Category Archives: Articles

Three Pieces of Key Information Your Call Center Is Missing Without Machine Learning



By Dan Somers

With the amplification of social media, as well as the ease and increase in the ability for customers to complain, issues can quickly turn into operational and PR crises. Yet this is just the beginning; issues happen every day that cause customers to interact with contact centers. The intended customer experience can be impacted by taking up unallocated resources to deal with day-to-day issues.

Here we look at three ways machine learning can be applied within a contact center to unlock key data that can ensure the intended customer experience is achieved.

Call center crises resulting in high customer churn or dissatisfaction can often be prevented with enough early warning. Click To Tweet

1. Sentiment Analysis 2.0

Typically, the richest and most actionable feedback generally has a negative sentiment. However, this can be buried within feedback that traditional sentiment analysis identifies as positive overall. As a result, key customer feedback that could drive positive business change is being missed. A review such as “the food was brilliant, and I loved the atmosphere, but the service was terribly slow!” would have only one sentiment considered. Therefore, the actionable insight, “slow service,” is ignored, leading the business to miss out on a change that could potentially have turned this satisfied customer into a huge promoter.

The accuracy of items sold as sentiment analysis that are billed as 90 percent are sometimes as low as 40 percent accurate. The latest machine learning can identify multiple sentiments within text, so no valuable feedback is missed. What’s more, it can do so in near real time in an automated fashion.

2. Concepts, Not Keywords

Until now AI has not been advanced enough to deal with the subtleties of how different people voice different issues and how to make sure you’re not missing key insight as a result.

Existing analytics typically identify keywords within customer feedback. Not only does this fail to consider the myriad of ways different customers may describe different issues, but the overarching concept or message might be missed. This issue arises when a concept or feedback is implied instead of using explicit keywords. We need to understand what is driving that keyword or sentiment and not merely act on the word itself. This driver can get ignored without machine learning.

For example, a hotel chain may pick up keywords such as clean, dirty, noisy, but the driver behind these keywords might be unconnected to the issue itself. The reference to noise might be external to the hotel, or dirty could refer to a specific area of the hotel that could be easily resolved if the full picture was known.

For example, a restaurant customer stating, “By the time my meal finally arrived, the food was cold,” may be flagged as “cold food,” when in fact the driver was “slow service.” Therefore, the appropriate action is to increase speed of service. Machine learning can provide the missing link between multiple words and patterns, giving a much clearer picture of the full concept behind a piece of customer feedback, not just keywords in a silo.

3. Early Warning and Root Cause

Call center crises resulting in high customer churn or dissatisfaction can often be prevented with enough early warning. Unfortunately, current tools cannot identify negative sentiment patterns in text feedback early enough or accurately enough to allow preventative measures to be put in place.

By way of an example, digital communications company O2 had a specific issue in May 2018 with their Priority Offers promotional activity. The allocation of tickets for a popular music event at the O2 Arena for its customers was reduced, and this caused a huge influx of enquiries to their contact center.

Interestingly, this correlated precisely with an increase in customers complaining that they “couldn’t get a response” from customer service as well as “took too long” and “poor customer service.”

Furthermore, there were three categories of churn identified from the public data:

  1. Customers saying they were going to leave the provider
  2. Customers saying they could not make a purchase because of an issue
  3. Customers who made a public recommendation not to use this provider

There is a clear correlation on these three items between all forms of churn and the issues noted above.

Keyword and sentiment analysis had been applied and was not able to discern any of these insights. All it could do was pick up known keywords and generate a sentiment score. It would require an analyst to discern why there were increases or decreases in satisfaction, and this would not be an effective early-warning system.

By adopting machine learning, the company could discern in real time the topics people were talking about instead of just keywords. Fixes could be applied immediately, thus preventing more lost bookings, and they could divert more customer care representatives to the call center to deal with the increase in calls, thus lowering response times. The crisis was entirely preventable.

Using machine learning to implement an early warning system can tangibly reduce customer churn, increase customer lifetime value, and improve customer satisfaction.

Dan Somers is the CEO at Warwick Analytics, providing a machine learning platform for text and voice of customer data.

Three Ways for Contact Centers to Maintain Post-Holiday Momentum



By Ben Bekhor

For retailers and contact centers, the holiday season doesn’t end January 1. The fact is, post-holiday sales, gift returns and exchanges, and questions about setting up new devices, toys, furniture, and more keep customer experience (CX) centers humming well into the new year.

Combined with the wide plethora of digital options consumers have to connect with brands (including in-app messaging, social media chatbots, voice assistants, and more), contact centers can expect a higher-than-average number of consumer touch points during the post-holiday season.

The challenge is keeping employees motivated and engaged once the holidays are over, which is critical when you consider the steady rate of low unemployment and resulting labor shortage. In truth, it’s a challenge contact centers need to address proactively if they want to retain the top talent they worked so hard to win ahead of the holiday season.It’s important that contact centers endeavor to make CX agents feel they can share in their employer’s successes and reap the rewards of their labor Click To Tweet

While wages are always an important contributing factor to employee happiness and retention, the fact is there are multiple avenues through which contact centers, and the brands they represent, can boost employee satisfaction year-round. Options include continuous learning, alternative pay options, and long-term incentives.

Here are three ways contact centers can look beyond wages to retain top talent and keep post-holiday momentum alive:

Invest in Growth for Lasting Engagement

Learning and development (L&D) is one of the primary benefits applicants seek when evaluating a potential employer. However, more than half of companies do not have L&D programs in place to train workers for skills of the future. This naturally sets in motion fears and rumors of job automation and displacement. However, artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to create more jobs (133 million by 2022) than it’s poised to displace (75 million by 2025).

The post-holiday season is the perfect opportunity for contact centers to skill up employees to work alongside AI-driven tools—chatbots, voice assistants, or automated texting—if they want to stay relevant, maintain a highly skilled workforce, and beat out competitors. Walmart, for example, has invested nearly $3 billion in training, education, and higher wages. Their training programs boast a strong focus on technology, as well as a blend of traditional classroom learning with experiential, on-the-job training. As the nation’s largest employer, this means providing hundreds of thousands of US employees with skills they might not have acquired otherwise.

Contact centers may also consider offering continuous learning opportunities in the form of massive open online courses, which offer instruction on a wide variety of subjects such as coding, business management, and languages. These enable CX agents to stay engaged in their day-to-day tasks while improving skills in areas that foster their long-term growth within CX. Additionally, L&D offerings create an opportunity for agents to grow into promotions (and, inherently, higher wages), which in turn allow contact centers to benefit from a more professionally driven and motivated staff.

Prioritize the Perks That Matter to Individuals

While high-profile brands such as Amazon and Disney are paving the path for even more competitive hourly wages for customer service representatives, contact centers might consider offering alternative pay options to retain top talent—either instead of or in addition to increased wages.

Perks and benefits most sought after by employees include flexible hours or remote work options—favored by 38 percent of employees according to a recent survey by beqom; incentivized bonuses, such as more paid time off or cash prizes as the result of high resolution numbers (that is, resolved inquiries); and personalized benefits, which enable employees to better achieve work-life balance, such as on-site childcare, fitness reimbursements, or tuition assistance.

What’s key is for contact centers to leverage relevant employee data (ascertained through AI-driven compensation management platforms, or even employee surveys) about the types of benefits that would most support employees’ individual needs and, as a result, help to ensure their long-term employment. Remember that people are interested in certain benefits at different stages of life. For example, a Gen Z employee might appreciate tuition assistance as part of their compensation package, whereas a late-millennial might be more geared toward higher 401(k) matches.

Consider Long-Term Incentives for Loyalty

Contact centers that want to retain workers and keep them motivated long-term should explore long-term incentives (LTIs). Sweetening 401(k) plans with higher matches or increased vesting over time, as well as profit sharing or deferred cash, can be critical to ensuring the longevity of top talent. What’s more, employees will have the incentive to stay if they feel their employer has their long-term financial security at heart.

LTIs also incentivize employees to focus on (and hopefully surpass) specific performance goals. For example, profit sharing might be a benefit exclusive to employees that exceed performance metrics, while sabbatical programs might only become available to employees after they’ve achieved a certain status or worked a certain number of years at their contact center. The goal of LTIs in terms of achieving employee retention is to align employee needs with the contact center’s expectations for individual job performance so employees feel that they are recognized and valued contributors to their contact center’s success.

These strategies to foster growth, personal balance, and long-term financial security are three easy methods for contact centers to leverage year-round, but they are critical steps to deploy when employee motivation slumps after the busy holiday season. When it comes to incentivizing workers to maintain productivity after January 1, it’s important that contact centers endeavor to make CX agents feel they can share in their employer’s successes and reap the rewards of their labor. Doing so helps contact centers retain the top talent they need to make the post-holiday season a success and grow a dedicated, motivated, and high-performing staff for many years to come.

Ben Bekhor serves as vice president, human resources, Americas for Sitel Group, a leader in the delivery of traditional and transformational customer experience management—business process outsourcing (BPO). Bekhor oversees all aspects of HR operations for the US, Canada, Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, and Colombia, including compensation and benefits, talent acquisition, talent management, and learning and development.

The Year Ahead: Call Center Trends of 2019



By Maureen Hoersten

As we head into 2019, we’re seeing a shift in the call center industry. As companies expand, the effects are felt by the call center industry and many are changing operations within their organization. Doing so boosts engagement, retention, and helps them remain competitive both in the labor market and the marketplace.

Here are four trends that are changing the call center internally in 2019.

Increased Agent Training

Training and development programs are the most effective way for companies to improve their customer experience and stay competitive in today’s tight labor market. As competition for talent continues to grow, training and development will be more important in 2019. Not only do training and development opportunities directly impact how engaged employees are at work, but the better employees are trained, the more likely they’ll be good agents.

A hiring tip for employers in 2019: in today’s tight labor market, don’t seek talent that meets the hard skills necessary for the job. Instead hire agents with strong skills for customer service and train them on the technical skills they may not have.

Customers should have to put in low effort to achieve the results they need. Efficient, user-friendly service is critical. Long phone wait times, faulty service, and being transferred to different departments all should go away in 2019. Companies should invest in training their customer service reps to have enough expertise in all areas a customer may call about. Automation will help process calls faster and better direct them to the appropriate people. Companies may also spend more money on programs to help them overcome faulty service, such as dropped calls or delayed responses. Recent graduates join organizations in customer service positions and then transition into other departments such as marketing or accounting. Click To Tweet

Implementation of Career Pathing

A critical move call centers will want to make in 2019 is developing career paths for agents, especially in the tight labor market we’re currently in and will continue to see. Agent career pathing will not only boost retention but will also help call centers build out their talent pipeline.

In terms of career pathing, it’s important to recognize that individual agents may seek out different career paths based on what motivates them. For example, not all high-performing agents will grow into managers and supervisors, and that’s okay. Some high performers may be better on an account management track. Making sure you help your agents find the right path for them by identifying their unique motivators is critical. Someone who doesn’t want to be in a leadership role but is in one won’t be effective in developing the next generation of talent at your organization.

Promotions within customer service roles are typically based on skill and tenure. Career pathing is critical to retention because someone who’s been with a company for a few years isn’t going to want to be ranked at the same level as someone who started a month ago.

Some call centers find success by having levels of accreditation, where an agent must complete certain tasks to move up in an organization. Others offer different titles to deal with different types of call. A more seasoned agent will deal with more difficult callers in this sort of system. With both, a pay increase comes with the title change.

Push to Retain Agents

Turnover has always been an issue in the call center industry. Today’s tight labor market doesn’t make it any easier to keep employees. Losing a contact center agent, then hiring, onboarding, and training a new agent is costly. Focusing on employee retention by meeting the needs of call center agents in 2019 is key.

Consider offering opportunities for flextime or remote work. As call center technology advances, there are more opportunities for employees to work remotely. Remote work is highly sought after by call center professionals and may keep them at your company longer. Those who manage remote call center workers can find success by putting mandatory check-ins, call logs, and daily reports in place. Technology and software has been designed to help manage remote workers, such as screen sharing, schedule assistants, analytics tools, and automated reporting software.

Another way to effectively retain employees is holding daily or weekly competitions. Call centers are intense, and agents feel the heat with metrics. Creating competitions around metrics can help motivate and engage agents more. Competitions can be as simple as announcing that the first five people who hit a certain metric will receive a gift card or get to leave early.

Offering benefits to employees is another retention tool. Companies now often offer health benefits. If you’re not offering benefits to your agents, you won’t be competitive in the field. Go beyond basic health benefits to be more effective in retaining your agents.

Hiring More Recent Grads

A few years ago, we saw more companies hiring recent college graduates for customer service roles. As the labor market stays hot, we’re going to see more of this. Recent graduates join organizations in customer service positions and then transition into other departments such as marketing or accounting.

There are two main profiles companies look for. One is the traditional call center professional who has experience in the field. The other profile is a fresh grad. Traditional call center professionals use intense goals and metrics, but often they may be stuck in their ways, complaining, “That’s not how we did it at my old company,” or they bounce around from company to company for more money. That’s why it can be beneficial for firms to recruit fresh grads to fill call center roles. Companies can train and develop them how they want, and the role helps the recent grads learn the business from the bottom up.

By staying ahead of 2019 trends, call centers can be successful in recruiting and retaining talent that meets customers’ needs better than ever before.

Maureen Hoersten is the chief operating officer of LaSalle Network, a national staffing, recruiting, and culture firm specializing in customer service and call center roles. Hoersten has helped hundreds of businesses find top customer service talent, from small to large businesses in a range of industries. She has developed a deep knowledge of the space and understanding of what sets apart the top professionals during her more than fifteen years of experience.

Surviving the Storm



Texas-Based Call Center Reflects on the Trials and Tribulations of Hurricane Harvey

By Kevin Ryan

The first question often asked when a serious storm approaches is, “Are we prepared?” Over the years, we’ve educated ourselves on disaster preparedness. We’ve faced natural disasters before and worked through them successfully. We took this experience and built out our company with redundancy at the forefront. All our equipment is in a tier-4 data center in the middle of the state, away from the coast. We have two of everything: call servers, communication servers, power sources, data connections, and server farms, all backed up into the cloud.

We also have multiple office locations in San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Houston, and Beaumont. Each office has redundant routers with two different incoming data circuits. Short of the data center completely going up in smoke, nothing could take us down. Then came Hurricane Harvey.

Harvey Arrives

Harvey first appeared as a tropical storm on August 17, 2017. By August 20, reports indicated the storm could gain hurricane status, with the Texas coast as the projected target. By August 23 all indications showed the storm had built up to a Category 4 and would hit Texas somewhere near Corpus Christi.

Hurricane Harvey made land fall on August 25 in Port Aransas as a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 135 mph. The Rockport community was immediately devastated, with over 30 percent of the homes destroyed by high winds. As soon as Harvey made landfall, it quickly weakened. Wind speeds dropped, and the rain was consistent but not overwhelming.

We woke up on August 26 thinking we were okay. Our office south of Corpus Christi was back to fully operational, with just a few tree branches littering the parking lot. The staff had checked in. All were fine, and we were relieved. The forecast showed Harvey weakening and heading back out into the Gulf.

San Antonio made it through the storm almost untouched: no power outages, just some light flooding. There was general celebration. We had dodged the bullet. We knew the rain would continue and there might be some flooding. We supplied them with food, water, and clothing. Many had lost everything, and this was the first delivery of aid they had received. Click To Tweet

Harvey Hits Huston

By August 27, Harvey had moved back out into the Gulf of Mexico and stopped just off the coast near Houston. It was now categorized as a tropical storm. But as it churned over the Gulf, it dumped massive amounts of rain on the greater Houston area.

A colossal amount of rain still pummeled Houston well into August 28. The area of flooding was larger than the state of New Jersey. Houston and the surrounding counties were declared disaster areas. Over fifty inches of rain fell on the city, shutting it down. Throughout the storm, we did all we could to stay in contact with our Houston staff to make sure they were safe. Most had or were being evacuated. Communication was spotty.

On August 29 Harvey came back inland, making landfall near Port Arthur and Beaumont. Our second-largest office is in Beaumont with thirty-plus employees. For the first time, we felt we were in real trouble. We had over forty employees from the Houston and Beaumont offices who were unaccounted for. The ability to stay in communication with our team members decreased by the hour. Our main priority was making sure our teams were safe, doing whatever we could to help them. Almost every business between Houston and Beaumont was closed, which caused a massive call surge on our lines.

Callers were trying to reach medical providers, pharmacies, service technicians, and city offices, all of which were closed and would remain so for the rest of the week. The fourth-largest city in the country would be closed until the following Monday. Our people were exhausted.

A Dire Situation

On Friday, September 1, our Beaumont office manager was finally able to get through to us, but she relayed a dire situation. Most employees had lost cars and homes. All were in shelters. There was no water, no food, and limited electricity.

At our office in San Antonio, we collected food, clothing, toiletries, and medicine. We organized a relief caravan to take off as soon as the roads opened, and by September 4, we had connected with all employees but one. We left early Friday morning with two trucks and a cargo van, each loaded down with food and supplies and met our Houston team at a Walmart just off the highway.

When we pulled into the parking lot, nine employees were waiting for us with their families. We supplied them with food, water, and clothing. Many had lost everything, and this was the first delivery of aid they had received. We will never forget their tears of joy. We spent two hours dispersing supplies before we were off to our next stop, Beaumont.

Making It to Beaumont

The drive to Beaumont was surreal. I-10 is the major east/west transit for the southern half of the US. What are normally open plains on either side of the road were now lakes. Floating debris could be seen in all directions. The water had a blue-green hue to it from the chemicals that had leaked out of the refinerys in the area. The city water system was still offline, so the only clean water for Beaumont residents was bottled water. There were lines of semitrucks stacked with water. Staging areas for water around the city had been set up. Because so many residents had lost their cars, most walked to an area to pick up a case of water.

We pulled into our Beaumont office parking lot around 5:00 p.m. Most of our staff had already arrived with their families and were waiting for us. We began unloading the food, water, and clothing into the hallways of our office.

A Hot Meal and a Bit of Normalcy

Once the trucks were unloaded, we drove to an open grocery store, purchased food, charcoal, and beer and returned for a family cookout in the parking lot. It was the first hot meal most of them had eaten in six days. With smoke billowing out of the grill, we finally relaxed. It was an opportunity to come together for a barbecue and much- needed normalcy.

The effects of Hurricane Harvey would last for months to come for our staff and business. Numerous employees remained in shelters well into November.

Over a year later, we still feel the effects of Harvey. However, our company stuck together through the trials and tribulations this storm inflicted on us. We continue to help each other through the ongoing challenges and consider ourselves better prepared for the future.

Kevin Ryan is the managing partner of business development at TAS United.

Vendor Profile: nSolve

nCall, telephone answering service software from nSolve


nSolve is a developer of trusted call answering and message taking software for telephone answering services (TAS). In 1998 nSolve Ltd was founded with a mission to create outstanding software solutions.

Background

The original brief for nCall was to consolidate all the basic software requirements of an answering service while retaining the choice of phone system and third-party messaging services. As additional tools and features were commissioned by early adopters, it quickly became apparent that there was a need for a flexible yet affordable call-handling software product dedicated to the TAS industry.

The design philosophy of nSolve has always been to provide intuitive software programs that also offer advanced features allowing for business growth and customization. With this in mind, the nSolve team has continuously developed nCall over the past fifteen years, improving the core functionality and adapting to the ever-changing landscape of telecom technology. The result is a full-featured, easy-to-use application that is deployed by answering services large and small across the globe. nCall is very much the product of industry demand. It’s designed, created, and honed for the very specific needs of answering services the world over and kept at a reasonable price for businesses of all sizes. Click To Tweet

How Does nCall Work?

nCall is a client-server program that unifies the various components of an answering service and delivers them within a single user interface connecting to a central server. The nCall server can be installed on an ordinary PC, a dedicated Windows server, or hosted in a virtual environment.

Through TAPI telephone system integration or via VoIP handset connection, nCall pops the correct client information on-screen when the phone rings by identifying the number the caller dialed. This allows operators to answer the call immediately and with absolute professionalism.

When a call comes through, the user dashboard automatically displays the following information:

  • Client’s custom call greeting
  • Client’s description, contact details, and call handling preferences
  • Contacts associated to the client
  • Additional documents relevant to the client, such as booking forms, price lists, and calendars
  • Caller history, if client is a repeat caller

By clicking on an individual contact, you can then see their chosen call handling preferences and dedicated notes section.

Furthermore, each client and contact can have three preset, customizable call actions (presented as buttons) that operators can systematically choose from when handling the call. This system reduces operator agency and increases the efficiency of all calls answered.

More Than Just Answering Calls

nCall goes well beyond basic call handling with its powerful built-in messaging toolset, Message Centre. To manage all the possible preferences your clients may present, each contact in nCall can have an unlimited number of message actions that define how and when they receive their messages.

Using nCall’s process of “incoming call > call action > message > message action” is incredibly efficient, removing the need for elaborate call scripts that can be time consuming and difficult to modify without risk of error.

Easing the Pressure of Billing Runs

nCall administrators can create and define an unlimited number of billing schemes within nCall and then assign them to different clients. When configuring a scheme, users can choose between fixed, timed, or event-based charges that account for every situation. Each call, transfer, and message handled through nCall is automatically recorded against the relevant client.

Admins can then run detailed billing reports that can be saved as CSV files for uploading into your desired billing software package. With over fifty exportable fields, nCall can accommodate any billing requirements. This allows answering services to offer highly detailed packages without causing additional administration or calculation during billing runs.

Third-Party Integration

nSolve’s development team has integrated nCall with many hardware telephone systems, hosted PBXs, and IP handsets to permit answering services their choice of setup. Further integrations include secure messaging applications, PingMD and TigerText, as well as several established SMS providers, such as Twilio.

Building on nCall

nSolve has developed a suite of additional modules that can be easily added to bolster nCall, such as the smartphone app MyTAS, the full-featured API Server that allows for data to be pushed and pulled from the nCall database, and nCall’s built-in softphone, Buzz.

nCall also comes packaged with a custom form design application for advanced message taking as well as a host of administration tools. Admins will have everything available to them to run a profitable answering service, from call statistics to staff reminders and tasks.

Deploying nCall

nCall is suitable for both start-ups and established TASs that are using alternative software packages. The knowledgeable nSolve team has many years of experience transitioning answering services to nCall and welcomes any TAS business wanting to explore a new software solution.

The nSolve support team handles the installation, configuration, client data import, and phone system integration with nCall and then conducts a series of tests to ensure that all systems are running correctly.

The installation of nCall is a relatively straightforward procedure, but training operators is even simpler. Within fifteen minutes, new users can be answering calls and taking messages professionally. nSolve also provides full one-on-one administrator training, with advanced sessions available to get the absolute most out of nCall’s functionality.

Looking to the Future

The nSolve development team is currently enhancing nCall to allow optional deployment of the nCall server and database on a cloud-based solution. By running the nCall client locally on a Windows PC or laptop, operators will connect to a hosted server and seamlessly access the nCall database without a noticeable effect to the user experience. Hosting the nCall server database in the cloud provides the flexibility and mobility many modern businesses seek, without a dependence on web browser-based applications that can be marred by lengthy loading times and poor responsiveness.

nCall is very much the product of industry demand. It’s designed, created, and honed for the very specific needs of answering services the world over and kept at a reasonable price for businesses of all sizes.

nSolveIf you are ready to upgrade your system or want to save money on your existing software solution, contact nSolve now for further information at info@nsolve.com, 617-307-1737, or visit www.nsolve.com.

Ignoring Lessons from the Past



By Sherry Gouel

Looking back at previous generations, we’re certain to find things that make us wonder, “What were they thinking?” Of course, the world has changed in the past hundred years, and people have learned ways to improve their lives, their well-being, and their health. Many of these lessons were learned the hard way.

The Past

We learned was that nicotine was harmful to our health and sugar had many negative consequences. We learned these lessons because people suffered from their use.

If you look through any magazines or newspapers circa 1950, you’ll find ads for cigarettes. TV commercials used to show doctors trying to sell viewers on their favorite tobacco brands. Movies of that era included characters prominently puffing on cigarettes in every second scene.

Another less advertised but just as detrimental product was sugar. The advertising may have been more discreet, but the negative effects of sugar weren’t exposed and the sugar industry made sizable profits.

It would be years before society would be enlightened to the dangers of both these items. It would be years before cigarette ads would change from promoting them to informing the public of the dangers of their use. It would also be years before the link between high sugar intake and diabetes would be made public. Although it took many years to get these messages across, we eventually realized our errors and tried to correct them.

We may have come a long way, but that doesn’t mean we’re done learning. What about cell phones and social media—have we stopped to consider the potential consequences of using them? What will the next generation say about our love of this media? Human connections are falling behind our electronic connections, and the consequences won’t be as repairable as other mistakes humanity has made. Click To Tweet

The Present

Cell phone popularity soared around the late 1990s, and it would be hard to find anyone over the age of fourteen that doesn’t have a personal cell phone. Some of the harmful effects are not so obvious, but they are definitely present. We’ve now become a society that spends more time looking at our cell phones than at each other, but instead of trying to salvage our human connections, we find ways to accommodate our world to ease our connections with our cell phones.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people are injured and some even die due to inattention while texting and walking. The World Health Organization calls this “distracted walking.” In Shaanxi, China, there’s a special lane reserved on the sidewalk for people who walk and text. It allows the people who are distracted as they walk and text to not impede the rest of society. They can simply stare down at their phones and not worry about walking into anyone. It’s a sad reality when we make accommodations to make texting instead of human connections easier.

One of the more troubling consequences of increasing attachment to our cell phones is that for many it has increased the feeling of detachment and isolation. For those who already feel lonely, seeing the world around them staring down at their phones creates more distance than connectivity.

The increase in our ties with technology has increased our isolation. This is particularly difficult for seniors, many who already feel isolated and alone. This demographic isn’t as accustomed to using their cell phones as often as the younger generation, and they prefer human connections, eye to eye.

In the UK, Costa Coffee shops has introduced a concept to help with loneliness. “Chatty Café,” which began in 2017, consists of allocating a table in their cafés for people who just wish to talk to someone. People are encouraged to stop and chat to anyone sitting at that table. This has been very popular, especially with seniors who welcome the warmth of a face-to-face conversation. But once again, we’re attending to the consequences of the problem rather than facing the actual root of it.

The Future

History has taught us some lessons that we have rectified, but our attachment to our cell phones will be a difficult crisis to overcome. We’re spending more time in front of our screens, and this inevitably will continue to have consequences. Human connections are falling behind our electronic connections, and the consequences won’t be as repairable as other mistakes humanity has made. Why? Because repairing our increasing human disconnection will mean putting our cell phones down. And that’s unlikely to happen.

Szeto TechnologiesSherry Gouel handles sales and marketing support for Szeto Technologies.

Our Seventeenth Annual Buyers Guide



We Celebrate the Many Companies and People Who Make Connections Magazine Possible

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaanWith this issue of Connections Magazine, we start our twenty-seventh year of continuous publication. It started in July 1993 when Steve and Chris Michaels founded the magazine. I took over in September 2001, just a few days before an inauspicious event in US history. At that moment, I wondered if anyone would care about a magazine. I wondered if our priorities would suddenly change. But things soon returned to normal, as normal as they could ever be after the events of September 11, 2001.

Connections Magazine started with spot color and was printed on newsprint. Over the years, we’ve worked to improve it and make it more valuable to our readers and the advertisers who make this magazine possible with their advertising dollars. We moved to full color and then to glossy stock. As we dive into our twenty-seventh year, we look forward to the future as we celebrate the past. Thank you to everyone for helping make Connections Magazine what it is today. Click To Tweet

Buyers Guide

Annual Buyers GuideOne of many additions to the magazine was the introduction of the 2003 Buyers Guide in the December 2002 issue. This turned out to be a popular feature. We repeated the Buyers Guide the next year and never look back, though we do tweak the format to keep it relevant and useful.

Our much-anticipated Annual Buyers Guide is now in its seventeenth edition. For each one of those Buyers Guides, Valerie Port worked to gather the information of the companies listed, and David Margolis handled the layout. And they worked on every single issue in between. Rounding out our team is Claudia Volkman. She’s edited every issue since the October 2006 issue. We have a great, longstanding team.

Looking back at the 2003 Buyers Guide brings back a lot of memories. Many of those companies listed then are still in business now. Although some have closed, left the industry, or merged with other vendors, most are still around.

In scanning that list in the first Buyers Guide, I see Amtelco, Startel, Szeto Technologies, and TAS Marketing. They have been in every Buyers Guide and have run display ads in nearly every issue, perhaps all them. In addition, Telescan, now a division of Amtelco, was in that issue. That first Buyers Guide also included Alston Tascom and Professional Teledata, now part of Startel.

Of course, many other companies in the first Buyers Guide have also supported Connections Magazine over the years with strategically placed display advertising and listings in our Professional Directory, Vendor Directory, and Marketplace sections. I’d like to list those companies too, but I know any attempt to do so would be incomplete—and take up more room than we have available.

I’m also happy to report that most of the industry associations listed in that first Buyers Guide are still around today.

Sponsors

In 2013 we added another feature to the magazine: sponsorship opportunities. Our sponsors are our cornerstone advertisers and provide most of the revenue we need to produce Connections Magazine. Several sponsors have sponsored every issue since 2013. Our current sponsors are MAP Communications, Amtelco, OnviSource, Startel, and Szeto Technologies. Our newest sponsor, nSolve, joins this star-studded list. We salute all current and past sponsors for taking the lead to make Connections Magazine possible.

Contributors

Industry insiders write the content for Connections Magazine. They give their time to share their wisdom and insights with the rest of the industry. They give unselfishly, and often their only reward is knowing that they helped make the call center industry better. Without them, I would have to write every article, and no one wants that.

Readers

You, our loyal readers, are why we do all this. Without you, there would be no reason to produce Connections Magazine. You read, you encourage, and you do your part to advance the call center industry.

As we dive into our twenty-seventh year, we look forward to the future as we celebrate the past. Thank you to everyone for helping make Connections Magazine what it is today.

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.

Develop the Habit of Monitoring and Coaching, Part 2



By Kathy Sisk

In the first part of this two-part series, we discussed the skills that an effective call center coach should have. We also covered key motivational techniques to get agents producing. For the next step, we’ll look at developing a comprehensive, department-wide motivational plan.Help agents determine any problems and find ways to overcome them. Click To Tweet

Your Departmental Motivation Plan

  • Set the criteria for winning rewards, ones that are fair and attainable.
  • Decide what your campaign objectives are and when you want to reach them.
  • Evaluate unforeseen problems that occurred in other reward campaigns to prevent a repeat of previous mistakes.
  • Retrace your steps to find out where the source of previous problems came from.
  • Determine the specific criteria that agents need to meet to earn the reward you’re offering.
  • Be clear on the time frame for starting and ending the campaign.
  • Define what is eligible and non-eligible for the reward.
  • Predetermine the rewards you will offer based on the difficulty of the campaign.
  • Remind agents of how close they are in reaching their goals and alert them if they’re falling short of them.
  • Help agents determine any problems and find ways to overcome them.
  • Don’t isolate each agent’s results. Instead, publicize their results—such as by using cardboard thermometers hung on a wall with each obtainable goal as measurements shown in red. Find ways to make a positive statement.
  • Incorporate an accountability factor into your campaign. This means what, how, and when you will collect data and evaluate results. Define the methods you’ll use to distribute rewards. This includes what role management will play and any fanfare.

A properly designed motivational plan will spur your staff to achieve outstanding results, while a poorly conceived or misaligned plan will have the opposite effect.

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

Why Call Centers Are Important for Your Branding Strategy



By Guy Dilger

For many business leaders, branding means the company logo, website, sales material, direct marketing, social media, and online content. Devoting resources and marketing activities to these types of communications is important to creating brand awareness and sales opportunities.

However, it’s not just the company’s marketing that creates a brand. Every touch point in the customer journey becomes part of a buyer’s perception of the company’s brand.

Call Center as a Brand Experience

One department that may require a portion of the branding budget but is often overlooked is the inbound call center or customer service department. For many customers who purchase products or sign up for services online, the call center is the only human interaction with a company. This is especially true for online and e-commerce companies that don’t have a physical presence.

Consumers and decision-makers are more likely to judge and create an impression of businesses based on the over-the-phone service. That’s the reason it’s crucial for businesses to incorporate their branding into their customer service and call centers.

Companies make major investments to support call centers and customer service departments. This includes telecommunications technology, customer response management software, training, and scripts. But does the call center training cover the company’s brand standards and personality? Are the founder’s story and company mission part of the scripts? Can the team easily insert the company’s unique value proposition and point of differentiation for the products and services into customer conversations? All these key message points shape the buyer’s brand experience, which influences customer acquisition, retention, loyalty, and lifetime value.

Call Center Agents as Brand Ambassadors

When an insufficiently trained call center or customer service representative focuses more on ending a customer call rather than solving the issue, the company takes a hit.

First, this tarnishes the brand. That interaction had a greater impact on the customer’s perception than a scheduled message from the company’s CEO. Second, all the marketing, product development, and innovation were made ineffective because of a frustrated call center agent. Even worse, that unsatisfied or angry customer may choose to post a negative review or rant on social media.

Ensuring that your call center and customer service department are properly trained and engaged is the best way to avoid these types of interactions. An engaged call center pays for itself in improved productivity and reduced turnover of customers and employees. This communication allows an opportunity for a resolution, rather than seeing a complaint or negative review online. Click To Tweet

Essential Training Elements

Key elements of the call center training include:

Empathy: Prospects and customers call because they need information or have an issue. Some call center agents and customer service representatives mistakenly use a falsely cheery phone voice. Call center agents and customer service representatives need to be sensitive to the fact that customers may be confused or upset. After the caller explains the reason for the call, the first response is sincere empathy. The company’s brand personality and brand voice should guide the tone of this initial interaction.

Ease Anxiety: Next, ease the caller’s anxiety by reassuring them that they have called the experts and solution providers. At this point, the call center agent should consider thanking the customer for calling. This communication allows an opportunity for a resolution, rather than seeing a complaint or negative review online. A calm, confident, and reassuring attitude will go a long way in easing communications and clearly understanding the issues.

Educate: Once the issue is defined, the call center agent can provide information and guidance for the next steps. Guidelines for various scenarios and scripts with key message points provide the greatest support for the agent and result in faster resolution. Some companies provide checklists, step-by-step instructions, links to the company website, and other resources to address their customers’ needs.

Enable Follow-Up: After the call, a brief online survey or follow-up email continues to improve the brand experience. Marketing and sales leaders may consider a follow-up phone call to make sure the issue was resolved and offer an additional customer touch point.

In some cases, business leaders “mystery shop” their own call center, take customer calls themselves, or listen to recorded conversations. Getting customer feedback and monitoring performance will ensure that the call center is part of the brand experience.

Guy Dilger is the vice president of product and marketing at Plain Green. With twelve years of experience designing marketing strategies for Fortune 500 companies and financial technology brands, he is known for generating engaging content and compelling concepts that resonate with targeted consumers.

Telemarketing Appointment Setting Best Practices—Part 1



By Angela Garfinkel

Telemarketing appointment setting is a cost-effective way to use less expensive people resources to set appointments for your salespeople. The best telemarketing appointment setting initiatives have these things in common:

  • A targeted contact list with phone numbers
  • A friendly, open phone voice
  • A nutshell message
  • A reason for the prospect to schedule the appointment with you: WIIFM (what’s in it for me)
  • A timely calendar invite sent via email with a very brief summary of what the appointment will cover
  • Productive outbound dialing—ideally about thirty-five dials per hour, 262 dials per day from a B2B telemarketing appointment setting program

If any of these core components aren’t optimized, then your telemarketing appointment setting program won’t produce the highest possible return on investment (ROI).

Telemarketing appointment setting requires tenacity and creativity. The tenacity is having the willpower to make hundreds of phone calls a day, resulting in a handful of appointments. The creativity is identifying what works and what isn’t working to come up with the best approach to secure more appointments that are kept. Some people agree to appointments because they don’t like conflict or don’t like saying no. Click To Tweet

In this first article in a three-part series, I’ll cover the concept of appointment kept rate and what you can do to ensure the highest appointment kept rate possible.

What Is the Appointment Kept Rate?

The appointment kept rate is the percentage of appointments that are kept (not cancelled or no-showed) by your prospect divided by the total number of appointments set for the period you’re measuring. For example, if your outbound telemarketing appointment setting team set five hundred appointments last month and three hundred appointments were kept (including those that were rescheduled), your appointment kept rate is 60 percent. That’s a pretty good rate.

As an outsourced telemarketing appointment setting resource, our company works with many clients in many different industries, and we find that the methodology of getting a high appointment kept percent is relatively simple.

The first critical component for a high appointment kept rate is making sure the prospect is told clearly WIIFM (what’s in it for me). Some people agree to appointments because they don’t like conflict or don’t like saying no. So they agree to the appointment but don’t honor their commitment because it is easier to say yes and then not show up. Make sure that you reinforce with your appointment confirmation (wrap-up) verbiage what your prospect will gain by attending the appointment. If you can’t put that in one or two sentences, you need to work on creating an effective nutshell message.

Next, be sure you send a calendar invite immediately following the telemarketing call to lock in the appointment time on your prospect’s calendar. It’s best if you can get access to the salespeople’s calendars and set the appointments on their calendar on their behalf, inviting them to the appointment. In the calendar invite, include the nutshell language in the appointment notes or comments to reinforce why it’s worth them keeping the appointment.

Another nice touch is to send an email from the appointment setter to the prospect (copying the salesperson for whom the appointment is set). Thank them for their time, let them know that they should have received a calendar invite, and ask them to please accept the appointment to lock in the time.

If you set appointments too far in advance, expect a high rate of no-shows or reschedules. As a rule of thumb, we limit our outbound telemarketing appointment setters to set appointments no more than one week from the date of the call. If the prospect insists they can’t do an appointment sooner, then set a callback to set the appointment; don’t set the appointment and hope for the best.

In the next two articles on this topic, I’ll share best practices for finding a good prospect list and best practices for writing an appointment setting script.

Angela Garfinkel is the president and founder of Quality Contact Solutions, 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.