New All-in-One Spectrum / Prism II Server

Amtelco hardware and software engineers designed the new Prism II server to run Spectrum, Prism II, and other applications from this one server. Some of the key features or the Amtelco/Telescan designed server are:

  • Redundant power supplies
  • Redundant long life solid state disk drives—480GB disk drives mounted in easily removable/replaceable hot swappable carriers, making for easy maintenance if maintenance is ever required.
  • Rack mountable 2U chassis
  • Windows Server 2016 with up to two virtual machines
  • 2GHz Intel Xeon quad-core processor
  • 32GB of RAM
  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • Additional 1TB hard drive for storage
  • Redundant 500 watt hot-swappable power supplies
  • Front USB panel and DVD drive
  • Intel RST (rapid storage technology) RAID management console allowing easy drive and RAID array management

In other Amtelco news, the Genesis Just Say It feature enhances the IS Navigation Menu feature by enabling callers to speak responses in addition to pressing telephone keypad digits. The Just Say It Navigation Menu features give callers the ability to access information and conduct transactions using either speech recognition and/or live operator involvement.

Genesis Just Say It automatic speech recognition applications simplify and speed telephone calls. The Genesis Just Say It applications listen to what a caller says to interact with the caller and understand the caller’s meaning based on pre-defined parameters. The Genesis Just Say It applications make it possible to increase call handling capabilities and call traffic volumes while decreasing labor costs and other operating expenses.

AmtelcoFor more information, contact Amtelco at 800-356-9148, or info@amtelco.com.

Startel Releases Latest Version of Secure Messaging Solution

Startel Corporation released its secure messaging solution, Startel Secure Messaging Plus (SM+). Many new features and enhancements were part of this release, including the ability to respond to group messages and allowing the forwarding of messages.

SM+ is a two-way direct messaging solution that allows users to securely send and receive messages, including those containing sensitive information.

All message content and attachments sent and received on devices using SM+ are encrypted. New key features and enhancements included in this release are:

  • Group Response: When replying to a group message, users can choose to reply only to the sender or the entire group.
  • Message Forwarding: Prior to sending a message, users can indicate which messages can be forwarded. Administrators can also enable certain accounts to not allow forwarding of any messages.
  • Account Management: Enhancements have been made for both channel partners and end users.

“We are excited to offer our customers, and the marketplace, with the latest version of Startel Secure Messaging Plus,” said Margaret Lally, senior director of operations and technical services at Startel. “The new features and enhancements included in this release help to ensure that our customers remain competitive, and that sensitive data remains confidential and secure.”

Startel Secure Messaging Plus is available as a stand-alone web-based solution or integrated with the Startel Contact Management Center. The SM+ app is compatible with the latest versions of Android and iOS (iPad, iPhone, iTouch).

StartelFor more information, contact Startel Sales at sales@startel.com.

PACE Win Brings Sensibility to the TCPA

The Professional Association for Customer Engagement (PACE) won a decisive victory for sensible regulation of the teleservices industry. In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit vacated the Federal Communications Commission’s arbitrary and capricious definition of an automated telephone dialing system and creation of a one-call safe harbor for calls to reassigned numbers under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).

In its 2015 Omnibus Declaratory Ruling and Order, the FCC held that any system with the present capacity or potential functionality to operate as an automated telephone dialing system (ATDS) meets the definition of an ATDS. PACE strongly objected to this definition as overly broad and not grounded in the law, as evidenced by the fact that even a generic smartphone could be an ATDS under the FCC’s definition. In vacating the FCC’s definition, the Court agreed, “Those sorts of anomalous outcomes are bottomed in an unreasonable, and impermissible, interpretation of the statute’s reach. The TCPA cannot reasonably be read to render every smartphone an ATDS …”

Likewise, the Court set aside the FCC’s one-call safe harbor for calls to reassigned numbers as arbitrary and capricious. In its 2015 Order, the FCC defined the “called party” for purposes TCPA liability as the new subscriber of a reassigned number but exempted from liability callers who erroneously made one call without consent to the new subscriber. Industry participants warned that that this one-call safe harbor was insufficient because in many instances a caller would not learn from that one call whether the number had been reassigned (e.g. the call is not answered, the voicemail is not descriptive, a text message is not returned). The Court not only vacated the safe harbor, it also recognized the potential for strict liability to attach under the FCC’s definition of “called party” as the new subscriber and set the definition aside too.

The Court did let stand the FCC’s decision to allow consumers to revoke their consent to be called using any reasonable means that clearly express a desire not to receive further messages. PACE and other petitioners argued that the reasonable means test could allow for a consumer to revoke consent by telling a store clerk that they revoke consent or another means that would not fall into a caller’s normal process for recording revocation of consent. Acknowledging this concern, the Court elucidated that “[C]allers will have every incentive to avoid TCPA liability by making available clearly-defined and easy-to-use opt-out methods. If recipients are afforded such options, any effort to sidestep the available methods in favor of idiosyncratic or imaginative revocation requests might well be seen as unreasonable.”

Reacting to this victory, Stuart Discount, PACE CEO, stated, “PACE appreciates that the Court rightly found that the FCC went too far in its definition of an ATDS and its treatment of reassigned numbers in its 2015 Order.

“PACE looks forward to working with the FCC over the coming months to develop reasonable regulations that align with the statutory language and protect both consumers and callers.”

PACE continues to analyze the Court’s decision and its impact on callers across the country.

Founded in 1988, PACE is dedicated to the advancement of companies that engage with customers via the contact center. The association promotes its members’ ability to provide outstanding customer service and sales solutions delivered via omnichannel communication including voice, email, chat, text, and social media.

Startel Corporation Releases Contact Management Center v14.1

Startel Corporation announced the availability of Startel Contact Management Center (CMC) v14.1. This release includes several new features and enhancements designed to maximize agent productivity and efficiency.

Customers can expect a tighter integration with QGenda, allowing QGenda schedules to be configured directly within Startel administration controls. The client maintenance module now includes a find feature, enabling programmers to locate specific form features more quickly. New variables are now available for hyperlinks, including agent ID, agent first name, agent last name, and more, within client maintenance. Enhancements were also made to the Startel web portal and Startel dashboard.

“We are thrilled to deliver this new release and reinforce our commitment to providing customers, and the marketplace, with the latest innovations in technology and software,” said Brian Stewart, chairman and CEO of Startel. “We look forward to training customers on the product release next month at our annual user group conference.”

Startel CMC v14.1 is available now. For more information, or to schedule an upgrade, contact Startel technical support at techsupport@startel.com.

StartelStartel is a leading provider of unified communications, business process automation, and performance management solutions and services. Learn more at 949-863-8776 or www.startel.com.

Amtelco Introduces Intelligent Series v5.1

Amtelco announced version 5.1 of its Intelligent Series (IS) suite of call center applications at the annual meeting of the National Amtelco Equipment Owners (NAEO) users group in February. New features include:

Virtual Terminals for the SMS, SNPP, TAP, and WCTP contact methods make it possible to switch from one terminal type to another without having to reprogram individual contact methods. When upgrading to IS 5.1, the IS server automatically creates a virtual terminal for each existing messaging terminal in the system.

The Genesis Just Say It Interactive Voice Response (IVR) feature enhances the IS navigation menu feature by letting callers to speak responses instead of pressing telephone keypad digits. The Just Say It IVR and navigation menu features give callers the ability to access information and conduct transactions using speech recognition or live operator involvement.

The Genesis Just Say It Directory Assistance feature prompts the caller to say the name of a person, performs a directory lookup, verifies which listing the caller seeks, and transfers the caller to the appropriate phone number stored in the IS Directory.

The miTeamWeb Dashboard provides call center staff and clients with real-time information about automated call distribution (ACD) activities, operator call handling statistics, and dispatching tasks in both graphic and text formats in a widget-based enterprise web interface. The dashboard screen can be customized to display only the dashboard widgets that individual users need to see.

The Intelligent Series Two-Way WCTP Messaging interface implements the capabilities contained in the international Wireless Communications Transfer Protocol (WCTP) to enable the IS server to conduct two-way messaging with a third-party application. The two-way WCTP interface makes it possible for developers to interface to the IS server application and the IS database without involving Amtelco’s development team.

Infinite Convergence Solutions is a new SMS text messaging aggregator service available for use with IS Dispatching. Infinite Convergence developed its integration with the Intelligent Series platform using the new two-way WCTP messaging component of the IS 5.1 software.

The Genesis Meet Me Park feature lets an agent park a call to a designated ACD skill table to await connection to the called party. The park response element and the Meet Me Park behavior automate the Meet Me process using IS scripts.

The Auto Attendant behavior answers a call, plays a greeting, and transfers the call to an extension or patches the call to another number. The auto attendant behavior includes call analysis options to determine if a call reached an answering machine; in that event, it will respond according to its settings.

AmtelcoFor more information, contact Amtelco at 800-356-9148 or info@amtelco.com.

The March/April 2018 Issue of Connections Magazine

The March/April 2018 Issue of Connections Magazine, covering call centers and the teleservice industry

March/April 2018Read these articles online:

[Connections Magazine is proudly published by Peter DeHaan Publishing Inc, Peter L. DeHaan, editor.]

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Three Major Benefits of a Medical Call Center Partnership



A Medical Call Center Partnership Contributes to Organizational Efficiency

By Karen Brown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quality of Care: Patient Satisfaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Healthcare Call Center’s Role in Reducing Hospital Readmissions



By Traci Haynes

Reducing hospital readmissions has been a focus of the healthcare environment for many years. Steven Jencks, MD, dubbed by many as the father of readmission research, along with Mark Williams, MD, and Eric Coleman, MD, analyzed medical claims data from 2003–2004 to describe the patterns of rehospitalization.

Readmissions Rates

Almost one-fifth (19.6 percent) of the 11,855,702 Medicare beneficiaries who had been discharged from a hospital were rehospitalized within thirty days. In 2007 the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) reported to Congress that 13 percent of patients rehospitalized within thirty days of discharge in 2005 were for preventable reasons. These readmissions accounted for $12 billion in Medicare spending.

As a result, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) of 2010 mandated that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) implement a program in which hospitals with higher-than-expected readmission rates for certain designated conditions experience reductions (that is, penalties) in their Medicare payments.

Beginning in October 2012, the hospital readmission reduction program (HRRP) began adjusting hospital payments based on excess readmissions within thirty days of Medicare patients following myocardial infarction (MI), heart failure (HF), and pneumonia hospitalizations. The maximum penalty at that time was 1 percent of a hospital’s base Medicare reimbursement rate per discharged patient.

A year later the penalty increased to 2 percent and then to 3 percent in 2014. The first year more than 2,200 hospitals received penalties for failing to meet standards, with 8 percent incurring the maximum penalty. In addition readmission penalties now include elective knee and hip replacements and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Utilizing the call center to identify and implement communication strategies adds value to the organization and better outcomes for their patients. Click To Tweet

Reasons for Readmission

According to Bisognano and Boutwell, the primary reasons for readmission were no physician follow-up visit, medication discrepancies, and communication failure during transitions of care.

Coleman and others identified poor information transfer, poor patient and caregiver preparation, and limited empowerment to assert preferences as the primary reasons for readmission. Contributing factors include nurses not having time to thoroughly address the needs of both the patients and caregivers upon discharge, the hospital setting not being conducive to education to drive behavior change before discharge, and the care continuum breakdown between hospital discharge and the handoff to primary care.

The impact of the penalties has been a significant concern for hospitals that care for a larger number of low-income patients. They claim it is more difficult for their patients to adhere to post-hospital instructions, including payment for medications, dietary modifications, and transportation to follow-up appointments.

To address these challenges, some hospitals have implemented measures including discharging patients with medications, home visits, and follow-up calls. Other interventions include hiring specialty care coordinators and transition coaches to offer follow-up care for patients with multiple comorbidities, providing patients with extensive teach-back for multiple days prior to discharge so they’ll better know what to do after discharge. In addition many include comprehensive medication reviews with a clinical pharmacist.

Call Centers Help Reduce Readmissions

The healthcare call center can help reduce avoidable readmissions by enhancing the quality of care in the hospital-to-home transition through the combined capabilities of technology and human interaction. Discharge planning should begin upon admission to the hospital. This includes arranging for durable medical equipment (DME), transfer to step-down as appropriate, home healthcare, transportation needs, and communication with primary care providers (PCPs). Discussions with caregivers, the extended care team (which includes the PCP, caregivers, and pharmacist), and other members of the interdisciplinary team can be greatly improved by the services of the call center in helping to comprehensively coordinate the patient’s care.

The patient and their caregivers will also benefit from the reinforcement of information provided, teach-back, appointment reminders, and coordination of services including transportation, as well as medication reconciliation and symptom assessment resulting in earlier interventions and improved outcomes. Extending contact beyond the thirty-day penalty period will bring even greater benefits to patients and their caregivers, which may prolong readmissions indefinitely.

Some healthcare call centers make one post-discharge call to review the patient’s diagnosis, instructions, medications, and education materials. They also ensure that the patient has scheduled their follow-up appointment. Others make several outbound calls to the discharged patient including a call within the first twenty-four to forty-eight hours.

In addition, the call center staff or care coordinator may reach out to the patient again after their first appointment. Ideally this should occur within seven days post-discharge. This call typically reviews follow-up appointment instructions or changes in medications, assists in referrals and scheduling with additional providers or resources, and communicates to the interdisciplinary team as appropriate. During this contact, biometric monitoring may also be tracked through technology or as self-reported by patients or their caregivers.

Whatever level of service provided, it’s a win for the patients, their caregivers, and the healthcare organization. Utilizing the call center to identify and implement communication strategies that effectively engage the patient and their caregivers adds value to the organization and the opportunity of better outcomes for their patients.

Traci Haynes, MSN, RN, BA, CEN, is the director of clinical services at LVM Systems, Inc.

References:

  • Bisognano, M., Boutwell, A. (2009). Improving Transition to Reduce Readmissions. Frontiers of Health Services Management 25(3), 3-10.
  • Coleman, E.A., Parry, C., Chalmers, S., & Sung-joon, M. (2006). Care Transitions Intervention. Arch Intern Medicine 166(17) 1822-1828.

Jencks, S.F., Williams, M.V., & Coleman, E.A. (2011). “Rehospitalization Among Patients in the Medicare Fee-For-Service Program,” New England Journal of Medicine 364:1582.

How to Stay Positive in the Telemarketing Services Industry



By Angela Garfinkel

No. Not interested. Thanks for your call, but no. No.

You get the point. Working in outbound telemarketing sales can be a difficult job. Working in telemarketing management is also hard, but at least we aren’t the ones who are told no every five to seven minutes throughout an eight-hour day. Most telemarketing programs average one sale every four to five hours. Some really great programs get one sale every two to three hours. The very best programs get one sale for every hour of calling. In an eight-hour day, that’s about one hundred noes and, at best, a handful of yeses.

Remaining upbeat and positive is a challenge, but the key is knowing that what you’re selling is worth the effort. We call it “worthwhile work.” It’s important to carefully evaluate each client program to ensure that it meets the minimum standard of being worthwhile work. If I go to Thanksgiving dinner and tell my grandma what project I’m working on, will I be proud of it? If the answer is “not really,” then we’ll choose to not work on it. Click To Tweet

Here Are Some Criteria I Consider:

  • Would our team enjoy working with this client? Would our management team get along with them and find there is a true partnership? Obviously, it takes a while to build a relationship, but within an initial conversation, I can normally tell if there is a seed of potential for our team to enjoy working with a client.
  • Is the potential client a reputable company? I check the Better Business Bureau. I look at their website. I read press releases and other news about the company. If I can’t find anything that validates them as a reputable company, that isn’t necessarily a negative, but then I do my own assessment by asking some detailed questions about the company and how they approach their market.
  • Is the product or service something the target market needs? This can be difficult to assess, but you can normally ask some questions that will give you insight to the need in the market. One key question is asking them how many products they’ve sold so far. If it’s zero, that could be a real challenge.
  • Is the product or service something that can be sold over the phone? Has the client already tested telemarketing? Was it successful? If not, look at the potential for success with scrutiny.
  • Is it a program our team will be successful with? That’s hard to quantify, but with thirty years of experience, I’m pretty good at identifying if our team will do well with a client program or not.
  • Is it something a consumer or business may ultimately view as a rip-off or scam? Obviously if the answer is yes, then we carefully walk away from the potential opportunity.

Based on these answers, I’ve found that it is critical to carefully consider whether the program will be viewed by our team as worthwhile work. In the simplest of terms, I explain it this way: If I go to Thanksgiving dinner and tell my grandma what project I’m working on, will I be proud of it? If the answer is “not really,” then we’ll choose to not work on it.

Here Are Some Programs My Team Considers Worthwhile Work:

  • Calling physician offices and hospitals to sell them billing and coding resources.
  • Calling existing utility customers to offer a warranty and appliance repair program from the utility.
  • Calling small business owners to ask if they’re interested in learning more about 401(k) benefits for their employees.
  • Calling existing customers of auto dealerships to schedule service appointments and conduct after-service surveys.
  • Calling small and medium businesses to sell them regulatory and compliance resources to help them navigate complex regulatory requirements in their industry.
  • Calling small businesses to ask them to listen to the radio for a chance to win a prize.

And while I won’t mention the brand names represented in these worthwhile calls, they are household names our employees love to work for.

So here’s my theory: when you’re conducting worthwhile work for well-known, respected brand names, you can take pride in what you do and know that it matters. This makes it easier to stay positive and let those noes roll off your back. There’s an old chant we used years ago that I still think is relevant and a great way to put the noes into perspective: “Some will. Some won’t. So what? Who’s next?”

Angela Garfinkel is the president and founder of Quality Contact Solutions, a leading outsourced telemarketing services organization. Angela has the pleasure of leading a talented team that runs thousands of outbound telemarketing program hours each day. Angela is also a certified Self-Regulatory Organization (SRO) auditor with the Professional Association for Customer Engagement, and she is a designated Customer Engagement Compliance Professional (CECP). Angela can be reached at angela.garfinkel@qualitycontactsolutions.com or 516-656-5118.

Six Omnichannel Trends Disrupting Customer Service in 2018



By Murph Krajewski

Two thousand seventeen was the year of operational shifts in customer service as archaic legacy systems were replaced with technological innovations to make service faster and improve customer interactions. However, this shift alone cannot win the customer service battle in today’s competitive marketplace. As consumers’ demands become increasingly harder to achieve, companies will need to be more proactive by offering a true omnichannel experience.

Omnichannel may seem like a buzzword, but it’s more than that. It’s a fluid journey that provides a consistent, seamless, and personalized experience that most consumers crave. However, only a small percentage of contact centers today describe themselves as omnichannel. While staying ahead of the curve as new technologies become mainstream seems like a daunting task, companies that focus on streamlining omnichannel capabilities to further assist, engage, and enhance their agents, while also understanding the trends disrupting customer service, will enjoy the new year.

The Reevaluation of Self-Service

In 2018, many contact centers will see a reevaluation of self-service, which plays a critical role in today’s omnichannel approach. Self-service tools are an important concept that unfortunately have not always been used well and have some recovery work to do in the eyes of customers.

To accomplish this, companies will enhance data collection processes for the types of inquiries being received across all channels to create a concise portal with applicable questions and answers. Agents will then use this page as a resource by directing future callers to a specific link or copying and pasting answers to common questions. While customers haven’t always been wowed by their self-service options, there is new life coming to this avenue of omnichannel. The vendors leading the way will set the bar for this trend in 2018. As consumers’ demands become increasingly harder to achieve, companies will need to be more proactive by offering a true omnichannel experience. Click To Tweet

Adding Mobile to the Mix

As the number of smartphone users moves closer to 2.5 billion, mobile will increasingly gain momentum as it continues to become the most popular customer service communication channel. According to OneReach, 64 percent of consumers would prefer to use texting rather than voice for customer service, and 77 percent are more likely to have a positive customer experience through mobile per a report from Aberdeen Group.

Other reports show that mobile capabilities among contact centers have grown substantially, but 2018 will be the year when many move from the siloed mobile approach and seamlessly combine it with other channels. Customers live their lives on their mobile devices. Companies must meet their customers where they are to provide a smooth customer experience, and that means meeting them on mobile.

Moving toward the Cloud

Cloud-based and cloud-native contact center infrastructure is key to the globalization of customer service. According to a 2017–2018 DMG Consulting Report, adoption of the cloud among contact centers continues to pick up momentum, especially in the financial sector. Thanks to advances in cloud technology, particularly from vendors that do not have to recalibrate legacy systems, cloud-native and cloud-based systems are highly secure, reliable, and provide quality infrastructure. In the new year, it can be expected that more operations will move to the cloud, allowing agents to access the platform at any time worldwide and disseminate information in real time to create a more relevant customer experience.

Chatbots and Artificial Intelligence

In the beginning, chatbots were designed primarily to optimize business operations. Now there’s a newer breed of chatbots that use machine-learning capabilities to provide superior customer experiences. Not only do they help anticipate the needs of “being there” throughout the customer journey, but they also help brands provide options for self-navigation. Plus, they know when it’s time to connect a customer to a live agent.

Fueled by artificial intelligence, chatbots become more intelligent day-to-day by collecting data on customer conversations. However, like any new technology, these tools need to be carefully integrated into the customer experience. To be effective they must be deployed in messaging apps, web chat, and other channels as part of an omnichannel strategy. This also means that if an agent needs to jump in, they can switch channels efficiently without the customer having to repeat information. This has been the goal of AI-to-agent experiences, but few companies have implemented the process at its fullest potential. Those that streamline this experience will see the greatest success.

The Rise in Social Media

A recent Hootsuite report revealed there are more than 2.8 billion active social media users with an annual growth rate of 21 percent. Among users under twenty-five, social media remains the first choice among support channels. Though most businesses have observed the need for social support, nearly one-third of businesses are still not incorporating social into their omnichannel approach. Instead users are being redirected to another channel. Although a temporary fix for an ever-evolving market, social media will play an even more important role in omnichannel this year.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

More than half of contact center leaders plan to enable Internet of Things (IoT) in the next year, signaling a shift toward accelerated innovation in the contact center. And since more than 30 billion devices will be wirelessly connected to physical things by 2020, IoT is going to completely alter the way companies connect to customers. It will usher in the era of proactive customer service.

Soon data from devices will empower companies to be aware of issues in real time and intervene before a customer even knows there is a problem. IoT will also allow for shorter wait times and more efficient service as automated solutions solve routine problems, freeing associates to focus on more complicated issues. In addition, those lagging in the implementation of IoT will feel increased pressure from customers to conform. Failing to adopt will erode customer loyalty over time due to slow service processes, fostering a lackluster impression compared to those companies who have moved forward.

Start Today

Companies can no longer afford to get away with subpar customer experiences by offering a siloed approach that erodes customer loyalty. Instead focus on implementing a true omnichannel methodology that meets the needs of customers and adheres to industry trends. Doing so will provide an experience that meets the needs of customers in 2018 and for years to come.

Murph Krajewski is vice president of marketing at Sharpen, a contact center platform with an agent-first focus. With nearly twenty years of experience in the contact center industry, he has tackled a variety of roles on multiple sides of contact center systems and gathered incredible insights on what provides exceptional customer service. In his current role Murph focuses on creating better experiences for contact center agents, which he believes makes for happier customers and could even change the world. He is also a regular contributor to the Forbes Communication Council.

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