s Journey



Call Centers That Switch between Multiple Channels Enhance Customer Experiences

By Steve Newell

Changing trends to the contact center arena is a response to changes in consumer behavior and not solely the result of changing business strategies. Today’s customers are increasingly savvier about using various digital channels for their day-to-day communication.

Consider the following everyday scenarios where people use multiple channels to communicate:

  • Dad calls his son on his cell. It rings and goes to voicemail. He sends a quick text and gets a reply text immediately.
  • Mom WhatsApps her daughter on vacation overseas. The daughter responds to Mom and then initiates a FaceTime session, both successfully navigating around long-distance tariffs.
  • Dad texts Mom about weekend plans, and they go back and forth discussing various options, sending web pages, and reading reviews. Finally, Dad simply calls Mom to finalize plans.

In each case, these individuals are seamlessly surfing between communication channels, even within the same engagement. So why is it that analysts have determined contact center traffic is still 80 percent voice and email, while only 20 percent of traffic flows through all the other channels (social media, video, chat, Facebook Messenger, etc.) combined?

Surely customers are able and eager to move beyond simply voice and email. Call centers and agents that are able to surf multiple channels alongside their customers and offer “one call, one agent” resolution will truly enhance their customers’ journeys.

Why Do I Need to Provide and Staff Multiple Channels?

Let’s look at those three common scenarios more closely to see how offering many different channels can empower your customers and enhance their experience with your team.

Contact centers will need the ability to cover all the main communication channels because conversations will increasingly move from one channel to another as the engagement deepens Click To Tweet

Chat

When Dad calls his son, the son doesn’t answer, but when Dad texts him, he texts right back. The son is saying, “I don’t want to talk. I want to control this conversation.” As exasperating as that might be for Dad, it’s important to realize that the son is going to comprise the bulk of your customers in the future, and that is how they want to engage.

Though voice calls aren’t at risk of going extinct anytime soon, millennials—who make up an overwhelmingly vast percentage of the mobile phone market—prefer not to have to speak on the phone. To be more exact, they would rather text. According to OpenMarket (May 5, 2016), when given the choice between being able only to text versus call on their mobile phone, a whopping 75 percent of millennials chose texting over talking.

Our goal is to make it easier for our customers to connect with us how and when they want, and chat offers a familiar and comfortable option.

Video

Mom WhatsApps her daughter, and they end up switching channels to have a video call. Why? It is strategic: “I don’t want to pay for an overseas call, especially on a cell phone,” but it’s also emotional. Mom misses her daughter and wants more than a voice connection. She wants to see her. In your contact center, there will be times when the people you serve will want the connection that a video call provides. Video is great when you don’t want to travel, such as for telehealth, or when a picture just won’t do, such as video of car damage after an accident.

“Video chat provides customers with a richer sense of presence, personalized experience helped by coordination of communication and the support of emotional expression, and the real-time sharing of content,” stated Brian Manusama, research director at Gartner. 

It is telling when global business leaders recognize that adding the video component to their services is necessary to provide a more meaningful and personal customer experience.

Voice

In the third scenario, Mom and Dad exchange text messages and website addresses, but in the end, they need to talk to get final resolution. It is empowering for a client to fully control their engagement by surfing a website (no agent engagement), asking questions on the webchat portal (partial agent engagement), and finally picking up the phone to speak with the same live agent to get questions answered and complete the transaction (full agent engagement). There will always be a significant role for voice in the contact center, and combining voice with other channels increases its effectiveness and improves the customer experience.

What Kind of Technology Will I Need?

Contact centers will need the ability to cover all the main communication channels (voice, video, webchat, text, SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and so forth) because conversations will increasingly move from one channel to another as the engagement deepens. It is also important to be able to view all these channels inside a single portal so the agent can surf from one channel to another seamlessly, just as the customer does.

Can a Single Agent Handle All These Channels?

With a single view of all these channels, yes. Clients get frustrated when they are handed from agent to agent, having to explain and re-explain their situation to different people, all the while wondering if each channel transition loses significant details. Offering a “one call, one agent” resolution provides an excellent experience for your customers.

Clearly, the way we communicate with each other is evolving rapidly, and all these new, additional channels offer great opportunities to enhance the customer experience. Our challenge is to combine thoughtful planning, intelligent technology, and constant training to deliver exceptional service for our customers.

Steve Newell is a telecommunications veteran of over twenty years, including eleven years in the telephone answering service software field. He currently serves as regional sales director for Cirrus Response, a premier developer of contact center solutions specializing in omnichannel, AI, and translation software.