Category Archives: Articles

Vendor Profile on Amtelco



For forty-four years Amtelco has focused on providing call center solutions that meet or exceed customer expectations, backed by top-notch service and support. Amtelco systems and software process millions of telephone calls every day by operations in all fifty US states and more than twenty other countries. 

Amtelco president Tom Curtin states: “We truly believe that our customers and employees are extended family, and that culture is what fuels our business success. Each employee clearly sees how their work contributes to our business objectives, which ensures that all employees feel connected to one another and to our mission.” Amtelco has always been family-owned and managed through multiple generations who care for and understand their customers’ business.

By working closely with customers, Amtelco continues to develop innovative features and products to provide the best communications solutions. Click To Tweet

This dedication is evident in the average length of service of Amtelco employees. Of the more than 130 employees, 37 percent have more than fifteen years of experience, and 17 percent have more than twenty years of experience at Amtelco. In nine of Amtelco’s eleven departments, the average length of service is eleven or more years, and three departments have an average length of service of almost twenty. Amtelco recently received a Top Workplaces 2020 honor and a special award for work/life flexibility by the Wisconsin State Journal

By working closely with customers, Amtelco continues to develop innovative features and products to provide the best communications solutions.

Effective and Versatile Application

The Genesis Intelligent Series and Genesis Spectrum is an entirely software-based solution that provides a seamless integration of social media, websites, mobile communications, reporting, voicemail, and secure messaging. 

The key to the Genesis Series is the simplified administration and management of all call center applications within the Intelligent Series Supervisor. This reduces errors, administration, new client activation time, and maintenance overhead. Users can increase revenue through reduced labor and faster client activation. 

The Genesis Intelligent Series enables deployment in a virtual machine environment. This provides simplification of server utilization and maintenance to improve reliability and reduce overhead costs. The Genesis Series is perfectly suited for cloud applications. This enables deployment of the solution in cloud environments. Cloud implementation reduces premise-based equipment and overhead and provides flexibility and reliability by capitalizing on the cloud provider infrastructure.

Productive Remote Agent Solution

Communications software and virtual operator applications, such as Amtelco’s Genesis web agent, make working from home easy. The web agent application makes any personal computer a professional telephone agent station. 

Genesis Web Agent enables agents to process multichannel calls through desktop computers, laptops, and tablets from a web browser. The application uses WebRTC to provide agent audio in a secure, multimedia environment. All agent functions are available for remote agent connections, which allows for a smooth transition. For callers, the fact that the agents are remote is transparent.

Secure and Efficient Messaging

Businesses and healthcare enterprises use miSecureMessages to keep their communications secure. They trust miSecureMessages for communications security. The secure messaging app sends encrypted text, photo, audio, and video content.

MiSecureMessages has benefits for anyone using call centers for receptionist and messaging services to save time, increase efficiency, and improve security. It offers easy and encrypted messaging that’s perfect for small, medium, and large organizations. MiSecureMessages is an integral part of a complete secure messaging system. 

Version 6.7 of miSecureMessages includes the following enhancements: 

  • Android and Apple users can select different sounds for high-priority notifications versus normal-priority alerts. This allows users to know the priority of an incoming message.
  • When miSecureMessages users turn off their notifications, they have the option to enter their own away message or choose a preprogrammed message. The away message sends automatically to contacts who send them a message and appears on the contacts screen to other users in the same group. Away messages can be set in advance for a specific start and end date and time.
  • Messages can be sent with three different reply modes: allow replies to all recipients in the thread, only allow replies to the sender, or not allow any replies.
  • MiSecureMessages users can create their own personal quick phrases for use in composing and replying to messages. Each user’s personal quick phrases display in that user’s quick phrases menu, along with the group and system level quick phrases, if enabled.

Enhancing Quality Assurance and Productivity

The Genesis IS agent assessment feature is a customizable survey and scoring tool for assessing agent performance on individual calls. Supervisors can easily create new assessments, add, edit, and remove questions, customize the weight of questions, specify which assessments apply for which clients, and set a default assessment if a client doesn’t have one assigned. 

Data about recent assessment scores include the name of the agent assessed, who evaluated the agent, the client name and number, the score the agent received, the date of the call, and the call length. 

The call tracker analytics feature of the IS Supervisor dashboard displays charts of call event data. Displayed data includes total calls, calls per agent, calls per station type, calls per call type, calls per client, and service-level performance. The data can automatically refresh at configurable time intervals. 

The service-level charting widget provides a visual representation of activities related to specific target goals. Data grouping can cover the year, month, week, day, hour, or quarter hour. A variety of displayable data includes the average answer time, service-level answer time, agent and system abandons, total calls, calls per agent, and calls per call type. Users can configure target levels for the service level answer time, agent abandons, and system abandons, with the option to display the target levels. 

Amtelco

For more information, visit www.amtelco.com.

Preparing Your Contact Center for a Pandemic



By Donna Fluss

As the coronavirus pandemic fills the news headlines, contact centers are striving to continue to deliver service to their customers. Many companies have disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity (BC) plans to address the ability to operate if a disaster—such as a hurricane, earthquake, or fire—were to occur. Some companies may even have plans to cope with the impact of a major flu outbreak, but few contact centers have a BC plan to handle a pandemic where employees are at risk if they sit closer than six feet from each other, which is the situation in most service organizations.

Business Continuity for Pandemics

Planning for business continuity in case of a pandemic is different from preparing for a natural disaster scenario. In the case of weather-related disasters, the main consideration is often employees’ safety when driving to and from the workplace. For a pandemic, however, the main issue may be people’s reluctance to leave home at all. Keep in mind that it’s not fair for companies to require their contact center staff and other service employees to report to work under these circumstances when other departments may be advised that it’s unsafe to come to the office.

Companies should prioritize keeping their employees safe and healthy so they can be there to assist their customers. Click To Tweet

Allow Contact Center Staff to Work from Home

Companies should make it as easy as possible for their contact center staff to work from home. Provide employees with PCs, headsets, and secure access to operating systems so they can perform their job in the safety of their home. This reinforces the benefit of investing in cloud-based contact center infrastructure solutions that are accessible from most locations, including employees’ homes.

Supervisors should also be set up to work from their homes. To mitigate the risk of leaving contact center agents unsupported during a widespread health crisis, it’s a best practice to establish a structure where managers and supervisors share responsibilities, and it can be especially helpful to have them in different geographies. All systems should be capable of being managed from remote locations.

Communication Is Key

It’s important for businesses to have a documented DR/BC plan that addresses healthcare emergency scenarios. A communications plan is the most essential element during any crisis situation. The plan should inform staff members how to stay in touch with the business, and to let them know what is expected of them. It’s advisable for a company to have two ways of reaching each employee, such as email and SMS, to ensure that they receive each communication on a timely basis. 

Another essential element of the communication plan is a process for interacting with customers to let them know that your company is there for them and the most effective methods for receiving assistance. The customer communication should also set expectations for customers. If service response times are slower due to an increase in volumes or decrease in staff, advise them of this.

Enhance Self-Service Solutions

To decrease the volume of interactions that require live agents, companies should enhance their voice and web-based self-service solutions by adding options that don’t require human assistance. Companies can either enhance an existing interactive voice response (IVR) system or use a next-generation intelligent virtual assistant (IVA) that can be set up to manage multiple channels, including voice, websites, SMS, and more.

Final Recommendation

Social distancing has proven to be the most effective method to date for limiting the rapid spread of the highly contagious coronavirus. Companies should prioritize keeping their employees safe and healthy so they can be there to assist their customers. For contact center employees, this means allowing them to work from their homes.

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.

Interaction Recording Using Microsoft Teams: Ten Factors for Success



By Michael Levy

According to Gartner, one in four contact center seats is now communicating using Microsoft Teams. Therefore, you likely have agents handling customer inquiries and complaints using this platform across one or more of your contact centers. That means expanding the value of your Microsoft Teams solution to turn recorded interactions into valuable business assets.

To ensure quality of service and protect your business, it’s time to start capturing those interactions to monitor agent performance, maintain compliance (GDPR, PCI, HIPAA, and so forth), and protect your organization in cases of he-said/she-said disputes. With limited built-in recording capabilities for Microsoft Teams, consider an add-on recorder. Here are ten key factors to consider when making your selection:

1. Record All Interaction Types

Your recorder must be able to handle your interactions (voice, video chat, and screens) regardless of their type. This includes:

  • internal
  • federated
  • remote
  • mobile
  • conference
  • PSTN
Look for dashboards you can tailor to each user, enabling authorized staff to view the specific metrics and information that helps them perform their tasks more successfully. Click To Tweet

2. Support Multiple Integration Points

Your recorder needs to support multiple integration points, including:

  • direct routing via SBC
  • compliance recording APIs

3. Offer Omni-Channel Recording Capabilities

What’s more, your recording solution must be able to capture voice, video, chat, and screen so you can have full interaction recordings to replay when necessary to prove compliance, resolve a dispute, and gain valuable insights. 

Integrated playback in a single window also enables your managers, supervisors, and team leaders to precisely assess agent performance based on live interactions as they occur. Most recorders do not offer omni-channel playback.

4. Provide Versatility

Your Teams recorder ought to be able to offer various regional storage, data sovereignty, and geo-zone storage options to support your unique requirements. 

5. Uphold Regulatory Compliance

Record on demand, pause or resume, and sensitive-information masking are critical features that allow your agents to comply with relevant industry and governmental regulations such as GDPR, PCI, HIPAA, TCPA, and MiFID II. Your recorder must be able to support these capabilities to enable agents with the tools they require to comply. It’s also important to deploy a recorder that can accommodate regional storage and recording to support local privacy and data transfer laws.

6. Present Accessible Storage Options

You need secure access to your recordings. Therefore, you also require versatility in where your interactions are stored. You need a Microsoft Teams recorder that enables you to keep your recordings safely stored in various cloud locations, such as AWS and Azure.

7. Control and Restrict Access

Recorded interactions can contain sensitive information, such as patient details, credit card information, passwords, and PINs. Therefore, you must be able to restrict access to your stored interactions. Unauthorized access can leave your company and your customers vulnerable to misuse, compliance violations, and potential lawsuits. You need the ability to control playback permission levels by restricting access to authorized agents, team leaders, and managers. Also look for the ability to restrict and allow access to third parties without the need for exporting unencrypted audio files.

8. Allow Customization of KPIs and Intelligence Data

The performance data from your customer interactions can provide value to the members of your contact center team: managers, team leaders, agents, quality assurance supervisors, and analysts. Therefore, you want each person to be able to customize the KPIs and intelligence they see. 

Look for dashboards you can tailor to each user, enabling authorized staff to view the specific metrics and information that helps them perform their tasks more successfully. You also want the ability to integrate with and access other reporting solutions, such as Microsoft PowerBI.

9. Function in Hybrid Environments

Some organizations, especially those that have undergone a merger or acquisition, have hybrid contact centers featuring multiple communications and PBX platforms. These complex environments can cause problems for many recording solutions. You need a recorder that can support hybrid environments with the same recorder. 

For instance, look for a solution that can capture and store interactions across both a Cisco VoIP PBX and Microsoft Teams using the same recorder. This eliminates integration and playback compatibility concerns. The recorder should also support multiple integrations and hybrid environments to reduce risks and enable smooth technology migrations.

10. Work with a Variety of Communication Devices

You likely have a mix of mobile and office-based devices. You need a recorder that can capture interactions from these devices simultaneously.

Conclusion

Some interaction recorders only capture certain types of communications, while others lack flexibility for the types of deployments and storage options required. When selecting an interaction recording solution to support your Microsoft Teams interactions, consider these ten factors so you can select a recorder that supports your business requirements.

Michael Levy is the president, CEO, and co-founder of Numonix, an innovator in the development of interaction recording and quality management solutions.

Increasing Sales Through Self-Generated Leads



By Donna West

The real work of a salesperson—the work that truly increases your sales, and thus your income—happens outside of inquiry calls.

Inquiry calls can come in at any time, and you are there to respond to the leads that your company pays to generate. But sales are more than reacting to inquiries. Put that waiting time to effective use: set up accounts, complete paperwork, or do research for areas in which you want to sell. This is interruptible work that allows you to be ready to jump on an inquiry call the moment it comes in.

People buy from those they trust. Click To Tweet

Increase Your Sales

You must do warm calling, cold calling, and call-backs. Don’t forget the “How are we doing for you? Who else do you know that might need our services?” calls that will feather your commissions’ nest. If you aren’t calling the people who have inquired about your services, you’re abandoning them. 

It can take more than seven touches (some say many more) before a prospect becomes your client. It’s important to consistently make those touches. Create a list and be sure you’ve made at least seven touches. Note what they were. Tracking them will show what works best for you.

  • Personal notes—handwritten, using snail mail, the old-fashioned way—still work, but few people send them anymore. When was the last time you wrote one? When did you last receive one? They get attention.
  • Send bulky packages containing swag. Few people can resist a padded envelope with a surprise lump inside.
  • Forward an email about something that pertains to a prospect’s business, something you find on the internet. Sending it to them creates a touch. It says you listened when you were chatting with them.
  • Revisit their website to discover something you might comment on or ask about the next time you talk with them.
  • Call back the day after your conversation or visit to share something you’ve thought about that might benefit their business.
  • Send a copy of your newsletter, preferably a recent one that talks about a feature your potential client asked about or that you think might fit their business needs. 
  • Create a newsletter article that speaks to a feature that might interest multiple potential clients. Then share it with those prospects.

These are all important things to do after you speak with a potential client. It shows that yours is the kind of company that nurtures and cares about their business partners.

Self-Generated Leads

A good portion of your sales should come from self-generated leads—if you are putting effort into them. This is vitally important, and your commissions hinge on it. If you aren’t making the amount of money you’d like to, put more effort into generating your own leads.

Be creative. There are more ways to find people who need your services than contacting names on a purchased list of businesses. The yellow pages were once an excellent source of business leads, but there are many modern-day equivalents, including the yellow pages online.

  • Simply go to your browser and type in plumbers, for example, and your location. You will find a whole list of ads. If they’re looking for business, they probably need your services.
  • Check local advertiser newspapers (such as the Penny Saver), which often has advertisements for local small businesses. They need their phones answered, and many use an answering machine or voicemail. 
  • After hours, call businesses that use answering services and see how their phones are handled. Make a list of those calls that don’t sound professional. Then reach out to those companies.
  • As you’re driving, notice businesses that may need your services. Pull over and snap a photo or leave yourself a message on your phone.
  • Ask friends and relatives who they use for various service needs.
  • Call your local chamber of commerce and ask for lists. Or check with Home Advisors or Angie’s List.
  • Join your local chamber of commerce and attend their meetings.
  • Scope out various service clubs (such as Rotary or Lions), attend hobby clubs (knitting clubs, book clubs, even the sportsman’s club—whatever interests you). Join the PTA, a church, or a trade association and work on a committee.
  • Get acquainted with businesses that serve the tradespeople in the types of businesses you want to bring on board. For instance, if you are seeking plumbers as new clients, target plumbing and electrical supply stores, local hardware stores, and big box stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s.

Don’t ever join a club, church, or organization for what you might get out of it. Be sure you’re genuinely interested in the group. Invest yourself in their goals and become a real part of their activities. Make this something you do for your own enjoyment; any leads that come from it are a bonus. Socially active salespeople have a greater income than those who are not. Some salespeople merely take orders as they come in, and their paychecks reflect that. Successful salespeople do far more, and their paychecks reflect the extra effort.

Always Be Seen

The rules for sales are different than for hourly workers. You can increase your income independently. Once you fulfill your agreement with your employer, you can make contacts at any time and any place.

It’s important to realize that people buy from those they trust. When you are out, you will become acquainted with more people. Eventually that facilitates sales. The sales slogan “Always be closing” is changing to “Always be seen.” You can’t make as much money if you stay home and only make calls during business hours.

A recent conversation with a top selling realtor netted the following great quote: “I’m never not selling. No matter where I go, I’m aware of sales possibilities. My livelihood depends on that.” That’s what makes a good salesperson. They recognize that they don’t know where that next lead will come from. 

When you’re in sales, you are working for your employer, but also for yourself. Be aware—but not aggressive. There is a difference between making your goal and making great money. That difference comes from the effort and imagination you’re willing to invest. Invest in yourself.

Donna West is the founder and president of Focus Telecommunications and relies on her super salespeople to build her company and their own income. Come to the Sales Symposium (rescheduled for 2021) for the telephone answering industry to learn more about the great game of sales and how you can win that game.

Healthcare Call Centers Help Bring Care to the Medically Underserved



By Nicole Limpert

A person who is medically underserved is someone who does not have health insurance. Estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and the National Health Interview Survey cite that in 2017, 29.3 million, or 9.1 percent of the population were uninsured.

Vulnerable Populations: Multiple studies have found that vulnerable populations in the United States, including the elderly, low-income, ethnic minorities, migrants, and people who received limited education, are also medically underserved.

People with various life experiences may interpret symptoms differently, such as thinking a seizure is a spiritual issue rather than a medical complaint or expressing concerns about depression as anger rather than sadness.

Medical call centers play a critical role in helping to serve the medically underserved. Click To Tweet

Poor Access to Healthcare: Living in a rural location and having inadequate transportation present challenges when trying to access healthcare. Rural areas are sparsely populated, resulting in a lack of available services. Rural communities comprise roughly 20 percent of the United States, yet less than 10 percent of doctors practice in these communities.

People in rural areas rely on their own transportation to and from health services. A report released in December 2018 from Pew Research Center found that the average travel time by car to the nearest hospital for rural Americans is about seventeen minutes compared to ten minutes in urban areas. 

However, even people in urban areas have difficulty visiting their doctor’s office. Transportation can be a challenge for people with disabilities, those with chronic illnesses, the elderly, and people who are considered low-income. Approximately 3.6 million Americans, from both rural and urban areas, experience missed or delayed medical appointments due to transportation issues.

Support from Healthcare Call Centers

Technology enables medical call centers to effectively become an extension of a hospital or clinic’s operations. The communication software used by medical call centers can securely access a patient’s electronic medical record (EMR), update EMRs with notes, and record calls needed for insurance claims and workmen’s compensation. Because everything is documented, detailed reports can be generated for reporting purposes.

Medical call centers can provide or facilitate healthcare-related services twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. They play a critical role in helping the medically underserved by addressing two of the biggest barriers to healthcare: language and transportation.

Language: Healthcare staff work with an enormously diverse patient population. Understanding a person’s language leads to better healthcare. Multilingual call centers hire operators to assist non-English-speaking patients or use confidential over-the-phone interpreting (OPI) services for access to hundreds of different languages.

Transportation: Patients with mobility challenges or those who live in rural areas don’t have to leave home for some services. Operators can coordinate care, make follow-up calls, schedule visits, contact on-call medical staff, and manage referrals.

Some call centers staff nurses or multidisciplinary teams (such as a resident, pharmacist, and social worker) who are qualified to make health assessments, give medical advice, and escalate critical concerns. These call centers can offer nurse call helplines, emergency mental health counseling, and other critical support.

Helping Hospitals that Help the Underserved

Reduce Penalties: A recent study done by Harvard University suggests that hospitals located in low-income areas are more likely to receive penalties due to Medicare and Medicaid’s survey-based reimbursement programs. Patients are asked to provide information about their healthcare experience via the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey. Unacceptable survey outcomes can result in hospitals losing some reimbursements.

The American Medical Association Journal of Ethics reports that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) can currently withhold 1 percent of Medicare payments—30 percent of which are tied to HCAHPS scores. When Medicare and Medicaid account for more than 60 percent of all care provided by hospitals, the possible amount of dollars lost due to poor patient experience is a significant number. In 2017 alone, approximately 1.7 billion dollars in reimbursements were withheld from hospitals.

Healthcare call centers play a critical role in patient satisfaction surveys because they function as a virtual lobby for a hospital and are often the first point of contact with a patient. The patient’s experience with coordinating their care via call center agents can positively affect their feedback on the survey.

Reduce Readmissions: The CMS reports that nearly one in five Medicare patients are readmitted to a hospital within thirty days of discharge, yet a recent study from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that 27 percent of all thirty-days hospital readmissions are preventable.

Medicare’s Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program (HRRP) lowers payments to Inpatient Prospective Payment System (IPPS) hospitals who report too many readmissions. According to the CMS, 2,573 hospitals received penalties in 2018 and had around 564 million dollars in payments withheld.

Studies indicate that a post-discharge call program can help hospitals reduce their readmission rate. IPC Healthcare (IPC) tested the effect of post-discharge calls on readmission rates from October 2010 through September 2011. The IPC call center contacted 350,000 discharged patients to check symptoms, review medications and treatment plans, and remind patients of follow-up appointments. Successful contacts occurred with 30 percent of patients, with an estimated 1,782 avoidable readmissions prevented over that year.

Amtelco

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

[This article first appeared on AnswerStat.]

Enhancing the Customer Experience with Expanded Services and Automation



By Nancy Lee and April Forer

Call centers exist in an ever-changing marketplace. New channels and technologies are constantly emerging. Using a multichannel, all-in-one system makes it easier to support customers’ needs and earn their loyalty. A true omni-channel system eliminates many performance challenges call centers face today. Agents need to be able to assist customers without having to access multiple systems.

Remote agents are increasingly in demand to maximize the availability of resources. Software and virtual operator applications make working from home easier. To be effective, these tools should be scalable and capable of offering fully functioning call handling.

Automation adds value by accurately handling everyday, tedious tasks, which allows agents to focus on providing a higher level of customer satisfaction. Artificial intelligence (AI) can be employed to improve call taking and reduce errors. Digital channels have become popular tools to enhance the customer experience. Users can use analytics to improve customer retention rates and enrich the caller experience.

These tools can translate popular social media posts, messages, and notifications on the client accounts into tasks for agents to manage. Click To Tweet

Transitioning to Virtual Call Centers

Faced with limited space, some call centers are using a unique solution by having their agents work remotely from home. One of the benefits of running a call center in a virtual server environment, or in the cloud, is the ability to use home-based operators.

Communications software and virtual operator applications make working from home easy. These applications are scalable and offer fully functioning call handling to transform any personal computer into a professional telephone agent station, accessible through the internet or local intranet. All agent functions are still available for remote agent connections, including call log recordings and retrieval, which allows for a smooth transition. For callers, the fact that the agents are remote is transparent.

A cloud-based messaging system is omni-channel and offers flexibility and efficiency. Establish a VPN connection for remote operators to ensure that their connection is secure. Set up the data link via direct connection, remote desktop, or thin client and an audio connection via integrated audio or external audio.

It is helpful to have a remote system that performs directory searches, scripted messaging, and dispatching, and also provides access to call log recordings, web content, and on-call schedules. Custom call center scripting guides remote operators through each call with the exact information they need to provide. The ability to easily edit scripting protocols means that frontline operators, working from any location, will have the most up-to-date information to provide the best caller experience and reduce errors or misinformation.

Benefits of Utilizing AI

AI can reduce customer effort and help resolve customer needs on the first contact. First-contact resolution is a leading sign of a great customer experience. Meeting this goal includes making call taking easier for agents, speeding up the call process for the caller, and reducing the possibility of errors.

AI can enhance skill-based call routing to determine the best agent to receive a call. By using a call’s automatic number identification (ANI), the artificial intelligence ACD feature can determine the best agent to receive that call based on which agent previously worked with the caller, started a dispatch for the caller, and is the most qualified to handle the call. 

Expanding Digital Channels

By offering additional digital channels such as chat, mobile, and social media, users can engage customers with meaningful support. These channels are becoming increasingly popular as customers feel more comfortable with them.

These tools can translate popular social media posts, messages, and notifications on the client accounts into tasks for agents to manage. Check Facebook accounts for keywords, inbound messages, posts, comments about posts, shares of posts, and reactions to posts such as likes and other emoticon-based comments. Monitor Twitter accounts for keywords, inbound direct messages, replies to account tweets, and for likes, hashtags, retweets, mentions, and reactions to posts by the customer. Track Instagram accounts for likes and comments regarding a client’s posts.

Utilizing Analytic Tools

Tapping new analytic software is important to improve customer retention rates. Speech analytics allow supervisors a deeper analysis of call logs, such as providing a transcript of the call and describing the overall tone of the caller. Speech analytics can also look for keywords in the call recordings and alert supervisors about those keywords. Then supervisors can analyze the data through charts, reports, and transcripts.

Evolving Technology

As technology continues to evolve, using a multichannel, all-in-one system will provide agents and customers with a more efficient call handling solution. Using automation and enhanced services allows call centers to provide a higher level of customer satisfaction while reducing frustration for both the agent and customer.

Amtelco

Nancy Lee and April Forer are marketing specialists at Amtelco. Founded in 1976 to provide communication solutions to the answering service and medical messaging industry, Amtelco has a strong history in the telemessaging industry. Amtelco focuses on providing call center solutions that meet or exceed customer expectations, backed by top notch service and support. For more information contact them at info@amtelco.com or 800-356-9148.

A Concise Guide for Outsourcing Success, Part Three



By Kathy Sisk

In the five steps to select an outsource call center agency, we’ve already covered the first three: 1) design an RFP; 2) review the responses; and 3) conduct a phone interview. Now it is time to move to steps four and five.

Step 4: Visit the agency and monitor their agents.

Once you’ve narrowed your list to two or three candidates, visit their facility to assess their operation. Speak with their IT department, project managers, and quality control supervisors to evaluate their ability and willingness to handle your calls effectively and efficiently.

 Ask to monitor as many agents and calls as possible to help determine the skill level of the agency’s staff. Some agencies may tell you they have a privacy clause with their clients and cannot allow you to monitor calls. If this occurs, ask the agency to request special permission for you to conduct your call evaluations. If the agency has a good relationship with its client, and your company is not a competitive threat, they will usually grant permission. Eliminate any agency that either refuses to let you monitor or ask their clients for permission. They may have something to hide.

Step 5: Select an agency and negotiate the contract.

Using this information, choose the right agency for your company based on affordability, performance, and cultural compatibility. 

 Carefully negotiate your contract, ensuring that the agency’s rates, setup fees, and terms are consistent with your RFP. See if you can get a better price. If the agency really wants your business and believes it will be a long-term venture, you will have more negotiating power. 

 Put your performance requirements in writing and include a clause that permits you to terminate the contract without stipulations if the agency doesn’t perform up to your standards. Most agencies don’t want such a clause and prefer a thirty- to ninety-day notice. If the agency is not willing to budge on these terms and you do not have an alternative, try to negotiate a lower fee during the ramp-up time. 

If these negotiations fail, you may want to start over.

For more information about setting up, reengineering, outsourcing, and project managing your call center operations, Kathy Sisk Enterprises can help you. They have over forty years’ experience with satisfied clients and centers across the globe.

Case Study: A BPO Adapts to the COVID-19 Pandemic



By Scott Newman

Transparent BPO recently undertook a serious initiative: to deploy 850 brick-and-mortar contact center agents to a work-from-home (WFH) environment.

With captive contact centers and other outsourcers in our industry still looking at viable alternatives to adapt to the new and evolving landscape with COVID-19, I felt publishing our story might, in some small way, help others navigate this change.

Before I begin, let me say that no quickly deployed work-from-home solution is perfect. True WFH solutions take time and effort to plan data and physical security, training, performance monitoring, and other essential functions. Even now we continue to work on enhancements and additional monitoring to help ensure excellent service delivery.

Introduction

The first known case of COVID-19 in the United States was confirmed on January 20, 2020. That announcement set in motion a new era in our personal and business lives that most never expected or considered.

While many of us are finding ways to navigate this pandemic personally, businesses large and small are trying to figure out a path forward (or determine if one even exists). The business process outsourcing (BPO) industry companies that can continue operating and lean into this situation, embrace the reality, and push the boundaries on possible solutions will be the ones who come out on the other side of the pandemic stronger and with new and innovative ways to service their clients.

Transparent BPO Background

Founded in 2009, Transparent BPO runs a brick-and-mortar operation out of three physical sites in Belize City, Belize, Central America, with 850 employees (as well as a work-from-home operation based in the Philippines). 

Our efforts to prevent or at least mitigate the spread of COVID-19 transpired over time based on what we perceived to be an increasing threat. It occurred in three stages.

Stage 1: Physical Prevention

On February 28, even though no cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Belize, we felt it necessary to be proactive and take measures to put our employees’ minds at ease and de-risk the contact center. We decided to enact the following measures:

  • Reinforce that any flu-like symptoms would require the employee to see a doctor immediately and not report to work
  • Quarantine for anyone who traveled to and from China
  • Purchased additional inventory of Lysol, Clorox, or other alcohol-based wipes to give us a two-month plus supply for each call floor
  • Required each employee to wipe down their workstations before and after each shift
  • Instituted a headset-sharing restriction policy
  • Encourage healthy habits, such as washing your hands and not touching your face.

We also began communicating regularly with clients and employees, and we published educational posters throughout the contact centers with best practices and information on COVID-19 to ensure accurate information was accessible. 

Stage 2: More Stringent Measures

On March 13, with additional cases announced in the United (but still none in Belize), we took other measures, which included:

Travel Restrictions: We restricted all international travel. Any employee who traveled outside of Belize must self-quarantine before returning to work. 

Contact Center Closures: We closed all contact centers to outside visitors, including clients, vendors, and family members.

Sanitization and Prevention Protocols: We installed hand-sanitizing stations at the entrance of all buildings and required employees to wash their hands as much as possible (at least twice per day). We also prohibited all physical contact, including shaking hands and hugging, and started temperature checks upon entrance to the building. (Anyone with a temperature over 100.4 Fahrenheit would be sent to the doctor and not allowed to return until cleared by a healthcare professional.)

In addition, we required security personnel, janitorial staff, and food handlers to wear gloves. We enhanced janitorial efforts to wipe down high-traffic areas (such as door handles, countertops and tables, elevator buttons, and water cooler handles) every two hours. And we ordered an extra three months’ worth of janitorial supplies to guarantee that we had plenty in reserve.

As a further preventative measure, we sanitized all buses and company vehicles before and after each trip, and we installed hand-sanitizing stations on each.

Stage 3: Business Continuity Planning

At this same time, our leadership team felt we needed to design and quickly implement a business continuity plan—even though there were still no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Belize—that centered around using a WFH model.

Unlike other contact centers, we did not merely put computers in a home. That would have resulted in a much less desirable rollout. Instead, we took a well-thought-out, balanced approach between holding ourselves to a high standard to keep a quality product and ensuring proper compliance measures, such as adhering to PCI, SOC-2, and HIPAA. 

In developing the continuity plan, we evaluated problems we might encounter during implementation and developed solutions to circumvent them, as follows.

Evaluated Thin Client Deployment Model

The first consideration was whether to use a thin client deployment model, which would require investing in a server farm at our colocation facility in Miami. This option, however, proved problematic. 

The main components we needed came from China and were on a significantly delayed lead time. We felt the expected six-to-eight-week implementation period would be counterproductive if we hoped to reach our goals. As a result, we pivoted and began to look for other ideas.

Addressed Firewall Limitations

The firewalls we had in place were only meant for brick-and-mortar operations and faced limitations for remote VPN connections. To resolve the problem, we purchased a Cisco ASA firewall, which we deployed in our colocation in Miami. It uses Cisco’s AnyConnect VPN software, which allowed us to support up to 700 users initially and now supports over 5,000 concurrent connections. 

Agents working from home have no access to client systems unless connected to our VPN, which connects to our network. This precaution allows us to enforce virus protection and the policies and rules we have at our facilities in Belize to be 100 percent compliant.

Enabled Multifactor Authentication Availability

Remote workers are required to have multifactor-authentication (MFA) capabilities to remain PCI-compliant. This requirement is challenging in a developing country like Belize because companies can’t rely on employees to have mobile phones with an MFA token. Also, the fact employees can’t have cell phones at their workstations exacerbates the problem. After exploring a range of options, we found an MFA solution that works on desktops and in a WFH environment. 

Added Policy Statement

We added a confirmation of policies and procedures statement both on the active directory and VPN logins. It is an additional layer that reminds agents of the importance of PCI-compliance each time they log in for their shift.

Staging Environment and Internet Provider Testing

Once we settled on a solution, we went through a staging environment and internet testing procedure. We set up one PC in a remote location for each client and brought in an agent from each program to work for a full day, under supervision, to make sure there were no VPN connectivity hurdles that might impede them from working productively. We took this step before setting up anything in the field to establish proof of concept and troubleshoot any problems that might arise in a remote location.

Simultaneously, we surveyed our employees to determine who had home internet and what connections they used. We then sent members of our IT team into agents’ homes and evaluated seven different residential internet providers for latency, jitter, and stability. 

Agent Due Diligence

With our attorney, we drafted a work-from-home agreement, which we required all agents to sign. Our training director developed a course for work-at-home certification that consisted of a ten-minute self-paced video and quiz that agents had to pass to be eligible. Lastly, agents had to sign an equipment asset sign-out form that contained asset tags, serial numbers, and replacement costs. 

Client Communications

We surveyed clients to determine their appetite for our staff to work-from-home ability, giving them a few options:

  • Not interested in work-from-home
  • Only in the event of a serious incident
  • Yes: moving now to get ahead and secure 100 percent uptime
  • Only partial WFH and the rest in the office

We also had to resolve a PCI-compliance liability issue. Even though we could protect data security thanks to the VPN and MFA, we could not exert total control over physical security (such as an agent writing down credit card numbers.)

In some cases, we agreed to change the job scope to limit agents’ ability to take sensitive information. We also asked clients to look at alternative secure technology solutions if they wanted to continue to accept credit card information, such as using a secure IVR solution or link that allows customers to input card information themselves.

Unexpected Problems

We encountered a few unexpected problems. They included: 

Ethernet cables. In Belize, many home internet installations are mounted high on a wall and intended for Wi-Fi use only. Because our policies require workstations be plugged in via ethernet meant we had to build cables to accommodate the need. (The average cable length needed for each home was over 30 feet, and some were over 50 feet.) We purchased several boxes of cable, ends, and punch-downs, and made cables to send home with the PCs.

Getting computers to homes: Another problem was how to get computers and other equipment to the agents’ homes. It wasn’t wise to send someone home with a PC, dual monitors, keyboard, mouse, and headset on public transportation. 

To solve the problem, we conducted a staged rollout by loading up our buses, vans, and personal vehicles and carried people and equipment to each home. We took anywhere from five to fifteen people per run throughout the day, along with a member of the IT staff. We could set up the equipment in about five minutes per house. 

Results to Date

On April 1, the Government of Belize declared a national state of emergency, which required all nonessential businesses to close. Unfortunately, contact centers are not considered essential. Thus, we have closed our facilities until the emergency state is lifted. 

The good news is that after selectively setting up the first fifteen employees on Monday, March 23, within just over a week, we have moved 100 percent of the required employees to a WFH environment. It has been a massive effort with many working long hours to make it happen.

Both performance and attendance have been excellent, and our agents are appreciative of the opportunity. We know it will pay off in increased loyalty to our brand.

So far we have only addressed the issue of physically moving agents from our office to WFH in an organized manner that enables them to work efficiently. Now our efforts will turn to building additional monitoring and QA tools to help live in the new WFH environment and deliver results successfully.

We surveyed clients to determine their appetite for our staff to work-from-home. Click To Tweet

Lessons Learned

Although we are still early in the process, we have learned two valuable lessons. Initially, we asked clients to pay a small portion of the added expense. But after receiving feedback, we reconsidered the request.

Another lesson is that quick action and planning is critical to success. Brainstorming possible scenarios and developing contingency plans to address them help us to prepare for risks and secure the necessary provisions to meet an unexpected turn of events. 

BPO Industry Future

The COVID-19 pandemic is going to change the BPO industry landscape forever. It requires that industry leaders think seriously about how significantly the virus has impacted companies and how client expectations will change as a result. 

We must ask ourselves some vital questions: Does the business model need to change? Do we consider that a subset of agents works from home permanently? How do we expand our business in a WFH scenario?

This isn’t just a matter of surviving a natural disaster, either. It involves prolonged absence from the office and is a threat that could impact us like nothing we have ever seen. That’s why all future contracts will include a pandemic clause.

There are also many unknowns to consider. No one knows how long this will last or whether it could occur seasonally, like the flu. Since the likelihood of a vaccine being ready soon is practically nil, we need to prepare for the eventuality that this could happen again.

The future of our industry could depend on it. 

Scott Newman is the CEO of Transparent BPO.

Coronavirus Communication



Seek Balance in Your Customer-Facing Messaging

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

It seems cliché to say it, but we live in an unprecedented time. We don’t have a roadmap on how to navigate this crisis we’re in. Responses to this pandemic vary, with some overreacting and others being dismissive. We need balance in our response, neither panicking nor ignoring. The same holds true when communicating with and supporting our clients and customers.

Here are some ideas to help guide us forward.

Answer Questions

Do your stakeholders (both customers and staff) have questions about the impact of coronavirus? Anticipate their queries, and answer them before anyone asks. They’ll appreciate your initiative. Then fine-tune your messaging as updates become available.

Consider Your Situation

However, you may not even need to formulate a coronavirus plan. For example, since I, and all my subcontractors, work at home (or can work at home), it’s business as usual. I’ve not made a coronavirus statement to our customers. What’s interesting is that no one has asked. This makes me wonder how many companies are spending time on coronavirus messaging when they don’t need to.

Whether tomorrow is a return to normal or a new normal doesn’t matter as much as what we can do to make the most of it. Click To Tweet

Avoid Overcommunicating

In the past month, the number of email messages I receive has decreased greatly. Yet a disproportionate number of them are about coronavirus and COVID-19. Some of these emails come from businesses I use regularly. I appreciate their initial message telling me what to expect. But I don’t appreciate receiving additional emails that don’t tell me anything of value.

Other businesses where I have, at best, a tangential relationship have contacted me too. I don’t care, and I unsubscribe. What surprises me most is the number of companies with whom I’ve never done business that feel I’m interested in their coronavirus response. I’m not. These emails merely cause irritation.

Provide Help

Look at your company’s product and service offerings. How can these items help your stakeholders? Consider their pain points and how you might be able to offer something that can address these needs. 

Of particular value are products that carry no incremental cost to provide. Yes, by giving them away for free for a time, you lengthen the payback period of your initial investment, or you lose income to reinvest in your operation, but offering these tools don’t carry a direct cost. And when you do so, you invest in a long-term relationship with your stakeholders. They won’t forget it.

Offer Respect 

No doubt you’ve heard of people and companies taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis. This is not a time to maximize profits. I’ve had memberships and subscriptions that I couldn’t use because the organization closed due to coronavirus, keeping me from using what I had paid for. Yet they’re not offering an extension when they reopen. Instead they’ve already asked me to renew even though they’re closed.

Another local business promoted home delivery of their products for twenty-five dollars. But when I placed the order, it doubled to fifty dollars. I contacted customer service for an explanation, but they never responded. Three days later I decided to place my order anyway, but the delivery fee had tripled to seventy-five dollars. I’ll never forget that this business—one I often frequented—ripped me off.

Treat your stakeholders with respect, and they won’t forget it. Take advantage of them, and they won’t forget that either.

Seek to Maintain Business as Usual

One company’s coronavirus email simply said that since all their employees already work from home, I could expect no interruption to their availability and the level of service they provide. For them it was business as usual. To the degree possible, we should seek to do the same. I don’t want to diminish the critical situation that coronavirus has put us in, but I do want to point out that by focusing on it, we serve to amplify its impact.

Going Forward

Some people look ahead to when things return to normal. Other people worry that this won’t happen. Instead, we’ll form a new normal. As we move forward to an unpredictable future, let’s take the lessons that we’re learning now and apply them to tomorrow. Whether tomorrow is a return to normal or a new normal doesn’t matter as much as what we can do to make the most of it.

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.

Why You’re Not Getting the Most from Your Training Dollars



By Kate Zabriskie

Each year, organizations waste thousands of dollars on training that doesn’t deliver what the people who bought it thought it would. Consequently, remorseful purchasers determine that either training has no value to their employees, training facilitators don’t know what they’re doing, program designers are out of touch with reality, or all three.

If only the root causes of training failures were as simple! Even with willing learners, great content, and strong facilitation, you can still encounter problems that will keep you from realizing strong returns on your training investment. If your training isn’t delivering what you think it should, you may be suffering from one of three major problems that plague all organizations.

1. Training Isn’t Part of a Larger Learning Ecosystem

Just because people participate in a workshop doesn’t mean they’ll change their work behavior. In fact, even if they demonstrate an ability and willingness to apply what they’re learning in class, all may be lost once they exit the classroom.

For example, if turnover is an issue, a learning organization wants to know why and may ask several questions. Click To Tweet

Why does this happen? Good workshops usually fail to deliver because they’re treated as a training solution instead of a component of one. In other words, a workshop isn’t the answer. Rather, it should be part of a larger apparatus or ecosystem.

Solution: Start small. Creating a strong learning ecosystem is an ongoing and often complex endeavor. It takes time to build a holistic structure that supports continuous development. Ask yourself: 

  • Prior to training, do managers explain to people why they will be attending a course and what the expected application will be?
  • Will someone with authority (other than the facilitator) launch the session by explaining how the workshop ties into the bigger picture?
  • Are there check-in opportunities after training to ensure participants are implementing new behaviors?

If you answer no to any of these questions, do what you need to do to shift those answers to yes.

Next, think about the incentives you can put in place to encourage behavior change, the barriers you need to remove to encourage success, and the corrective action you’ll take if what’s happening in the classroom isn’t replicated on the job.

Once you start thinking holistically and view courses and workshops as a component of learning versus learning in its entirety, you will have taken the first step in getting the most out of your training dollars.

2. Continuous Learning Isn’t Part of the Culture or a Priority

You have great content, and you have a skilled facilitator, but half the people scheduled to attend don’t make it a priority.

When training occupies a position of “nice to have” versus “need to have,” getting the most from it becomes problematic. This most often happens when people are in survival mode instead of on a growth trajectory. In other words, they scramble to get through their work instead of thinking mindfully about the work they’re completing and how they’re completing it.

In practical terms, if people are always putting out fires and don’t regularly ask “What have we learned?” and “How can we improve?”, why should they care about learning new skills?

Solution: Start by asking the right questions. Shifting from a reactive culture to one that is deliberate about its activities takes months or even years. However, it’s not difficult to make big strides over time when you begin by asking the right questions throughout the organization.

Start the improvement conversation at multiple levels and at various times. Frequently ask after training: 

“What have we learned?”

“What do we need to do better next time?”

“What do we wish we’d known earlier?” 

In the rare instances when something goes perfectly, remember that there are still questions to ask: “How can we replicate what we just did?”; “Why did that work well?”; and “Is there any reason this approach won’t work again in the future?”

When questioning becomes the norm, the solutions offered via training should have stronger importance and value. For example, if turnover is an issue, a learning organization wants to know why and may ask several questions: 

“Are we hiring the wrong people?”

“Are we expecting too much?”

“Is there something better for the same money somewhere else?”

“Do our managers not manage well?”

“Do we need to provide people with better tools?”

Then, when learning and improvement are a priority, you’ll hear such things as, “Today is a training day for me. I’ll be unavailable until 4:00. If you have an emergency, please see my supervisor, Melissa. The workshop I’m attending is of top importance and part of my effort to reduce turnover.”

Who can argue with that? The logic sounds right and ties into big-picture improvement goals.

To get larger returns from training, use questioning to drive improvement. The answers will help people connect the dots and understand why training is a priority and not just something they do because their schedule tells them to show up in a classroom.

3. Few Annual Development Plans Exist

The world doesn’t stagnate, and your employees shouldn’t either. If they’re doing their work the same way they were five years ago, and nobody is encouraging or demanding change, why should they care about training or think you care about them?

Solution: Regardless of level, every employee should have a development plan and some learning and growth goals that connect to the big picture and enhance their skills.

“I want to improve XYZ skill to drive ABC result, and 123 is how I plan to grow” is a quick and easy format to follow when setting development goals. Three to five goals is a suitable number for most people.

Better still, if you can tie those goals to performance reviews, you’ll be amazed at the interest people develop in improvement, training, and implementing new skills. As with the other two solutions, start small. For example, if your company doesn’t have any development plans, choose one department to pilot them.

Act Now

Whether you suffer from one, two, or all three of these problems, act now. When thoughtful goals and development plans exist throughout an organization, people are conditioned to ask the right questions. With a drive toward improvement and a strong learning ecosystem that supports learning, it’s almost impossible not to realize a stronger return on your training dollars.

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.