Tag Archives: Call Center Management Articles

Telemarketing Appointment Setting Best Practices: Part 3



By Angela Garfinkel

In Part 1 of “Telemarketing Appointment Setting Best Practices,” we discussed how to maximize the appointment kept rate when conducting telemarketing appointment setting. In addition, we introduced the six primary components of a successful telemarketing appointment setting program.

In Part 2, we discussed how to write an effective script that delivers a powerful nutshell message with a clear WIIFM (What’s In It for Me?).

All outbound telemarketing appointment setting professionals know that the third key component of success is the list you’re calling. In Part 3 of this series on telemarketing appointment setting, I’ll share my experience with curating the best outbound call list. Because my primary list purchase experience is in B2B appointment setting, I’ll focus there.

Because NAICS is more specific than SIC codes, we prefer to purchase outbound telemarketing call lists using NAICS. Click To Tweet

What Makes a Good List?

How do you identify what list to purchase? If you already have existing customers for your product or service, start by identifying what characteristics make up your best ones. Pinpointing your best customers and their similar characteristics become your criteria for purchasing prospect data from which to make outbound telemarketing appointment setting calls.

In the US there are about fifteen million businesses. There are many different list companies that will sell you business data, but knowing which segment(s) of the fifteen million businesses you should target is critical.

Here are some common B2B list selection variables:

• SIC (Standard Industrial Classification)
• NAICS (North American Industry Classification System)
• Revenues
• Number of employees
• Geography, typically by Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA)
• Type of location (single, headquarters, branch)
• Credit rating
• Holding status (private, public)

Because NAICS is more specific than SIC codes, we prefer to purchase outbound telemarketing call lists using NAICS. This allows us to narrow the list to ensure we aren’t purchasing data that isn’t applicable for a client. For example, a travel solutions client is looking for businesses that have employees who travel. One of our good segments is construction. The NAICS code for construction starts with 23. We know that purchasing all available data with a NAICS code that starts with 23 is a waste of money. By narrowing it down to the type of construction, we can get better results. Single family home construction companies (NAICS 236115) don’t tend to have employees who travel. Specialized large project construction companies (such as NAICS 236210) tend to have employees who do travel. They go where the work is because large projects often aren’t in the geographic region where the construction company is located. This is just one example.

Create a Model, Validate, and Test

Once you’ve identified your best customers, purchased a list of more prospects that have the same characteristics as your best customers (called a look-alike model), then start placing calls. As you get call result data (disposition data) from the outbound B2B telemarketing appointment setting campaign, feed the results back to your data scientists to validate the model. Then tweak the model based on real performance.

Expertise Is Invaluable

Depending on the size of your company, it may even make sense to hire a list analyst to work full-time on developing your prospecting list. The alternative is relying on account reps from the list companies you purchase from. Their experience can be varied, and their ambition of selling you a larger list doesn’t necessarily align with your objective of buying just enough of the right list to achieve your goals.

If you could increase your telemarketing appointment set percentage by even a small amount, what would that be worth to you? List acquisition is a specialized field, and the options are varied. As a rule of thumb, we like to purchase data from compiled resources such as D&B, InfoUSA, and Accudata. Knowing who you want to target with your calling effort, knowing the results of the calls, and tracking performance by list segment will help drive smarter list acquisition efforts.

Angela Garfinkel is the president and founder of Quality Contact Solutions (https://qualitycontactsolutions.com), a leading outsourced telemarketing services organization serving the healthcare, financial services, automotive, market research, professional associations, and other B2B focused verticals. Angela leads a talented team that runs thousands of outbound telemarketing program hours daily. She is also a certified Self-Regulatory Organization (SRO) auditor with the Professional Association for Customer Engagement, and she is a designated Customer Engagement Compliance Professional (CECP). Contact Angela at angela.garfinkel@qualitycontactsolutions.com or 516-656-5118.

Innovation Enhances the Cloud-Based Contact Center Infrastructure Market



By Donna Fluss

The past year was excellent for the cloud-based contact center infrastructure (CBCCI) market. DMG had projected that the market would grow by 22 percent in 2017, and the actual growth rate was 25.4 percent. Most of the sales were to existing contact centers whose management made the decision to migrate to the cloud. The introduction of contact center platforms from companies such as Amazon and Twilio also contributed to the growth of the market.

DMG remains bullish on this IT market, particularly now that we see some of the larger contact centers either moving to the cloud (albeit not all their seats at once) or considering a move. DMG expects the market to grow at a minimum of 23 percent in 2019 and 2020, and 21 percent in 2021 and 2022.

Robotic process automation (RPA) is another valuable tool, relieving contact center agents of repetitive, noncognitive tasks, including the time-consuming processes required for compliance with two-factor authentication. Click To Tweet

Adoption Rate for the CBCCI Segment

The adoption rate of the cloud-based contact center infrastructure market as of the end of 2017 was 14.1 percent. This includes hosted and software as a service (SaaS), up from 11.4 percent at the end of 2016. Assuming an average cost per seat of 125 dollars per month, this is already a 4.1 billion dollars market. The amount of 125 dollars per seat per month takes into consideration implementation, professional services, and add-ons such as WFO.

Differentiation Drives the Market Forward

CBCCI vendors have begun to differentiate themselves with innovative routing capabilities that can optimize the outcome of each interaction. Incoming transactions in any channel can be evaluated and directed to the agent or advisor ideally suited to handle the issue. The result is higher sales rates, larger collections, and greatly improved customer service.

At the same time, this enhances productivity, as inbound agents benefit from guidance and recommendations on handling transactions as they occur, without having to spend as much time researching the customer’s background and the context of the inquiry. The solutions also help organizations comply with various governmental regulations for required disclosures and prohibited activities during agents’ conversations with customers.

Artificial Intelligence Enhances Contact Centers

Artificial intelligence (AI) is having a profound effect on the CBCCI market. Customers show a preference for self-service, and AI-enabled intelligent virtual agents (IVAs) are playing a vital role in addressing the self-service challenge. IVAs can automatically verify callers and allow customers to ask questions in their own words. IVAs also support seamless migration from one channel to another and provide agents with information from diverse online sources to optimize and personalize each interaction and make the most of each sales opportunity.

Robotic process automation (RPA) is another valuable tool, relieving contact center agents of repetitive, noncognitive tasks, including the time-consuming processes required for compliance with two-factor authentication. This gives agents more time to spend on resolving customers’ issues, enhancing their job satisfaction as well as customer experience.

Contact Center Infrastructure Platforms Are Game Changers

Contact center infrastructure platform vendors are having a positive and disruptive impact on the CBCCI market. The new paradigm of “platform as a service” allows for the quick creation and deployment of customized solutions. Application programming interfaces (APIs) facilitate the build-out of functional capabilities rapidly and easily.

What’s Next?

The advantages of hosted/SaaS applications in the cloud are no longer the sole value proposition for buying a CBCCI solution. The CBCCI solutions are compelling because vendors are delivering outstanding and differentiated capabilities, either natively, by acquisition, or through integrations with best-of-breed providers.

During 2019, more contact center systems will incorporate AI, machine learning, and natural language understanding and processing (NLU/NLP). This will present companies with an opportunity to vastly improve their performance and gain insights into customer needs. The use of robotic process automation (RPA) and IVAs will enhance the customer and agent experience. The next few years will be exciting as market innovation enables companies to start delivering the personalized service their customers expect.

Donna Fluss is president of DMG Consulting LLC. For more than two decades, she has helped to emerge 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.

Caught in the Cross Fire: Contact Rates Continue to Decline



By Dean Garfinkel

A recent initiative launched by the FCC called Robocall Call Processing (RCP) was intended to combat illegal robo-calls. Unfortunately, an unintended consequence of RCP is the accidental blocking of legitimate calls from companies trying to reach their customers via an outbound phone call. In fact, as an industry, we’re seeing an approximate 30 percent decrease in outbound call answer rates within the last nine to twelve months.

What Outbound Call Centers Should Know About RCP

I recommend a more tailored approach called “personalized calling strategies.” These are program-specific strategies intentionally designed to mitigate the effects of RCP and maximize answer rates Click To Tweet

The RCP initiative gives carriers the power to “block or label” any call on their network that they believe to be unwanted or a robocall. Carriers rely on data provided by unregulated third-party analytics companies to identify these types of calls on their network. The practice of blocking or labeling occurs when a carrier opts to block a call from ringing on their customer’s phone or replaces the caller ID name display with an arbitrary label, such as “Scam Likely” or “Robocaller.”

The RCP initiative does not require transparency from carriers, which means you’ll never know, or receive notification, when an outbound caller’s calls are blocked or potentially mislabeled. In some cases, carriers are returning false busy signals and network congestion signals or even routing calls directly to a recipient’s voicemail.

RCP does not hold the carriers and analytic companies accountable. So with a mislabeled or incorrectly blocked call, it’s impossible to pinpoint the provider responsible, since most calls involve multiple carriers: the originating carrier, the transit carrier, and the terminating carrier. In addition, it’s not feasible to get your caller ID numbers correctly labeled or unblocked, since there is no designated point of contact.

In addition, the FCC has given carriers and analytics companies unwarranted discretion over what constitutes an unwanted or robocall without requiring standardization. This often results in mislabeling or blocking important calls from companies trying to reach their customers, as well as significant inconsistencies across carriers.

These unfair practices cost outbound contact centers significantly, especially when you consider the time and resources spent by agents redialing numbers that get the same result: a busy signal.

What Outbound Call Centers Can Do to Protect Themselves

In the new era of RCP, the old tactics used by outbound call centers are even less effective, such as rotating or swapping out numbers in wholesale. The old tactics don’t address the technology that is driving RCP and therefore, they don’t offer protection.

To address this, I recommend a more tailored approach called “personalized calling strategies.” These are program-specific strategies intentionally designed to mitigate the effects of RCP and maximize answer rates. When implemented correctly, they offer the best protection I’ve seen.

Briefly, a good personalized calling strategy contains four steps:

  1. Evaluate how many phone numbers in your outbound call list are in each state or area code. Try to minimize the number of dials to a single area code or calling area when possible. Analytics companies look at the volume of calls you’re placing to an area’s telephone subscriber base.
  2. Look to see if your caller ID numbers have any complaints. Complaints to the FCC, FTC, or state agencies, as well as negative postings on social media, are public information and can be used against you.
  3. Make sure the phone number you’re using for caller ID is a real phone number. It seems basic, but it’s something you should double-check. Be sure you answer the incoming calls too; this will help minimize complaints.
  4. Look at your outbound calling pattern and minimize retries to the same phone numbers within a short period of time. The best practice is to establish a maximum attempt rule by day, by week, and by campaign.

Work to Establish a Fair Playing Field

Until we agree upon a universal definition and approach to nuisance calls, RCP will continue to foster an environment where inconsistency across carriers and significant errors are inevitable and acceptable. PACE (Professional Association for Customer Engagement), a leading force behind the Communication Protection Coalition (CPC), hosts quarterly meetings dedicated to combating robocalls.

CPC meeting attendees represent all industry stakeholders, including carriers, analytic companies, relevant associations, and contact centers. While representatives from the FCC continue to attend these meetings, they do so simply as observers. As an industry with so much at stake, we need to continue to proactively work through the CPC to ensure that our voice is heard.

For more information, visit http://www.paceassociation.org/coalition.

Dean Garfinkel is the president of Quality Voice & Data, a leading enhanced telecom solutions provider to the telemarketing and call center industry. Dean’s passion for creating value-added solutions for his clients has resulted in numerous solutions that are industry-standard and used by most Fortune 500 call centers and their call center vendor partners. Reach Dean at dean@qualityvoicedata.com or 516-656-5115.

Overcoming Call Reluctance, Part One



By Kathy Sisk

Whether you are a trainer, manager, owner, or a telemarketer, call reluctance—the struggle to make phone calls—has been an issue we all have dealt with. Call reluctance is more prevalent with newly recruited telemarketers and companies who are servicing multiple projects, such as third-party service agencies (call centers). With today’s progressive telemarketing environment and the increased career opportunities this industry has to offer, it is extremely crucial to understand what call reluctance is, why it happens, and how to provide practical solutions to overcome it.

Call reluctance is a concern for many call centers, and yet the solution is simple. To overcome call reluctance, you first need to identify the source of where it is coming from. Each year I visit various companies and conduct call center assessments. Most of my assessments have been able to identify two primary weaknesses that need greater attention.

The Agent’s Perspective

First, there is not enough focus on the three primary fears newly hired telemarketers have when they are prospecting for the first time on any given account.

These three fears are:

  1. How do I approach the prospect?
  2. What do I say during my presentation?
  3. When the prospect objects or resists me, how do I remain in control?

If not properly trained, the agent’s productivity will continue to be affected by these fears, the call center will experience high turnover, and the company’s bottom line will spiral down. However, agents can gain greater control of this problem by first identifying the sources of call reluctance, and then developing proven techniques to overcome it.

It is extremely crucial to understand what call reluctance is, why it happens, and how to provide practical solutions to overcome it. Click To Tweet

The Prospect’s Perspective

The second weakness parallels the agent’s three fears, but this time it focuses on the prospect. The key to prospecting is the relationship we develop with our prospects. Part of this relationship is understanding that prospects also have three primary fears they must identify and overcome. The prospect’s three fears also exist in the face-to-face selling arena, but the field salesperson has greater control as opposed to the agent who is prospecting over the telephone.

Next time I will share the three primary fears your prospects have when making outbound calls.

Kathy Sisk Enterprises Inc. has forty years of experience providing call center setup, reengineering, assessments, training, script development, and project management services to centers globally.

MiSecureMessages Secure Messaging App 4.2.0 for iOS/Apple Devices

Amtelco released version 4.2.0 of the miSecureMessages secure messaging app, which businesses and healthcare enterprises use for secure communications. Version 4.2.0 features enhanced functionality with Apple Watch. Apple Watch Series 3 and 4 users with Watch OS 5 or later can read and reply to secure messages. A new Apple Watch menu displays which accounts contain new messages.

Amtelco’s President Tom Curtin stated, “We are very excited to release this highly anticipated app update and would like to thank our customers who enthusiastically volunteered their time to test the update to ensure it would meet the needs of all of our customers. This new version will greatly improve communications with their clients.”

Customers may update the app from their iPhone’s App Store account. New documentation is available on Amtelco’s TechHelper website.

The miSecureMessages Apple app provides secure messaging and paging services for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. It receives notifications of secure messages sent from the miSecureMessages Web Service via the Apple Push Notification Service. Users can view, respond to, and initiate messages to other miSecureMessages users within their organization.

Amtelco

For more information contact Amtelco at 800-356-9148, info@misecuremessages.com, or visit www.misecuremessages.com.

Is Your Call Center Ready for Anything?



How to Survive When Receiving Twice the Calls or Having Half the Staff—or Both

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Running a call center is hard, at least doing it right. Even under normal conditions, managers struggle to balance traffic and staffing levels while maintaining high quality and minimizing complaints.

But what happens when conditions aren’t normal? If you’re slammed with calls for an extended period, how will you fare? What happens if several agents can’t make it into work? What if the remote access portion of your system goes down, leaving your local staff to deal with everything?

One solution is to ignore the risk and hope nothing abnormal happens. But eventually, something abnormal will occur. It might be a weather event, a natural disaster, or a manmade crisis. Use your imagination—it’s easy to see that any number of things that could cause call traffic to spike or your staffing levels to drop. In fact, these both could happen at the same time. How well could your call center manage trying to handle twice the number of calls with half the staff?

Preparation today will help achieve success for tomorrow. Click To Tweet

Here are some ideas:

Multilocation

call center

If the source of the problem that moves you from normal to not normal is local, having a multilocation call center is one easy solution—provided that the other call centers are far enough away to not have the same scenario affect them. Of course, this strains the other call centers in the network, but more locations and more agents to share the load reduces the negative impact.

Remote Workforce

Many call centers use some work-at-home agents, whereas others prefer all staff to work from one centralized location to allow for better management. Regardless, allowing staff to work from a remote location during a crisis is a key way to minimize the impact. This could provide options for staff unable to make it into the office, as well as make it easier for staff not scheduled to login and help.

Strategic Partners

Having multiple locations and allowing staff to work remotely are key solutions to deal with abnormal call center scenarios. However, these tactics only go so far. To supplement these two approaches, form strategic partnerships with other call centers that can help during an emergency. But select a call center partner geographically distant from you. If you’re on the coast, work with one who is inland. If you’re in the north part of the country, find one in the south. If you’re east, go west.

Vendor Solutions

Check with your vendor to see what disaster mitigation solutions they offer. They may be able to help you better handle a not-normal call center situation. They could also recommend strategic partners for you to work with.

Outsourcing

If you’re a corporate call center, you may want to arrange with an outsourcing call center to help during a crisis. And if you’re an outsourcing call center, you know how this functions, so work with another outsourcing call center to help you.

Automate

Regardless of your paradigm to provide people to help people, sometimes automating portions of your call response will serve callers better than by not answering their phone calls at all or making them wait in queue a long time for the next available agent.

Plan Now

The key to make any of this work is planning. When things are going along normally for you and your call center, it’s the ideal time to come up with solutions for when normal goes away. Don’t wait for a crisis to hit and then scramble for answers.

Preparation today will help achieve success for tomorrow, even under less-than-ideal situations. When disaster strikes, you’ll be glad you have a plan to deal with it.

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.

Cloud-Based ACDs and Dialers Come of Age



By Donna Fluss

Cloud-based contact center infrastructure (CBCCI) vendors have spent most of the last twenty years playing functional catch-up to the leading on-premise vendors. But this is no longer the case. DMG just completed our annual research on the CBCCI sector, and we are impressed and excited about the enhancements and changes to these solutions. The value proposition is no longer to buy a CBCCI solution just because of the many benefits of using a cloud-based solution. Beyond the proven advantages of the cloud, these solutions are compelling because the vendors deliver outstanding and differentiated capabilities, either natively or by integrating with best-of-breed providers.

Freeing agents to spend their time on customers’ issues will change the entire sales, service, and collections experience by enabling them to do what should be a fun and interesting job. Click To Tweet

It’s undeniable that contact center platform vendors are having a highly positive disruptive impact on the pace of innovation in the CBCCI sector. The “platform as a service” paradigm, which leverages application programming interfaces (APIs) to roll out functional capabilities, makes it easier to build your own solution (BYOS). And the fact that these customized contact center solutions can be developed quickly using standard development languages is a significant change. Some of the vendors who have traditionally been “solution providers” are now starting to position their offerings as both a product and a platform.

An inbound contact center solution (often referred to as an automated call distributor or ACD) is valuable for enterprises of all sizes, and many organizations will benefit from outbound calling functionality. This has been the case for the past forty years, but now the vendors are adding analytics, big data, artificial intelligence (AI), and robotic process automation (RPA) to help companies work smarter instead of harder.

In the recent past, ACD vendors specialized in bringing in or sending out interactions, and it was considered a differentiator if the solution offered omni-channel capabilities. Today, omni-channel functionality is a “must have” (although there are still some CBCCI solutions that do not offer this capability), and the differentiation is coming from the more effective ways that enterprises can route or issue the interactions. In some cases, CBCCI solutions can evaluate an incoming interaction in any channel and, based on information previously collected about the individual, get it to the agent or advisor who is ideally suited to handle the transaction.

This means higher sales rates, larger collections, and much improved customer service. This is and always has been the top goal for organizations and is a perfect (and real) example of working smarter, not harder. But there is so much more going on today.

Imagine an inbound contact center where agents receive appropriate guidance and recommendations along with each interaction, instead of having to spend minutes researching the background and context. These solutions are also HIPAA- and GDPR-compliant, addressing essential regulatory issues. Moreover, they empower the agent and are effective in helping customers the way they desire during their journey. These innovations are game changers for companies and the industry in general.

RPA is also finding its way into the contact center world. To date, so much of the work performed by agents is to comply with two-factor authentication and to meet the needs of the company. Of course, customers care about the security of their information, but they aren’t thrilled with the burden of meeting authentication requirements, and they surely don’t care about the processes agents/advisors have to follow to get a high quality-assurance score. For example, a customer doesn’t want to wait while an agent types up their notes or copies and pastes data in multiple systems. Freeing agents to spend their time on customers’ issues (instead of enterprise requirements) will change the entire sales, service, and collections experience by enabling them to do what should be a fun and interesting job.

The worlds of interaction management and customer relationship management (CRM) are coming together. Instead of fighting to “own” the customer, CBCCI vendors are either offering their own CRM functionality or making it easy to cleanly integrate to a third-party solution, such as Salesforce. Once this happens, enterprises and small companies alike will be able to take advantage of the full functionality and intelligence that comes along with the CRM system. It’s not just vendor promise or hearsay, but a real opportunity.

These are just a few of the very practical and high-value capabilities that are making their way into the current and next generation of CBCCI solutions, and there is a great deal more already available in the market. For companies that haven’t looked at their ACD or dialer in the past five years, DMG recommends reviewing some of the leading CBCCI offerings on the market and considering replacement of their existing solutions with ones that position them to do what their customers expect—delivering an outstanding experience throughout the journey.

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.

The Ultimate Call Center Service for Contractors



Leveraging Third-Party App Technology

By Darlene Campbell

Technological advances continue to amaze me as I have watched the definition of service evolve over the past decades. Whether you compare a world of pagers to a world of texting or customers now controlling their own on-call schedules with direct access to their call centers systems, it has been astonishing.

In recent years our call center, ICG, embarked on a partnership to support a specialized industry: concrete repair specialists. As part of this process, my call center was introduced to a unique SaaS App software service called Estimate Rocket offered by Logical Engine Inc. Estimate Rocket is an app that automates the estimating process for contractors. It’s highly robust and has a built in CRM as well as an e-marketing platform. Integrated with Google maps and Quick Books, it can be described as a dream for that industry.

The vision we presented was the ability to interface with the contractor’s Estimate Rocket program. Then we could:

  • Allow any call center agent to accept calls or emails in response to the contractor’s promotion or advertising
  • Load the data directly into the contractor’s CRM
  • Provide information about the service by automatically activating a drip campaign of email to the contractor’s prospect
  • Schedule the estimate for the contractor

The poster child for this service is Affordable Mudjacking in the greater Kansas City area. Owner and entrepreneur Zach Poland saw the vision and the opportunity, so he ran with it for maximum efficiency of his operation. We now handle most Affordable Mudjacking’s inbound prospect communication, provide their prospects with basic information about the service, in some cases vet the viability of the prospect and schedule their estimators. In effect we have migrated from a call center to become Mr. Poland’s front office operation, and we are indispensable to his business.

WIIFM

Every business marketing and sales course suggests you answer the question “what’s in it for me” for all parties in a business relationship. Let’s review the benefits for both the contractor and the call center.

Contractor Benefits

  • A consistent, professional, 24/7 prospect experience that exceeds expectations
  • A consistent estimating process that allows for ease of training and instant fulfillment, as estimates (including photos) are emailed to prospects while an estimator is on site—with a mere click to accept the work and lock in a contract
  • Elimination of all costs associated with prospect inbound management and estimator scheduling
  • Better quality consistently delivered with efficiency, which increases capacity, scalability, imaging, closing ratios, and profitability

Call Center Benefits

  • Increased functionality and capacity to handle more types of client calls
  • Longer call duration
  • Development of a partner versus vendor relationship
  • Relationship longevity
  • Improved profitability

The Potential

Estimate Rocket has modules for concrete repair specialists, spray foam specialists, painters, and more. Its generic version can be used by any business doing estimates, with free-form data entry capability. In the case of Affordable Mudjacking, we have been instrumental in allowing this firm to schedule estimates when prospects aren’t home. This fact has changed the business and reduced their cost per sale.

We’ve learned to look beyond our own systems and seek ways to embrace tech used by our clients to grow our business. Click To Tweet

Estimate Rocket is only one example of the power of app technology and the acceleration of technical influence on business delivery. These tools need not be in competition with a call center environment. Through this we’ve learned to look beyond our own systems and seek ways to embrace tech used by our clients to grow our business.

Darlene Campbell is the president of Information Communications Group, a 24/7 multilingual call center based in Leawood, Kansas.

Hiring and Training CSRs for Digital Contact Center Work



By Doug Taylor

In today’s world, customers have become accustomed to serving themselves. This phenomenon may have started with fuel. With the notable exception of New Jersey, customers have been pumping their own gas for decades. Self-service quickly spread across other industries. ATMs have all but replaced drive-through services at banks. Self-service checkout lanes are proliferating in grocery stores. Even post offices have kiosks where customers can weigh items, buy postage, and send items, all without the assistance of a customer service representative (CSR).

Why the proliferation of self-service options? It’s all about time and efficiency. People believe they can do things faster themselves, and most often they can. They also want to be able to complete transactions—whether at the bank or grocery store or hundreds of online locations—when they want to.

Emotional intelligence is about being socially aware, self-aware, and able to recognize the effect of emotions on behavior. Click To Tweet

Self Service and the Contact Center

This trend toward self-service has moved into the contact center industry as well. Modern contact centers are offering digital channels, such as interactive voice response (IVR) menus, websites, chatbots, SMS, and even social media sites, to give customers as many options as possible to find information and complete transactions in the ways they prefer.

Digital channels offer customers an avenue for completing simple tasks online. But when those tasks are more complex, customers need to talk to a CSR. Customers can certainly pay car insurance bills online without assistance, but if they want to change the amount of coverage they have on a vehicle, add additional vehicles, or report an accident, that often involves speaking to a person. That means the CSRs taking those calls must be trained and ready to handle these complex questions. They also need the soft skills to handle the emotions that come with a higher level of question.

The New Breed of CSR

CSRs are now expected to answer and assist with increasingly complex questions. They are also speaking with customers who have looked for answers online and come up short.

These CSRs need better training than their peers of just a few years ago to help the digital-first customers who are contacting them. They can’t simply read answers from a script, as customers have already found that online. CSRs must be able to think critically and act quickly. In addition, CSRs with high emotional intelligence (EQ) can sense what a customer feels and how to respond appropriately.

Just as CSRs need new skills, contact center managers need to adapt the processes they use to hire and train new CSRs. Hiring for more complex skill sets means looking for different attributes in individuals. It also means using distinct training methods to ensure that new CSRs can help customers with complex tasks.

How to Hire New CSRs for Digital Contact Centers

In general, it is easier to teach and prepare people in areas in which they are already strong. This holds true with contact center recruiting. Hiring managers should seek individuals who have a natural inclination to help others. This service mind-set cannot be taught.

For digital contact centers, CSRs need to have excellent critical thinking skills and a high degree of emotional intelligence. While people can be taught ways to improve critical thinking and problem solving and can learn strategies to improve their ability to read emotions in situations, it’s easier for trainers and managers to start with recruits who already have some ability in these areas.

Scenario-based questions help assess potential hires for critical thinking, EQ, and problem-solving skills. To assess, a hiring manager might give a potential hire the following situation: A customer calls into the contact center because his card is declined at a point of sale. When looking at the system, there appears to be no reason for the card to be declined.

What step would the potential hire take? In assessing critical thinking, hiring managers aren’t looking for a correct answer. It would be nearly impossible for a potential hire to know the correct steps to take for that specific contact center. They are looking for potential hires who go beyond the response: “Sorry, I can’t help you with that.” Managers should look for potential hires who state that they would ask customers and themselves questions to get to the root of the problem. Managers look for that way of thinking.

Additionally, emotional intelligence is about being socially aware, self-aware, and able to recognize the effect of emotions on behavior. Hiring managers screen potential hires for EQ by observation and through behavior-based questions.

To help determine EQ, a hiring manager can ask, “What are your two biggest strengths?” A person with a high EQ is self-aware and gives an answer that matches everything else the interviewer has observed. If she says, “I’m very outgoing, and I like to meet new people,” yet spends the entire interview sitting on her hands and whispering answers, she may not be very self-aware. Although it’s ideal to hire someone with a high degree of self-awareness, if she has a service mentality and excellent critical thinking skills, a few lessons in reading emotions will help bring her up to speed.

How to Train New CSRs for Digital Contact Center Work

For digital contact center work, trainers begin with defining the desired mind-set. They explain that CSRs must use critical thinking and problem-solving skills to be successful. Prior to self-service, contact center work involved reading scripts and learning workflows to assist customers. Since customers are taking care of simple issues themselves, a CSR’s priority is now unpacking a given situation before figuring out which solution to apply.

Situation-based training works best when preparing CSRs for digital contact center employment. Trainers can give new hires a scenario and then talk them through the process of solving the problem, pointing out tools they use along the way. As they progress, new hires practice with calls coming in from a trainer in another room. CSRs then move to a nested environment, where they take live calls with a seasoned CSR nearby to provide support and take over if needed.

To assist new hires in learning to read customers’ emotions, trainers play ten-second recorded clips of the beginning of calls. Trainees identify each caller’s state of mind and determine the best approach to take when communicating with that caller.

Since different callers require different approaches, CSRs must be prepared to change the way they interact with customers based on what they hear. Take the declined credit card at the point of sale, for example. If the customer calls in when being declined at a business lunch, he may be demanding and frustrated. A CSR would approach this caller differently than a person who calls in from a family reunion and wants to chat for thirty seconds about seeing relatives for the first time ten years.

In the first scenario, CSRs would use an “all business” approach to quickly reinforce that they understand the problem and get to work by asking questions to diagnose the situation. If CSRs use that approach with the second caller, they risk offending someone who has just shared a personal story and seeks acknowledgment.

A third caller may be hesitant and doubt he even has an issue. This caller needs reassurance that the problem is real, and the CSR can solve it. Acknowledging customers’ emotions helps diffuse the situation, since people ultimately just want to be heard.

To Sum Up

Scenario-based training is the most effective method to train new contact center agents and prepare them to serve customers. Critical thinking and problem-solving skills can be taught. While EQ is a level of intelligence, CSRs can work on developing skills to improve the way they read and serve callers.

Hiring managers can also use situation-based questions to determine which potential hires have a high EQ and a natural aptitude for critical thinking. They can also use an interview to assess whether an individual is self-aware and has a service mentality.

Combined, these attributes help hiring managers make the most intelligent decisions in staffing digital contact centers.

Doug Taylor is vice president of operations at HighPoint Global, which helps government agencies elevate citizen experiences, whether calling, online, or in person.

What Does an Optimal Customer Experience with a Call Center Look Like?



By Daymon Smith

As the healthcare landscape shifts toward a value-based care model, consumers and patients are taking more responsibility for their individual health. The combination of higher premiums, copays, and deductibles mean consumers hold the care they receive to a higher standard. They research competitive pricing, treatment quality, and customer service to make informed decisions.

This shift in focus within the healthcare sector has increased the importance of offering consumers and patients value that goes beyond quality care and treatment options. More specifically, healthcare marketers prioritize personalized engagement on an individual level. They match consumers with the resources, providers, and treatment options that offer the best overall health outcomes and highest customer experience.

In this effort, hospitals and organizations have started to optimize the role call centers play, adopting a variety of capabilities to merge disparate points of contact into one centralized, proactive call center. Also known as an engagement center, these modernized call centers, which work in conjunction with healthcare risk management (HCRM), enable healthcare providers to deliver the level of customer experience and personalization consumers expect.

The ideal customer experience a consumer should receive when engaging with a call center is key. Healthcare providers should strive to deliver this level of customer service through technology and training.

Customer Service Expectations in Healthcare

Today’s consumer expects quality customer service across their health journey, from first point of contact to post-care engagement. Often the first point of communication between a customer and the healthcare organization, call centers face the responsibility of living up to the expectations of modern healthcare consumers. In fact, they handle around 68 percent of all customer communications, further emphasizing why consumers hold the call center customer service they receive to a higher standard.

Consumers expect:  

Personalized Service:When patients and consumers interact with the healthcare call center, they expect insights, resources, and interactions personalized to their unique health journey. Therefore, call center agents must understand each patient’s issues and provide solutions proactively.

Single-Call Resolution:It’s crucial that call center agents tap caller data to provide actionable and individualized recommendations, connect them with doctors and physicians, provide useful and relevant resources, and proactively anticipate consumer needs.

Cross-Channel Capabilities:Traditionalcall center operations exist in operational silos, resulting in a fragmented customer experience. With an HCRM-enabled engagement center, health systems deliver the seamless and personalized experiences customers want across communication channels, including the call center, patient portal, and email.

Facility the Patient Journey: Successful agents move callers forward along the patient journey.Quality customer service within the healthcare sector extends far beyond one phone call. Patients expect guidance and assistance from healthcare organizations throughout their care experience. This includes communication, connecting the consumer with necessary resources and solutions, and ensuring the experience is as convenient as possible.

Here’s an example: At the start of the patient journey, a consumer submits a website form submission requesting information on shoulder pain. After receiving the requested information in an email, the customer is placed in an outbound calling queue for follow-up.

The call center agent provides additional information and offers to connect the customer with a specialist. The call center agent connects them with an orthopedic physician near their home and sends timely reminders before the appointments.

During the appointment, the physician recommends physical therapy. The patient receives a call the same day from the call center to match them with a physical therapist and schedule their first appointment. The patient receives an SMS reminder forty-eight hours before the appointment. Recording each interaction with the organization in the healthcare CRM ensures continuity and enables personalization throughout the patient journey.

A healthcare CRM program serves as the foundation for successful engagement. Click To Tweet

Technology for Optimized Healthcare Customer Service

The customer service consumers expect from healthcare organizations forces call centers to evolve into comprehensive engagement centers. With the goal of serving as a strategic tool for engagement, revenue growth, and greater visibility into return on investment, these call centers combine technology with call center agent training for optimized customer service.

For call centers looking to shift toward becoming an engagement center, a healthcare CRM program serves as the foundation for successful engagement. With an HCRM in place, call centers can provide consistent, unified communications with patients and consumers while connecting disparate points of contact throughout the health system. Additionally, an HCRM provides call center agents with a 360-degree view into the customer data needed to facilitate personalized, efficient consumer interactions.

More specifically, call center agents can take advantage of unique customer profiles—a collection of demographic data, prior interactions with the organization, contact preferences, and appointments and medical history—to ensure they’re using the best method of communication (phone, email, or chat) and delivering relevant health information.

An engagement center should also incorporate marketing automation to send reminders and resources throughout the patient journey. Marketing automation tools help call centers maintain long-term engagement to promote patient acquisition and strengthens patient retention.

Call Center Training for Optimized Customer Service

Like any job, the better the training, the greater the impact. For healthcare call center agents, training is a significant facilitator to outstanding patient and customer service. One of the most important aspects of call center training revolves around the proper use of call center scripts.

By developing scripts to guide agent conversations, healthcare organizations ensure that the call center customer experience aligns with marketing efforts. Additionally, scripts can help call center agents focus on guiding customers toward a pleasant and timely resolution of their queries.

As a good practice, call centers should equip agents with at least one script for each campaign, which they can tailor to the individual customer while reflecting their location within the patient journey.

Another important element to call center training is ensuring that agents can handle any nonclinical queries. Given the high volume of customer interactions call center agents handle each day, it’s crucial that they have a clear understanding of the healthcare organization ecosystem, as well as the capability to handle queries on the fly.

Final Thoughts

Consumers today expect more value from their care providers. Optimizing the traditional healthcare call center into a modern engagement center helps provide the efficiency, personalization, and capabilities that have become synonymous with superior customer service.

To best leverage the potential of call centers and optimize the customer experience within them, healthcare organizations need to incorporate modern marketing technology and comprehensive training into their strategies.

Daymon Smith is the vice president, engagement center practice leader at Evariant. He focuses on leading health systems in their move to a proactive call center model that improves the overall patient experience and generates revenue for the system.