Tag Archives: Call Center Management Articles

Improve Hiring Results with Blind Auditions

By Donna West

Anyone who has ever seen The Voice knows blind auditions are often surprising. The audience knows that the very big voice is coming out of that very tiny girl, but the experts don’t. The guy with the shaggy looks might have the voice of an angel. The blind audition wipes out all prejudices and concentrates on what is important—in this case, the voice.

Dismissing Qualified Candidates 

In all areas of life and work we form opinions about the people we meet as soon as we see them. This occurs before they ever open their mouths. We often miss many excellent job candidates because their appearance sets them up for failure. Their clothes might be untidy or inappropriate. They may need a haircut or wear dreadlocks. Or they have piercings that give the interviewer a bad impression. 

We’re programmed by our own backgrounds and experiences to reject as unworthy some of the styles that others embrace. And it is certainly the prerogative of every employer to choose the culture they want in their business. 

That said, do we unintentionally disregard candidates who are eminently qualified to work in our answering services and contact centers? A friend will not hire anyone who has visible tattoos. Another person abbreviates interviews they consider a waste of time because the applicant is wearing jeans and deemed “not serious” about work. A nervous interviewee may not make eye contact and we disqualify them.

A Shrinking Labor Market

In a world where job candidates are dwindling, despite (or perhaps because of) unemployment, many businesses may stand to improve hiring processes by implementing blind auditions. The jobs offered by an answering service can be perfect for people whom society deems a misfit for whatever social reason. 

We can find the skills we need in people who choose video games as their passion, who wear neon nail polish—a different color on each finger—prefer green hair, or who have gauges in their ears and tattoos up their necks. 

Our industry can offer remote work to people who are afraid to leave their homes or can’t sit for hours at a time as in a typical office job. We can offer split shifts and uncommon schedules. We should let our agents’ compassion, their understanding, and their voices drive our hiring decisions. We should listen and judge our candidates’ attributes by how they could benefit our callers’ needs. 

If we strive to hire people who are computer literate and caring, the guy who tries to eke out a living by streaming live on YouTube might be the perfect candidate. Or the soldier with mild PTSD. Or the mom with kids at home who still needs an income. Our jobs are comparable to waitressing for an actress. Ours is the perfect reality job for those who are trying to live the dream or waking up from the nightmare.

If we seek employee longevity, let’s regularly seek nontraditional applicants who might offer a symbiotic relationship: someone sweet-natured who knows their way around a keyboard. Someone who appreciates the opportunity to work from home and live their life according to their own vision. 

Donna West is president of Focus Answering Service, which she founded in 1987. She began her second company, Business Calls, Inc., specializing in education and communication for the TAS industry two decades ago. She is a pioneer and thought leader, an award-winning speaker, writer, and educator within the telecommunications service arena. 

2020 Contact Center Retrospective

By Donna Fluss

What an amazing year 2020 was. We’ve never seen anything like it and hope we won’t again. Despite all the challenges, a lot of good things happened, including in the world of contact center. Here are six positive mega trends that emerged during the dark hours of the pandemic. All these developments are here to stay and will continue to play a key role in contact centers for the near future:

1. Work-from Home

When the pandemic hit country after country, many companies were ordered by their governments to close their offices. Contact centers were some of the most successful in getting their employees home and back to work. Contact centers all over the world, those with anywhere from ten to thousands of agents, demonstrated their flexibility and agility, along with the amazing commitment of their employees by being there for their customers.

2. Shift from Traditional Retail to Ecommerce

The world has gone virtual. Anything that can be done virtually, including things most people thought highly unlikely, like doctor’s appointments, has moved to the web or video. The need to socially distance has driven people and organizations to be highly creative as they figured out how to make the best out of demanding situations. 

The need to socially distance has driven people and organizations to be highly creative as they figured out how to make the best out of demanding situations.  Click To Tweet

Retail organizations have taken a major hit. Many retailers, particularly those that could not respond quickly enough to the increasingly virtual world, have gone bankrupt. Store traffic is down and unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels for years. The transition to the web is not unexpected, but the demise of many of the traditional retailers was accelerated by the pandemic. 

3. Digital Transformation

After years of talking about digital transformations, companies are being forced to do what they should have done years ago. They are building out digital channels to address the needs of their customers. Though consumers are expressing an increasing preference for interacting in these channels, voice calls are not going away. However, they are increasingly viewed as the channel of last resort. Digital transformations are proving highly beneficial for customers, companies, and their employees. 

4. Artificial Intelligence-based Self-Service Capabilities

Self-service has become the channel of choice for customers in many countries, as surprising as it seems. Customers increasingly prefer to interact with effective self-service solutions that allow them to take care of their business without the assistance of live agents. 

Artificial intelligence (AI)-based conversational systems are automating and speeding up the handling of all kinds of interactions. The key to success, however, remains being able to connect with a live agent, when necessary. 

5. Automation Solutions

Intelligent virtual agents (IVAs), virtual agents (VAs), robotic process automation (RPA), and workflow have emerged as essential enablers for enterprises. These solutions automate activities and tasks that do not require the cognitive capabilities or decision-making intelligence of live employees. These concepts have been around for years, but what is new is the ease with which they can be applied to all types of business challenges. 

These solutions allow companies and government agencies to reduce dependence on outsourcers by eliminating the human element in low-value tasks previously handled by mostly low-wage workers. The benefits for enterprises are clear, as is the opportunity that these solutions are creating for much higher-level employment opportunities. 

6. Analytics-Enabled Quality Management

After over fifty years of performing quality management (QM) the same way, which was highly people-intensive, even when supported by an application, AI-enabled speech analytics is now able to automate and greatly improve the process. Analytics-Enabled Quality Management (AQM) solutions are game changers for companies. They can now “listen” to 100 percent of their voice and digital interactions to gain an understanding of why people contact them and see which of their automated and live agents are doing a good job in handling the interactions and where changes are needed. 

AQM also reduces dependence on manual QM processes, which have not been effective for the last five-plus years because companies could not afford to properly staff this function as contact volumes increased. AQM was important before the pandemic forced employees’ home to work, and it has become mission-critical for contact center employees and other functions since then. 

Bottom Line

The pandemic has changed the world as we know it, but many of these changes are good and will have positive and lasting benefits for society, companies, customers, and employees. AI and automation are the common themes in these six megatrends. 

The pandemic accelerated their rollout but not their viability. The companies that are going to come out of the pandemic well-positioned to succeed in whatever the new normal looks like are those that are taking the actions needed to move thoughtfully into the digital future.

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. 

How AI-Powered Technologies Can Help Reduce Contact Center Agent Burnout

By Seb Reeve

The global pandemic has put more pressure than ever on every one of us. Healthcare workers face untold challenges in treating patients, and not just those who become sick with COVID-19. Grocery store, delivery, and restaurant workers, now rightfully seen as the essential workers they are, must overcome their own fears and risks as they continue to work through a crisis. Contact center and office workers now work from home, trying to balance the demands of their careers with the demands of their families, many of whom are now schooling from home too. 

And as more consumers shift their typically in-person interactions into more virtual and online spaces, the changes have likewise put more pressure on contact center agents to respond to a rising number of calls in an uncertain environment. Working in these high-stress environments—in combination with longer working hours—means many agents are at risk for burnout.

Burnout Basics

Burnout, according to the Mayo Clinic, is a “special type of work-related stress,” marked by physical and emotional exhaustion, a sense of reduced accomplishment, reduced productivity and effectiveness on the job, and even dramatic consequences for overall health and wellbeing. 

From a business perspective, agent burnout often leads to turnover, which is extraordinarily expensive, often about 20 percent of the employee’s salary. In an industry with turnover ranging from 30-45 percent, preventing burnout is not simply good for people, it’s good for business.

Preventing burnout is incumbent on all of us. It can start with small, people-first strategies, such as encouraging teams to disconnect and recharge, as improving communication and feedback, and managing workloads to ensure they’re within appropriate boundaries. 

Investing in technology platforms can go a long way toward supporting agents and helping to prevent burnout. Providing the tools and technologies that help everyone do their job better will not only optimize employee workloads, but it can also alleviate the stressors that contribute to burnout. It’s also worth considering which technology platforms no longer serve agents or the organizational vision, and instead add unnecessarily to agent workflows on a day-to-day basis.

Technologies That Alleviate Burnout Stressors

Today’s contact centers can choose from a range of technologies that help agents do their jobs better and more efficiently. For example, artificial-intelligence-powered solutions such as virtual assistants can shorten call handling times by engaging a broader audience and answering repetitive questions. With a digital, automated interface, the virtual assistant can engage callers in natural conversation—either via voice or text—to respond to requests and answer questions with personalized responses in a self-service environment. When a live agent is needed, the virtual assistant uses skills-based routing to deliver the caller to the best agent to handle their issue.

Enabling the virtual assistant not only delivers prompt, live assistance to customers, it frees agents to handle the more complex, high-value calls that matter most and are most meaningful.

Similarly, automated customer service messaging platforms can help engage customers, providing immediate answers to their inquiries, again while alleviating the burden on live contact center agents. Proactive notifications built into these platforms can deflect the number of inbound calls to a call center, which has the added benefit of supporting customer service efforts. 

Preventing Burnout

AI-powered technologies also provide the analytics and reporting to improve live engagements and deliver frustration-free customer experiences. Analyzing 100 percent of call center customer interactions provides visibility into trends, outliers, and opportunities to build, train, and coach a high-performing contact center team—one that’s free from many of the stressors that can contribute to burnout. 

Beyond supporting agents with AI-powered technologies and tools that can reduce burnout, these solutions can contribute to a healthier bottom line—from improved customer service and digital experiences to reduced employee turnover. 

Seb Reeve is the Market Development VP at Nuance Communications.

Encryption 101: The Past, Present, and Future of Data Security

By Matt Bogan

Startel delivers best-in-call contact center solutions

You’re aware of the need for data encryption. However, you may not have a clear picture of how it works.

Cryptography—the study of secure communications—is a complex field of science, intersecting a wide range of disciplines and constantly evolving. Cryptography predates computers, with roots reaching back to ancient Greece and Egypt. It’s believed that Julius Caesar sent secure messages to his most trusted staff by replacing each letter of the alphabet with the letter three places after it: A became D, B became E, and so forth. This method of data encryption is sometimes called a Caesar cipher. By the ninth century, mathematicians applied statistical analysis to defeat simple substitution ciphers such as the Caesar cipher. Thus we have perhaps the first historical instance of an encryption algorithm being cracked.

As long as we’ve needed to encode information, there have been others wanting to decode it for nefarious reasons. In WWII, Allied cryptanalysts working to crack encrypted Axis communications are widely credited with shortening the war by months or even years. 

Today, computer scientists called “white-hat hackers” work to defeat existing encryption protocols to identify weaknesses before they can be exploited. The complexity of encryption algorithms and the protocols that implement them have increased dramatically. Despite that, having an uncrackable encryption remains hypothetical. 

Instead, data security aims for a moving target: difficult enough to crack with present technology that it’s astronomically unlikely anyone would be able to. Yet available computing power continues to increase, turning unlikely into likely. A protocol that today would be considered too complex for even a supercomputer to crack in any reasonable amount of time may be trivial to defeat on consumer-grade hardware in a handful of years. 

DES (Data Encryption Standard), a protocol developed by IBM and implemented by government agencies and militaries around the world as recently as the early 1990s, was cracked in less than a day in 1999 by a cluster of thousands of computers working together. By 2016, it was cracked by a single computer using off-the-shelf components, and today, using advanced cryptographic attack methods, DES can be defeated in under a minute with hardware you can pick up at your favorite big-box store. Like their ninth-century counterparts using mathematics to peer behind the curtain of simple substitution ciphers, modern cryptanalysts apply the latest technological advances to accomplish what was previously impossible.

If everyone’s motive in defeating encryption was altruism, this discussion might be academic, but this is not the case. Far from the image of loosely affiliated teenage malcontents portrayed in popular media, hacking in the twenty-first century is big business. With backing from organized crime syndicates and foreign governments, the goals are a lot more sinister than causing a little digital mischief. Your data is a battlefield, and encryption is the arms race. 

The cryptographically secure lifespan of a common algorithm known as MD5 was roughly a decade, and the SHA-1 algorithm fared only slightly better. Concerns over vulnerability have contributed to tech giants like Apple, Google, and Microsoft deprecating protocols based on them. The 1.0 and 1.1 versions of TLS (Transport Layer Security) have recently joined Caesar ciphers and DES in the boneyard of obsolete cryptography. These methods once seemed functionally impenetrable, but with subsequent technological advancements, they now offer only moderate inconvenience to a well-resourced attacker. 

Keep in mind that marketing terms such as secure and compliant are only as meaningful as the person or organization making that claim. Click To Tweet

With the successors already being subjected to the scrutiny of security professionals on both sides of the battle, we can be sure more encryption methods will eventually join them. With the target of “safe enough” advancing, as businesspeople, solution providers, and individual consumers, it’s critical to ensure we keep pace.

Ask your vendors what they’re doing to stay current with the latest data encryption advancements. Remember that not all encryption is equal. Older products relying on encryption methods that were state-of-the-art when they were originally developed are unlikely to offer much protection against an attack today. 

When assessing products to sell to your clients or use in your own business, keep in mind that marketing terms such as secure and compliant are only as meaningful as the person or organization making that claim. Savvy consumers should look for products that have been audited by independent security experts. And once you have purchased a solution, make sure you keep it current with vendor-recommended updates. It’s the only way to be certain your data will be as safe tomorrow as it is today.

Startel

Matt Bogan is the product manager for Startel, a leading provider of best-in-class contact center solutions. He has been involved in the contact center industry for over fifteen years. Startel’s upcoming CMC 16.0 release incorporates the latest in encryption technology.

How Can Your Contact Center Help the Homelessness in America?

By Traci Haynes

Homelessness in America occurs in every state and has many causes. According to the January 2017 Point-in-Time (PIT) count by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the most recent national estimate of homelessness in the United States identified 553,742 people experiencing homelessness. The PIT count is a count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons on a single night in January. Like all surveys, the PIT count has limitations. Results are influenced by the weather, availability of overflow shelter beds, the quality of the volunteers, and the level of engagement of the people being interviewed. 

Most of this population lives in some form of shelter or transitional housing. However, approximately 35 percent live in places not meant for human habitation. The nature of homelessness makes it difficult to quantify the true size of the homeless population, not to mention the PIT methodology (although generally acknowledged to be the most accurate way to establish valid trend data). It is challenging to calculate the exact number of individuals who are homeless, because many live in hidden areas in parks, vehicles, or abandoned houses, and because numbers fluctuate based on weather.

Health Problems Faced by the Homeless

Homeless individuals are at a relatively high risk for a range of acute and chronic physical and mental illnesses. Some health problems precede and may contribute to homelessness, while others are often a consequence of being homeless. And homelessness complicates the treatment of many illnesses. 

One example of a health problem that can cause homelessness is a major mental illness, such as schizophrenia. Without therapeutic interventions and supportive housing arrangements, such an individual may become homeless. 

Another example is an accidental injury, including job-related injuries. Even with benefits under employer programs, these individuals may experience major economic costs leading to loss of housing.

Diseases of the extremities, skin disorders, malnutrition, degenerative joint diseases, dental and periodontal disease, communicable diseases, and the possibility of trauma are other health problems that may result from, or frequently occur in, the homeless population. Medical care and treatment for acute or chronic illness can be extremely difficult. 

Bed rest may be nonexistent for a homeless individual who has no bed or only has a bed in a shelter at night. Special diets and medication adherence are impossible to maintain for a person who is homeless.

Contact centers have long been known for assisting their organizations in offering triage, coaching, remote patient monitoring, and care management for an identified population. Some contact centers have also assisted other community agencies or services in filling a need or gap. 

Triage Call Centers Can Help Address Health Concerns of the Homeless

So, we all know homelessness exists, and it is a tremendous problem, but what does that have to do with triage call centers?

A community triage contact center at EvergreenHealth in Kirkland, Washington, implemented a program around 2000, in which they began to offer low-level acuity triage for their regional 911 dispatch centers. The dispatchers would go through their algorithms with the caller, and once they ruled out any emergent or urgent issue, the caller was offered the option of speaking with a nurse. If the caller preferred, she or he could be connected with an appropriate unit or the individual could be transported to the Emergency Department (ED). This program proved a tremendous success in both caller/patient satisfaction and dollars saved.

A study was published in 2015 for a comparable 911 program in two cities with similar outcomes. MedStar in Fort Worth, Texas, provided nine months of 911 call data, and LMEMS in Louisville, Kentucky, provided thirty-four months of 911 data. The study reported that the 911 program had a significant reduction in callers routed to the Emergency Department (ED) at a cost savings of 1.2 million dollars in payments, as well as a decrease in emergency ambulance transports resulting in a cost savings of $450,000 and a resultant increase in access to alternative care. Overall, patient satisfaction was 91.2 percent.

As a result of the involvement with the regional 911 dispatch centers, the contact center was asked to become involved with yet another identified need: the growing population of homeless individuals. County shelters and housing facilities for the homeless population needed a resource for individuals with low to moderate acuity symptoms, when medical or nursing personnel were not on-site. The fire department was handling 90,000 incidents per year, which resulted in overuse or misuse of the emergency medical response (EMR) system. And while the county shelters were not most of the calls, they were a contributor. 

Addressing the Concerns of the Homeless

A critical concern to the homeless individual is whether they will lose their shelter bed for the night if they are transported. The fire department is not authorized to make a medical diagnosis on the scene, to provide advice or guidance about disease management, to make a referral to other medical resources, such as a primary care doctor, or to provide transportation anywhere except an ED. 

The contact center had the system and tools in place to assist the RN with the individual at the county shelter’s assessment and make recommendations of care. “Right care, right place, right time” is the fundamental premise of contact center RN triage. Their service provided a much-needed solution to an ongoing gap in care. They currently support five dispatch centers in providing contact center RN triage for thirteen shelters.

The contact center educated the staff at the shelters and facilities. They provided training on when to call 911 (a red flag list) and when to call the contact center’s health line. Each homeless individual received HIPAA information that included “understanding and agreement that a copy of the information discussed during the call interaction would be shared with the residence so that they may further assist the individual with their care.” 

The workflow included one number for all facilities to dial into the Healthline contact center. The case manager and the resident had to be available at the time of the call. The RN in the contact center triaged the individual, and then the case manager determined the best non-EMR transportation based on the disposition. The triage note was then faxed to that facility. 

Challenges included the individual wishing to remain anonymous, the individual being a vague or poor historian, individuals declining triage or the recommendation, availability of OTC meds, and individual psych/social needs.

The Results

Eighteen months after the start of the program, the facility staff was queried, and all were either very or somewhat comfortable in knowing what situations required 911. Over 85 percent of the staff felt the service was especially important to the facility. 

By far, the majority felt that the nurses at Healthline were very knowledgeable (83.33 percent). More than 85 percent also felt that the nurse line process was easy to use and felt that the residents were satisfied with the service. Most of the staff felt very satisfied once the resident had talked with the nurse, and 100 percent indicated the importance of having the service available 24/7, adding that it was practical and helpful to the residents in the facility.

Traci Haynes MSN, RN, BA, CEN, CCCTM, is the director of clinical services at LVM Systems, Inc., and has been involved in the contact center industry for over twenty-five years. (Traci thanks Cheryl Patterson, BSN, RNC—TNP, clinical manager—quality and education, Healthline, for her contributions to this article.)

Lockdown Initiatives

By Kathy Sisk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Opportunity for the Call Center Industry



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

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

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

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

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

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

Safe Work

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

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

Stable Work

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

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

A New Way to Attract Employees

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

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

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

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

A Concise Guide for Outsourcing Success, Part Five



By Kathy Sisk

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

Consider an Independent Project Manager

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

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

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

Benefits of Strategically Small Outsourcing Ventures

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conversational Analytics The Secret to Exceptional



By Simon Black 

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

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

First Contact

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

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

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

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

Enter Artificial Intelligence 

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

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

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

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

Conversational Analytics 

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

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

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

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

Customer Service Outcomes

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

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

Customers will enjoy: 

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

Call center agents will enjoy: 

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

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

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

Developing a Contact Center Work-At-Home Program



By Donna Fluss

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

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

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

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

Work-at-Home Considerations for Contact Centers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Donna Fluss is president of DMG Consulting LLC. For more than two decades, she has helped emerging and established companies develop and deliver outstanding customer experiences. A recognized visionary, author, and speaker, Donna drives strategic transformation and innovation throughout the services industry. She provides strategic and practical counsel for enterprises, solution providers, and the investment community.