Are Insurance Call Centers Putting Customer Data at Risk?



By Ben Rafferty

Imagine if you had to read your PIN out loud at the ATM to make a transaction. With the possibility of someone overhearing and maliciously using your information, this notion is unthinkable. So why is it still commonplace for call centers to ask customers to read their card numbers, sensitive authentication data (SAD), and other personally identifiable information (PII) over the phone?

A recent secret shopper survey of leading insurance companies’ call centers unveiled that insurers are inclined to use the outdated, risky practice of asking customers for verbal confirmation of payment card details. In fact, ten of the top insurance companies in the United States anonymously surveyed said that they require customers to read their card numbers out loud to pay for insurance services over the phone. Moreover, four out of those same ten insurers admitted that customer services representatives (CSRs) read card numbers back to customers. Although many customers and CSRs may not think twice about verbalizing sensitive data, there are far too many risks involved. And, given the 371 percent increase in data breaches in the insurance industry, and the 113 percent increase in call center fraud, insurers cannot afford to be complacent.

Inside, or CSR fraud, is a real threat. As customers read their information aloud, the CSR could be copying it down for fraudulent use. Without clean rooms (no bags, pens or paper, or cell phones) and other stringent security measures, there is no telling what the CSR may do when exposed to sensitive data. Also the customer may be reading the information aloud in a public place, such as the grocery store. Who knows who may be listening and jotting down their information? Insurers who practice stop/start or manually scrub recordings of PII are noncompliant. Click To Tweet

When it comes to call recordings, the verbal confirmation of card numbers poses additional security concerns. This survey showed that eight of the ten insurers record calls, but how (and if) they remove PII from recordings varied. Some CSRs said they rely on a program to automatically block card details from the recording as callers talk. Others said PII is manually removed from the recordings after the call is completed. One insurer said they randomly record calls and keep recordings for thirty days before deleting them. Overall, it was also clear that CSRs were unaware or uninformed about how to shield sensitive information from recordings.

Unfortunately, the problem goes beyond the ambiguity and lack of a standardized approach to avoiding capturing card details. Most notably, a common method of removing card details cited in the survey was some form of “stop/start” or “pause and resume,” whereby the call recording is stopped, paused, or muted, either manually by a CSR or automatically. It is then restarted, resumed, or unmuted once sensitive information is captured. Stop/start systems are particularly inadequate, as the CSR is still exposed to verbalized information and in some cases is also responsible for pausing and resuming the call recording. Here there is opportunity for CSRs to misuse the system, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

What if the CSR pauses the recording to leave out portions of the call while he or she engages in fraudulent behavior? Or what if the CSR accidentally forgets to pause the recording? This could log sensitive information, leaving it vulnerable in the event of a data breach.

On top of these risks, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), which governs all card payments, explicitly prohibits the recording of card security codes and the manual intervention of staff to remove data from recordings. Thus, insurers who practice stop/start or manually scrub recordings of PII are noncompliant.

Fortunately there is a simple security solution for call centers in the insurance industry and beyond, and it involves de-scoping the call center. This is most effectively accomplished by using dual-tone multifrequency (DTMF) masking technologies. Such solutions allow customers to enter payment card information on their telephone keypad and shield the numbers from the CSR and recordings by replacing DTMF tones with flat tones. Payments are sent directly to the payment processor and never touch the call center’s systems. These technologies enable call centers to keep customer data safe and out of their infrastructure, thereby reducing the risks associated with a reputation-damaging data breach. This also cuts compliance costs.

Because insurance call centers hold so much PII, from credit card numbers to social security numbers, it is in the companies’ and their customers’ best interests to ensure that their security and compliance efforts are in order—before it’s too late. This begins with making the practice of reading payment card numbers aloud over the phone a thing of the past.

Ben Rafferty has fifteen years of experience of delivering speech recognition, IVR, and contact center automation on CPE and hosted platforms. At Semafone, Rafferty is responsible for the smooth deployment of solutions into hosted environments and for the overall management of Semafone’s hosted offering.

AI: On the Right Path but Not Yet Real



By Donna Fluss

It’s hard to find a product today that doesn’t claim to use machine learning to provide artificial intelligence (AI). The funny thing is that while the marketing has changed, most of the products have not. It’s amazing how so many products have supposedly morphed into AI-based solutions overnight, despite little evidence of any product development effort. This, of course, means that most of these solutions do not offer AI, and what we’re reading in their marketing materials and websites is merely aspirational messaging.

AI Today

To be fair, it’s going to be hard for a vendor to attract attention today if they don’t claim to use AI to improve the performance and output of their solution. Given the choice between purchasing a product that continues to do what it always did or one that uses AI (which typically means machine learning) to enhance its capabilities, most people are going to go for what they believe to be the latest and greatest cutting-edge offerings.

The problem is that most of what people are buying is hype, and this is going to result in disappointment as enterprises realize that AI is still in the early stages of commercialization. The potential is great, but the current generation of technology and applications are far from fully AI-enabled. As I look through the market, the vendors who are closest to delivering AI-enabled applications are selling a great deal of professional services with each solution to build out their products.

A Push for Improvements

The driver behind the AI revolution is the need for productivity and quality improvements, which are important for all enterprise applications and essential for people-intensive front- and back-office service organizations. Imagine a voice self-service solution, also known as an interactive voice response system (IVR) that self-corrects when it realizes customers are dropping out at a certain point in the script (application). If machine learning were applied, the solution would identify the issue by itself and then make a change to the appropriate components of the script without human intervention.

Another great use of AI would be to embed it into an automatic call distributor (ACD) to improve and optimize routing. Imagine an ACD that continuously enhances its routing algorithms, ensuring that the right transactions are delivered to the best-suited agents or associates. These examples sound great, but they are not fully-baked today. Most of what is currently referred to as AI are business rules created and modified by humans. These approaches are not new, although there are changes in how they are being applied and rolled out as vendors strive to make their solutions more intelligent and AI-ready.

The Past and the Future

The first AI application I was introduced to over thirty years ago was knowledge management (KM), and it’s a perfect example of how AI is not yet ready for prime-time commercialization and adoption in enterprise applications. KM is still an ideal application for machine learning-enabled AI, as the number-one challenge with these applications is keeping them up-to-date. If AI worked, this would have been addressed years ago; more development work is still needed before AI can truly drive the processes in enterprise solutions.

DMG is bullish on the current AI revolution. What’s different this time is that companies in many IT sectors are making investments to try to embed AI-like capabilities in their solutions. The benefits for the contact center technology market are going to be tremendous, even though it will take a few more years before AI is ready for prime time.This generation of systems is not yet fully AI-enabled, but it is on the right path. Click To Tweet

 Final Thoughts

AI is driving a much-needed round of investment in many systems and applications for various IT sectors, including contact centers. AI is not yet ready for broad commercial adoption, but the push to include it in many solutions is driving vendors to rethink their application logic and deliver a new generation of technology that is easier to implement and use, as it is designed to be smarter and faster than anything that came before.

Many of these solutions, including intelligent virtual agents (IVAs) and robotic process automation (RPA) applications, can deliver significant productivity and quality improvements, even though the underlying technology is not true AI but typically a basic form of machine learning. This generation of systems is not yet fully AI-enabled, but it is on the right path, and many of these solutions are generations ahead of the twenty to thirty-year-old systems that many companies are using.

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.

Will Customer Service Chatbots Ruin the Contact Center?



By Peter L. DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineBots, sometimes called chatbots, are applications used to automate responses to social media and online inquiries. The purpose of bots is to speed answers to customer information requests. And they do this automatically. They’re programs, after all. They can do in seconds what it might take a person minutes to handle, or even longer if the message gets stuck in a lengthy queue.

Chatbots respond quickly, expedite communication, and relieve customer service staff from handling basic inquiries. What does this mean to contact centers and their staff? Could chatbots signal the end of the contact center as we know it? Could chatbots signal the end of the contact center as we know it? Click To Tweet

Although it’s easy to imagine these chatbot programs one day taking over a contact center and sending all the agents home because they have no work left to do, this is unlikely. Go back through the history of the call center industry; every year or two we see some new technology coming along that carries the threat of devastating the call center. So far it’s never happened.

Although emerging technologies have served to change how the call center operates, in most cases these innovations have opened new opportunities to serve customers and provide more work for agents. Historically, these technologies have not been disruptive but enabling.

Bots are not a threat to contact center agents but a tool that can aid in communication, assist contact center agents, and speed answers to customers. Just as web self-service and FAQ sections on websites help customers resolve problems, so too will self-learning bots. And though online self-service was heralded as the end of contact centers, this proved false, with frustrated users demanding to talk with people to resolve their most difficult problems. Bots will have the same effect.

However, as the saying goes, “To err is human, but to really foul things up requires a computer.” Bots could accomplish this too. They are, after all, self-learning. What if they learn the wrong thing? What if they reach an errant conclusion and then perpetuate it, spreading their misinformation to thousands of people?

Who will suffer the fallout? The contact center will, as agents field calls, emails, and text messages from confused customers who were led astray by erroneous bots. Who’s going to fix the mess? Contact center agents, that’s who: real people solving big problems caused by well-meaning technology that’s run amuck. This possibility, though likely, will only happen in isolated cases.

Yet there’s a bigger issue at stake. Unlike a typical computer application that can only do what it was programmed to do, bots have an element of artificial intelligence built into them. They can grow, they can evolve, and they can change. They could take over! Though this may sound like an intriguing plot for a sci-fi thriller, it’s a possibility, even if far-fetched. But if bots take over and turn customer service into a nightmare, it will be the contact center agents who come to the rescue and save us all!

My attempts at humor aside, bots present more opportunities than threats. We need to implement them to better serve our customers. Let the bots do the easy things—just like we expect from self-service, FAQs, and interactive voice response—so that contact center agents can focus their attention on the more challenging inquiries. In this way, bots will take some of the drudgery out of routine contact center chores and defer to real people for the really interesting work.

In all likelihood, chatbots will not ruin the contact center industry. They will empower it to become more.

 Peter L. DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, AnswerStat, TAS Trader, and Medical Call Center News, as well as a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his writing blog, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from www.authorpeterdehaan.com.

Three Steps to Ensure That Live Chat Agents Support Your Brand Identity



By Tony Medrano

AI and machine learning are more than just trendy buzzwords. In many industries, including e-commerce, rapid advances in Artificial Intelligence and machine learning are giving companies huge competitive advantages right now. These technologies power live chat agent communications and help companies scale faster than ever before. However, if your brand is your most valuable asset, you want to make sure that your live chat agents support your brand identity, not tarnish it, before you set them loose on potential customers.

Brand conscious e-commerce companies find that chat agents have an increased impact on customer satisfaction, build a more resilient brand identity, and foster lifelong customers, while freeing up chat team leaders to tackle unique issues. Empowering human chat agents with these insights from machine learning enables brands to make the strongest emotional connection with customers.

1. Understand Your Customer’s Expectations: The first key to training live chat agents is to make sure that your agents have a solid understanding of what the customer’s expectation is when using live chat. After all, you cannot exceed expectations until you know what the expectations are. A live chat agent is not a replacement for an entire customer service team. Click To Tweet

Customers who opt for live chat most often want immediate service, clear answers, and positive interaction. Fast service is not enough for most customers. They’re used to texting with friends and getting an immediate response. Your live chat agent needs to be able to react right away.

The way your live chat agent responds is important as well. They need clear answers they can act on to questions they ask. This means that answers should have direct links when appropriate and incorporate information specific to the customer. If you can personalize customer service, you’ll improve brand loyalty.

A live chat agent also needs to make the customer feel good about the interaction. You already know people buy more when they are in a good mood. This means your live chat agent not only needs to be efficient but also friendly. This includes using appropriate greetings, asking if the customer has any other questions, and ending a chat session with an appropriate sign off.

2. Understand Your Brand’s Identity: Brand-conscious e-commerce companies have these goals:

  • Present a correct representation of the brand
  • Offer high-quality service for each customer interaction
  • Communicate accurate information about products and logistics

Are you a luxury brand that fosters attention to detail about your products? Are you a big box e-retailer working in many verticals that prioritize order size and a flexible return policy? Communicating your brand identity to live chat agents is crucial to ensuring that your customer service strategy represents you correctly.

A high quality of service ensures that chat conversations reinforce customers’ positive brand associations while increasing the chances your brand is top of mind for your customer base. Achieving these tenets of brand identity through live chat will strengthen brand recognition, association, and loyalty.

Often a customer service interaction falls into one of two categories: product information or logistics. The former interaction likely occurs before a customer has made a purchase. The customer may need more information about a product before deciding to buy. The latter interaction usually occurs when the customer is ready to check out or already has. They may have a question about the purchase process, shipping, or product delivery.

3. Understand the Role of Your Live Chat Agent: It can be difficult for brand conscious e-commerce companies to provide immediate service while communicating accurate product information. When accurately representing a luxury product to support a purchasing decision, for example, a chat agent’s accuracy trumps the speed of the interaction.

The good news is that brand-conscious companies prefer using in-house customer service agents, eliminating many possible pain points. It’s easier to maintain brand voice when chat team leaders are in contact with other brand representatives in the company. Furthermore, the quality of interaction is facilitated by increased monitoring of chat conversation management. Chat team leaders can communicate immediately with superiors to adjust human resources to meet contact center traffic.

Solutions: Develop Proper Management Structure: The biggest mistake a brand can make with live chat agents is expecting them to do too much. A live chat agent can solve most of the customer service issues that come in. However, a live chat agent is not a replacement for an entire customer service team. A live chat agent can deal with 80 to 90 percent of customer queries. But if you try and force your live chat agents to deal with things that require too much improvisation or that the agents do not have authority to handle, you will trigger negative customer interactions.

If you are clear that your live chat agent will only deal with a specific set of issues, then you can train them to quickly get assistance from a team leader when issues are beyond the scope of their power or authority to resolve. Few things are more frustrating for a customer than spending fifteen minutes on live chat only to find out that the chat agent needs to bring in backup. This situation can often be avoided by training live chat agents to know when it is time to escalate the chat for resolution.

If you don’t want your e-commerce company to be left behind, you need to synthesize an AI and machine learning tool with your live chat training to improve your brand’s identity online.

Tony Medrano is the co-founder and CEO for RapportBoost.AI, provider of a suite of live chat agent training solutions that use advanced machine learning and deep conversational analysis to organizations to guide their human customer success and chat sales teams to build stronger connections with customers. He can be reached at tony@rapportboost.ai.

10 Reasons Call Center Coaching Fails to Improve Customer Experience and Employee Morale and Performance



By Melissa Pollock

Call center coaching has long been a challenge for both outsourced and corporate contact centers alike. Here are ten top causes that contribute to stagnant customer experience, waning employee morale, and disappointing performance improvements.

1. No Agent Availability for Coaching: Given the inherent pressures in call centers to achieve high agent availability and reach service-level targets, there is little time available for off-line training or coaching.

2. Lack of Time to Coach: Call center supervisors, team leads, and QA representatives who are typically responsible for coaching contact center agents don’t have time for coaching—either at all or not in the necessary frequency. In many cases, frontline leaders are over-tasked with a multitude of reporting, escalations, and performance management duties. Plus they often have too many direct reports. Sometimes these competing tasks take away from coaching time. Sometimes coaching is a personally distasteful task, so other work provides easy justification to procrastinate or avoid it.

3. No Commonly Accepted Coaching Model: There is often no coaching model to structure the coaching conversation. Each coach has strengths and challenges in different parts of the conversation. But without a structure it’s difficult for managers to identify these areas. It’s even more difficult for employees to follow the coaching conversation. Without a common language to discuss, understand, and evaluate coaching effectiveness, employees, coaches, and leaders all have limited insight.

4. No Standardized Coaching Process: There is often no standardization of the overall coaching process. These include a lack of expectations, evaluation, frequency, methods, behaviors, documentation location and formatting, follow-through steps, timelines, processes, and individual coaching efficiency or effectiveness. In the absence of well-established, communicated, and supported processes, coaching becomes a more casual and overly corrective kind of activity.

5. Underdeveloped Coaching Competency: Coaching occurs, but the quality of results suffers based on the coaches’ competency. In so many cases, newly promoted coaches (QAs, team leads, supervisors, and managers) are promoted from within. Though this is a wonderful practice, it only works when coaches receive proper training and tools. Being top performers may have earned them promotions, but their prior roles likely had little to do with leading and developing people. Millennials want to be more than just workers; they want to matter in the bigger picture. Click To Tweet

6. Not Based on Observing Actual Work Performance: In this scenario coaching is conducted without first observing actual work performance. Instead it’s based on metric outcomes without any analysis of correlating behaviors; there is no discussion of what actions are successful or unsuccessful in producing the desired outcomes. Without behaviors, there can be no coaching. Instead the conversation sounds more like a reinforcement of requirements, which ends with an empty agreement to improve.

7. Insufficient Relationship and Trust Building: Coaching occurs, but the quality of the relationship and subsequently the coaching interaction suffer based on the coaches’ interpersonal skills. If it’s all business and there’s no time spent connecting—talking, asking questions, listening, and trying to understand interests and concerns—then coaches don’t know what’s important to each person and therefore cannot demonstrate interest. And without being able to establish a genuine human connection, there’s little incentive for employees to invest much in return. Millennials, in particular, say they want to be more than just workers; they want to matter in the bigger picture.

8. Unbalanced Feedback: Coaching occurs, but it is too heavily focused on corrective feedback or challenges. Appreciation, recognition, and praise aren’t given or are given ineffectively. Few people know how to praise well; without behavior-specific positive reinforcement, there’s little incentive to course correct as requested, except for compliance-driven fear over job security.

9. Ineffective Follow-Through: Coaching occurs, but the timeliness of results suffers based on coaches’ lack of follow-through. Having a productive coaching conversation but then never checking back, or doing so a month later, makes it clear there is no accountability to force change. Even worse, some coaches check back but focus their comments on changes that still need to be made instead of first acknowledging and appreciating the progress already made.

10. Post-Coaching Failure: Coaching occurs but does not result in behavior change or performance improvement. Few contact center leaders can answer who their best high-performing coaches are, and even fewer can speak to the specific behaviors and practices that make those individuals good coaches. But how many leaders observe their coaches while they coach and then coach their coaches? Beyond that, how many leaders themselves are experienced at evoking willing behavior modification? In the absence of knowledgeable training and mentoring, coaches do the best they can with whatever prior experience they have and whoever they’re able to watch coach.

There are proven approaches for remedying each of these coaching effectiveness challenges, but as with anything, acknowledging the current state and understanding the causes are always the first steps.

Melissa Pollock is a practitioner of human and organizational learning and development and operational process improvement. She has twelve years’ experience with contact centers, specializing in creating transformational change through communication, alignment, and structure of processes and employee development practices. Her joy and skill in evolving leaders into better communicators and coaches has resulted in turnaround performance in centers around the nation. Mrs. Pollock is known for inspiring and organizing positive vision and change; she has a stellar record of strategic interventions that have strengthened engagement and improved overall performance and quality. Visit AmplifAI.com to learn how AI and machine learning are driving improved coaching and performance.

Keep Your Call Center from Suffering a Privacy Incident



By Sachin Kothari

Call center managers have plenty to worry about. Just recruiting and keeping staff, watching margins, and managing stakeholders (external or internal) can keep you busy.

In addition, you know privacy and data protection are rapidly becoming major issues for any organization gathering or using customer data. The last thing you need is a privacy incident to mar your organization’s reputation or lead to aggrieved customers.

You might even be pitching breach remediation work as part of your business plan. That pretty much becomes moot if you have an embarrassing breach yourself. Therefore it’s vital to know where a call center’s vulnerabilities are and how to prevent them. The breach experts all say the same thing: Speed matters. Click To Tweet

Social Engineering: Terms like phishing, spear phishing, and whaling all refer to the practice of criminals misrepresenting themselves to employees—even high-level employees (the whales)—and convincing them to give away important information of their own accord. While movies and television might make hackers into scheming geniuses behind souped-up laptops, a simple phone call is almost all they need to get some unsuspecting employee to hand over a username and password or other compromising information.

Luckily the solution is relatively simple: Train, train, train. Employees must understand how important it is to stick to your policies about how information is handled and think critically about what it is they’re being asked to do for a customer. Most phishing techniques are apparent once you know what to look and listen for.

In truth, it’s likely some of the good training you’ve given your employees—designed to help them deliver great customer service—has created good intentions that can have bad results.

Consider the case of an important client calling a frontline call center employee and explaining that he wants to make some adjustments to his account. Suddenly, right in the middle of verifying his identity, this big fish says that he must take an important call and explains that his assistant will finish up.

Of course, this woman doesn’t know her boss’s credentials. That’s silly. He was just there on the phone, right? This shouldn’t be a problem. No one would fault that call center employee’s instinct to be helpful and make sure this assistant gets the important changes accomplished. This is an important client, and the assistant sounds nice and seems harried.

Of course, the call center employee has just found herself victim to a data breach.

Teach your employees about these scenarios and emphasize the importance of verifying identity according to your policy, without exception. Hackers are smart. Give them even the tiniest bit of personal information, and they can exploit it.

Who Can See What?: Even in today’s digital world, people need to write things down when working with customers. It’s a part of the call center job that will likely never go away. Make sure there’s a policy in place for destroying that piece of paper. How handy is your shredder?

Unless the shredder is in steady use, the janitorial staff could be selling client info to the highest bidder. Ideally your cleaning personnel has training and knows to destroy compromising information pronto, but custodial staff are often third-party vendors. Does your contract with them require training in information handling?

You should also make sure that your call center employees don’t have keys to every digital door. Invest in software that redacts information based on role and scenario. That way employees only see the information necessary for the call they’re handling.

Procedures for Escalation: Perhaps the most common issue is a lack of proper plans for what to do should something bad happen. What does your employee do if she gets a call from a customer saying someone has accessed their account? Does that employee know where to go for help?

The breach experts all say the same thing: Speed matters. The faster your security team knows that something is amiss, the faster they can act.

Just a single sign of improper access could mean a typhoon is coming. Maybe your security team recognizes a hot new piece of malware and knows how to quickly contain it. It’s vital that all employees, from frontline staff and shift managers right up to the chief information officer, know what the response plan is. 

Conclusion: Unfortunately, this is just the start. There are books that address this issue in detail. I hope you have auditing capabilities and smart procedures in place for screening potential employees to make sure they are who they say they are. If not, you should start by addressing this.

Regardless, the simple message is this: People make mistakes. They make more mistakes, however, when they don’t have any training to help them avoid making them.

Privacy and data security should be standard at call centers, no matter where you’re operating. Otherwise you might find you’re not operating at all.

Sachin Kothari is CIPP/US and director of online privacy and compliance at AT&T.

The Power of Conversation: We May Be Looking at Productivity All Wrong



By Holger Reisinger

When was the last time you heard someone rave about his or her experience with a customer service representative? If you can’t recall, it’s not surprising. According to my company’s research, 80 percent of customer service workers say they deliver “superior” service. Yet only 8 percent of customers agree. Where’s the disconnect? It’s centered on the productivity of the worker.

The performance of traders, advisors, call-center employees, and customer service representatives is typically measured by tracking volume of calls, time between calls, and number of breaks. Instead, the emphasis should be on improving employee concentration and efficiency through discovering the power of conversation. At most companies this could close the gap between the most and least productive employees by 47 percent. 

The Importance of People: To supplement live operators, more and more companies are automating customer service functions, but I would argue that this is not the answer. Interacting with an automated recording often inconveniences and angers customers. Anyone who has ever walked through the multistep automated customer service menu only to finally be redirected to a person can probably agree that the experience is frustrating at best. While there is a time and a place for automated calls, such as allowing customers to check bank balances or make payments, we gain much with human communication.

Only a human being can actively listen, understand nuances, and seek information that directly correlates to a customer service problem. This means that customer service representatives have the potential to transform the customer experience. Humans can empathize, solve problems, and help make decisions, unlike a prerecorded machine.

Humans can have a dialogue. Through the power of conversation, employees can encourage brand loyalty and promote a positive brand reputation.

Statistics to Consider: While conversations are an important business tool, organizations put themselves at risk of losing business when they use customer service representatives who lack training in the power of conversation. A few stats to consider:

  • Eighty-nine percent of customers will leave a brand for a competitor after a negative customer experience.
  • Poor service entices up to 91 percent of customers to rescind their business, and that’s not limited to poor service from automated systems.
  • Customers angered by poor service not only leave a brand, they also share their negative experiences with up to fifteen other people.
  • Conversely 73 percent of consumers say they will love a brand if they receive friendly and helpful service on the phone.

Data like this reinforces how critical it is for organizations to put the time and effort into training employees to deliver a positive, memorable experience. With this in mind, it’s shocking to find that only 12 percent of marketing budgets address servicing existing customers.

Deal with Distractions: In addition to small budgets, the changing office landscape also contributes to call center worker challenges. In the move to create open and collaborative office spaces, employers are introducing new and bigger distractions. In fact, a quarter of call center employees count interruptions from colleagues and a loud workplace as their biggest distractions. Trailing not far behind, the number of calls and emails each day are also cited as a major distraction and stressor.

As if a noisy environment isn’t challenging enough for delivering quality customer service, 73 percent of decision-makers in call center environments say there’s an increase in the complexity of customer interactions. Today’s customers are well educated on their problem before contacting the brand. Through an increase in technology, customer service is expected to be available online via chat, email, over the phone, or via text. Increased complexity means there is an even bigger need for concentration on the task at hand.

Some Simple Suggestions: Calls have an important place in the organization, and they aren’t going away any time soon. In fact the length of calls is expected to increase by 40 percent in the next five years. The open and collaborative office space isn’t likely to go away any time soon either. So what can an organization do to help their employees battle distractions and stay focused?Employees can encourage brand loyalty and promote a positive brand reputation. Click To Tweet

A few tricks that we uncovered include:

  • Stay hydrated: Our research found the most productive call center agents were 22 percent more likely to say “bottoms up” to a glass of water than the least productive. A recent study in the U.K. found that one in five office spaces has about 25 percent relative humidity—nearly that of the Sahara Desert. It’s no surprise that productive agents are more likely to stay hydrated when you consider how difficult it would be to concentrate on a conversation with a parched mouth and itchy throat from nearly four hours of talking (in the desert) each day.
  • Control noise: The most productive call center employees have the right supporting tools to help them stay on task, including noise-canceling technology to drown out the open office buzz and hone in on what the customer is saying.  
  • Improve posture: Shifting posture throughout the day was another key factor that separated the most and least productive call center employees. Encourage employees to be mindful of their posture and move as needed instead of focusing on the number of calls they can zip through in an hour. You just might find that actual productivity and the number of happy customers increases.

Boosting customer satisfaction doesn’t require an overhaul of the way your organization operates. Call center employees and their human touch have and will remain vital in creating value for customers and delivering high-quality service. Instead, smart companies are providing working conditions that enable concentration and help service representatives overcome top challenges to productive calls. With the right tools and support in place, organizations can finally realize the full power of conversation.

Holger Reisinger is SVP of Business Solutions at Jabra.

IVR Optimization Improves Service and Reduces Costs



By Donna Fluss

In many customer service contact centers, the interactive voice response (IVR) system handles approximately 55 to 95 percent of the calls, depending on the vertical and the effectiveness of the system. An IVR can save companies millions of dollars; a typical customer service call handled by a live agent costs $3.00 to $6.50, while an IVR transaction costs $0.03 to $0.25 per minute.

IVRs are so good at deflecting routine calls from agents that companies often take them for granted and do not give them the attention they deserve. The issue is that over time, business requirements and customer expectations change, while many IVRs do not. This costly oversight can be addressed with a small and continuous investment in your IVR application.

DMG research shows that both baby boomers and millennials prefer to use self-service solutions to resolve an issue, but they will interact with a live representative when the automated tools are not successful. This indicates great potential for self-service solutions: Companies can improve their customer experience (CX) by enhancing their IVR. When an IVR is well designed, easy to use, and effective in giving callers the information and answers they need, it’s no longer an issue of customers tolerating the IVR; it becomes a preference instead.

A small ongoing investment in your IVR will make a major contribution to your contact center or enterprise’s bottom line. As importantly, since self-service is a valuable step in the customer journey and plays an influential role in the overall CX, keeping an IVR current, relevant, and easy to use is a necessity for your brand. An IVR optimization initiative delivers significant benefits because it enhances the customer experience while reducing operating costs and improving agent engagement.

IVR optimization efforts are intended to address many activities, such as identifying and eliminating impediments that prevent callers from completing a transaction, improving the process flow to make it easier for callers to address their needs, enhancing grammars (for speech-enabled solutions), replacing outdated and awkward phrases, reducing the number of times a phrase is repeated, and changing the pace of communication.

The enhancements required during an optimization effort depend on a business’s current needs, which change as the market and consumer expectations mature. If a company is willing to develop a personalized and adaptive IVR application, the benefits will be even greater, but this may require an investment in new technology in addition to a major usability refresh. Many callers are happy to use an IVR, and many even prefer it for simple activities. Click To Tweet

Customer expectations have changed since the early 1980s when IVRs were first rolled out. These days, many callers are happy to use an IVR, and many even prefer it for simple activities—if it is well designed and allows them to quickly and easily conduct business and transfer to an agent when necessary.

Visit www.dmgconsult.com/your-customers-deserve-a-better-ivr/e to see IVR optimization return on investment (ROI) models that show the monthly and annual savings that can be achieved by enhancing your IVR self-service solution. You can also find best practices for building an IVR optimization program to deliver ongoing benefits to your customers and organization.

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.

What Metrics Are You Using for Multichannel Support?

Businesses need to determine whether the call center metrics they use still fit the multichannel customer service model.

By Faith Ocampo

Multichannel customer support is no longer a trend. It has become the standard. By opening up multiple channels, most, if not all, businesses have widened the scope of the user experience they offer. Thus, the ways consumers interact with companies have become varied, unpredictable, and complex. And so has performance measurement.

The key performance indicators that worked for voice-only call centers, such as average handle time and first contact resolution, may not apply to multichannel services. These traditional metrics have a narrow, one-dimensional focus that are not able to encapsulate the dynamism of a multichannel contact center. If we continue using them, an accurate measure of success is unattainable.

Several factors must be considered in evaluating the customer experience across platforms. On a micro level, what are the specific standards of good customer service on social media? On email? On live chat? And on a macro level, how do we weave together several tools and assess whether they are operating harmoniously?

Three broad contact center metrics are necessary in measuring the quality of multichannel services: productivity, avoidable contacts, and seamless service.

Productivity: Whether in a uni-channel or multichannel center, agent productivity has always been an important metric. In the latter, however, there’s a more complex twist involved because agents must handle several customer support tools at once. Perhaps they switch back and forth between two chat windows and an email-based transaction. This leads to higher productivity, but managers must watch out for inefficient work distribution.

For instance, if agents are responding to Facebook comments, can they still be tasked with email transactions? It may be possible because a little delay in email replies is acceptable while social media comments require a much faster response. But what about agents who are engaged in a voice call? Will they still be expected to handle another channel?

Multichannel call centers need a robust, productivity-oriented routing system to maximize the individual performance of agents without compromising the quality of their work.

Avoidable Contact: This is largely similar to first-contact resolution. The only difference is that, in a multichannel contact center, a company’s capacity to solve problems is ideally made more powerful by several customer support tools. However, if there are too many repeat issues or, worse, repeat contacts, then something is wrong. It’s either a sign agents are not making the most of the platforms available or there’s a mismatch between the nature of the customers’ problem and the channel being using to solve it.

Agents must know when to transfer a transaction to another channel – considering the devices the customer owns and the type of issue to be addressed. For example, live chat is suitable for simple queries, but email is best for sending files such as product manuals. These must be considered when trying get to the core of a complaint.

Measuring avoidable contacts can identify training and resource needs as well as gaps in agent skills, which leads to enhancing the customer experience. Also, a contact center database that outlines the standard responses to common types of queries can be built by identifying the pain points in problem resolution.

Seamless Service: The result is often the most important component of performance measurement. Companies are going multichannel to provide a positive experience that satisfies the expectations of modern customers. This means the quality of customer support depends upon speed and smooth transitions between devices.

Therefore, aside from sufficient staffing and an organized transaction routing system, businesses must offer all possible means of customer service. Allowing customers to decide how they want to solve the issues they experience is the best gift they could get from companies. This is where self-service comes in.

Although there is a heated debate about its impact on human-mediated services, self-service is well loved by many customers. Those who are always on the go and have highly inconsistent schedules usually don’t find time to connect with customer service representatives. They appreciate knowing there is a do-it-yourself platform ready for them anytime. But like all other channels, this also requires evaluation. Measurement may be done through pop-up surveys, email, SMS outreach, or face-to-face interviews.

From these three broad call center metrics, you can identify the ones that are more specific to your business. You may even come up with your own key performance indicators, depending on your customer support goals and branding. Just remember the most important principle in delivering multichannel services: the customer experience must always be your highest priority.

Faith Ocampo is a digital media enthusiast aiming to become an active part of the tech world by sharing her insights. She likes to blog about everything to do with digimarketing, technology, and social media. You may see her work at www.openaccessbpo.com, or follow her on www.facebook.com/faith.cmp for updates.

[From Connection MagazineJuly/August 2016]

Do You Have a Call Center or a Relationship Center?

By Dave Murray

In recent years call centers have been called the “white-collar sweatshop” of our time. The first time I heard this reference, it hit home for me. Given all the time I had spent as a customer service representative (CSR), supervisor, manager, or director, this statement made perfect sense to me. Most call centers I am familiar with are in a less than desirable location within the office and are places where work is sent that others cannot complete, things the CSRs can do while they are “on the phones.”

Think about the typical call center environment for a moment. They are often made up of mundane cubicles, allowing for little to no creativity. Call times and wait times are the metrics that matter most, which automatically causes each call to be about the transaction rather than the interaction. And many CSRs see limited growth opportunities, even in companies experiencing tremendous growth.

The Opportunity: Turning a Call Center into a Relationship Center. To think that this environment can somehow help an organization cultivate deeper relationships with customers seems like a dream. But is it? Many tweaks can be made to help transform a call center into a relationship center. The first one – and the most simple – is to change the department name to relationship center. If we want our employees to be relationship builders, we should first start by referring their department as such.

In this world of micromanagement of agent time, tasks, and call volumes, we must always ask ourselves: How can we expect our employees to treat our best customers the way we would like them to if we don’t treat our employees as well, if not better? We cannot. We need our relationship builders to be ambassadors of our companies and our products. Often the call center is the only human interaction our customers have with us. Also, very often the customer is taking the time to call us because they have encountered some type of problem. Wouldn’t we love to have our relationship builders known as problem solvers rather than policy enforcers? The result would be more instances of heroic resolutions as opposed to customers asking for a supervisor to move their complaint up the ladder.

So what is the right level of management? How do we give our employees the autonomy to solve problems without giving away too much? We need to take the time to prepare our employees to be able to fix what can go wrong, perform their job at the optimal level, and wow customers when the opportunity arises. The key word here is prepared. We cannot simply expect our employees to recognize these things, nor can we tell them once during an orientation and expect it to stick. And we cannot expect them to maintain proper habits without reenforcement.

The Solution: Create a System of World-Class Service. The answer is to create a system that all employees can use to consistently recognize and address defects, emphasize our standards, and capitalize on opportunities to go above and beyond. The better prepared our agents are to handle situations that arise every day, the more time we have to manage behind the scenes. This allows us to monitor agent activity to ensure that all team members are pulling their weight, without micromanaging them. It ensures that our staffing levels are correct and our best ambassadors are not overstressed and overburdened because we do not have enough people hired and trained, which is a huge problem in the call center world.

This all sounds great, but how do we accomplish this? I recommend two steps to begin the process. But both will take an investment of time and human resources.

Step #1 is getting your team together to create your customer experience cycle (CEC). Creating your CEC involves mapping your customer’s touch points with your team. Once you have identified what these touch points are, you can then dissect each one, looking for what can and does go wrong (service defects), what we need to do on each and every call (operational and experiential standards), and ways to surprise and delight our customers (above-and-beyond opportunities).

Going through this workshop with your frontline team truly can be an eye-opening experience, for both you and them. A renewed sense of purpose begins to grow as excitement builds. Your team becomes reenergized to do their job – and do it well.

While this is a great start to the process, it is just that: a start. You cannot expect the momentum you have just created to maintained itself without consistent reenforcement. This is where the second step comes in.

Step #2 is addressing daily huddles. Now before you start saying, “That will never work here because…” (and I know you will, because I have heard all of the excuses, and I’ve made some of them myself), think about the gold standard of service: the Ritz Carlton. They hold a huddle, or in their world, a “stand-up,” every day. So does Chick-fil-A. These companies have gotten past the fact that not everyone will be present each day. They know they have multiple shift-starting times throughout the day. What they have done is used this platform to consistently focus on their service values, discuss things that went wrong and how to fix them, and celebrate success stories – every day.

The Results: What to Expect. This process promotes autonomy and a strong sense of ownership within your team while also being a great team-building exercise. Creating your CEC and reinforcing it on a daily basis will give your team a renewed sense of purpose and turn them into true relationship builders. Thanks to the huddles, this will not wear off over time, but rather transform your culture into one where above and beyond is the norm.

Dave Murray is the senior customer experience consultant for The DiJulius Group.

[From Connection MagazineJuly/August 2016]