Category Archives: Articles

Appointment Setting Versus Lead Generation


By Shaun Thompson

Appointment setting and lead generation are both strategic business options that most companies employ to accelerate their sales, but they’re often commonly misunderstood. The question is, what sets these two apart?

Generating Leads with Lead Generation

B2B sales lead generation starts your sales process. It’s the initial step towards making a sale that involves sparking consumer interest and swaying them to be open to consider your products or services. Concisely, lead generation is all about captivating consumers’ interests, especially those within your target market and industry.

Outbound sales lead generation is also about generating leads. Lead generation has three types of leads: nurturing leads, qualified leads, and unqualified leads.

  • Nurturing leads refer to customers who’ve shown interest in your products and services but aren’t ready to make a purchase. Nourish customers who fall under this aspect by staying connected with consistent follow-ups and providing product information until they are ready to make a purchase.
  • Qualified leads are ideal. These are the types of leads that belong to your target market, are interested in your products and services, and are ready to purchase at any moment.
  • Unqualified leads are those who are not interested at all in your products or services, and they don’t belong in the spectrum of your target audience.

The primary goal of lead generation is to generate and keep your sales pipeline filled with qualified leads. A good flow of leads in your pipeline creates a chance of boosting sales.

Leads may come from various sources such as search engine optimization (SEO), content marketing, and digital ads. But one of the leading practices in conducting effective lead generation is telemarketing. B2B telemarketing lead generation is discovering leads through cold calling. Marketing executives reach out directly to prospects to stir and capture their interests.

Telemarketing lead generation has several benefits.

  • A Proven and Tested Method: Some say cold calling is dead. Yet research shows that telemarketing is still an effective medium in lead generation. In a study by Rain Group, 57 precent of C-level executives say that they value information provided by marketing executives over the phone.
  • Helps You Better Align with Leads: Since telemarketing is direct in terms of approach, it’s easier to understand your prospects. Hence, you’ll have a better idea of how best to capture and nourish their interests.
  • Targets Your Ideal Market: Telemarketing lead generation is a personal approach. It can ensure that your appointment setters target your ideal audience, unlike other strategies that use scattergun approaches.

Securing Meetings Through B2B Appointment Setting

Appointment setting comes after lead generation. B2B appointment setting refers to the act of calling qualified leads, specifically key decision-makers, to schedule appointments with them. Appointment setting, in general, picks up the generated leads from the lead generation process for possible appointments. More appointments booked translate to more sales.

As much as lead generation is an essential aspect of the sales process, appointment setting also plays a vital role. Appointment setting opens the door for sales opportunities through scheduled meetings where sales teams can conduct their sales pitches to sway and convince key decision-makers to make a purchase.

While it may look easy to schedule appointments, appointment setting is tedious work. It needs a certain level of trust, rapport, and consistency.

Telemarketing appointment setting also has benefits.

  • Measurable Results: Unlike other sales approaches, appointment setting is immediate. Therefore, it’s easier to measure if your number of scheduled appointments is increasing.
  • Marketing Pipeline: An appointment setting requires a high volume of calls to create higher chances of scheduling appointments. Those calls are also marketing opportunities that can help increase brand awareness and get your brand recognized and noticed in the market.
  • Relationship Building: Appointment setting builds on human connection. The presence of the human element makes relationship-building easier, which later helps in influencing buying decisions. A good relationship level also contributes to building trust, which is a key factor during negotiations and in obtaining referrals.

Lead Generation Versus Appointment Setting

Appointment setting lead generation works together and is an essential strategy employed in your sales and marketing mix. Nourish and generate qualified leads through lead generation. Meanwhile, translate these leads into appointments through appointment setting. Lead generation can occur without an appointment setting campaign. However, it’s best if these two work alongside each other to maximize results and accelerate sales.

Executing appointment setting lead generation campaigns is vital in achieving your sales target. To manage these two campaigns effectively requires experience and expertise.

While you can execute these in-house, partnering with appointment setting lead generation companies is an option, especially if you’re looking to generate fast results and achieve your goals promptly. Why? These companies can help you create strategies aligned with your business. They also have a well-trained staff, necessary technology, and experience to help you get the results you seek.

Shaun Thompson is a director of Telemarketing Professionals, an organization of leading industry specialists in marketing within the lead generation and appointment setting space. Learn more about appointment setting lead generation and other telemarketing services at telemarketingprofessionals.com.au.

Why Customers Want an Omnichannel Experience

By Megan Hottman

We all know that providing an excellent customer experience is vital for business success. Customers expect interactions with your company to be fluid and singular, referred to as an omnichannel experience. 

HubSpot defines omnichannel as a lead nurturing and user engagement approach in which a company gives access to its products, offers, and support services to customers or prospects on all channels, platforms, and devices. Omnichannel starts with being present everywhere your customers are so that they have no trouble interacting with you through a convenient means. 

Why Is an Omnichannel Experience Important to Your Customers?

The point of an omnichannel strategy is to provide customers with seamless interactions across all channels, which will make them feel like there’s no disconnection when interacting with your brand—no matter where or how they reach out.

I remember this past summer when I was buying a ticket from an airline. My preference is to purchase tickets online, which I usually do. However, for some unknown reason to this day, their “system” would not allow me to apply a previous unused credit towards the cost of the new ticket. I’ve used credits on my own before without incident.

I immediately clicked around to find their online chat function, only to discover that it was out of commission, along with their email option. Frustrating.

As a result, I had to call the airline. After holding for 3 hours and 52 minutes (yes, that’s right, holding because their call back function was inoperable at this time), an agent finally answered my call. 

No one has that kind of time to spend waiting on hold. The ability to engage with the airline in the way I preferred and expected to, wasn’t available. We’ve all been there. We’ve all had the same experience. Think of your customers’ experience with your brand. 

Omnichannel Experience Provides Choices and Drives Loyalty

Customers should be able to engage with a business through their preferred channel and when they want. Providing options like text, in-app chat, email, phone, live chat, or social media enables customers to access whatever they want or need whenever they want or need it. Let customers choose how they’d prefer to engage. Give them options. 

A fluid experience gives customers a deeper connection with the brandboosting customer loyalty. But, of course, everyone knows that keeping existing customers is always easier and less expensive than attracting new customers.

Increase Customer Satisfaction and Builds Relationships

An omnichannel experience targets making consumers’ lives easier from start to finish, ironing out any friction they may face while engaging with a brand.

Providing a quality experience is vital and can make or break customer relationships. All it takes is one terrible experience or a few small repeat bad interactions for a customer to stop using your services or buying your products. 

Omnichannel communication strategies ensure a consistent experience that helps customers understand what to expect with your brand. As a result, customer satisfaction increases as they come to know the quality of service your brand delivers.

It’s Convenient

Consumers want convenience, and many companies have found ways to meet their wants by providing an omnichannel experience.

We can order coffee on an app and pick it up in person, skipping any potential lines. Consumers can do the same with groceries, clothes, and more. These examples illustrate the convenience an omnichannel experience provides today.

An omnichannel experience can be the secret sauce to earning your customer’s loyalty, whether a start-up or a market leader. 

Give Your Customers an Omnichannel Experience

A fluid omnichannel experience is critical to satisfying customers, driving loyalty, and building long-term relationships. Customers want their experience to be seamless, convenient, and personalized, and they’re willing to go out of their way to find it.

Megan Hottmanis the copywriter and editor for Quality Contact Solutions. Megan’s experience includes working as an outbound telemarketing manager for a Fortune 100 company for many years. Megan has been both a client and an employee of QCS, so she knows first-hand the quality, productivity, and passion the team brings to work each day. Reach Megan at megan@qualitycontactsolutions.com or 516-656-5120.

The Next Act for Contact Center Transformation

By Donna Fluss

The contact center world is in the early days of a true metamorphosis, one that is going to impact all aspects of these service departments: people, process, and technology. Driven by elevated customer and employee expectations, technical innovation, artificial intelligence (AI), increasing globalization and scale, operational opportunities, and the cloud, contact center executives are rethinking their strategies and reimagining the future of these essential customer-facing departments. 

DMG expects contact centers to undergo wholesale changes that position them to deliver a proactive and personalized service experience to an increasingly demanding customer base. Contact centers need to undergo the following transformations to position themselves to enhance the brand they represent:

From Cost Center to Profit Center

Sales and collections departments are profit centers, as their primary function is revenue generation. Customer service departments, even if they do not perform up-sell and cross-sell, should also be viewed as profit centers, as an essential aspect of their job is to build strong and “sticky” customer relationships. 

From Phone Center to Omni-Channel Contact Center

While a surprisingly substantial number of contact centers continue to support only voice interactions (which means they are still call centers), the pandemic accelerated the adoption of digital channels (minimally, email and chat). Unfortunately, too many contact centers added new channels without integrating them with each other or the existing voice-based activities. 

This means each channel is independent, so an agent that helps a customer in one channel cannot see what happened in another, obscuring the visibility into the customer journey and overall brand relationship. This approach makes it difficult for customers who want to use their preferred channel and pivot easily from one channel to another, if necessary (such as if they need to escalate to a live agent). It also makes it difficult, time consuming and costly for agents who must ask customers to repeat their entire story. 

Contact centers should be fully integrated omni-channel (voice and digital) servicing environments, where agents have a single desktop and customer relationship management (CRM) system to handle all inquiries and can pivot between channels as often as needed.

From the Title of Agent to Influencer or Customer Relationship Advocate

Agents perform an essential and often challenging function for their brand – they are the primary representatives of their company to the market. It’s a challenging job as customers are not always kind, and agents may not have access to all the information they need due to system or operational limitations. 

Companies need to approach every contact as a gift when a customer or prospect reaches out to them. The customer-facing resources in contact centers need intelligent automation and tools to deliver an outstanding and personalized experience to every individual in every interaction, and they deserve a title that better reflects their importance and contribution to the brand. 

From Blame Point to Chief Customer Officer: Contact centers clean up mistakes and problems originating upstream and downstream in companies. Because they must resolve a wide variety of issues, contact center employees know more about a company than the staff in almost any other department. 

An outstanding contact center leader will spend a sizable portion of their day working with other departments to address issues identified by customers or contact center analytics. As a result, these leaders know a great deal about what customers think about the company and what it will take to enhance their perception of the brand. 

For these reasons, a contact center leader is an ideal position to become a chief customer officer in their company.

From Basic Systems to AI-Enabled Applications

Many contact centers are still using outdated servicing and CRM systems and applications as their primary information sources. Instead, contact center influencers need AI-enabled solutions that give them a view into each customer’s issue or predict the customer’s intention in contacting their brand. 

These solutions should proactively deliver all relevant data and next-best-action recommendations to resolve the current situation and influence the customer in a positive manner to enhance the relationship.

Final Thoughts

Contact centers have operated in similar ways for most of the forty-five plus years they have been in existence. It’s well past time for change and transformation. Companies must make enhancements and investments, as a starting point, or find themselves with unhappy (and fewer) customers and challenged to find good candidates to staff their contact centers. 

While the required changes are significant and costly, they will position companies to fulfill their promise of delivering an outstanding customer experience, something most companies struggle to achieve today. 

Donna Fluss is president of DMG Consulting LLC. For more than two decades she has helped emerging 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. 

Look Forward to Embrace the New Year

Seek to Control Whatever You Can to Produce Optimum Outcomes

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

The last two years have been rough. And I’m ready to embrace the new year.

Though I hate to tap the too-often-stated label of unprecedented, it’s an apt description of what we’ve been through. Just as individuals have suffered, so too have the call centers that employ them and the customers they serve. 

For most operations, it’s harder than ever to find and retain good employees. In general, clients and callers are less patient and more demanding than ever before. And there’s inflation to worry about too—something that’s not been an issue for several decades—that will drive prices and wages higher.

Yet I’m optimistic. 

Not only do I want to be positive, but I must be. Though many subsist in the fog of ongoing shock, with a near-PTSD perspective, I’m excited about the opportunities I see. I’m looking forward to what the next twelve months will bring. 

Here’s why I’m ready to embrace the new year:

Battle Tested

Recent months have showed us what’s important. We’ve adjusted our perspective and adapted to changes that we didn’t want and had little control over. Though we miss what was, we now realize that some of that wasn’t so important, and we learned to accommodate our situation to pursue what really does matter in a new and fresh way.

This applies to both our personal lives and to our call center operations.

We’ve survived. We’re ready for whatever happens next and in whatever form it may take. We’ve proven to ourselves—and everyone else—that we can adjust. Using this as our foundation, we are ready to embrace the new year with confidence. 

Opportunities Abound

Some people, and some businesses, have hunkered down for the long haul, waiting for things to return to normal. Normal is nice, and I hope to one day fully realize it. But if normal never returns, I’m okay with that too. 

This is because the future holds opportunity. It’s for us to seize these opportunities and make the most of them. As the old saying goes, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

In the call center industry, for instance, we can bemoan labor shortages, scheduling nightmares, and the upward pressure of wages, or we can seize it as an opportunity to shift into a new perspective, an enlightened mindset. Of course, I don’t have an example to share—at least not yet—but you get the point.

Shift from a problem mindset to an opportunity perspective so you can best embrace the new year.

We’re Only Limited by Ourselves

Walt Kelly’s comic strip Pogo gave us the classic line “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Though Kelly originally referred to pollution, the sentiment has broad applications. This includes our personal life and our call center operations. We can be our own worst enemy, limiting what we think, what we accomplish, and what we aspire to. Or with a shift in our outlook towards the possibilities before us, we can think, accomplish, and aspire to much. We’re only limited by ourselves.

Moving Forward

Though I haven’t provided actionable recommendations, I do hope I’ve offered encouragement to step into and embrace the new year with an enlightened, optimistic perspective that you have the potential to make it an amazing year for yourself, your family, and your work. Your call center employees, clients, and customers will appreciate your efforts.

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.

Telemarketing Laws: An Auditors Perspective


By Rich Hamilton

Over the years, as a PACE Customer Engagement Compliance Professional (CECP), I have audited dozens of companies for their compliance with telemarketing laws. As you may be aware, the landscape of telemarketing laws can be very complex, with federal regulations written by the FCC and FTC along with considerations for state-specific requirements. 

Since these laws are ever-changing, keeping up can be a daunting task. I want to share some observations working with many different companies. Here’s the good, bad, and ugly with telemarketing laws.

The Good with Telemarketing Laws

DNC Telemarketing Laws

The good news is that most companies have a good handle with specific areas of telemarketing laws. One of those areas is Do Not Call (DNC) compliance. Since its inception in 2003, the Do Not Call Registry and the set of rules associated with it has been a big focus for most companies making outbound dials.

Calling a person on the DNC list is a quick way to generate a complaint to the FTC, which no company wants to have happen. As a result, most companies have spent the time to make sure the proper scrubbing takes place with Federal and State DNC lists.

Knowing how to place a person on a DNC list is essential, so companies also make sure they have a solid DNC policy and training that ensures all employees understand what to do and how to do it. 

Robocalls 

The other area that generates the most complaints to the FTC is robocalls. Consumers hate robocalls. Consumers don’t want to receive a random robocall, especially from a company they have never heard of, especially if the consumer can’t figure out how to get themselves removed from future dialing. 

The companies that I have audited have done a great job analyzing the telemarketing campaigns they will be dialing and only using robocalling technology when appropriate. In many cases, companies avoid robocalling because of the negative response that consumers could have and the complaints that could follow. 

The Bad with Telemarketing Laws

Prior Express Written Consent

There are a few areas that companies seem to struggle with regarding telemarketing laws. One of the first areas is gathering the proper level of consent from a lead/consumer.

To make a sales call to a wireless or VoIP phone number using an automatically determined dialing sequence (ATDS) requires prior express written consent (PEWC). However, what does the consent language need to contain, and how should it appear on the page?

Unfortunately, from my audits, it is apparent that many companies don’t know how to answer these questions fully. As a result, calling someone without the proper level of consent can be very risky. 

It’s also worth noting that consumers are expecting more these days to control what kinds of calls (as well as emails and texts) they receive from a company. Giving consumers options on how they can be communicated with for assorted reasons and capturing the right level of consent is vital to avoid complaints.

State Specific Telemarketing Laws

The other area that I have found that seems to be overlooked by companies I have audited is the state-specific requirements, from state registration to script disclosures to permissible call times. 

Most companies understand telemarketing laws from a federal level. Still, when asked about compliance at the state level, many have not taken the time to review the laws and exemptions for each state. This can be very time-consuming but also especially important to stay compliant. 

Compliance Auditing

The other area that surprises me the most is the lack of a robust compliance auditing program. Granted, this is not necessarily a telemarketing law but more like a best practice. 

With all the time and energy put into writing policies, procedures, and training around telemarketing laws, you would think that there would also be a method in place to make sure that everyone is following it. But unfortunately, this is not always the case. 

Setting up a reoccurring time to review all policies and procedures and to review exception reports often to adjust as needed can save your company from making mistakes that can cost some serious money in fines and litigation. 

The Ugly with Telemarketing Laws

Risky Business

This brings me to my last point: it can be risky if companies don’t take telemarketing laws seriously. The most significant risk, of course, is the loss of money due to fines or litigation. A quick Google search will show many instances where a company didn’t make calls with PEWC and received millions of dollars in fines.

For many companies, this would put them out of business. How frustrating it would be to have a great company providing an excellent product or service that then must close the company’s doors after overlooking important telemarketing laws.

Ask yourself if it is worth the risk? If you are unsure if you are following all the telemarketing laws or have a question, please reach out. We’d be happy to help.

Rich Hamiltonis the vice president of compliance and administrative services for Quality Contact Solutions, as a Customer Engagement Compliance Professional (CECP), Rich oversees the QCS telemarketing compliance consulting practice which conducts compliance assessments, reviews and audits for companies that require outside professional assistance. Contact Rich at rich.hamilton@qualitycontactsolutions.com or 516-656-5105.

Complying with the Latest Telemarketing Rules


By Angela Garfinkel

There have been many changes to telemarketing rules and regulations in 2021. The most notable change was the April 1, 2021, U.S. Supreme Court decision in Facebook v. Druid

That decision effectively neutered the plaintiff’s bar in their pursuit of Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) class action lawsuits across the U.S. Here are the top takeaways from the decision: 

  • The decision narrowed the definition of an autodialer. Now virtually all telephony equipment (including predictive dialers) is non-Automated Telephone Dialing Systems (non-ATDS). 
  • This decision does not impact the restriction on robocalls or prerecorded voice messages. 
  • The decision does not impact the other provisions of the TCPA, including compliance with the National Do-Not-Call list

Florida Telemarketing Rules

On June 29, 2021, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law CS/SB 1120a telephone solicitation bill effective on July 1, 2021. 

This law amended the Florida Do-Not-Call Act and the Florida Telemarketing Act and provides a private right of action for telemarketing and text marketing violations. Some industry insiders are calling it a mini-TCPA. 

Also, many other states are expected to follow Florida’s lead, so watch out. Florida was the first state to create Do-Not-Call regulations in the nineties. 

The Florida Do Not Call Act now requires a company to have Prior Express Written Consent (PEWC) from the called party before placing calls or sending text messages using an automated system or a prerecorded call. 

Penalties for Violating Telemarketing Rules

Now, here’s the bad news. Unlike the TCPA, Florida widened the definition of an ATDS, making virtually all telephony equipment and dialers an ATDS. As a result, each per-call violation of $500 can triple to $1,500 per call; companies must capture PEWC before calling or texting a Florida telephone number or a Florida resident. 

The Florida Telemarketing Act now restricts how many times a company can place a call to a customer or prospect and when the calls can be placed. 

Permissible calling times are now 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (the previous call times were 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.). Plus, a telemarketer may only place up to three calls in 24 hours to one person, regardless of any particular number called. 

In addition, the amendments added an anti-spoofing provision that prohibits utilizing technology to deliberately display a caller ID number that conceals the caller’s true identity. 

Some programs are exempt from the Florida Do-Not-Call Act and the Florida Telemarketing Act, including most Business-to-Business programs. Still, conduct a careful review of the Florida law before placing outbound telemarketing calls to Florida phone numbers or Florida residents. 

Angela Garfinkel is the president and founder of Quality Contact Solutions, a leading outsourced telemarketing services organization. Angela has the pleasure of leading a talented team that runs thousands of outbound telemarketing program hours each day. Contact Angela at angela.garfinkel@qualitycontactsolutions.com or 516-656-5118.

How To Overcome Your Biases Toward Chatbots

By Bob Grohs 

Chatbots are becoming increasingly responsible for assisting with customer service queries. Most customers have already used chatbots, whether they are aware of it or not. In a 2021 survey of over 1,000 chatbot users, some 47 percent of respondents said it’s possible they have mistaken a chatbot for a live service agent and another 11 percent said they weren’t sure. Of these users, 69 percent said they would often or always use a chatbot if it could resolve their issue more quickly. Yet, there were still holdouts, showing that even consumers with positive chatbot experiences harbor biases. 

Just because consumers have hesitations doesn’t mean businesses should. As the importance of customer support continues to rise, it’s time to dispel any reservations you have about investing in chatbot technology for your business. Here, we will address common chatbot biases, consider misguided perceptions, and discuss why the pros outweigh any cons. 

Bias 1: Chatbots Try to Come Off as Real Human Agents

For this first point, we need to delve into the debate surrounding chatbot disclosure. A 2019 study produced evidence of a phenomenon known as the “negative disclosure effect.” When companies disclosed to customers that they were interacting with a chatbot rather than a human, results showed a 79.7 percent reduction in sales. This is due to customers perceiving bots as less knowledgeable and less empathetic. 

However, consumers unknowingly interact with chatbots all the time. The same study found undisclosed bots to be just as effective sales agents as proficient human agents. And they were four times as effective as inexperienced agents. 

So, what’s the best way forward? 

Across-the-board disclosure of bots. Through mass exposure, customers will become accustomed to working with chatbots, and their bias will dissipate. They will learn that positive interactions with chatbots are the new norm. Openly disclosing chatbots will help build trust with your consumer base and ensure ethical chatbot use in sales. Companies should consider naming and depicting their bots in a way that makes it clear to the consumer that they are interacting with artificial intelligence (AI). 

Bias 2: Chatbots Don’t Understand Natural Language

This is a common misconception. Leading AI chatbots have built-in intelligence and understand what people mean—what their intent is—regardless of how it’s phrased. This is known as natural language understanding (NLU). In addition, AI chatbots can continue to learn and improve their accuracy in understanding customers over time with their built-in machine learning capabilities.

Chatbots can learn from every chat or email attached to a successful ticket or case resolution. The bots can also pull information from external sources to create optimized answers. These sources are often public knowledge content, such as help centers, FAQs, and manuals. 

NLU is already a powerful technology that will only become more sophisticated in the future. Chatbots can learn how to understand misspelled words, and the best ones can even understand poorly phrased questions. 

As NLU develops, customers will soon overcome the bias that chatbots can’t understand varied human language.

Bias 3: Chatbots Don’t Provide Relevant Customer Insights 

Many businesses use chatbots to answer quick and simple questions, leaving more complex problems to the humans in customer service. As chatbot technology advances and can process more sophisticated cases, you can tap into the data and insights gathered much more efficiently. 

Chatbots are a first line of defense in your customer support stack. They can quickly pinpoint issues, gaps in your knowledge base, and product defects. Immediate customer feedback from a chatbot dashboard helps support and customer experience management (CX) leaders understand what their customers are doing in real time and react more quickly and effectively. 

Today’s chatbots can identify frequently used words or recurring topics in support tickets and attach search labels or tags to them. This process makes it simpler to categorize queries and issues for easier prioritization and actioning.

Bias 4: Chatbots are Expensive to Install

Installation may seem costly, but only if you are thinking in the short term. In just a few months, the benefits will more than cover the up-front costs. 

Integrating chatbots with customer relationship management (CRM) software and other forum software platforms will result in a huge reduction in ticket volume. This can eliminate the need for adding contact center staff or outsourced solutions, even as you grow. 

In addition, customers want quick answers. The speedy, accurate responses generated by chatbots mean an increase in satisfied customers who are more loyal and valuable to your brand over the long run.

Fully integrating bots with other platforms and making them available 24/7 will ensure that any small problems will find efficient, easy solutions. This frees up human customer support to respond to more complex, time-consuming issues and to better address spikes in requests during traffic peaks. 

It’s Time to Overcome Biases and Invest for the Future

It is understandable to have reservations about how chatbots might impact customer service. But many of the biases we hold toward chatbots are misinformed. In reality, next gen chatbots can be powerful customer service tools that hugely improve the customer experience. Chatbots can hold valuable insight that only AI has the capacity to produce. In addition, with NLU development, their role in customer service is only going to grow. 

The installation and integration costs are worth it. Boost customer service with chatbots, and reduce unresolved tickets and customer turnover. Your return on investment will speak for itself.

Bob Grohs is the director of marketing at Solvvy, a next gen chatbot and automation platform. Bob has been in marketing and product management roles at top technology and SaaS companies for twenty years.

Dealing with Staff Shortages

Tips to Achieve a Full Schedule for Your Call Center

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

For years many call centers have faced an ongoing challenge to fully staff their operation. But over the last year and a half this quest has become even more difficult, with an increased number of people opting to stay home and not work. But this doesn’t mean the task of finding all the staff you need is insurmountable. You can conquer staff shortages.

Here are some tips to better fill your call center agent schedule. 

Avoid Short-Term Gimmicks to Counter Staff Shortages

Tales abound of large signing bonuses, referral fees, and unsustainably high hourly rates. These may get warm bodies in your door, but will they complete training? And if they finish training, will they stick around?

And when existing staff hears of the lengths you’ve gone through to fully staff your operation, they may resent these new hires for the incentives they received, perks that you didn’t offer them. They may resent you too. This disappointing attitude can negatively affect their work and their longevity.

Instead of pursuing short-term tactics, which will produce long-term grief, consider pursuing the following options that are more sustainable.

Embrace Work at Home to Add Employment Flexibility

You have home-based agents or are considering it as an option. But have you fully embraced it? Though it may be wise to start out small and proceed with care when it comes to managing a remote workforce, you must make a full commitment for this to work on a large-scale. This may be the easiest solution to counter staff shortages.

Target Underutilized Labor Markets to Find Qualified Agents

Most call centers prefer to hire in their local labor market. They do this even though they have a work-at-home model. This makes sense from a logistical standpoint. It eases training, technical support, and management. It also allows them to gather in person for meetings and to sometimes work out of your office.

Yet there are probably nearby labor markets that aren’t as close and are underserved. Though not as common as they once were, they’re still geographic areas that have more qualified workers than viable jobs. Dig into these markets and you will likely mine some great employees.

Another type of underutilized labor market isn’t bounded by geography but by circumstance. Some eager and qualified workers are homebound for assorted reasons. This might be a lack of transportation, limited mobility, or social anxieties. But these people can still do an excellent job at phone work from the comfort and safety of their homes. And they’re waiting for a chance to prove themselves to you.

Consider Going Out of State to Embrace Areas with Lower Living Costs

Though you add another layer of payroll complexity when hiring staff in a different state, it may be worth the extra effort. Look for regions with a lower cost of living. Workers in these areas may have a correspondingly lower compensation expectation. If it costs them less to live, they won’t need to earn as much from their job to have a satisfactory lifestyle. 

Review Your Compensation Package 

A common first response to dealing with a labor shortage is to pay more. Yet I list this last because it’s the last thing you should consider. Yes, your hourly rate or benefits may be holding you back from getting the employees you need and retaining the ones you want to keep. Don’t, however, sweeten your compensation package without pursuing the above options first.

Yes, some call centers underpay their agents and suffer as a result. If your hourly rate is less than that of most other comparable positions, you need to pay more. You may need to add benefits to what you currently offer too.

As you do this, however, don’t make the mistake that most every employer makes when they increase their hourly rate or enhance benefits. If you pay more, expect more. 

I repeat: if you pay more, expect more. Don’t pay more to hire the same caliber people that you always have. Increase your expectations and tighten your screening processes. There are qualified people out there, but you won’t encounter any if you’re not expecting to find them.

Staff Shortage Conclusion

Though staffing challenges are part of the call center industry, you can take steps to better deal with finding and keeping the employees you need to run an effective operation. Avoid short-term hiring gimmicks, embrace home-based staff, seek under-tapped labor markets, consider out-of-state hiring, and update your compensation package.

When you do these things with focus and intentionality, you’ll be more successful in hiring and keeping great telephone agents.

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.

How Will Fraudsters Adapt to Robocall Legislation?

By Robert McKay

Officially enacted by the FCC on July 1, the STIR/SHAKEN (Secure Telephone Identity Revisited /Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using toKENs) framework will help telephone carriers combat the scourge of fraudulent robocalls that cross their networks by verifying and authenticating the source of those calls. The goal of this legislation is to help rebuild the trust that consumers once had in the phone channel. 

This will make it easier to distinguish legitimate calls from questionable ones while enabling carriers to track down the criminal organizations abusing their networks. STIR/SHAKEN has already demonstrated that it can make high-volume calling campaigns via automated caller ID spoofing less effective and, hopefully, much less common. 

STIR/SHAKEN Creates New Hurdles for Fraudsters

Caller ID spoofing has been a staple in the fraudster’s toolbox for the better part of the past two decades. While more sophisticated groups write their own software or modify existing code, countless available apps and tools are available for purchase on black market deep web forums. It gives criminals easy access to methods that present any number as the originating calling number for their fraudulent calls. This allows them to easily impersonate real customers by having a legitimate customer’s phone number displayed when calling into a contact center. 

Until the implementation of STIR/SHAKEN, these organizations on the receiving end of a spoofed call could not easily authenticate a customer with their phone number alone. Now a criminal will have to work much harder to keep spoofed calls from raising suspicion and receiving a low attestation, a mechanism by which the originating service provider verifies the call’s degree of trust by the ID and calling number. 

It also helps mitigate account takeover attempts via call spoofing by flagging calls as questionable before they reach an IVR or call center agent. That said, there’s little doubt that fraudsters will evolve. The question is, “How?”

Criminals Are Masters of Adaptation

While we can’t say for certain how bad actors will evolve their techniques, history has shown us that they will find creative ways to respond. Fortunately, we already have a sense of how criminals will react to STIR/SHAKEN. Prior to enacting the standards in STIR/SHAKEN, a variety of third-party tools were available to help carriers and their customers distinguish legitimate calls from those that are likely spoofed. 

Although these tools had their shortcomings (such as a higher volume of false-positive calls, which tagged legitimate calls as suspect) they did succeed in making it more difficult to spoof calls at scale. To avoid these tools, many fraudsters adopted virtual calling services to continue their attempts at account takeover fraud over the phone. Most phone calls originate from unique physical devices such as a mobile phone or landline device. Virtual services originate calls from mobile apps, personal computers, and even PBX systems. Many can be used anonymously from anywhere in the world—the perfect tool for a criminal. Virtual apps have been particularly attractive in this category. 

There are large players such as Skype and Google Voice, both of which require identifying information when creating an account. Criminals are obviously keen to avoid this. However, extending beyond the long shadow cast by Skype and Google Voice are hundreds of smaller virtual call services that allow fraudsters to preserve their anonymity during account creation. 

Criminals have flocked to these services that enable them to place authentic looking calls from anywhere in the world using any area code of their choosing. Not only do these services preserve anonymity and limit call tracing, but because they originate from apps that are not spoofed, they can receive a high-level STIR/SHAKEN attestation. 

Criminals are already gravitating to virtual call services, with fraud attempts using virtual apps rising sharply over the past eighteen months. Market studies, such as the State of Call Center Authentication survey, also demonstrate a rapid adoption of virtual call apps to target call centers. As STIR/SHAKEN makes it more challenging to successfully place spoofed calls, expect to see an increasing number of criminals turn to virtual call services.

5 Proactive Considerations That Look Beyond First-Generation Caller ID Spoofing 

The enactment of STIR/SHAKEN was the result of a broad cross-industry collaboration that will undoubtedly make call spoofing more difficult for criminals. But expecting it to prevent all future fraud is dangerous thinking. Inbound call centers will need to anticipate the alternative paths and vectors criminals will use to conduct their illegal activity. 

Such considerations should include:

  1. Remember that the original intent of STIR/SHAKEN was to create a framework to help call tracing and reduce the utility of robocalls, not to protect against all potential vectors of fraud. 
  2. Invest in call evaluation systems that can improve the identification of virtual call technology and, within that segment of calls, isolate calls coming from virtual apps. 
  3. Partner with a phone call validation service to share information on attack patterns so your organization stays current on the latest virtual tools used by criminal networks. While the number and nature of these tools vary widely, efficient and timely information sharing within the call center industry can hamper their effectiveness. 
  4. Deploy services to identify and stratify risk of virtual calls. Then develop call flows to treat callers using high-risk virtual apps appropriately. Consider employing risk-based, stepped-up authentication practices, routing callers to agents that specialize in high-risk engagements, and within this context, limit the scope of activities a flagged caller can perform. 
  5. Monitor for other behavioral partners that can signal an account takeover attack, such as a recent number reassignment and anomalous calling patterns. Of course, remain vigilant for spoofed calls too, as enterprising fraudsters will identify new ways to mask their identity.

Conclusion

The STIR/SHAKEN framework will go a long way toward improving consumer trust in the phone calls they receive. 

As an added benefit, STIR/SHAKEN should also make it more challenging for fraudsters to take over consumer accounts. However, if past is indeed prologue, we know that fraudsters are an enterprising bunch and will work assiduously to evolve their methods and techniques. 

While these methods may change, by thinking proactively and investing in the right tools and processes, inbound call centers can better prepare for an unknown future.

Robert McKay is the senior vice president, risk solutions at Neustar, Inc.

Driving Enterprise CX with Contact Center Applications

By Donna Fluss

The pressure is on for enterprises to improve their customer experience (CX). Executives are trying, and many have spent more to enhance their CX in the last couple of years than ever before, displaying their willingness to invest in improving their performance, perception and brand. This is particularly important now that service quality is one of the primary—and sometimes only—differentiator between what most consumers consider to be commoditized products and services. But the investments are not fully resolving their service problems, based on the rising level of complaints about customer service in the market, as contact centers are only one of the many departments within companies that participate in the customer journey. 

Investing to enhance contact centers is an excellent and overdue first step. Whether it’s an evolution, transformation or a combination of both, the new direction will benefit companies, employees, and their customers. This underscores the growing importance and contributions of contact centers in enterprises, and these investments and changes couldn’t come soon enough, as the quality of customer service seems to continue to degrade with each passing year. What’s ironic is at the same time executives are recognizing that they have a service issue, many are claiming to receive higher and higher Net Promoter Scores. Something is clearly out of sync and needs to be fixed, but it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why service quality keeps getting worse. 

Some people are blaming the pandemic or the work-at-home situation, but these recent events are not the cause. There were major service issues long before COVID-19. Other industry thought leaders have identified the explosion of digital channels as a reason why the quality of service seems to be falling like a rock. While this is a contributing factor for enterprises that previously handled only calls and are now scrambling to support digital interactions, it’s not the primary cause of poor service quality. 

One of the most significant drivers of the increasingly inadequate service experience delivered by many companies is rapid growth. Companies scaled up and added new customers at a much faster rate than they built out their service organizations and contact centers. Their hope (or bet) was that fewer customers would want service, but it seems that the opposite is happening. With each passing year, customers are demanding more and a higher touch service. This a reality that companies need to accept and address. 

C-level executives in many companies hoped to fill the contact center resource gap by increasing agent productivity and providing self-service solutions. The technology vendors are doing their part and, during the past two years, have delivered a new generation of smart and artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled contact center systems and applications that are more productive, but it’s not enough. Consumers’ appetite for help and information is outpacing the productivity improvements. So, other changes need to be made if companies want to put an end to their rapidly deteriorating service experience. 

Getting Service Back on Course

It’s great that executives are investing in their contact centers at a rate never before seen, and that they are making commitments to improve the agent experience. But this is just a necessary first step in righting the servicing and CX ship. 

Companies that want to create lasting improvements that position them to deliver a consistently outstanding customer experience need to identify the reasons why customers are unhappy and reaching out for assistance at an increasing rate. This means that enterprises must find a way to track and measure all aspects of the customer journey—what happens throughout the customer lifecycle, from their first touch at the website through product retirement or replacement. 

An ideal way to address this issue is to roll out contact center applications throughout their organization. By design these solutions give them the visibility and insights they need to identify and resolve service issues and bottlenecks across the enterprise. Contact center applications should become standard productivity tools for most, if not all, enterprise employees. 

The AI-enabled omni-channel routing and queuing engine should replace unified communications (UC)/unified-communications-as-a-service (UCaaS) solutions. Workforce optimization (WFO)/workforce engagement management (WEM) capabilities, including recording, quality management, interaction analytics, workforce management, robotic process automation and customer journey analytics, need to be put in place to give managers better employee oversight and clearer understanding of customer needs and wants. 

Customer relationship management (CRM) solutions need to be available to all employees so that they have the information they need to make the right decisions up front, instead of leaving it to the contact center and customer service departments to fix after the fact. 

Final Thoughts

It’s time for enterprises to transform their perspective about customer service. For this to occur, companies need to alter their culture. Instead of saying that they care about CX and put customers first, they must demonstrate their commitment in every department in their company. The tools and know-how are available to deliver an outstanding CX cost effectively; the unknown factor is how long it will take executives to accept the inevitable and put in motion the changes necessary to convert to a customer-centric mindset, one dedicated to great service across the enterprise. 

Donna Fluss is president of DMG Consulting LLC. For more than two decades she has helped emerging 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.