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]

Emotional Intelligence in the Call Center

By Jim Iyoob

I am an avid believer of excellent leadership skills in the call center. As a leader, people not only judge you by your training and expertise but also by how well you handle others and yourself. This means you have to work on your leadership style diligently. One way to ensure that you stay top of the game is to develop emotional intelligence.

Daniel Goleman introduced the term “emotional intelligence” in 1995 in his book, Emotional Intelligence. He wrote that although qualities like determination, vision, toughness, and intelligence are important, they are not sufficient to ensure the success of an organization. To be truly effective as a leader requires incorporating emotional intelligence through motivation, social skill, empathy, self-regulation, and self-awareness.

For example, have you observed a high-performing employee promoted to a leadership position only to fail miserably? Or an average-performing employee promoted to a leadership position who does very well? These are common occurrences in business; the distinguishing factor is not in the employee’s technical abilities but in his or her soft qualities of dealing with people – such as using emotional intelligence,

Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and manage your own emotions and the emotions of those around you. To bring it closer to home, as a call center leader, you need to be aware of your emotions, how they affect your agents, and thus influence their output. Let’s look at how to use the five components of emotional intelligence for effective leadership.

1) Self-Awareness: Self-awareness is connecting with your true self. It is the ability to understand what drives you, your emotions, and your needs. It is also being aware of your strengths and weakness and how your actions affect those around you.

For example, if some of your agents do not show up for work on a regular basis, which causes additional stress, you should create a backup plan to resolve the issue. Remind yourself of the minimum level of service and functionality you are required to provide and set your contingency plans around it. This way you have a guarantee that everything will run smoothly, and you won’t have to deal with last-minute emergencies.

If you are someone who is quick to anger, you should work alongside agents who do not test your limits. When you have a high self-awareness, you are confident in what you want from your people and how best to get it.

2) Motivation: Motivation is that extra push, the passion you have toward your work. Your energy and enthusiasm directly affects the energy your staff gives back. When you are self-motivated, nothing can stop you from achieving what you set out to do.

As a leader, your key responsibilities include setting annual targets and formulating strategies and tactics to achieve those goals. What one thing keeps you on course? It is your self-motivation – your drive.

What does is it mean to your organization when you are highly self-motivated? It means you set high-performance bars for yourself and your staff. When you keep hitting the bar, you pass on that energy and challenge to your staff to do the same.

For example, have you ever worked with someone who is not motivated? Is it easy? No, it’s much harder because you have to keep motivating the person to see the big picture and modify his or her behavior. Unfortunately over time you will become exhausted and tired. As a result everyone loses; your work suffers and others will follow. The solution is to create a personal inner system in order to keep yourself motivated. Be your first and greatest cheerleader.

3) Self-Regulation: Self-regulation is synonymous to self-control. When you have self-control, you will not make emotional decisions, verbally attack people, or compromise your values. Instead you will hold yourself accountable for your own thoughts and actions. You are in charge of your feelings – not the other way around. If you lead by your feelings, the workplace mood will follow: people will be happy when you are happy and upset when you are upset. This is not the way to create trust in your staff.

When you have self-regulation, you are reasonable. For example, if your team delivers a sloppy presentation, you can respond in two ways. You can shout at them, telling them how useless they are, or you can have a discussion with them to determine the cause of their poor performance. Which one makes you a self-regulated leader? In the two situations, how do you think your response will affect your staff?

Self-regulation enhances your integrity, an important value both personally and corporately. Integrity determines what you will do when no one is looking.

4) Empathy: Friends and family members generally show empathy to each other, but when it comes to work, the word empathy does not sound businesslike, and others might perceive you as being “all mushy” with your employees.

However, the meaning of empathy in business terms is thoughtfully considering your employees’ feelings as well as other important factors when making decisions. The way you communicate to them shows empathy.

The main reasons why you should be empathetic to your employees are:

  • You need to work with a motivated team. You know how crazy it can get trying to bring every team member into agreement. Everyone has his or her own opinion and wants to justify why his or her idea is better; emotions can easily flare. It takes empathy to recognize and understand different viewpoints and bring them together.
  • You need to retain the best employees – a talented employee is an asset. Imagine all the work it takes to train employees – what happens when they leave? They take company knowledge with them, and you have to start all over again. Empathy helps you continually mentor your employees, and they feel appreciated, which increases their chances of staying with you.

5) Social Skill: Social skill is about building networks and relationship management. How well can you handle conflicts and diplomatically manage change? This is where social skill comes in: to be friendly yet remain focused on the goal.

When you are highly self-aware, self-regulated, motivated, and empathetic with others, social skill comes naturally. It ties the other components together. It enables you to be a great communicator, which makes your work easy. Great communicators are inspirational leaders who develop others, influence them positively, and build lasting bonds, leading to great teamwork and collaboration.

For example, when you sense tension your ability to manage conflict will determine whether the tension will escalate or you will create a calm environment. With social skill, you will handle the conflict and turn around staff performance.

To develop emotional intelligence in the workplace, you need to develop as a person. I equate leadership development with personal development. It is not always easy, but the results are great and impact the entire organization positively. When you possess emotional intelligence, you will be an effective leader who people follow willingly.

Jim Iyoob is EVP of customer experience for Etech Global Services. Jim has twenty-plus years of contact center outsourcing experience in inbound, outbound, chat, and social media operations, and is a respected speaker, author, and subject-matter expert for call center solutions.

[From Connection Magazine – January/February 2016]

The Many Facets of Change Happening Now in the Contact Center

By Chuck Ciarlo

Evolution, whether referring to biology or business, means a slow, gradual process. This is not an article about the evolution of the contact center; the industry is changing too quickly these days for that term to be accurate.

This is a pivotal moment when technology, the economy, and globalization are all exerting influence in how a contact center can best serve the needs of its customers and do so in a way that is both efficient and cost-effective.

What worked five years ago isn’t working anymore. What worked last year might keep a business functioning – but not at its full potential. Maintaining a competitive edge and meeting customer expectations (or better yet, surpassing them) requires attention to what the industry is doing right now and where it’s going next.

Help Wanted: The economy is improving. How much or how little is an argument best left to the pundits on cable news channels. But there is no question that business is picking up and, as a result, contact centers must scale up to meet increased demand. That means hiring and training more agents.

Instant Answers: Today’s contact center is being pulled in several directions by end users who want to reach out through the telephone, email, online chat, and even social media. At the same time, customers are asking tougher questions because answers to the easy questions are available online. That requires a greater emphasis on agent specialization.

Workers, Workers Everywhere: Telecommuting has changed the traditional contact center model, with its long rows of cubicles. But the more flexible modern professional environment is not just about agents working remotely; it’s about employees coordinating efforts in different sections of one company and maintaining the ability to oversee all of them.

While outsourcing trends may be reversing, offshoring continues to accelerate. Global call centers may have locations in the US, Europe, and Asia, which must be managed in the same proven way from a central authority.

Meeting the Challenge: What will it take to stay on top of the multifaceted, accelerated changes under way at the contact center? Of course you need good people in place: managers, agents, and trainers. But software is going to be where business can become proactive instead of reactive, flexible where it used to be fixed, and automated where it used to be manual.

As software becomes capable of doing more, contact centers must access these capabilities on a platform that can take advantage of how quickly technology now changes. For many businesses, that is becoming the cloud.

From a user base of just 269,000 in 2008, the cloud-based contact center infrastructure market has picked up momentum year after year. According to DMG Consulting, the number of cloud-based seats will grow by 20 percent in 2015, 18 percent in 2016 and 2017, and 16 percent in 2018.

These adoption rates point toward increasing awareness of the benefits of the cloud-based subscription model, including increased flexibility as priorities change, lower costs, easier access to upgrades, easier management of a less-centralized workforce, less burden on internal IT resources, and improved automation, scalability, and operational efficiency.

2015 is providing a turning point for companies to acknowledge the fundamental shifts now underway in IT services delivery. The cloud may hold the key to future industry development, but that also depends on the effort put forth by those who supply the platforms. Cooperative development by providers and contact center users can meet the challenge – as long as the focus always remains on customer service.

Chuck Ciarlo is the founder and CEO of Monet Software, Inc.

[From Connection Magazine Jul/Aug 2015]

Three Steps for Taking the Stress Out of Managing Contact Center Compliance

By Rob Schneider

The contact center industry is inundated with regulatory requirements, yet maintaining compliance is critical for business success. Ensuring compliance isn’t easy with constant regulatory changes; the main hurdles include how to staff correctly, stay on top of change, and manage the business through various stages of compliance.

Changes in regulations often trigger compliance failures, which can lead to data exposure, fines and fees, security breaches, loss of customers, impact to reputation, and civil action.

“With all the new regulations, we are seeing a tremendous increase in breaches,” said Jeff Brown, director of business development for Compliance Point. “We see multiple breaches every week from the finance, retail, healthcare, and other industries.”

Here are three steps to reduce the stress of managing contact center compliance.

1. Agree That Compliance Is Not a One-Time Deal. Brown believes that the increase in non-compliance often happens because organizations take a “point in time” approach to managing change. With this approach, organizations become compliant once but then fail to maintain updates to stay compliant over time.

“Many organizations think of compliance as an annual fire drill of scrambling to get auditors the information they require,” said Brown. “This can mean that companies are creating documents on the fly for auditors, which isn’t an effective practice.”

This also creates uncertainty around how to properly complete the audit because the type of information requested changes from year to year. Turnover in organizations also creates knowledge vacuums around how compliance requirements are implemented.

Ultimately, as more advanced regulations are added, compliance costs rise, and the time it takes to understand and implement regulations can become too overwhelming for contact centers that take a reactive approach. A better way to remain compliant, manage costs, and create a viable program is a proactive approach where compliance changes are automated and updated continuously.

Real-time compliance monitoring is also key. Consider investing in an automation or platform tool to automate compliance activities, such as assignment of tasks, notifications, and escalations. This way, any tasks that are not handled will be automatically flagged in the system as a non-compliant activity and can be addressed immediately.

“Compliance should be part of the daily process,” said Brown. “It should include a defined framework that everyone understands and follows. This helps engrain the compliance mentality within the culture of the organization and helps everyone understand their role in regard to compliance.”

2. Pay Special Attention to TCPA Compliance Regulations. Updated TCPA legislation started to be enforced in October 2013, but many contact centers have struggled to understand the rules and apply the resources to remain compliant. The volume of class action TCPA cases continues to rise, and the FCC is becoming more aggressive in its lawsuits. On average, there are four to five new lawsuits every day. The common legal issues include, but are not limited to, calling or texting cell phones, prerecorded messages, and DNC violations.

“In many cases, the scope of consent that companies have is not sufficient for the type of calls they are making,” said Nick Whisler, an attorney and legislative chair for PACE. “Other common practical issues are the use of automatic telephone dialing systems (ATDS) to call cell phones, calling re-assigned numbers, and the confusion across telemarketing versus non-telemarketing legislation.”

Calls to cell phones remain a primary area of conflict. The general rule is that organizations cannot use an ATDS or a prerecorded message to call a cell phone without the called party’s prior consent. The current interpretation of an ATDS is any equipment with the capacity to dial telephone numbers without human intervention. There are also stricter specifications if the call being made is for telemarketing purposes. Even if the call has mixed purposes, it is treated as a telemarketing call.

For companies that handle any outbound activities, maintaining TCPA compliance can seem like a full-time job. It is important to strengthen policies and procedures involving high-risk areas such as cell phones and prerecorded messages. In most cases, a specific contact center platform designed for TCPA compliance can assist in maintaining a compliant system.

However, the staff still needs be aware of regulatory changes and work with partners to understand any impact to the system. “It’s critical to have good policies and procedures in place, as well as a fail-safe mechanism to prevent unintended violations,” Whisler added.

3. Build a Network of Trusted Experts. Call centers should not feel pressured to create compliance processes on their own. In fact, many other organizations have been working on best practices and can be essential in creating the right compliance landscape.

For example, some TCPA best practices include consulting with a corporate attorney, honoring the DNC registry, drafting a DNC list policy and procedures document, reviewing compliance of outbound solutions, and implementing TCPA-compliance training programs.

“TCPA is very complex. Most individuals without a legal background have a difficult time interpreting the legislation and how it will affect their call center,” said Geoff Mina, CEO of Connect First. “Working with a team of experts can help mitigate the risk and create a path for contact centers to remain compliant.”

The importance of training programs for employees should not be overlooked. “Contact centers can have the best technology, the most compliant vendors and partners, and management teams that understand the regulations,” said Mina. “But if agents don’t understand the compliance requirements, the company could inadvertently fall outside of procedures and end up in a court battle.” An agent who doesn’t understand what they need to do and what questions they should ask can cause a call center a great deal of trouble, regardless of the tools and systems they have in place.

The same can be said for PCI compliance. Some best practices for PCI compliance include using the tools and resources available on the PCI Security Standards Council website, engaging with contact center technology vendors that understand PCI, taking into account physical layout issues, and evaluating security around work-at-home agents.

“Most importantly, remember to engage your network of experts early in the process,” added Mina. “With the ever-changing world of compliance, building a team before you get into trouble is a good rule of thumb.”

Rob Schneider is vice president of customer service at Connect First, a contact center platform technology provider.

[From Connection Magazine – May/June 2015]

Preparing Your Call Center and Agents for the Live Video Revolution

By James Keller

Today customers can buy what they want, when they want it – day or night, anywhere on the planet. Since the early days of e-commerce, consumer-facing brands across all categories have gotten better at using data and analytics to improve the customer experience through personalization, behavioral targeting, and rich media. Despite all that data intelligence and marketing smarts, in many categories online conversion rates are stuck at 2 to 4 percent, often one-tenth of what those same brands see at their brick-and-mortar counterparts.

While online may never convert at the same level as in-store, a new wave of e-commerce is helping to provide an in-store feel to the online experience in the form of live video assistance. The future success of online merchants depends largely on how well the call center is prepared for this dramatic evolution in customer service.

Live Video Assistance in the Call Center: We know great service keeps customers coming back, especially for high-consideration purchases – from furniture and jewelry to cable bundles and insurance plans. Until recently, nothing could beat the face-to-face engagement of a store or branch experience. Now integrated live video and co-browsing technologies make it possible to recreate store-like engagements online for a personalized customer experience. These technologies can be used for assisted selling and customer support situations across digital channels.

Customers now expect to be able to ask pre-purchase questions and receive post-sales support online, but text chat isn’t always enough. Shoppers benefit dramatically from being able to see call center agents who can walk them through the steps for troubleshooting a household gadget, co-shop with them to make suggestions on other products they may like, or explain the benefits of one insurance plan versus another. As a result, companies deliver the best possible service levels, fostering brand and store loyalty.

Not being able to provide expected levels of sales assistance and support through online channels will drive customers to the competition. In fact, an Accenture report found that 51 percent of US consumers switched service providers last year due to poor customer service, putting $1.3 trillion of revenue at play in the US market. Switching rates were highest among retailers, cable and satellite providers, and retail banks, making companies in these sectors the most vulnerable – but also potentially giving them the most to gain by implementing live video call center assistance.

Preparing the Call Center: When preparing the call center environment for live video assistance, consider several factors. First, give operators noise-cancelling headsets. This ensures that customers will enjoy a clear conversation no matter how noisy the call center gets. Also look for hardware that includes an on-air light so co-workers won’t interrupt each other while they are helping customers.

While agents may not be able to see the customer, the customer will see them, so it’s important to use backlight and front light for the best quality video. In addition, agents should have a small monitor at eye level, right below the camera, so they can maintain eye contact with the consumer. Finally, consider using a backboard behind your agents for a clean, non-distracting look. Have it professionally designed to match your company brand.

Creating a system that is easy for agents to use is critical to reduce training and increase time spent with customers. Implement a system that offers all the services you provide. For instance, a service that provides text chat, live video, and integrates to CRM will quickly become familiar to the agents, and they will avoid learning delays from mastering multiple systems.

Training Call Center Agents: With call center stations ready for live video assistance, it’s time to train staff to excel in this new level of service. While they may have experience using live text chat, video brings a completely new level of training to the equation. For instance, be sure to teach agents to maintain eye contact with the camera when speaking to the customer. Agents should also know your products and services well so they can make recommendations and show appropriate merchandise. Since live video assistance is often used when a customer is making a special purchase, education is crucial in making the sale.

Another consideration is appearance. For years, call center agents have used telephone, email, and text chat, and thus they have never interacted face-to-face with customers. With live video, it’s imperative that call center managers educate their video assistants to represent the company brand in their manner, tone, and style, but also in how they dress. Consider using the same hiring criteria that companies use when hiring in-store sales associates.

Operators should also participate in the same training that companies employ with in-store sales teams. This will instill product and brand expertise and selling skills to create a consistent experience across stores and digital channels.

Some of the in-store tactics agents can emulate online include:

  • Greet the customer: When the customer enters the online store, an agent should be available to greet them and ask if they need assistance. A smart rules engine can help identify the best customers to push an invitation to. Guiding customers through the website to take them to the right product is critical to reducing customer frustration and abandonment. Video engagement and co-browsing tools make this easy.
  • Learn about each customer: In a store, staff can participate in shopping along with the customer. Online, existing CRM, tracking, and behavioral tools can be a great complement to this process; interactive selling can be a powerful mechanism for enhancing the customer data in your CRM system. Face-to-face interaction through live video assistance allows new levels of rapport and trust to be established in the online shopping experience.
  • Verify that customers have the right product or service: Do customers know everything they should about fit, product care, strengths and weaknesses, service plans, and alternatives to allow them to make a purchase decision and reduce returns? Provide guided selling tools to help them understand, along with product sheets, video, and other content to inform them.
  • Ask customers if they need anything else: There is no better time to see if a customer might need any complementary products and accessories. Live agent support allows merchants to do this in a friendly and personalized way. As a result, average order values are 25 to 35 percent higher with video-assisted sessions.
  • “Walk” customers to the register: Helping customers quickly and efficiently complete an order maximizes customer satisfaction and reduces abandonment. Next-generation engagement tools let the call center agent accompany customers all the way through the checkout process, helping them fill out forms and complete their checkout and payment. One last review with customers to make sure they have everything they need and their order is correct helps avoid mistakes.

Optimizing for Success: To optimize your call center for live video success, identify relevant KPIs to better evaluate results. The KPIs give managers and employees clear direction on successful interactions. Next align reporting and analytics to measure performance against these KPIs and ensure that the results are available to managers and staff.

Most important, don’t stop testing and innovating. There are many ways to create wins with a live assistance program through site placement, creative, business rules, targeting, messaging, and outreach. An active test-and-learn schedule will raise the bar in delivering a great customer experience and will achieve business goals.

Conclusion: In addition to delighting customers, video assistance significantly improves key sales metrics. Companies using next-generation customer engagement solutions typically achieve a four- or five-time increase in online conversion with assisted sessions and a 25 to 35 percent increase in average order value. The tips in this article will help call center managers incorporate integrated live video and co-browsing to improve the customer experience and engender loyalty.

James Keller is CEO of Vee24.

[From Connection Magazine Jan/Feb 2015]

Are Your Reports Inhibiting Your Success?

By David Schreck

How many reports do you review on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis detailing your inbound call center? Most of these reports show high-level, obvious facts – such as number of calls, overall conversion rate, and abandonment. What action do you take based on those reports? Are they telling you what you already know? Are you getting only final tabulated results? Do the reports provide insight into performance? More importantly, are they telling you the root causes behind the results?

Beyond basic data, your reporting should indicate five important actionable insights:

  1. Where are you performing well?
  2. Where are you not performing well?
  3. Why you are performing well?
  4. Why you are not performing well?
  5. What specific corrective actions can you take to improve performance?

While high-level “vital signs” of performance tell you in general terms how your call center is doing, you need deep analytical data and applied insight to continually improve performance. Let me provide an illustration of how to apply deep analytical data to solve a specific challenge.

Let’s say you walk into an environment where sales are two percentage points below the goal and abandonment is five percentage points above. Obviously, the reports told you the problem, but do you have applied insight to determine steps to improve performance?

Performance by Daily Time Intervals: First, concentrate on time-interval reporting. While knowing the overall rates for conversion and abandonment is good, it is equally important to know how each is ranked throughout the day. Is each rate not achieving objectives consistently, or are there key time intervals driving down the overall average? Time-interval reporting is an excellent tool to dig deeper and uncover the underlying root cause.

Look for specific pain points when analyzing a time-interval report by reviewing each thirty-minute and day-part interval to compare results throughout the day. Identify time intervals that fall outside the average in both positive and negative ranges. Understanding what factors drive these changes is one area to focus on. Next, apply the same approach to days of the week and weekends. By doing this, you are digging deeper into the various time intervals that may affect your overall conversion rate.

Performance by Day Intervals: Second, compare call volume by time and date intervals. When overlaying volume to time and day intervals, you will see how call volume maps to your time interval analysis. Are weaker conversion rates and higher abandonment correlated to higher-volume intervals or days? We have seen cases where particular hours of the day were receiving a high volume of calls, yet those hours were achieving the highest conversion rates and budgeted abandonment. Other hours with lower volume had much lower conversion rates and above-budget abandonment. Armed with this type of data, you’ll have ideas for actionable solutions.

Media Mix: Once you’ve looked at the volume and time analysis, turn your attention to conversion by media. Specifically, look at conversion and abandonment rates compared to types of media buys and media companies themselves. The conversion by media report compares the metrics to type of media, such as radio, TV, etc. When you understand the performance of your media mix, you can add volume of calls by media type. This analysis will tell you if your conversion rate is consistent across all media, and, if not, which media is performing better. Also, run the analytics as a comparison over time to see if changes to your media mix are affecting your results.

Performance Comparisons: As an example of this, we recently had a client whose conversion rate decreased by four percentage points. After running the time interval and call volume reports, we found no major factors affecting the performance change. However, when we ran a media type report, we uncovered that the client had made major changes to the media mix. The analytics compared the past two weeks to the media mix of prior weeks. The client had moved their media mix to a shop that produced conversation rates eight percentage points lower than the average. In this case, they also increased their percentage spend from 30 percent to 60 percent. We identified the key factor affecting their negative performance.

Agent Ranking and Call Distribution: Next, turn your attention to the agent environment. You should receive a detailed listing of each individual agent’s performance segmented into weekly, monthly, and ninety-day resulting periods. We typically call this an agent ranking report. When analyzing a series of these analytical reports, concentrate on answering these questions:

  • When grouping agents into performance segments, do you see large performance variances between the segments?
  • What is the distribution of calls between each group? Are the majority of calls going to performing agents, new agents, or underperformers?
  • Do you have too many new agents and underperformers taking calls? By shifting the percentage of calls to the performing agents, what performance increase will result?

This analysis not only tells you exactly who is performing well and who is not performing, but you now have detailed tactical action to improve results – such as moving the calls to the performing agents. The chart illustrates a recent client’s variance in agent call performance between their two centers. We categorized the sales conversion performance and call distribution to agents from the two centers. You see four sales performance groups within each call center, four distinct conversion rates, and four separate distributions of calls – top performers, mid-range performers, low performers, and new agents – revealing that:

  • Each center has performing and underperforming agents.
  • Call Center A is delivering the majority of their calls to the underperforming and new agents, while Call Center B is delivering the majority of their calls to their top-performing agents. You now have more information than the fact that one center is performing better than the other. You see that the top-performing center is sending more calls to their top-performing agents, resulting in better overall performance.
  • You now have actionable data to improve your performance. Work with the call center to change the distribution pattern of calls to high-performing agents.
Total Calls Sales Conversion % % Calls to Total
Call Center A: top performers 138 44 31.9% 11.1%
Call Center A: mid-range performers 100 28 28.0% 8.1%
Call Center A: underperformers 430 90 20.9% 34.7%
Call Center A: new agents 570 80 14.0% 46.0%
Call Center A: Total 1238 242 19.5% 100.0%
Call Center B: top performers 1148 370 32.2% 51.9%
Call Center B: mid-range performers 733 220 30.0% 33.2%
Call Center B: underperformers 200 42 21.0% 9.0%
Call Center B: new agents 130 14 10.8% 5.9%
Call Center B: Total 2211 646 29.2% 100.0%
Grand Total 3449 888 25.7%

Agent Staffing: Finally, review a series of staffing diagnostics analytics. Staffing analytics tell if you have a sufficient number of agents for the volume of calls – not just overall, but by time throughout the day. Typically, the report presents the number of calls per agent ratio by time interval. You will learn quickly if you have the right staffing throughout the entire day – specifically which time slots are working well and which time slots need corrective action.

Summary: You started with the challenge that sales conversion and abandonment were not meeting the required objectives. Having a series of analytical diagnostic reports allows you to quickly compare and analyze key factors that could contribute to performance. This suite of diagnostic tools and quantitative data helps determine what specific actions are required to improve performance.

David Schreck is president and CEO of Intelemedia. Since 1993, Intelemedia has developed telephony and database solutions for the call center industry that transform how organizations more effectively manage call handling and caller experience within their customer service and sales acquisition environments. David’s experience integrating technology, business processes, and strategic sourcing is the driving force of Intelemedia’s success. David’s approach to “client-centric” teams focused on understanding and meeting customer needs has created a record of developing high-demand products.

[From Connection Magazine Sep/Oct 2014]