Category Archives: Articles

Top Workplace Best Practices for Contact Centers



By Donna Fluss

The workforce is a mash-up of diverse, multicultural, and multigenerational personnel. Organizations that want to attract and retain top talent and become employers of choice must use workforce best practices. This will engage employees and let them know that their contributions are important to the mission of the company, so they feel good about going to work.

Here are some of the best practices that help attract and retain employees. It’s not about catering to millennials, the largest demographic in the workforce today; instead it’s about creating a work environment that plays to everyone’s strengths.

These best practices are ideal for contact centers and also apply to many other areas.The objective of these best practices is to develop a positive, creative, and fulfilling work environment. Click To Tweet

Train Employees: Make sure everyone knows how to do their job and has the information, systems, and support needed to excel and deliver an outstanding customer experience.

Give Employees Visibility into Their Performance: Ensure that all employees know their goals and how well they are meeting them. Do this on a continuous basis throughout the year.

Know Your Employees: Take a personal but professional interest in your staff so they understand that you care about them and are committed to helping them succeed.

Appreciate Staff Contributions: Communicate to each employee that their work for the company is important and appreciated.

Create a Collaborative and Supportive Working Environment: Be sure everyone knows how to get help when they need it.

Make an Engaging Work Environment: Make it fun and enjoyable for people to come to work.

Welcome Constructive Feedback: Give employees a voice. Encourage their input, suggestions, and recommendations.

Treat All Employees Fairly: Be consistent, and don’t play favorites.

Advocate Work/Life Balance: Recognize employees for the work they do during normal business hours. Don’t expect staff to dedicate themselves to your company at the cost of their family or other commitments.

Allow for Schedule Flexibility: Let staff have input into their work schedules, and give them the ability to change their plans without penalty.

Reward and Recognize Employees: Show the company’s appreciation for a job well done.

Provide Opportunities: Champion career and personal development. Demonstrate to employees a potential path for advancement within the company so there is no need for them to go elsewhere to get ahead.

Create an Inclusive Work Environment: Welcome a diverse staff who has the skills required to do their jobs.

Be a Responsible Company: Advocate social and ethical responsibility. Have your company encourage participation in activities that make the world a better place.

The objective of these best practices is to develop a positive, creative, and fulfilling work environment. Treat employees well, and they’ll tend to reciprocate and do a better job. Satisfied employees are also more likely to remain with a company because there is little reason for them to go elsewhere.

This is critical for contact centers, which typically invests two to sixteen weeks to train entry-level staff. The common thread among these best practices is that small acts of kindness go a long way to building a strong and dedicated workforce. This is well worth the investment.

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.

Stay One Step Ahead of Your Customers



Why More Companies Are Flipping Their Customer Service from Reactive to Proactive

By Fara Haron

Picture this all-too-frequent scenario: a customer just ordered something urgent from a retailer’s website and received an order confirmation email, but no information about when it will be coming or how to find out. The customer goes to the website and digs around to see if they can find information about their order. But they’ve checked out as a guest and can’t log in to view their order. Now what?

Already frustrated, they pick up the phone to call customer service to ask about their order. They hear an automated recording saying there is a ten-minute wait, and there’s no call-back option. By the time the customer finally reaches a customer service representative, they’re feeling defeated. If this company had a proactive customer service approach in place, it could have eliminated a frustrated customer—and even a call to customer service—to begin with.

Anticipating customer needs and addressing them proactively before they ask for help can be achieved through new technologies. This includes offering callbacks, deploying real-time order updates, and predicting next best actions with the help of artificial intelligence.

It can also happen by creating a new mind-set, adopting new processes, and knowing your customers’ needs well enough that you can anticipate a problem before they call. Proactive customer service is an effective strategy for businesses—and especially for their contact centers. Here are some ways it can help:

  • Bring in New Customers: Reach and influence potential buyers earlier.
  • Build Customer Loyalty: Proactive service can boost customer retention rates by 3 to 5 percent.
  • Create Brand Advocates: Seventy-three percent of customers contacted proactively had a good experience and said it led to a positive change in their perception of the business.
  • Protect Reputation: Resolve issues before they go viral or become a full-blown crisis.
  • Reduce Incoming Support Volumes: Decrease contact volumes by 20 to 30 percent, which allows businesses to use representatives for work in other areas.

The good news is that proactive customer service is on the minds of many businesses, but the jump from decision-making to implementation can be a big one. Here are actionable steps for companies committed to proactive customer service:

Adopt Proactive Technology

There are a lot of customer service buzzwords floating around—robotic process automation (RPA), chatbots, augmented reality (AR)—but in the hype of these new technologies, their original purpose can get lost: to strengthen your customer service department and make it more proactive.Companies should also combine their CRM system with analytics and automation tools to analyze both current and historical data and generate sophisticated insights based on customer behavior and buying patterns. Click To Tweet

RPA is expected to fully automate back-end and repetitive customer-facing activities while increasingly applying AI capabilities. Automation makes it easier to issue things like real-time notifications for order updates, flight changes, and more, as well as providing the option for an automatic callback. But many companies seem unsure about how to implement some of these technologies.

In fact, according to a recent Arvato survey:

  • There’s slow adoption of new technology: businesses aren’t considering using virtual assistants (58.4 percent), chatbots (64.7 percent), and video chat (54.6 percent).
  • Consumers notice different types of technology, but without a clear winner. Notably, 52.3 percent say the phone is the most reliable way to solve a problem, only 11.1 percent say online chat, and just 2.8 percent prefer social media.
  • Luckily there’s a high adoption of callbacks and real-time order updates, with 56 percent of businesses planning to implement automatic callbacks and 72 percent of businesses planning to start using real-time order updates.

Automation makes sense for call centers because technology supports representatives to do their work more efficiently, mostly while dealing with customers. Processes can be handled more quickly and with 100 percent accuracy. This reduces the need for unnecessary repeat contact, freeing representatives to focus on more strategic and complex work. Automation becomes a win-win for both businesses and customers.

Consolidate Data into One Accessible CRM System

Back in the day, customers had one route to a customer service representative: the phone. Today companies can expect to support many communication channels—the phone, yes, but also virtual assistants, social media, and even video chat. To keep track of all these channels and work toward the goal of being more proactive, it’s important to have a single view of customers. By taking this approach and consolidating data into one CRM system, customer information can be presented in a unified, meaningful way. It will also help reimagine the flow of data across the organization and how information sources can change. Lastly it will identify areas for improvement and optimization.

With one, cohesive CRM system, you have all customer data at your fingertips. This can tell you valuable information, such as which channel a certain customer typically uses to contact your organization. Representatives can keep this in mind the next time they proactively contact that customer.

Companies should also combine their CRM system with analytics and automation tools to analyze both current and historical data and generate sophisticated insights based on customer behavior and buying patterns. While especially useful for retail customer service, it also allows representatives to predict the next best action and anticipate demands. This can resolve issues proactively before they escalate further. It also provides an opportunity for representatives to effectively upsell.

Transform Customer Engagement through Social Media

Social media is the first choice for contacting businesses for Generation Y, while voice and email interactions continue to decrease. Today’s customers also expect brands to be where they are, on the channel of their choice, and in a manner they expect. This means that responding promptly to customers on social media is essential for businesses to remain proactive.

While negative issues can become known through social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, businesses should look at these platforms as an opportunity to maintain control and confront problems head-on. Letting customers know you’re fixing a problem in real time is always better coming directly from you instead of having the customer conclude that the product or service doesn’t deliver.

You should regard social media as a tool to reach many more people with a proactive message compared to a one-on-one channel. On public channels such as Twitter and Instagram, customers know that a wider audience can view their messages; therefore, they are more open to receiving proactive messages from brands.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when using social media for customer engagement:

  • Don’t Reach Out Only When There’s a Problem: No relationship is sustainable when you only communicate when something is wrong.
  • Be Human: Bring context, relevance, and personalization to your message.
  • Be Fast and Flexible: Customer service representatives must be able to tap into current events affecting their industry while also responding to customers in a timely manner.
  • Analyze Consumer Behavior for Insights: Read reviews and monitor what people say about your brand. This includes proactively addressing frequently asked questions your contact center receives.
  • Capture Relevant Conversations: Optimize your search profiles and make sure to look beyond issues with @mentions of your brand. You can’t risk losing engagement with your customer because the @ symbol wasn’t used.

Let’s imagine that you’ve adopted all these proactive strategies. The customer mentioned at the beginning of this article looking for their order status never would have had to reach out to customer service to begin with. If the customer did reach out, they would have had an option to choose a call-back, or they would have reached out through social media and gotten a quick response. And when they got through, the representative already would have had the knowledge and data on this customer at their fingertips from using a cohesive CRM system.

When done right, proactive customer service can make customers feel like you understand them and help turn them into loyal supporters or even promoters of your brand.

Fara Haron is the CEO of Global BPS at Arvato and is a member of the Arvato CRM board. She has been with Arvato since 2009 and has led a rapidly growing team of CRM professionals while leveraging her international experience to support Arvato’s global CRM business.

How to Ensure That Your VoIP-Based Call Center Is Always Online



By Steve Walker

The industry trend towards Voice over IP (VoIP)-based PBXs is causing a shift in the technology underpinning the call center business. VoIP PBXs bring with them tremendous features and flexibility, but they also create some unique technical challenges. Since a VoIP PBX is essentially software running on a computer, how will you keep your agents active and phone lines up when your VoIP telephony environment goes down?

Computer problems are not a question of if, but when. And VoIP PBXs are no exception. VoIP PBXs may encounter problems on their own (for example, a hard disk failure), network problems may block them, or they may go idle in the event of a local VoIP carrier problem. (VoIP call centers on the East Coast of the United States will remember an extended outage of a particular carrier in November 2017). Any one of these events (and more) can bring your VoIP telephony environment to a halt and idle your agents.

If you’re planning to deploy a VoIP-based PBX, you need to ensure that you implement high availability (HA). In simplest terms, HA means that if one PBX fails for any reason, another will rapidly take its place and restore telephony services. This is normally achieved through “clustering,” which means having a standby PBX ready to take over for the primary PBX if things go wrong.

If you ask your IT person about HA or clustering, you might get an answer well-suited to an office computer but not appropriate to a telephony environment. To design a HA solution suitable to a mission-critical telephony environment, you need to consider the following six criteria:

1. Autonomy

This criteria is the most important requirement when designing a HA telephony environment. It means that damage or failure of one PBX in the cluster cannot negatively affect the others; they must be autonomous (share nothing). Simple or cheap solutions share hardware, software, and disk drives between primary and standby PBXs. But enterprise-caliber solutions, including those serving public service answer points (PSAPs), must have fully autonomous cluster members. Make sure your clustered PBXs are fully autonomous.

2. Synchronization

The information held in the PBX must be kept consistent between the primary and standby PBXs in the cluster, so that either can take over for the other on a moment’s notice. Solutions that share data break the first rule of autonomy, but solutions which synchronize data are ideal. Look for a solution that synchronizes data, not one that shares a data storage device. Just as important, ensure that the PBXs will automatically turn off synchronization if one of them is in poor health. Sharing data that may be corrupted by a failing PBX can destroy the other one, resulting in the call center going off-line.

3. Failure Detection

Simplistic HA solutions define failure as a black-or-white scenario (for example, a power outage affecting the building shuts down everything). But VoIP PBXs fail in their own unique ways. A software bug might prevent the PBX from connecting calls, or a memory error may prevent calls from reaching agents. Enterprise-caliber solutions require sophisticated health sensing and failure detection. This ensures that the PBX is running and telephony services are fully functional. Avoid solutions with simplistic failure detection.

4. PBX Separation

While putting the primary and secondary PBXs side by side is convenient, it minimizes the magnitude of failures the cluster can withstand. Instead you will want to place one PBX in your primary call center and the other far away, perhaps in a different state. That way, if you suffer a local or regional power or carrier outage, the backup PBX running far away can take over. Then agents can connect with mobile phones or work from home. Note as well that simplistic synchronization solutions break down whether the two PBXs are placed far away or one is placed in the cloud. Therefore, make sure your synchronization solution can handle any degree of physical separation of the two PBXs.

5. Rapid Detection and Failover

Your call center will suffer immensely if it takes fifteen minutes for your PBX to detect that something went wrong, and it will suffer again if it takes twenty minutes longer to switch to the backup. And a lengthy outage may put your call center SLAs (service level agreements) or contracts at risk. Ensure that your HA solution can rapidly failover from one PBX to the other and that failure detection (health monitoring) can trigger a failover in under one second if things go wrong.

6. Encryption

If your call center handles personal health information (i.e., for a medical facility), then information contained in the PBX (such as voicemails) may be protected health information (PHI). Voicemails synchronized between the two PBXs may be deemed “ePHI in transit,” which could violate rules pertaining to the protection of this information. Regulations like HIPAA in the USA, PHIPA in Canada, PDPA in Singapore, and so forth may impact your HA solution. You must ensure that communications between the two PBXs are encrypted to secure that information; this will also help protect the PBXs from internet hackers.

Conclusion

These six criteria define a minimum set of capabilities your HA environment must meet to ensure you maximize PBX uptime and maintain the productivity of your call center. Since VoIP PBXs are fundamentally software running on a computer, you will find a range of HA solutions from free and open-source (generic computer HA) to commercial products specifically for PBXs.

As you select your HA solution, evaluate your options using this criteria to find the solution that’s right for you. Don’t wait until your first VoIP PBX outage to start implementing a high-availability solution.

Steve Walker is the CTO at Telium, a manufacturer of telephony and telematics solutions specializing in VoIP.

Do You Need a 24/7 Contact Center Vendor?



By Patricia Qvern

As consumers, we want every call center that provides us with service to operate twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. We want to be able to call and order a “thingamabob” at 1:00 a.m. or reach a live person when it’s 90 degrees and the air conditioner isn’t working. As consumers, we love to have the convenience and reliability of picking up the phone and getting what we want or need on our schedule. The reality is, thought, we don’t always get what we want. We must compromise, and this often means calling during regular business hours. In some instances, this is okay—just a little inconvenient.

But what about the times when you need immediate customer service? And how does a business determine if offering 24/7 inbound call center services is necessary?

When I step away from being the consumer and look at it from a business perspective, there are several factors that companies should consider to determine if a 24/7 contact center vendor is necessary for handling their inbound customer contacts. If your contact center vendor can’t recruit good, reliable people for the middle of the night, then your program may be better off playing a message letting callers know your hours of operation. Click To Tweet

24/7 Challenges

First, the bad news is that 24/7 staffing is more difficult and more expensive than normal business hours staffing.

  • When a contact center vendor provides staffing for sixteen hours a day or twenty-four hours a day, the added cost isn’t just the additional staffing. The contact center vendor must also ensure that the team has support from management, quality assurance, and technical staff.
  • With a 24/7 operation, your contact center vendor never closes, so making software adjustments or equipment repairs require careful scheduling. This minimizes any disruption to the service provided to your customers.
  • With a 24/7 call center operation, you must determine how to handle holidays. Do your customers expect 24/7 coverage 365 days a year? If so, scheduling can become a significant challenge, and many state laws require paying employees double time on holidays.
  • Forecasting call volume to staff the nonstandard hours is more delicate. It’s on a smaller scale than standard hours, and this means your accuracy could make the difference between being understaffed or overstaffed.
  • Managing a 24/7 call center operation with different call types, including order taking, customer service, billing questions, technical support, and other types of calls may require you to cross-train more staff to work the nonpeak hours of operation. This will ensure that you have needed staff to cover all the different skills required for different incoming call queues.
  • Another factor to consider when evaluating if your contact center vendor needs to be 24/7 is the availability of a good quality workforce during the graveyard shift. If your selected contact center vendor can’t recruit good, reliable people for the middle of the night, then your program may be better off playing a message letting callers know your hours of operation and asking them to call back—especially if the volume of calls is very low.

24/7 Situations

The following questions can help you determine if you require a 24/7 contact center vendor.

  • Is the volume substantial enough to cost-justify staffing the contact center vendor operation during all hours of the day, seven days a week?
  • Do your customers and prospects require 24/7 support? For healthcare organizations or home service contractors, the answer is often yes. Life happens at any hour and can require immediate attention or the outcome could be life altering. Some professional services, such as financial, insurance, and legal, may also benefit from around-the-clock phone coverage. Also, consider the retail industry, where accessibility, convenience, and being able to talk to a customer service representative at 1:00 a.m. makes them stand out from the competition.

While the decision isn’t always clear, these are some points to consider when analyzing if your contact center vendor needs to be 24/7. Many companies can benefit from providing an open line of communication with a live person at all hours. It promotes confidence, trust, and reliability. It’s up to you to determine if the cost is worth the benefit.

Patricia Qvern is an operations manager at Quality Contact Solutions, an outsourced contact center vendor. Patricia has twenty years of experience in the telemarketing and call center industry. As an operations manager, she is responsible for managing the day-to-day relationship with clients and front-line contact center teams.

Communicating with Your Customers



Embrace the Rapidly Changing Customer Communication Model

By Gary E. Barnett

A phrase often used to describe rapid acceleration of a business model is Change2 (change squared). Change2 is easily observed in segments such as transportation (Uber and Lyft), consumer goods (Amazon and eBay), financial institutions (PayPal and Bitcoin) and even the automobile (Tesla) and space (SpaceX) industries. And although it is subtle to some, if not most, customer communication has also been evolving at a Change2 pace.

For anyone older than a millennial, the traditional form of customer communication—other than the brick-and-mortar, face-to-face variety—was limited to the contact center, where the customer could call to conduct business or be called when appropriate. Even today most contact centers are still based on voice (telephone calls), although new forms of communications (chat, SMS, video, and email) are creeping into the traditional contact center.Traditional customer communication shifts the burden to the contact center, while in a comprehensive model, the burden is lifted from the contact center. Click To Tweet

Contact centers are increasingly labor-heavy. They’re typically a burden on most company’s net promoter scores and often a sore point with customers. And let’s face it, many people dread calling a contact center. Just my mention of being in the contact center industry provokes a stranger’s long-winded rendition of their worst contact center experience. In many cases, what starts as a mundane request for information turns into a more-than-required complex (and many times frustrating) experience.

Reflecting on my own recent contact center interactions, most of the frustration was driven by the fact that I knew more about my issue than the agent. Now, I don’t mean this in a derogatory manner. I simply mean that there’s a myriad of information to communicate to the agent before that person has enough detail to provide meaningful assistance.

In fact, I now approach virtually every contact center call I make as a mission to get the agent as educated as quickly as possible so they can get to the task of solving my issue or selling me their latest whiz-bang product or service. An outbound contact center has an advantage because the agent can be “educated” before placing the outbound call.

Fast-forward at Change2 speed. During my last ride-share experience, I was kept informed through various forms of communication, providing a rather pleasant overall experience. Anytime I wanted to see the location of my driver and her anticipated arrival, I simply had to glance at my smartphone app.

Because of my pickup location, I needed to speak directly with the driver while she was in route. With a single tap in the app, I could immediately speak with my driver. The driver’s mobile number was not exposed to me, and more importantly, my mobile number was not exposed to her. My smartphone lit up with an SMS message when my driver arrived, and my credit card company sent me a notification the moment my credit card was charged.

This is not to say that contact centers will disappear or even become less relevant. They’re going through their own Change2 and will be absorbed by a broader comprehensive customer communication experience. The recent advancement of some contact centers to move from being limited to telephone calls to adding new channels of communication such as chat, email, SMS, and even video is just the beginning.

While these new channels add new choices for the customer, they typically mimic the capabilities of telephone calls. BPOs (business process outsourcers) will see these changes as challenging, but such changes will also provide new opportunities to add valuable services to their portfolios and provide these services to new organizations or business units within their existing customer base. For example, BPOs who primarily handle outbound teleservices will need to consider how outbound notifications through SMS or mobile applications can enhance the services they offer their customers.

Let’s take a closer look at some of my own personal experiences with some of these Change2 companies. They have fundamentally altered the models of their market segments. In the past year I have transacted many thousands of dollars with these companies. My experiences have been highly satisfactory. Their ability to communicate with me, as their customer, in a highly comprehensive manner impresses me. And to my recollection, I never communicated with these companies via their contact centers.

Through a variety of communication mechanisms, I stayed informed throughout my transactions. These channels included SMS, email, websites, and mobile apps. Each of these companies has a clear strategy on when to communicate with their customers, but also how and what to communicate. BPOs who are already skilled in outbound dialing should add these new forms of outbound communications to their portfolio of solutions.

Another attribute of a comprehensive communication strategy is that it must be a corporate strategy rather than a contact center strategy. Otherwise the outcome will appear disjointed and confusing to the customer. In my ride-sharing example, the communication experience would not have been as effective if I had been routed to a contact center, who would have relayed my message to the driver. Even though there was a telephone call between me and my driver, I didn’t have to search for a number; it was integrated into the mobile app. It also gave me a choice between a call or texting.

Traditional customer communication shifts the burden to the contact center, while in a comprehensive model, the burden is lifted (and often eliminated) from the contact center. I have yet to even interact with a contact center provided by Amazon, Uber, Lyft, PayPal, and eBay. Yet I have the perception that my communication level with these companies is high. By shifting the communication burden from the contact center through automation, there is an increased communication, enabled by the appropriate applications throughout the enterprise.

What customer communication applications, and their automation, are dependent upon a specific strategy? Application “hooks” for embedding communications are a must, generally accessing centralized preferences for customization down to the individual customer. Maintaining flexible customer communications preferences will be key, as preferences will certainly differ from customer to customer. They also likely will change for any given customer over time, especially as new communication channels become accessible.

Some enterprises have already created positions to plan, coordinate, and implement these initiatives. This makes sense where applications span multiple organizations and a comprehensive customer communication strategy is of high value. BPOs must monitor their customers changing organizations, which will impact contact center decisions.

Notwithstanding proactive notifications, workflows and other technologies are becoming the significant difference in the evolution to a comprehensive customer communication strategy. In most instances the contact center will no longer be the “center” for customer communication. Customers will view unsolicited proactive updates as highly informative and valuable, especially when using their specific preferences for when, what, and how.

Additionally, customers will expect all contact points be communication-enabled, including websites, mobile apps, and kiosks—and each will offer multiple channels of communication. Contact centers will not survive as islands, but rather they will participate in the overall customer communication strategy.

In summary, new business models incorporate comprehensive customer communication strategies, and these strategies play a significant role in those new models. Contact centers will continue to be necessary and expected by customers, but they won’t necessarily remain the primary customer contact point. Additionally, proactive outbound notifications will become the norm, as will communication-enabled mobile apps.

BPOs have a real opportunity to add new capabilities to their portfolios to help their customers adopt new forms of communication outside of the traditional contact center. Customer communication requirements will not be successful as silos, but instead will be shared across the enterprise. Finally, this will all occur at a Change2 pace. Is your company ready?

Gary E. Barnett is the former president and CEO of Aspect Communications, former president and CEO of Prospect Software, and most recently the former senior vice president and general manager at Avaya. In his thirty-five-year career, Mr. Barnett is known for his technical innovations in the contact center, unified communication, and CTI industries.

Call Center Technology History



By Smitha Baliga

Phone answering services, telemessaging, contact centers, and teleservice agencies have certainly changed throughout the years—for the better. From their humble roots in the 1920s and 1930s to today’s ultra-functional, do-it-all, multipurpose powerhouses, call centers barely resemble their predecessors.

Thanks to tremendous technological advancements, present-day contact centers handle heavy call volumes, automated appointments, and crucial customer service communication. And that’s just scratching the surface.

Plenty of key milestones helped turn yesteryear’s communication headquarters into what we recognize as today’s call centers. During that time we’ve come a long way. Let’s take a trip back in time to see how we got from there to here.

  • Early twentieth century: Switchboards functioned as de facto call centers. Human error, unreliable technology, and other hurdles challenged these first call centers.
  • Mid 1950s: In the mid-twentieth century, a system called the Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) collected, routed, and assigned incoming calls to available agents. It wasn’t the most effective method, but the present-day call center had its first prototype.
  • Late 1950s/early 1960s: The blueprint for the modern call center was created with Private Automated Business Exchanges (known as PABX). Of course, PABX enterprises relied heavily on ACD technology.
  • Late 1960s: To make call routing easier, AT&T established 1-800 numbers in 1967. This allowed heavier call volumes and created unexpected advertising opportunities and marketing avenues.
  • Early 1970s: British Gas used an ACD system to field up to 20,000 calls per week in a facility based in Wales. That was the most calls any center had processed in a seven days’ span.
  • Late 1970s: Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology allowed incoming calls to be handled by fully automated systems.
  • Early 2000s: With so much attention paid to automated technology, offshore centers (primarily based in India) sparked a rise in offshoring (using agents overseas).
  • Mid 2000s: Premise-based call center technology ceded call center management to cloud-based systems.Premise-based call center technology ceded call center management to cloud-based systems. Click To Tweet

These are some of the most noteworthy call center developments in the past century. Aside from these landmark events, engineers, software developers, entrepreneurs, and visionaries were responsible for creating today’s call centers that deliver fast service.

While the past provides interesting insights into the call center’s history, it will be even more exciting to see what the future holds.

Smitha Baliga is the CEO of TeleDirect, which provides affordable business process outsourcing (BPO) services to clients from a diverse range of industries and business applications. For more information about TeleDirect, please visit www.teledirect.com.

Be Careful What You Say



People judge the company we represent on every single phone call

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineI once had a call center agent work for me who had a compulsion to offer commentary at the end of every call. Her comments ranged from snarky to crass. Occasionally she voiced her opinion a bit too quickly, before the caller had hung up or while the voice logger was still recording. In addition, her unfiltered diatribe irritated her coworkers in adjacent cubicles. Eventually we reigned in her problematic habit, but I don’t think we stopped it altogether.

A Need to Vent

I get that sometimes we need to vent. But this should be a rare event, not a common occurrence. And most certainly the caller should never be privy to our opinions, such as this agent’s thoughts about callers’ intellectual abilities or the nature of their parentage. Sometimes we need to go out of rotation for a moment to gather our thoughts and recalibrate our focus before we dive into the next call. And on the rarest of occasions, an agent may require an unscheduled break.

If you work in a call center, you know that this post-call commentary happens. You may even do it yourself, perhaps in your mind or maybe under your breath, but it shouldn’t happen out loud. That’s simply unprofessional—doubly so if the caller hears even a fragment of it.Each call is an opportunity to impress the caller and draw them into your company. Click To Tweet

Recently I experienced the other end of this. I had called a company, and afterward I heard the agent’s commentary—about me.

Be Careful What You SayAs we said our good-byes, but before I could hang up, she sighed and whispered, “What a nice man.”

My mind went spinning. First was the shock that she spoke before disconnecting our call. Next was that I experienced the caller’s side of hearing an agent’s post-call opinion. And third was that I had done nothing to earn the positive label she gave me. Though I deserved no credit, I hoped the rest of her day was a little bit better because of our interaction.

In all my years in the call center industry, I can’t remember an agent making a positive statement after a call. Either it’s negative, or it’s nonexistent.

Callers Talk About Agents Too

What agents may not realize is that callers do this same thing when it comes to agents. Here are some things I’ve thought or said after a call:

“I don’t think they have a clue.”

“What they said made absolutely no sense.”

“I have no expectation they’ll ever follow through.”

“Maybe I should call back and talk to a rep who actually knows what’s going on.”

When I—and every other caller—make these statements, they might be addressing the agent, but they’re not really about the agent. They’re about the company the agent represents.

Every Call Matters

That’s why every call matters. Each call is an opportunity to impress the caller and draw them into your company. Alternately every call has a potential to drive them away. Unfortunately it takes several good calls to counteract one bad one.

Over the years I’ve experienced both good calls and bad. I often share these examples so we can all learn from them and do better. One call stands out as the best of the best. It was a help desk call that lasted over an hour. As the rep worked to resolve my software issue, she kept up a rapport-building conversation.

Most help desk agents politely place callers on hold while waiting for various tasks to complete. This one didn’t. She maintained an engaging dialogue with me—though I mostly listened, and she mostly talked. She told me how much she liked her job and what a great company she worked for. We talked a little bit about the general area where she lived and the climate—a perfect fit for her. She also shared other tidbits that were neither too personal nor uninteresting. Throughout it all she exuded positivity, and her infectious demeanor rubbed off on me.

The call ended, but the memory of it stays with me. Now, many months later, I’m dismayed to admit that I no longer remember her name. But I’ll always remember the company she worked for.

That’s a lesson for us all.

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.

Vendor Profile: American Tel-A-Systems



American Tel-A-Systems, better known as Amtelco, focuses on providing call center solutions that meet or exceed customer expectations, backed by top-notch service and support. Millions of telephone calls and messages are processed every day by Amtelco systems and software in operation in all fifty of the United States and more than twenty foreign countries. By working closely with customers, Amtelco continues to develop innovative features and products to enhance experiences and boost profitability for their customers.

Partnering with Customers

Since the company’s founding in 1976, Amtelco has focused on working closely with customers to advance telecommunication solutions.

Amtelco works closely with both the National Amtelco Equipment Owners (NAEO) group and the Telescan User Network (TUNe) group to advance not only Amtelco and Telescan solutions but the industry as a whole. Both NAEO and TUNe meet annually to network with peers and collaborate with Amtelco and Telescan leaders and software developers. In addition to attending the annual meetings, Amtelco hosts webinars for both groups and participates in several committees, including the NAEO Future Direction Committee, which focuses on educating the members on industry trends and Amtelco software advancements for use by NAEO members.

The Future of Call Center Software

Genesis is the next generation of Amtelco’s Infinity automatic call distribution (ACD) and unified messaging system. Genesis is a software-only platform with the powerful features and benefits of the Intelligence Series (IS) and adds software-based switching, multichannel skills-based ACD, call logging, voicemail, and conferencing to provide a single software platform for all call center functions.

According to Theron J. Mossholder, member of NAEO’s board of directors and NAEO past president, “Genesis allows us to have a fully virtualized infrastructure giving us the ability to utilize AWS (Amazon Web Services) as our IaaS (infrastructure as a service). We no longer have the need for numerous physical servers on-site nor the needed IT staff to support those servers. Having the entire Intelligent Series and Genesis platform now virtualized in AWS, we have the full use of the AWS infrastructure, services and, most importantly, redundancy that we need as a 24/7/365 service provider.”

This all-inclusive call center software suite improves call routing and management, saves time with customizable reporting and audit functions, and enhances accountability with call logging and video capture. It also connects remote agents and simplifies on-call and workforce scheduling.

Cloud-Based and Virtual Call Center Technology

Call centers can take advantage of running Genesis in a virtual server environment or in the cloud. Virtual servers allow a call center to grow without adding additional hardware—saving time and money because there’s less equipment to buy and maintain. Large companies with multiple locations and call centers can run on a single virtual server located anywhere in the country—even if they all use different PBX telephone systems.

Cloud deployment moves the call center platform to a cloud provider such as Amazon or Microsoft. This shifts the responsibility for server management to the cloud provider.

Secure Text Messaging App

Amtelco provides secure messaging via smart devices with the miSecureMessages app. Regular SMS or text messages are stored on mobile devices and can be viewed by a third party. With miSecureMessages, encrypted messages aren’t stored on a person’s device. Unique passcodes, fingerprint access technology, and remote disabling are additional safety features.

Android and Apple mobile devices, as well as personal computers, can use miSecureMessages. Users can send text, photo, video, and audio files. There is also a voice-to-text mode, so a person can speak a message into their device and it automatically converts into text.

Bridging the Gap

MergeComm is an automated dispatch and systems integration engine that elevates the capabilities of the Intelligent Series by adding automation to become a bridge between technologies.

MergeComm reduces errors and saves labor by automating inbound message and outbound dispatch activities. MergeComm enables receiving inbound messages via email, web service API, SMS text message, TAP page, WCTP page, HL7 record from an EMR platform, and phone calls. It also automates outbound dispatching with automated retries, escalations, and dispatching for individuals and groups.

Complex Call Center Applications Made Simple

Simplification can have a big impact on the success and profitability of any business, but it has a significant impact on call centers, which are very labor-intensive. As time has progressed, the complexity of call center applications has grown and so has the time it takes to train agents and administer those applications.

Amtelco has identified four key call center areas that are simplified and streamlined with the help of Genesis:

  1. System and client administration
  2. Agent interface
  3. Web interface
  4. System maintenance

One of the benefits Genesis offers is the consolidation of system and client administration. Using an administrative process based entirely on Amtelco’s IS Supervisor allows all system software administration to be performed in a single application, eliminating confusion and repetitive data entry steps. This greatly reduces the time it takes to administer and activate new clients, generating revenue sooner than previously possible.

The agent interface used in Genesis is designed to be intuitive to minimize training, increase efficiency, and reduce errors. This is accomplished through a customizable presentation that is both keyboard- and mouse-friendly. Agents can connect to calls with a keyboard shortcut, the home screen can show any helpful tools and information, and the toolbar menu has quick access buttons for common functions.

Call center applications and data can extend beyond the call center with web and mobile interfaces. With its internet connections, Genesis provides a single point of access for all call center applications and data. This includes access to call recordings and screen captures, as well as the ability to view and initiate messages and access directories. It also provides the ability to update on-call schedules, perform status updates, and run reports. Users with smartphones and tablets can navigate the screens just as easily as desktop users. The presentation of data and applications can be tailored to each user with a customizable home screen layout of widgets. This provides each user with a streamlined interface, specific to their needs.

Genesis has an integrated event manager for monitoring and managing system events within IS Supervisor. All system events are available in the event manager, eliminating the need for a separate print capture-type application. Genesis also provides trunk configuration and diagnostics from within its configuration manager component of IS Supervisor. This allows access to troubleshooting information that previously was available only to Amtelco Field Engineering personnel via the Infinity diagnostic port.

Amtelco’s Commitment to Better Call Center Solutions

Amtelco’s revolutionary products continue to make a big impact on people’s lives. They are committed to continually improve their Intelligent Series to reduce complexity, streamline the agent interface, simplify system administration, and reduce maintenance overhead and costs.

AmtelcoFor more information go to callcenter.amtelco.com or email info@amtelco.com.

Why Telemarketing Programs Fail, Part Three



By Kathy Sisk

In the last issue we discussed telemarketing program expectations, the list, and reporting when setting up and managing a campaign. Part three is about the importance of properly assessing and preparing agents for training before the start of the campaign.

Agent Assessing

Carefully selecting the attributes of the campaign with the agents is an essential aspect of overall success. Identify this up front during your agent selection process. The best time to assess agents is before you hire them. Assessment tools should be in place to select the right agents prior to investing time and money into training them.

After assessing telemarketing agents to find the right ones, continue to assess them during the basic training (soft skills), simulation (role-play), and applied training (live calling) phases of their preparation. Not all agents will pass the basic training, and not all agents will pass the simulation training. Furthermore, it’s essential to select the right agents for the applied training phase. This is where they will represent the client to prospects.Poorly trained agents are one of the quickest ways for a campaign to fail. Click To Tweet

Agent Training

Poorly trained agents are one of the quickest ways for a campaign to fail. Sometimes a program starts without asking for adequate training from the client or assigned project manager. Another issue is the call center replacing an agent during the program but failing to give them adequate training.

However, too much training on product knowledge can hinder the agent from performing well. Also, too much information may intimidate agents if they feel they can’t learn all the details.

It’s best to segment training at a pace where agents feel confident enough to present it using the call guide (the script). Once an agent can confidently go through the call guide, your focus should shift to the delivery quality of the presentation. Then you can train agents how to branch off the script whenever necessary. This is a vital part of the delivery process.

Summary

Be sure to assign the right agents to the campaign. Not all campaigns are alike, and neither are all agents. Some campaigns need a more assertive agent as opposed to other campaigns that require an easy-going approach.

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.

Three Major Benefits of a Medical Call Center Partnership



A Medical Call Center Partnership Contributes to Organizational Efficiency

By Karen Brown

Organizational efficiency is the ability to implement plans using the smallest possible expenditure of resources. It’s an important factor in organizational effectiveness and vital to the healthcare industry, which continues to experience increased operating costs and smaller bottom lines.

Medicare expansion and the ACA (Affordable Care Act) have contributed to significant increases in patient populations that are expensive to treat and provide minimal financial return. This strains an organization seeking to provide adequate post-discharge care, which can result in costly avoidable readmissions.

As patient loads and associated risks increase and reimbursement decreases, the ability to achieve organizational efficiency becomes more challenging. However, providing the highest possible quality patient care at the lowest possible operating expense can be possible with the assistance of a medical call center. By partnering with a call center’s team of registered nurses specially trained in telephone triage, organizations can save a significant amount of time and cost associated with adding staff while reducing the risk of unnecessary readmissions and inappropriate utilization of care.Partnering with a medical call center provides access to high quality care at the lowest cost possible. Click To Tweet

Telehealth and Related Services Are a Large Part of a Bright Future

It’s no secret that telehealth services and telemedicine are becoming increasingly popular due to the financial benefits they provide. Combined with federal policy changes (MACRA and MIPS) that address care planning and risk assessment—significantly effecting reimbursement in the process—telemedicine is poised to drive more revenue from virtual care directly to hospitals and healthcare organizations. And this is just the beginning. According to a recent report from Grand View Research, the telemedicine market should top $113 billion by 2025.

While telehealth currently focuses on a range of primary care services, the rising occurrences of chronic conditions as well as the increasing demand for self-care and remote monitoring are significant factors driving telehealth growth. Healthcare organizations that add new primary care options will reduce costs and create new services while remotely offering existing ones to more of their patient populations.

Partnering with a medical call center provides a healthcare organization with access to established chronic care, self-care, and remote monitoring programs. This eliminates significant labor costs. It’s vital to find a call center with outbound service offerings that include a variety of chronic care and follow-up, post-discharge call programs, including prescription/medicine reconciliation, self-care plan adherence, and follow-up appointment scheduling.

Quality of Care: Patient Satisfaction

In today’s world, people have a multitude of choices when it comes to their care. Because of this, it’s vital for healthcare organizations and providers to get every aspect of the patient experience right. Providing the correct medical care isn’t the only factor contributing to a positive experience. From the initial appointment-setting call to the final communication between a patient and provider, every experience contributes to the overall satisfaction and quality of care a patient receives.

One of the largest factors contributing to patient satisfaction is access to care. We live in a 24/7 world, and having access to definitive medical care at all times is a standard patient expectation. Providing that level of access is challenging and often costly. Not providing that level of access leaves patients feeling less empowered and engaged, which in turn can lead to poor experiences and even poorer satisfaction scores. A partnership with a medical call center gives patients access to definitive medical care 24/7/365 at much lower costs.

Another factor contributing to patient satisfaction is the quality of relationship with their caregivers. Patients expect to be engaged in decisions involving their care. This includes open communication with nurses and providers involved in that care. If patients do not feel their concerns have been heard and taken seriously, they feel less confident in the care they receive, resulting in a negative experience—even if the outcome is positive.

It isn’t uncommon for providers to become overwhelmed with consistently increasing workloads in a 24/7 environment. This can lead to frustration and burnout, which is often evident in their interactions with patients. Using a medical call center to cover all after-hours calls removes the 24/7 access from the provider’s core responsibilities. This is a powerful physician recruitment and retention game changer. In short, happy providers have more positive interactions with their patients, which results in higher patient engagement and satisfaction.

While no healthcare organization wants a patient to have a negative experience for any reason, there is a new factor regarding patient satisfaction that demands attention. Since the inception of value-based purchasing, the definition of a successful patient experience has been redefined. Now 30 percent of the overall quality of care is attributed to patient satisfaction.

This means that patient satisfaction survey scores directly impact an organization’s bottom line. The shift to pay-for-performance also means that reimbursements are tied to the quality of care. Hospitals that provide a higher quality of care than their peers will receive reimbursement incentives, while hospitals that provide a lower quality of care will incur penalties.

This is perhaps the most beneficial aspect of partnering with a medical call center. Providing positive experiences for both patient and provider can drastically improve overall patient satisfaction and outcomes, leading to a higher overall quality of care and the related financial rewards.

Ultimately the provision of appropriate, quality care to achieve positive outcomes is the goal of all healthcare organizations. Making that a possibility—while also considering organizational needs, government regulations, and patient experience—can be difficult and costly. Partnering with a medical call center provides access to high quality care at the lowest cost possible.

Karen Brown, RN, is vice president, business development, with TeamHealth Medical Call Center, a premier provider of medical call center solutions, providing services to more than 10,000 providers, health plans, home health and hospice organizations, employers, and universities across the United States.