Category Archives: Articles

The Critical Role Hospital Call Centers Play During and After a Catastrophe

By Nicole Limpert

The ever-increasing threats from natural and human-caused disasters have made the use of disaster response systems a necessity. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. residents live in areas rated as having a moderate to very high risk of experiencing a natural disaster: hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, hail, wildfires, and earthquakes.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s report titled “Active Shooter Incidents in the United States in 2018” identified twenty-seven shootings as active shooter incidents, which resulted in eighty-five deaths and 128 people wounded (excluding the shooters).

When disaster strikes, both local and national call centers provide critical communication services to help coordinate first responders and rescue teams, organize relief efforts, enable communication between loved ones, and support communities during recovery.

Hospital call centers in a coordinated call center system is crucial when developing a disaster preparedness and recovery plan. Click To Tweet

Disaster Planning

Disasters often occur without warning. Weather events, mass violence, and other incidents can cause an outage or strain communication systems. However, organizations can formulate a disaster preparedness and business continuity plan in anticipation of a catastrophic event. Hospital call centers are a critical component to any disaster preparedness plan because they often become a communications hub during an emergency.

National, state, and local agencies often work with hospitals to develop a plan for coordinating call centers. They identify partnerships with organizations such as 9-1-1 and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to determine how to integrate each call center into a larger communication network for efficient allocation of services and dissemination of public health information.

The use of technology enables call centers to execute their disaster preparedness and business continuity plans quickly and efficiently. Automatic call distribution (ACD), interactive voice response (IVR), uniform call distribution (UCD), and other communication software can automate call routing systems. Leveraging automatic notifications and critical alerts helps to speed communications and shorten reaction times.

Disaster Communications

Methodist Medical Center of Illinois, part of Unity Point Health Methodist, located in the heart of Peoria, Illinois, includes a 330-bed hospital with almost 600 board-certified physicians. 

To ensure the safety of patients and staff, the technology used by the call center at Methodist helps to prepare them for any type of situation. By using a customizable critical alert system, operators can quickly contact multiple people when various disaster and code calls come through their center.

When an emergency notification is needed, an operator triggers the alert by simply selecting a group to notify and typing in the alert message. This broadcasts the message to the appropriate personnel via each recipient’s preferred contact method. This helps ensure that hospital personnel can respond to each situation as quickly as possible.

The flexible system allows the call center manager to determine whether each type of notification requires a response from the person who receives an alert. While a reply and estimated time of arrival is required from someone responding to a disaster, a reply may not be needed from a staff member on the leadership team who is using their real-time monitor to oversee the situation. Managers can view the estimated time of arrival for each person and determine if additional personnel need notification. Access to their web-based, real-time monitor can even occur from home should an alert occur in the middle of the night.

Cloud Technology and Virtual Servers

Communications failure is not an option during a disaster. Having the ability to route calls to another center in the event of an emergency is crucial. For example, if a call center is physically located in an area that has become inaccessible or damaged due to a catastrophe, calls can route to operators off-site, using cloud technology on a virtual server. A single virtual server, located anywhere in the country, can bring call centers together to operate seamlessly, even if they all use different PBX telephone systems.

Using web-based call center communication software, any computer may become a secure, professional telephone agent station accessible from the internet. Operators located in a different center or home-based agents handle the calls, and all the tools used by in-house operators are accessible to these virtual agents.

Hospitals and clinics that are part of a larger healthcare enterprise use this technology to provide backup call handling within their own system. Rossi Fraenkel, business analytics team lead for Allina Health in Minneapolis, Minnesota, comments, “In the event that any of our other clinics were to have a power outage or go down, those calls roll to us at the contact center. We provide our organization with a really good, strategic value. It’s absolutely critical that we take calls no matter what.”

Disaster Recovery and Relief

Hotlines managed by agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provide callers with assistance related to government disaster aid, insurance claims, and home repairs.

Hospital call centers experience an influx of calls from people inquiring about hospitalizations of loved ones, safety advice, and help for themselves. Individuals who witness or experience a catastrophic event often face negative effects from it. Coping with the shock of a disaster can make someone fearful, confused, and suffer from anxiety.

Call center agents can connect callers with disaster crisis counseling to help people affected by traumatic events. Callers who are patients of a healthcare organization that participates in telehealth may be able to take advantage of instant, secure video access to mental health professionals.

Summary

Including hospital call centers in a coordinated call center system is crucial when developing a disaster preparedness and recovery plan. Establishing a comprehensive policy may require a considerable time commitment and thoughtful input from a variety of agencies and organizations. However, the effects of organized communication and efficient use of community resources during a crisis help save lives and speed recovery efforts.

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.

Vendor Profile: Startel

Startel delivers best-in-call contact center solutions

For forty years, Startel has been providing cutting-edge solutions to the answering service industry. Including Alston Tascom, also celebrating forty years, and Professional Teledata (PTD) at thirty-seven years, they have a combined 117-year history of serving the market. Yes, they were not around when the telephone was invented in 1876, but in the last forty years, they have seen some major changes in the industry.

When Startel was founded in 1980, the world was connected by copper wire, all controlled by AT&T and Ma Bell. Every single answering service needed to be near or within a quarter of a mile of a phone company’s central office. Today they have thousands of providers and can have agents working from anywhere in the world. With 2020 being a year that everyone will remember, they are thankful for the huge strides telephony and their software platforms have made in the last forty years.

While technology and telephony have shaped the design of their software, founder Don Berry’s vision and passion for the industry and their customers is still alive today at Startel. His desire was to create a system to connect the world and keep the needs of the customer as the beacon that guides them. Don made sure that everyone on his team was aware that gaining customers and maintaining lifelong relationships with them and meeting their needs in a timely and professional manner were the keys to the future success of Startel. 

In today’s mobile and fast-paced world, the use of secure messaging applications has become the preferred channel of communication. Click To Tweet

Flagship Platform—Startel CMC

With the acquisitions of PTD’s PInnacle and the Tascom platforms in the last few years, they experienced many “Wow, I wish our platform did that” moments within their company and from their customers. As a result, they have taken those “wow” features and incorporated them into the Startel Contact Management Center (CMC). With their upcoming CMC 16.0 release, customers will be presented an entirely new way to manage actions—or as some call them, priorities. Dispatchers will be able to see a live view of all the actions in queue and how long until the next dispatch step will be completed. Many more enhancements and must-have features are packed into the 16.0 release, so stay tuned for details.

Flex Agent Interface (FAI)

They took their four-square classic agent interface and converted it to be flexible. This new design allows agents to process calls easily and quickly by allowing them to move vital information where they need it. Designed with dockable windows, FAI allows agents to take full advantage of large and multiple monitors. Join the FAI revolution and design a screen layout that gives agents what they need to see when they need to see it. 

Secure Messaging Solutions

In today’s mobile and fast-paced world, the use of secure messaging applications has become the preferred channel of communication among business and institutional professionals as well as technicians in the field. It’s quicker, more efficient, and less invasive than a phone call. Startel offers two solutions to meet their customer’s secure messaging needs. 

Accessible from the web or an application downloaded to one’s smartphone or tablet, Secure Messaging Plus (SM+) offers a secure, HIPAA-compliant way to safely exchange sensitive information via text. SM+ users can maintain HIPAA compliance with data encryption in transit and at rest. Users can also control message expiration, send attachments, track message status, forward messages, and reply to an entire group. 

The Secure Message Gateway (SMG) allows users to send and receive electronic protected healthcare information to the most popular messaging providers. They have deployed integrations with TigerConnect, Halo, and pMD, with more being added in the future. The SMG provides the opportunity to work with healthcare organizations that have a secure message platform they prefer to keep. Agents can seamlessly dispatch to these other secure messaging providers without having to access a third-party solution. 

SoftSwitch 2.0

Their second generation SoftSwitch continues to be installed and deployed across all three of their platforms. SoftSwitch has solid stability due to their years of coding and development expertise. They are developing new features and functionality to the SoftSwitch, and as their clients’ teams get comfortable with the interface, they’ll be able to handle some of the programming themselves. The SoftSwitch is a native SIP platform, enabling the integration of SIP-trunking and utilizing the latest VoIP protocols while allowing the use of analog, T-1, and PRI circuits.

SoftSwitch routes calls based on skill level, queue priority, and user-defined scenarios. It also provides real-time status of contact center activity via the Startel dashboard. SoftSwitch 2.0 boasts a new call return feature that allows callers to opt out of queue and request a callback when an agent becomes available. Upon the request, a call is generated to hold the callers place in queue. When the agent answers, the agent is asked if they will accept the callback call. If accepted, the agent is connected to an outbound call to the number left by the caller. If the agent does not accept, the call goes to the next available agent. 

Total Billing Solution 3

Total Billing Solution (TBS) has had some enhanced features added this year. The pandemic has pushed consumers and companies to look for increased options for paying bills online and collecting payments more efficiently. Last year they rolled out ThePaymentPortal.com as a hosted, online, secure e-commerce site where a company can access statements, view invoices, and pay bills at their convenience. Many TBS customers incorporate the payment portal into their billing process.

This year they rolled out USAePay autopay integration. This streamlined interface eliminates the need for clients’ staff to learn their organizations’ banks’ ACH transaction process. Most importantly, USAePay has lower card transaction processing fees than the existing interface, which puts more money in their customers’ pocket.

What’s Next?

In August they held their first virtual Startel user group event and were joined by almost 300 of their customers. They shared many new products currently in development, including a first look at their cloud-based solution, Startel365. They are excited to have a new and innovative cloud solution being released. More details will be coming in 2021.

Startel

Learn more at Startel.com.

Lockdown Initiatives

By Kathy Sisk

In my forty years in the call center industry, I have gone through many challenges, but none as distressing as in the past year. We can feel sorry for ourselves, or we can be intentional to make wise use of our time. Yes, we should relax and have fun when we can, but it doesn’t pay our bills. Therefore, balance is essential to move forward.

Here are some items for call center owners and clients to consider during lockdown:

  • Get your house in order. Not your living quarters, but your business. Organize your office, your desk, your laptop, and your thoughts. 
  • Consider relocating staff to work from home. Sure, it’s a hassle, but when you are not able to pay your overhead, the hassle is a moot point.
  • If required, get permission to go to the office and grab those PCs, headsets, and anything else you need. None of us knows what to expect, so it is best to think about the worst-case scenario and plan for it. 
  • If your infrastructure is not already in the cloud, work with a vender who can get you there. If you have an outbound operation, there are reliable resources that can get you up and running in less than an hour.
  • Relocate staff in an area they can work from. Several centers I work with rented a house where their employees live and work from. 
  • If your staff is unable to process calls remotely, use the downtime to create curriculum and train your employees to learn as they wait to return to work. 
  • Spend time to generate additional campaign opportunities and set up the campaigns now in preparation for when restrictions ease. 

These are some of the ideas I have incorporated into my company, and fortunately we have not been affected financially as others have. In fact, I have hired additional employees to cover the growth my company experienced during the lockdowns. Proudly, my staff is working full-time, generating sales, setting up campaigns, and onboarding centers with mostly at-home agents. 

Taking these steps will help us now and prepare us for whatever the future may hold.

[Due to increased business demands, this is Kathy’s final column for Connections Magazine. Please thank her for the scores of articles she’s written for us over the years.]

Kathy Sisk, founder and president of Kathy Sisk Enterprises Inc., is a trainer and consultant, contributing thirty-five years of expertise to the telemarketing, sales, and customer service industries.

Does Your Corporate Culture Get All A’s?

Discover How to Shape the Team Culture You Want

By Jason V. Barger

It’s an instant gratification world where people, employees, and leaders want things to change immediately. They want progress to be at the flip of a switch. They want an “easy” button. Leaders, teams, and organizations want to snap their fingers and magically arrive at their desired outcomes. 

However, developing people and culture doesn’t happen like that. There is no quick fix or hack to developing leaders and the team culture you desire. It’s a process. It takes commitment, discipline, and focus. The most compelling team and organizational cultures invest time, energy, and resources into shaping the culture they want, not just the culture they’ve experienced in the past. They know that one of their greatest competitive advantages in today’s world is not just what they do as a company but the culture of how they do it. People want to be a part of a compelling culture and contribute their skills to something greater than themselves.

Every team and company want to be known for having an amazing culture, but only some understand how they are created and are disciplined enough to lead a culture-shaping process. If you’ve studied change theory in your spare time (you know, the process for how any person or group stimulates change), then you understand the reality that we grow as individuals and groups one step at a time.

All change follows the same pattern. The best leaders and teams on the planet know that growing the ecosystem they desire within their organization takes proactive leadership and support. The best team cultures don’t magically happen; they are intentionally designed and led along the process. And it’s not a top-down dictator style of leadership that is compelling to people, but rather a participatory style that invites cross-functional representation throughout the organization to share in the dreaming and creation of the culture they desire. 

The process to create your culture requires six As for participatory leadership:

1. Assess

Many cultures don’t even know where they are on the map. Where are you succeeding and where are you falling short? You must be honest about your current state as a culture. Momentum begins to build when you can establish urgency and identify opportunities to improve.

2. Align

People are the lifeblood of every team and organization, and in today’s world your people want to participate. They want their mind and heart to be engaged and connected to the “why,” the mission at the heart of your efforts. It takes time and space to establish alignment with your people and constant efforts to stay in alignment along the way.

3. Aspire

What do you want to be different in the future? You must dream together and paint the vision for the future culture you desire. Give your people the opportunity to see beyond your current reality and into possibilities for a newly created future. 

4. Articulate

If you can’t describe where you’re going and the values you want to guide you as a culture, then you can’t be surprised when it doesn’t exist. Your people need a common language and the ability to see and share the story of where you’re heading together. Language drives behavior, so the best cultures have compelling language linked to actions and behaviors for the future they’re creating.

5. Act

All change requires action. However, action without vision and alignment is a nightmare. Once the aspirational vision for the culture is established, the best leaders and teams empower a bias toward action and identify the next steps they will take to stimulate progress. All change happens when actions grow out of an intentional vision and spirit. 

6. Anchor

Culture-shaping is not a drive-through experience. It’s not a one-time company meeting or a poster on the wall. Every culture must create habits that ground the values within their organizational ecosystem. The organization intentionally anchors them with their structures for how they hire, onboard employees, identify emerging leaders, do performance evaluations, raise the bar on leadership at all levels, and develop and empower culture ambassadors.

Conclusion

So, does your team culture get all As?

Good grades don’t just magically happen. Great schools, great companies, great teams, great communities, and great collections of humans don’t magically happen. They are grown, developed, cultivated, and led with intentionality.

It’s far easier to ignore studying, practicing, engaging with your people, and putting your head down to do your job. And because that is easier, it’s the reason many cultures do not become compelling places to work.

The process for developing high-performing and engaged cultures never stops, and the best leaders, teams, and organizations are committed to the continuous journey of development, vision, communication, engagement, authenticity, and action.

Good luck on your next test. I hope you get all As.

Jason V. Barger is the author of Thermostat Cultures, ReMember, and Step Back from the Baggage Claim, as well as the host of The Thermostat podcast. As the founder of Step Back Leadership Consulting, he is a keynote speaker, leadership coach, and organizational consultant who is committed to engaging the minds and hearts of people and growing compelling cultures. Learn more at JasonVBarger.com.

WFM Solutions in the Future

By Donna Fluss

Change is born of necessity. The business world today is dramatically different from what it was fifteen years ago, and not just because of the pandemic. The workforce has changed, management practices have changed, how we do business has changed, and customer expectations have changed. Technology must adapt and transform, and nowhere is this more fevident than in the workforce management (WFM) sector. Today’s new-gen WFM suites are striving to stay on pace with modern management trends, smart technology, expanding global business requirements, and broadened market opportunities. To borrow from a popular idiom, these are “not your mother’s WFM solutions.” And the new capabilities are getting rave reviews. 

WFM solutions are providing agents with enhanced self-service capabilities that give them the autonomy to create and manage their own schedules and time off. Click To Tweet

Leading Innovation

Contact centers need to address operational requirements, satisfy employee needs, and meet customer expectations, all while managing costs. The last few years have brought significant changes to WFM solutions; they have been enhanced to meet the needs of omni-channel servicing environments, multinational enterprises, digital natives, and the up-and-coming Gen Z workforce. 

AI and intelligent automation are enabling major enhancements to WFM solutions. Vendors are delivering new algorithms and AI-based forecasting and simulation models that include automatic selection of the best predictive models to use. Flex staffing has paved the way for the gig economy and scheduling practices that are built for “real agents and real life.” Real-time adaptive scheduling is altering and improving the handling of intraday staffing variances in real time, making it much more effective than in the past. The use of automation, including pre-defined rules, is eliminating the delays associated with having to involve WFM administrators and supervisors in many processes, from the assignment of overtime to who gets to take vacations. 

Self-Service Comes on Strong

WFM solutions are providing agents with enhanced self-service capabilities that give them the autonomy to create and manage their own schedules and time off. As importantly, these tools allow agents to accommodate their need for work/life balance. Self-service scheduling and time-off management features come with automated dispositioning of agent requests based on client-defined availability and rules. 

A growing number of agent self-service apps include AI-enabled intelligent virtual agents (IVAs) to assist with common WFM requests using natural language in a variety of channels, including short message service (SMS), desktop chat, text, and mobile device. Additionally, employee empowerment features such as gamification and expanded visibility into their personal performance via reports and dashboards keep agents engaged and motivated. Real-time alerts are an important feature for keeping agents apprised of contact center conditions and helping them stay on task and vested in their performance. 

Enhanced Usability

Vendors are investing to improve their user interfaces (UIs) and user experience (UX). In the last couple of years, WFM vendors have started to modernize and simplify agent and supervisor UIs and UXs, applying intuitive design elements that improve access and navigation. An increasing number of agent and supervisor functions are available on iOS and Android mobile devices and tablets, delivered in graphical, interactive, widget-based dashboards with role-based features, functions, and reports. 

Mobile apps enable supervisors to monitor contact center performance and agent adherence via real-time reports and dashboards, track real-time adherence, and make schedule modifications directly from a tablet. Mobility features keep agents engaged by giving them access to personal dashboards and schedules, making it easy for them to view their schedules, sync schedules with personal online calendars, request time off, and view statistics from their smartphone or tablet, even when they are outside the contact center. 

Final Thoughts 

Life has changed substantially in the last few months. Contact centers need enhanced and flexible WFM solutions that address the needs of digitally and pandemically transformed contact centers. Companies that continue to operate with outdated technology and antiquated business practices and management techniques are going to find themselves at a major disadvantage and, worse, at risk of facing increasing employee attrition rates. WFM solutions from the past are ill-equipped to meet the current and future challenges confronting contact centers in the post-COVID-19 world. DMG expects to see significant innovation in the WFM market in the next few years, as well as new vendors coming to the market. 

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. 

Why Do I Have to Praise Someone for Doing Their Job?

By Liz Uram

Do you ever feel like there is way too much appreciation going on in your workplace? If you said no, you’re not alone. Your team would probably say the same thing. 

A Gallup survey revealed that 65 percent of employees haven’t received recognition in the last year. This directly correlates to the studies that consistently report that two-thirds of American workers are disengaged.

Employees who don’t receive recognition are 51 percent more likely to look for another job, are less motivated to produce more and better work, and less likely to respect you as a leader. 

It’s easy to see that one of the most important communication skills in a leader’s skill kit is the ability to give positive feedback. This is also one of the most underdeveloped skills for many leaders. The reason is that some leaders just don’t know where to start. 

Here are five questions leaders have about giving praise:

1. Why should I praise someone for doing their job? 

Two words—positive reinforcement. Do you want them to keep doing their job? Keep this phrase in mind: what gets rewarded gets repeated. If you want them to keep doing their job, let them know that their work is appreciated. 

Follow this simple rule for keeping your praise timely: when you see it, say it. Click To Tweet

One study concluded that 81 percent of employees would produce better work more often if they received personal recognition for their efforts. This seems like a good return on investment for a few sincere words of appreciation.

2. I don’t need praise, why do they?

Who knows? Everyone has different internal drives that influence what motivates them. Recognition is one of the top motivators along with challenging work, growth opportunities, job security, being part of a team, and compensation.

If you happen to be motivated by growth opportunities, you may not understand why someone needs a pat on the back. You might even think they are being needy. Beware. 

That kind of thinking is a barrier to your own growth and could hold you back from achieving your goals. The best leaders understand that everyone is different, and they meet people where they’re at without judgment. 

3. How do I give praise without sounding phony?

The secret to meaningful recognition is to make it sincere, specific, and timely.

Making praise sincere is easy. If you are specific and timely and genuine with your praise, you will automatically come across as sincere.

Next, be specific. Instead of a generic “Great job,” say “Thanks for taking the initiative to help John get that order out. I really appreciate your teamwork.” The person is more likely to repeat the behavior when they know what the praise is for.

Third, make your praise timely. Say it as close to the event as possible. If you wait, praise loses its impact. 

Follow this simple rule for keeping your praise timely: when you see it, say it.

4. Should I praise in public or in private?

You should give your praise where the employee is most comfortable. However, many leaders are hesitant to give recognition in public. They worry that it will create jealousy or resentment. Forget those fears.

One benefit of praising in public is that it shows the lower performers what’s possible. It can be the shot in the arm they need to step up. Looking for opportunities to give shout-outs for positive behaviors, both big and small, in public creates a culture of appreciation.

You might even notice team members praising each other, which will result in increased morale and trust. One study showed that 90 percent of direct reports agree that team spirit is increased when the leader provides appreciation and support. 

5. How often should I offer praise?

This is a good question. Praising too often can be as bad as not praising often enough. We know that once-a-year commendation is too infrequent, but many leaders don’t know how often they should acknowledge excellent work. Running around giving high-fives, thumbs ups, and generic “thanks” is exhausting for you and uninspiring to your team.

A good rule of thumb is to provide positive praise to each person on your team once a week. I know what you’re thinking—some people aren’t doing anything worth praising on a weekly basis. Look harder.

Did your chronically tardy employee show up to the meeting on time? Let them know you appreciate their effort.

What about the people who come in day after day and do their job? Nothing more, nothing less. They get the job done, and you need them. Let them know you appreciate being able to count on them.

Summary

The benefits of appreciation are clear: increased retention, motivated team members who work harder, and respect for you as a leader. Start catching people in the act of doing things right. Who knows, you may get the appreciation you deserve as well.

Liz Uram is a nationally-recognized speaker, trainer, consultant, and author. She equips leaders with the tools they need to communicate like a boss so they can make a bigger impact, get better results, and motivate others to do their best. With twenty years of experience, she’s developed systems that work. Uram has written four books that are packed full of strategies leaders can implement to get real results, real fast. For more information, visit www.lizuram.com.

A New Opportunity for the Call Center Industry



Working from Home Is the Ideal Solution to Keep Employees Safe and Healthy

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

We never know what the future will hold, but we do know that what lies ahead will most assuredly be quite different from what last year held. As you grapple with staffing issues for your call center among the new reality of social distancing and face masks, an option emerges as the ideal solution: remote staffing—specifically working from home.

This is not a new idea; it’s been bouncing around for a couple of decades. Some call centers have been open for some time to hiring agents who work from their homes. A few other operations have embraced it fully as their business model. Yet until recently, employing homebound call center agents has not gained widespread traction.

This is now changing, and at an accelerated pace. Remote employees who work from the safety of their homes will arise as the backbone of our new economy. And call centers stand ready to lead the charge.

Keeping phone agents safe and working from their homes will allow the industry to hire and keep the workforce it needs to meet with this demand. Click To Tweet

Safe Work

From a health perspective, the best place to work, the safest place to be, is in our own homes isolated from other people. If we never come into physical contact with someone carrying the virus, we’ll never catch it. The advice to “stay home and stay safe” may remain with us forever, not disappearing as a once-chanted mantra. Though it may wane for a while, it is just as likely to return, never to go away again.

Though it will be a while—years, I suspect—before we know the truth of what we can do and shouldn’t do, the best advice now is to minimize risk and work from home. Remote call center jobs are ideally suited to accomplish this prudent approach.

Stable Work

In the past months, many employees have suffered through various workplace mandates, complex rules, and ever-altering expectations. They underwent layoffs. They saw their hours cut. And they endured uncertainty, criticism, and a new level of customer frustration, which they had to shoulder unfairly. This has all occurred through no fault of their own.

Everyone I know has had their work somehow affected, be it from annoying—and sometimes nonsensical—requirements to months-long layoffs. My work, however, has continued without interruption and without alteration—because I work from home. Though events outside my control have affected those I interact with, my ability to complete needed tasks has continued without hesitation. Though once viewed as an anomaly, my practice of working from home now produces admiration. At last the uncommitted see the value of working out of a home office.

A New Way to Attract Employees

As you seek to attract and hire call center workers, the ability to work from home now carries a benefit that you can tout as a reason for them to consider working for you and not another company where they may find their health and job security at risk.

Home-based call center work is now a smart job move. It is a safe way to work and a stable way to earn a living. Many other jobs, especially those that require in-person interaction with others, can’t provide these sought-after assurances. But now you can offer these benefits to a working populace who seeks to earn a living in a safe and secure environment. Call center work perfectly fits these requirements.

As our economy moves forward, we’ll undoubtedly see increased demand for call centers to do more work in a social-distanced, mask-wearing reality. And the ability to keep phone agents safe and working from their homes will allow the industry to hire and keep the workforce it needs to meet with this demand.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.  Read more of his articles at PeterDeHaanPublishing.com.

A Concise Guide for Outsourcing Success, Part Five



By Kathy Sisk

To conclude our series of articles on outsourcing success, here are two optional topics we need to address.

Consider an Independent Project Manager

If you are not comfortable selecting the ideal agency for your company and managing the relationship, or if you simply don’t have the time, you may wish to consider outsourcing this to an expert. Try one of the many independent project management companies in the business of helping you not only to select the agency, but also negotiate the terms and rates on your behalf. 

In addition, these companies can write call scripts, monitor agents remotely, and manage your account from beginning to end. Should you decide to outsource through an independent project management firm, be sure to use the steps provided earlier in this series to help you narrow down the selection process and find the ideal project manager for you.

Outsourcing is an all-or-nothing venture. Click To Tweet

Benefits of Strategically Small Outsourcing Ventures

Many believe that outsourcing is an all-or-nothing venture. But it doesn’t have to involve shutting down an existing operation or handing off the entire operation to a third party, thus leaving your employees jobless. 

Many companies have found that outsourcing even just a small percentage of calls based on specific times or call types can be an effective way for their organization to: 

  • handle heavy call volumes during peak hours-of-the-day, days-of-the-week, or weeks-of-the-year 
  • expand hours of operation
  • provide crucial coverage during service interruptions at the call center (disaster response and crisis recovery)
  • cut call-handling and seasonal-hiring costs 
  • free up agents to focus on more complex or profitable transactions
  • conduct outbound call handling such as cold calling or reviving lost customers

No matter what you decide, the call center industry is still thriving and growing. Call center excellence is essential today more than ever to ensure your operation. Or if you choose to outsource, you can access the right tools, hire exceptional talent, and provide ongoing soft skills training, monitoring, and coaching. 

Your customers are your most important asset. Therefore, handle your interactions with them with excellence. 

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.

Conversational Analytics The Secret to Exceptional



By Simon Black 

Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, once advised, “Forget about your competitors, just focus on your customers.” As statistics highlight, dissatisfied customers not only cost you time and money, but if you lose a customer, it’s going to cost even more to replace them. In fact, it can cost five times as much to get a new customer versus keeping existing ones. In a world of oversharing, your customers are likely to complain about your business, products, or service across their social channels within minutes. That’s why your customers’ first interaction with your business needs to be purposeful from the outset.

Focus on the conversation, rather than the process. Click To Tweet

First Contact

Quite often that first conversation occurs with your contact center, the heart of your company’s customer service function. It’s usually the first point of contact, so it’s important to ensure that your first call resolution (FCR) processes are fine-tuned and effective. Making sure communication between your agents and customers is as simple and as mutually understandable as possible is critical. 

From a customer point of view, their interaction with your business often means minimum effort on their part and maximum reward for them. Gartner recently highlighted that 94 percent of customers with low-effort interactions intend to repurchase, compared with 4 percent of those experiencing high effort.

These numbers aren’t really a surprise. We all know from our personal encounters that it only takes one good or bad incident to make or break a relationship. As Amazon CEO and founder, Jeff Bezos, puts it, “If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell six friends. If you make customers unhappy on the internet, they can each tell six thousand.” The good news, though, according to PWC, is that when it comes to making a purchase, 42 percent of all consumers would pay more for a friendly, welcoming experience, which is why first call resolution is so important.

FCR, sometimes referred to as “one-touch resolution,” isn’t about the average number of support tickets your agent resolves on the first interaction with a customer. It may be a popular benchmark to measure metrics such as response rates and resolution time so that you can run your call center team efficiently, but there’s more to FCR if you really value the customer experience (CX) and their journey. 

Enter Artificial Intelligence 

As statistics highlight, dissatisfied customers not only cost you time and money, but if you lose a customer, it’s going to cost even more to replace them. Fortunately, the technology is now in place to support and improve these FCR interactions. By incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) into your contact center, you can better support your agents and provide them with the right tools for resolution and a more seamless customer journey.

 A recent survey by PointSource highlighted that 49 percent of customers are willing to shop more often when AI is present, and 34 percent of customers will spend more money. The research also found that 38 percent will share their experiences with friends and family. This means that AI causes people to shop more, spend more, and share more. So, with today’s technology, there is every reason and every opportunity to get the customer experience right.

According to IDC, 13.9 billion dollars was invested into CX-focused AI and 42.7 billion dollars in CX-focused big data and analytics during 2019, with both expected to grow to 90 billion dollars in 2022. That’s a convincing argument. 

Now might be the time to look at how AI can support and enhance the experiences of your customers. This can become the game changer needed in your contact center customer relations.  You only need to look at consumer adoption of conversation digital assistants like Alexa to realize the widespread acceptance of natural language query or conversational analytics (CA).

Conversational Analytics 

Natural language processing (NLP) enables people to ask questions about data and receive an explanation thanks to the amazing analytics built into the platform. Conversational analytics takes this further by allowing people to ask questions verbally. 

We recognize that the use of NLP and CA can enhance our experiences as a consumer, so how can it help our businesses? In 2018, Tech Pro Research reported that 70 percent of survey respondents said their companies either have a digital transformation strategy in place or were working on one. Fast-forward two years, and digital transformation projects have been fast-tracked, thanks to the accelerant we now know as COVID-19. 

Almost overnight, organizations have had to transform their operations, mobilize their workforces, and meet customer expectations within new parameters. Digital transformation has put data at the center of every business. What you need to do now is use it to your advantage.

NLP and CA are so transformative that Gartner listed them in their own Top 10 Technology Trends in Data and Analytics report. The analyst house predicts that by 2021, NLP and CA will boost analytics and business intelligence adoption from 35 percent of employees to over 50 percent, including new classes of users, particularly front-office workers. And it’s your customer-facing employees—as well as your customers themselves—who stand to most benefit from CA.

Customer Service Outcomes

Think about omni-channel for a moment. It shouldn’t matter whether your customers reach you by telephone, email, or social media. They should have the same frictionless experience. CA enables your contact center agents to answer customer queries in a knowledgeable way—quickly supplying answers, resolving problems, or escalating issues so the customer gets a personalized, easy experience. 

In fact, there are a lot of benefits for both your customers and your agents with CA.

Customers will enjoy: 

  • Customer service whenever and wherever they need it 
  • The ability to ask all kinds of questions and not be transferred across multiple departments 
  • Real-time solutions to problems resolved with insight and real-time voice-to-voice translation, which means that customers can have their query resolved in their own language, not that of your business 

Call center agents will enjoy: 

  • The ability to provide outstanding customer service, rather than focusing on the process to make communication with customers more personalized to better meet their needs
  • The intuitive way CA works, which agents require less training or can move on to different campaigns without spending hours reading reams of training manuals 
  • The capability to handle calls and resolve them faster than before, which means your cost per call is kept in control 

With Conversational Analytics (CA), the capability to focus on the conversation, rather than the process, means that both agents and customers have a better experience. As a result, your staff retention will improve dramatically, as well as your customer retention.

Simon Black is the CEO of Awaken. He’s an established senior executive with over twenty years of experience in the software industry with a record of driving rapid sales growth and scaling businesses. Simon is passionate about delivering value and excellent service to customers and developing a strong team culture for success.

Developing a Contact Center Work-At-Home Program



By Donna Fluss

While many contact centers, particularly large ones, had disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity (BC) plans in place before the pandemic hit, even if they were rarely tested and updated, surprisingly few included the option of having employees work from home for an extended period of time. And even BC plans that had work-at-home (WAH) guidelines for agents were unlikely to have documented best practices for supervisors or managers who unexpectedly needed to work remotely too.

A good DR/BC plan should address everything that a contact center worker needs to do as part of their job (whether they are in a different office or their home), the systems to support these activities, and the security requirements to protect customers, employees, and the company. 

Allowing employees to work from home is going to be an expectation of employers. Click To Tweet

However, the first step in the process is to enable contact center workers to work from their homes. For this reason, all contact centers, even those with just a few employees, need an effective WAH program supported by the necessary technology and solutions. Below is a high-level list companies should take into consideration when building or enhancing their contact center WAH initiative. Most of these apply to all contact centers, but some, like the use of voice biometrics, may not be cost-effective for smaller environments.

Work-at-Home Considerations for Contact Centers

Legal: Have a WAH employee contract that lays out all requirements. It should include job responsibilities, working hours, system requirements (such as who buys and pays for personal computers, headsets, and internet access and bandwidth), working space, security, and so forth.

Interaction: Set up a daily communication session between supervisors and each at-home agent. Part of each supervisor’s job should be to keep at-home agents informed of all work-related meetings and to make sure their agents are well. Use internal chat for most agent inquiries. 

Real-time messaging and broadcasting capabilities are also essential for communicating issues that require immediate attention.

Agent Management: Train supervisors and managers to oversee a virtual workforce. Out of sight cannot mean out of mind. Ensure that supervisors and managers are comfortable using the necessary technologies when agents are remote.

Cloud-Based Technology: Acquire and utilize cloud-based contact center systems and applications that enable companies to easily route customer interactions to agents and provide insight into their performance, whether they are on-site or off-site, including:

  • Omni-channel call center as a service (CCaaS) solution
  • One hundred percent real-time and historical recording of calls and screens
  • Desktop analytics to monitor application usage
  • Real-time speech analytics to trigger supervisor alerts when emotionally charged verbal interactions are in progress
  • Historical speech analytics to identify performance trends and business opportunities
  • Text analytics to generate notifications when negative sentiment is expressed in text-based channels
  • Workforce management (WFM) with mobility to allow agents to schedule their work hours and vacations, make swaps, and participate in overtime and voluntary time-off opportunities
  • Voice biometrics for employee identification and verification and to ensure that each agent is performing his or her job
  • Video technology to enable employees to interact with one another and to monitor agents

Security: Update and enhance the security requirements for WAH employees. Keep in mind that WAH employees need access to their mobile phones to participate in WFM-related activities.

Online Training: Create online training programs for both premise-based and remote agents. Use virtual and e-learning management software to facilitate the training process. 

Quality Management: Train all agents to participate in the department’s quality management (QM) program. This should be a standard training module.

Agent Motivation: Design rewards, incentives, and team-building activities to accommodate both in-house and remote staff.

Knowledge Management System: Use a cloud-based KM solution to collect and curate the product, process, procedural, and system knowledge required by all agents. 

Conclusion

WAH programs should address the needs of agents, supervisors, and managers. All contact centers should encourage a certain percentage of their employees to work from home on a regular basis. This will help them be successful when it becomes necessary in a business continuity situation. And given the changes in the business world due to the pandemic, allowing employees to work from home, if desired, is going to be an expectation of employers, including contact centers.

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.