Tag Archives: Call Center Management Articles

Using Speech Analytics to Improve Customer Relationships in the Call Center



By Jeff Gallino

Here are answers to some questions I often hear about call center speech analytics.

Question: What’s the biggest trend you’ve seen when it comes to managing customer relationships, and how has that evolved over the past five to ten years? 

Answer: With the rise of digital transformation, we’ve seen a major shift in consumer preferences, and customer experience (CX) has arguably replaced traditional marketing in terms of becoming the number-one brand differentiator. More companies are realigning their business strategy to focus on delivering exceptional CX. This is because customer demands for personalization, innovation, and consistency are on the rise. 

As a result, it’s never been more critical for companies to understand the voice of their customer—not only within the C-suite but across all levels of their organization. Sure, companies have more opportunities to connect using email, live chat, social media, and other channels. But we’re seeing many organizations spread themselves too thin, thereby actually doing more harm than good. While it’s critical in today’s digital and omnichannel world to stay agile, companies must remain focused on what is truly important: building and nurturing customer relationships. 

Q: What are the main factors that lead to customer churn? 

A: Resulting in an estimated deficit of 136 billion dollars per year, customer churn is a sore spot for most US businesses. The good news is that it’s entirely avoidable. 

Speech analytics technology provides a holistic view into 100 percent of customer interactions. Click To Tweet

From an agent standpoint, the answer is much more fundamental than one may think—40 percent of consumers just want someone to listen to them. However, many agents fail to deliver on that simple request, as only 23 percent of callers feel listened to. Another major factor when it comes to delivering an unsatisfactory experience is the agent’s inability to show empathy. 

The emotional state of the caller at the beginning of the call is a tough situation for agents—regardless of their level of emotional intelligence—as 42 percent of callers arrive annoyed, 28 percent arrive upset, 22 percent arrived confused, and 17 percent arrive angry. Yet despite these strong emotional tendencies, 43 percent still express the need for a more polite and caring representative.

As for as the role played by the call center itself, sticking to the status quo just isn’t working anymore. Whether outdated scripts, ill-advised metrics, or a lack of knowledge in general, legacy call center management methods aren’t up to speed with the demands of today’s consumer base. 

Customers not only expect solutions to their problems, they want solutions in a timely manner with minimal disruption. When management fails to arm agents with the tools, training, and resources necessary to do their job, they’re only contributing to the problem. 

Q: What kind of insights does speech analytics offer? 

A: There’s no one-size-fits all definition for speech or engagement analytics, but at its core, speech analytics is a way to generate insights from conversations. But it’s much more than a transcription tool. It automates the process of listening to customer interactions, regardless of the communication channel used. This allows agents to make accurate and informed decisions based on customers’ needs. 

Speech analytics takes the unstructured data directly from both ends of the conversation and turns it into structured data. Once in this format, sophisticated categorization and tagging methods allow for searching and analyzing of information. These are all built in accordance with an enterprise’s unique business objectives. While this sounds like a lot, it streamlines the process and offers speed to actionable insights, which random call sampling would have missed. 

Take sales effectiveness, for example, and think of the behaviors of your most successful sales agents. This technology can create scores leveraging those behaviors, transfer that into historically proven, interactive suggestions, and automatically provide feedback and guidance to agents, which eventually raises top-line revenue.

Q: How do agents benefit from this technology in real-time versus post-interaction? 

A: Whether it’s on the back end for management purposes and corrective action, or on the front lines of the conversation to improve accuracy and compliance the first time around, agents benefit from speech analytics by receiving timely guidance and accurate feedback to help them improve performance. This results in increased first-call resolution rates, shorter average handle time, and increased customer satisfaction. 

For example, say a customer is becoming increasingly frustrated with the agent’s responses, or lack thereof. Based on preconfigured verbal or acoustic measures, agents can receive alerts to take a suggested action, such as an offer to save a customer from churning, or be immediately redirected to a supervisor to correct the problem. Companies can also track the customer journey across channels, so consumers don’t have to repeat the problem. This allows for a more personalized interaction.

When used for post-interaction analysis, speech analytics technology can track trends and make root cause discoveries to improve contact center performance and business intelligence across the enterprise. This is a direct result of agent’s receiving feedback on 100 percent of their calls. This gives them praise or coaching on performance to make them more equipped to address similar situations in the future.

Q: What is the difference between speech analytics versus traditional customer feedback methods? 

A: Surveys and net promoter scores (NPS) face limits by the number of responses they receive, accumulating a response rate of anywhere between 5 to 15 percent. Therefore, they’re limited regarding the story they tell. This is mostly because they will never be able to show you exactly what’s going wrong and how to fix it. Sure, they offer a glimpse into customer satisfaction, but they only skim the surface. 

Simply put, you can’t improve NPS and overall CX without first understanding the root cause of the problem. In addition, these feedback methods only offer a glimpse of the customer’s perception of your brand. You can’t rely on these methods alone to revamp your CX strategy. However, speech analytics technology provides a holistic view into 100 percent of customer interactions. This allows for a consistent, accurate analysis of a variety of performance indicators such as effort and empathy.

Jeff Gallino is the CTO and founder of CallMiner, a software company that develops speech analytics software. Founded in 2002, it’s headquartered in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Unified Communications: How Endpoint Management Delivers the Goods



By Jeff Kalberg 

Enterprises, now working diligently to execute on digital transformation, are adopting unified communications (UC) as a means of enhancing competitiveness and collaboration. Yet it must come with a deployment that brings more productivity, not additional time and headaches for the end-user and for IT. For unified communications to reach its highest potential, enterprises need to address how endpoint management factors into the equation and how it can help support the business objectives of UC.

In today’s culture of a mobile, often remote workforce, endpoints delivering an optimal user experience is the engine behind unified communications, working at a level of effectiveness the enterprise needs to compete digitally. The world has changed from a static desktop environment to one of OS (operating system)-powered endpoints serving a workforce accustomed to using a multitude of devices.

Endpoint management is essential to unified communications succeeding because it:

  • provides easy, secure access to UC devices, virtual apps and desktops, local and mobile apps, and content across devices and networks.
  • delivers a consistent user experience so an employee can access the UC tools and applications they need to do their job well, regardless of device or location.
  • simplifies IT operations with profile management, app layering, and hybrid and multi-cloud management.

As enterprises add more elements to the unified communications mix, such as interactive whiteboards, even chatbots, advanced endpoint management is a critical factor in helping ensure that the breadth of UC technologies can deliver on their promise of collaboration and productivity.

Citrix Call Center Case Study

Enterprises also need to prepare now for technology enhancements in unified communications. Click To Tweet

Citrix itself has made inroads in deploying unified communications for its operations. Its Citrix call center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, had several challenges: aging laptops, the need for a reliable, always-on end-user experience, and improved security. It also needed an intelligent OS that could support Citrix Workspace and integrate with UC elements like Skype for Business, teams, and headset hardware. Not a small task. 

To provide its 120 inside sales representatives with UC and other tools they needed, Citrix found its answer in a Linux-OS-driven endpoint solution. By relying on purpose-built, Linux-based endpoints, Citrix can benefit from improved security, and management simplicity it may not otherwise realize. Now, regardless to what physical workspace an inside sales rep is assigned, in conjunction with Citrix Workspace, the user can access all the applications they need. Additionally, for the road warriors, employees can use a mobile USB drive that provides smart boot technology to ensure validity of the OS to prevent manipulation and malware attacks. 

Unifying all Citrix call center hardware endpoints to a common read-only operating system that is identical across platforms has proven to be of great value. “The reliability of the solution ensures that our inside sales representatives have uncompromised and secure access to mission-critical apps they need to perform at their best,” said Kurt Heusner, vice president, SMB digital transformation sales, Citrix. 

Future Proof 

Three factors in unified communications will continue to advance: 

  1. The desire of enterprises to rely more on the endpoint for UC-related applications 
  2. The increased need for security on all devices 
  3. A plethora of emerging technologies that will find their way into the overall UC category

Citrix noted that as part of its OS-endpoint deployment, they plan to eventually run web conferencing directly on Linux-powered endpoints. “The vision is that any Citrite can walk into any conference room, log into their web conferencing system, and conduct a meeting,” Citrix said.

The lines will continue to blur between peripheral devices and what an advanced, Linux-OS endpoint can do. As legacy hardware is repurposed, software-defined endpoints will be the answer to keeping pace with UC progress.

As devices proliferate, along with applications, preventing malware and other attacks is top of mind for enterprise IT and security teams. It’s crucial that endpoint software and management solutions offer features such as single sign-on, two-factor authentication, and fingerprint readers for effective risk mitigation.

Enterprises also need to prepare now for technology enhancements in unified communications. AI-driven chatbots are already in use at call centers, but internal AI conversations between call center reps will be the future. Imagine conversations run on Linux-OS powered endpoints and integrating AI into communication and collaboration. That is the future.

Jeff Kalberg is the chief technology evangelist at IGEL, which provides endpoint management and smart boot technology solutions.

Three Tactics to Transform a Call Center into a Care Center



By Gina Tabone

Healthcare strategists must lead the campaign to transform call center agents into caregivers and move from a call center mentality to a care center functioning as the doorway to an organization. Medical call centers have evolved over the past decade from call centers to contact centers to the current title of centralized access center. The goal for the patient is a seamless connection to a call center agent equipped to resolve any need presented within the confines of the first call.

Agent positions are often entry-level, which they historically abandon once they are eligible to bid on a higher-paying, more prestigious role within the organization. What a shame that frontline call center employees do not realize the immense value they play in the continuum of care and their potential impact an exceptional patient experience.

Change, as usual, must happen. Here are three easy-to-implement tactics to begin transforming the mind-set of call center agents from telephone operator to a caregiver acknowledged as a vital contributor in the continuum of care.

1. Communication

Healthcare chatter and verbiage flood nightly news reports, political rhetoric, and patient newsletters. It’s hard enough for industry leaders to comprehend what’s being said and expected, let alone the people on the front line doing the work.

There is nothing more motivating than realizing that the work one does is meaningful and makes a difference. This is most true in the delivery of healthcare. No matter what the role, everyone interacting with a patient can contribute to a positive experience. Here’s how:

Every level of management is most effective when present and visible to those working on the phones. Click To Tweet
  • Messages must be clearly stated from the top-level leadership involved in the call center transformation. Be honest and frank. Leadership is supportive but must be mindful of the ever-present business impact of every department.
  • Tell agents: “You are very important to our organization, and your contribution to the organization is unique and essential.”
  • Think of the call center as the front door to the organization. Agents are the ones answering the knock at the door.
  • Agents have the power to communicate either “Hello, welcome; we are expecting you,” or slam the door in a patient’s face by being robotic, irritated, and impatient.

2. Collaboration 

Caregivers working in a centralized communication operation don’t have a group of patients specifically assigned to them. Rather, they are there to provide a plethora of services to the patients from a variety of locations, specialties, practices, providers, or payers. The role they play augments the meaningful care provided in an office or clinic setting. Efforts must focus on viewing the call center caregivers as a vital component of the outpatient team.

  • They are the first point of contact for new patients. They can convey compassion and trust in the initial interaction as a precursor of what to expect in a face-to-face visit with a clinician.
  • First point-of-contact caregivers set the tone for what to expect from the organization. Hopefully, they demonstrate a flawless, coordinated experience by being a knowledgeable person who has the skills and resources to satisfy their current need.
  • It is valuable for call center employees to spend a day with the clinic team and for the clinic staff to spend a day shadowing the call center caregiver. Bonds are forged, and there is an appreciation for the work each group performs.

3. Circulate 

Call center leadership is not a stationary job. Every level of management is most effective when present and visible to those working on the phones. The environment is dynamic and requires constant supervision and direction.

  • Seeing team leads, managers, and higher-ups walking around and interacting with staff builds confidence and is a sign they’re available when needs arise.
  • Wireless headsets allow for designated support staff to move about, mingle with agents, and overhear calls that may benefit from a higher level of intervention. It’s a defensive method for avoiding a potential problem—or even worse, a discontented patient.
  • Call center leaders who take live calls for a portion of their workweek can lead by example.
  • Circulating staff are there to advocate for the best possible patient experience, while at the same time nurturing and engaging the caregivers.

There is a need to develop a platform of soft skills training that teaches call center caregivers how to convey interest, concern, and competency to callers. These tactics are fantastic ways begin the transformation of a call center team into a care center team.

Gina Tabone, MSN, RNC-TNP, is the vice president of strategic clinical solutions at TeamHealth Medical Call Center. Prior to joining TeamHealth, she served as the administrator of Cleveland Clinic’s Nurse on Call 24/7 nurse triage program. 

[This article first appeared in AnswerStat, answerstat.com.]

The Advantages of Analytics-Enabled Quality Management



By Donna Fluss

For most of the past forty years, contact centers have performed quality management (QM) the same way. Calls are identified for evaluation from recordings, and then a QM specialist listens, assesses, and completes a monitoring form for each of them. While traditional QM applications have been enhanced over the years, the QM process remains highly manual, even in the best of cases.

QM Challenges

A major challenge facing contact centers is that there is an increasing variety of interaction types, and they are coming from a growing number of channels, including calls, emails, tweets, SMS, chat, social media, and more. While many companies perform QM on their calls, too few apply this practice to other channels. This means that companies receive an incomplete view of why people are contacting their organization, how well agents are performing their job, and whether customers or prospects are satisfied with their experience. Companies must perform QM on interactions in all channels and evaluate many of them; otherwise, they won’t know what is happening with their customers, and they may be out of compliance with regulations without knowing it.

The benefits of using AQM are far-reaching and include valuable contributions to the enterprise, contact center, its agents, and customers. Click To Tweet

The Future of QM

Analytics-enabled QM (AQM) is the future for QM and can address many of these issues. DMG defines AQM as “an application that leverages interaction analytics, business rules and automation to identify, classify, and score as much as 100 percent of voice and text-based interactions based on defined quality criteria.” At the same time, AQA measures critical interaction components to evaluate agent performance and to assess their impact on the customer experience and customer effort. 

An important feature of AQM is that it “understands” what customers are saying; it identifies customer needs and wants, automatically surfaces trends and operational opportunities, and spots problematic interactions in which agents do not comply with an established script, policies, procedures, or other requirements.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technology are being incorporated into AQM modules to further enhance their effectiveness by enabling them to automatically evaluate interactions and to identify new and emerging trends and opportunities. Additionally, sentiment analysis is being applied to interactions handled by the AQM module, which enriches these solutions with a new level of analytics and helps companies to better understand their customers’ reactions to their policies and procedures.

Why AQM Is Better Than Traditional QM

There are many reasons why AQM is substantially better than the traditional method of performing QM:

  • It can automatically review up to 100 percent of calls and text-based communications.
  • It can provide feedback on a timely basis.
  • It can identify and assess the importance of each issue, regardless of the channel in which it is received.
  • It can surface emerging issues and opportunities not previously known.
  • It can identify coaching opportunities at an employee and group level.
  • It can automatically schedule and deliver individualized coaching.
  • It realizes all the benefits of traditional QM, including improving the effectiveness of the contact center, reducing operating expenses, and improving the customer experience.

Why AQM Adoption Is Slow

The adoption of AQM applications is very slow, despite its many benefits. The reason for the market’s reticence to purchase this solution is that it is expensive. AQM is an application provided by speech analytics vendors. To acquire AQM, end users typically must buy a complete speech analytics solution and then spend more to purchase the AQM package. The sad story is that a high percentage of end-user organizations that purchase a full speech analytics solution do not have the budget to add on AQM.

How to Get Enterprises to Invest in AQM

If vendors want to open the large addressable market for AQM, they need to reduce the price for this add-on module, include it as a standard component of a speech/text analytics application, or improve its business case and return on investment. Most prospects for AQM, including the thousands of companies that have already invested in speech or text analytics, have made it clear that they are not willing to pay a large incremental fee for an AQM add-on module.

Final Thoughts

The benefits of using AQM are far-reaching and include valuable contributions to the enterprise, contact center, its agents, and customers. With the addition of AI, ML, and sentiment analysis, the benefits are increasing, and interest in these solutions is growing, particularly as contact center leaders question the efficacy of their traditional QM applications and practices. As soon as the vendors come up with more appealing and attractive pricing for their AQM solutions, this market is expected to take off.

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. 

Robotic Process Automation: It Is Here to Make the Change



By Ray Naeini

The impact of emerging technologies on our lives and our businesses cannot be ignored, dismissed, or avoided.

The replacement of plain old telephones (POTs) by smartphones, fax machines by emails, pagers by text messaging, and in-store shopping by online buying are all examples of the inevitable impact of technology on our lives and the way we do business. We should embrace these new technologies, not resist them. 

The latest wave of emerging technologies delivers intelligent automation solutions that play an important role in the implementation of a digital transformation strategy—a strategy embraced by businesses around the world in response to demands from today’s digitally oriented customers—as well as the need for productivity and optimization in managing businesses in a highly competitive and global environment.

The two most essential technologies that power intelligent automation solutions are artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA). AI and RPA are rapidly changing everything in our personal and business lives.

Many enterprises have employees manually performing repetitive tasks—such as order processing, customer profile updates, and claims processing—every day. As the volume of workloads increases, they must add more manual labor, which may not be cost-justifiable. 

Robotic process automation (RPA) can automate such repetitive tasks and empower companies to cost-effectively manage large or fluctuating workloads. RPA does not necessarily replace employees, but it can augment the work of each employee to be more productive in processing larger workloads.

Additionally, AI can empower RPAs to become intelligent process automation, analyzing and automating more complex tasks that require AI-based analysis of data to reach certain decisions. RPA solutions provide a variety of options in automating processes. 

Attended, Unattended, and Hybrid RPA 

RPA can automate repetitive tasks autonomously and without any human intervention, with human interaction, or using a combination of both.

Unattended RPA automates processes without human intervention. The workflow is created by a process manager and activated based on a schedule or triggered by an event. It usually runs on a server and in the background, independent of human involvement.

There are certain processes, however, that cannot be entirely automated. Hence the need for attended RPA, which automates certain segments of the process. Attended RPA interacts with humans at certain points of a process that require intervention by an employee. Attended RPA increases the productivity of employees and eliminates errors by automating certain portions of a workflow previously executed manually by employees. 

Last, both attended and unattended RPA can work together as a hybrid to maximize automation and productivity. 

Rule-Based or AI-Powered Analytics-Based

RPA’s process automation can be rule-based for evaluation of structured data used in the workflow, making decisions by applying rules to such structured data. For example, if the city of residence is in a structured field, rules can evaluate the city in that field and make decisions. 

Analytics-based RPA, powered by AI-driven analytics, is intelligent process automation. It can analyze unstructured data and discover actionable knowledge, intent, categories, named entities, or sentiment to make decisions.

PrePackaged or Customizable Process Automation 

Prepackaged RPA offers a plug-and-play solution for predefined process automation. An example is using automated and adaptive intelligent real-time routing to direct customer service calls to the most-optimized point of service. 

Another example is a desktop transaction automation, which is an attended RPA. It runs on an employee’s desktop and interacts with the employee to optimize his or her performance. Prepackaged RPAs do not allow changes to the workflow by users.

Customizable RPA, on the other hand, provides users with a no-code platform to map, create, and customize the workflow of their processes using drag-and-drop desktop tools without any need for software engineers. They can test or place into production custom workflows, activated based on user-defined schedules or triggered by an event. No-code platforms are popular due to their capability in customizing a variety of processes rapidly and without generating software codes.

Ray Naeini is the CEO of OnviSource.

Is the Future Our Friend or Foe?



Be Ready for Artificial Intelligence to Revolutionize Your Call Center

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter Lyle DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections Magazine

One of the spaces I inhabit is the call center industry. Another of my worlds is writing. These two areas intersect in this column. Another commonality is how technology, specifically artificial intelligence (AI), will affect both sectors.

Futurists in the writing community talk about how AI will arise as a disruptive force. Indeed, the disruption has already begun, with computer programs writing poetry, song lyrics, a screenplay, and even a novel. Much of the writing community isn’t aware of this emerging reality. Other writers deny that AI even exists and consider it a pipedream. Some see it as the end of writing as we know it and a threat to their livelihood. Last are those, like me, who see AI as a tool that will help us write more, write better, and write faster. Yes, writing as we know it today will change dramatically, but that change is something to embrace.

AI is also making inroads into the call center industry, and the reactions to AI in the call center space are much the same as in the writing world.

Blissfully Unaware

Many people in the call center industry aren’t aware of the burgeoning developments with AI and how it will dramatically change call centers and their provision of customer care. They view AI as the topic for sci-fi movies, scientific labs, and a far-off future reality—one that will occur long after they no longer care.

Instead, they focus on the day-to-day urgencies of hiring, training, and scheduling agents. They look at metrics such as first call resolution, speed of answer, and average call length. They consider the number of calls in queue, time in queue, and abandonment rate. And their world focuses on resolving customer complaints. There’s nothing wrong with these worthy pursuits, but it keeps them from considering tomorrow and embracing the future.

Deny It’s a Threat

Others acknowledge the existence of AI, but they don’t see how it could help call centers serve customers better. If anything, they assume AI will make customer service harder and therefore perpetuate the need for live agents. To them, AI is another call-center fad that will receive a lot of hype for a few years and then fade away. Their response is to maintain the status quo and pursue business as usual. 

Fearful Over the Future

Next, are the Luddites, those who oppose technology. Though some call centers embrace technology much more than others, every call center has some degree of tech in its infrastructure and operations. These people have formed a comfortable truce with the tools they use, and they don’t want any more of them. They have enough, and everything works fine, thank you very much. More tools, especially AI-powered solutions, makes them shudder. They fear that self-learning programs will take over the call center space and eliminate their jobs. 

AI will assist call center agents, helping them work more effectively and efficiently. Click To Tweet

Embrace It with Optimism

The final group looks at AI as an intriguing call-center solution. Yes, it will fundamentally change how call centers operate. And this transformation could happen much sooner than most people suspect. Yet instead of fearing uncertainty over the unknown, these forward-thinking futurists welcome AI as a smart solution to many of the challenges call centers to face.

Yes, in some cases, AI will replace jobs, just as answering machines, voicemail, automated attendants, and IVR have done in the past. In other cases, AI will assist call center agents, helping them work more effectively and efficiently. This will occur just as our existing tools have improved the results produced from our prior toolset. Then, now, and in the future, the customer benefits by realizing enhanced outcomes.

Thanks to AI, in the future you won’t need to hire as many people to staff your call center. And those you do hire will benefit by having AI to guide their work. These employees will find their call center job less dreary and more invigorating. The days of routinely shuffling through repetitive calls will end, replaced with variety in handling challenging calls that AI can’t address. This will provide the opportunity to excel in call-center work as never before.

AI isn’t coming. AI is here. What role will it play in your call center?

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.

Challenges and Opportunities: Contact Center and Artificial Intelligence



By Ross Sedgewick and Lisa Campbell

Within most contact centers, artificial intelligence (AI) adoption remains in an embryonic stage. As companies like Google compete to become AI-first, there is plenty to suggest this next leap in consumer engagement models will soon become inevitable. Yet contact center employees and the industry at large are apprehensive about the impact of AI on service levels and jobs through the deployment of new digital automation capabilities.

Current research shows that as many as one-third of all jobs could be lost to AI in the next decade, with frontline contact center work being among the most vulnerable. However, because of strong commercial gains and changes to customer engagement models, AI is poised to become far more mainstream in customer contact centers.

Current trends may see contact centers achieve at least one-third AI-based interactions by 2022. Click To Tweet

More companies are rolling out AI-driven software bots to reduce live agent costs while collapsing wait times. (In theory, there is no queueing time to reach a software bot agent). As with prior generations of automation, such as interactive voice response (IVR), automated software bots have proven to provide good results in structured, repeatable, and simple customer interactions.

The Challenges with AI in Contact Centers

AI has the power to transform consumer engagement. While there will always be a place for voice in the modern contact center, consumers are looking for a faster, more frictionless experience. AI, when deployed effectively, can deliver this.

Traditionally, a live agent’s voice is ideal in complex, escalated, or empathy-intensive scenarios, or when the customer is not embracing technology or internet tools. For example, if you are an insurer and define your brand by understanding customers and offering personalized service, any shift to AI—from a contact center perspective—needs careful management.

Similar risks apply with first-generation implementations of AI-driven customer service bots, which mollify the situation through statements of empathy and generalized responses without grasping and resolving the specific customer issues. Ultimately the customer must escape and talk to a real person. Doing a superficial job with AI dialog construction and machine learning is worse for customer relations than having a caller wait a few extra minutes to access a live agent.

The challenge here is that businesses need to ask themselves what they stand to lose if they don’t deploy new AI technologies well, or if they effectively give up the human touch in favor of AI. Contact center managers and technology providers should also consider how to spur the seamless exchange between virtual agents and live agents to manage the fallout of unsuccessful digital conversations. With this inevitability, the need to deliver an omnichannel solution that can shift between the virtual and living agent becomes apparent, and the customer experience flows smoothly as a result.

Innovation Opportunities with AI in Contact Centers 

AI and software bots have the potential to bring many interesting and innovative opportunities to the contact center. Here are some sample scenarios to envision:

  • Rather than relying on agent skills, knowledge, and experience alone, an AI-driven bot can virtually listen to the customer interaction and silently guide the agent toward a resolution—including questioning and dialog prompts. This allows less experienced agents to do a better job while consuming less off-line dedicated training time.
  • How many times have you struggled to clearly hear what a contact center agent is saying due to ambient noise? Annoying and disruptive background noises on both the customer and agent sides can be isolated and filtered out in real time by AI, allowing for a better customer and agent experience overall, as well as faster resolutions.
  • Call recording is now commonplace. AI can enable real-time transcriptions of calls that are later searchable and more easily processed by analytics and reporting engines for business insights, as well as audited for legal compliance. These transcriptions can also be used to gather intelligence for future use to feed into AI dialog coaching and machine learning in terms of issue identification, effective questioning, and prompts.
  • AI enables customer service software bots to be self-aware, such that a graceful handoff to a human agent can occur as needed for resolution—sometimes without the knowledge of the customer, as in the case of email, web, or text chat. This allows a more natural dialog leading to categorization and routing, as opposed to “press one for service” or selecting topics from preset drop-down menus.
  • The value of agent retention and reduced employee turnover correlates with effective contact center operations and customer satisfaction. By introducing AI, highly valued live human agents can be more engaged and more challenged by novel, complex, and interesting customer situations, as opposed to repeatedly processing routine and predictable customer inquiries or requests that AI and software bots can now handle. 

AI’s Future in Contact Centers

In the near-to-medium horizon, increased adoption of AI in customer interactions is inevitable. Current trends may see contact centers achieve at least one-third AI-based interactions by 2022, yet with a transformation component that will see the live agent role shift from prescriptive and transactional activities to managing deeper customer journey activities in tandem with AI.

Knowing when to use AI will remain an iterative process that must be managed by the right individuals within an organization. Given studies where AI is currently outperforming doctors and lawyers, contact centers need to determine how AI and agents can work in harmony to manage all customers’ situations across all communication media in effective and efficient ways.

Ross Sedgewick fulfills several expert marketing roles in technologies for the digital workplace, team collaboration/customer contact solutions, and virtual team engagement. He currently handles content creation, messaging, and insight development relating to the digital workplace at Atos’ unified communications and collaboration division (formerly Unify).

LisaCampbell fulfills several positioning, messaging, and value propositions functions for Atos’ customer engagement solutions and orchestrated communication services as well as global vision, strategy, and statements of direction for the full portfolio. Lisa is passionate about communication technology and its ability to amplify individual and organization outcomes.

How to Write an Outbound Telemarketing Script



By Julie Kramme

So, you’ve decided to use outbound calling as part of your sales and marketing strategy. You’ve acquired a list of prospects to call, and you know what you want the outcome of those calls to be. Now you need to develop a message for your telemarketing staff to effectively convey on your behalf. You need a telemarketing script. But what does that look like?

What Should a Telemarketing Script Include?

For some call center agents, a traditional script that tells your agent what you want to say and how you want them to say it works well—especially for those who are new and still building confidence. The challenge with traditional scripting is that with time and repetition, message delivery can get a bit stale. How can we prevent this? Through training and motivation, of course! But that’s not the only way.

Carefully consider your wording to avoid sounding too rigid or too official early in the conversation. Click To Tweet

When to Consider Eliminating the Telemarketing Script

The key to ensuring long-term effectiveness of your outbound telemarketing script may be to eliminate the script. Instead of writing paragraphs for agents to read, consider developing an outline or road map that provides directional conversation and key talking points to assist the agent in accomplishing their objective. Doing so allows the agent to insert their personality, use their own words, and build credibility with the prospect.

Using talking points works particularly well with lead generation, sales, and recruitment calls. But in other scenarios, such as market research and survey calls, where it’s important to eliminate personal opinions or bias, a traditional script may be necessary. So be open to both methods. Regardless of which approach you take, include the following components to ensure long-term effectiveness of your outbound telemarketing script.

Eight Components of an Outbound Telemarketing Script

1. Introduction: When making an outbound call, getting your “foot in the door” can be the biggest hurdle. Utilizing an effective call introduction is key. Keep it short: Who are you? Why are you calling? Why should the prospect listen?

2. Transition Statements: Be mindful of your prospect’s time, and be aware that your call interrupted their day. Use transition statements to set expectations and to maintain call control while moving from one phase of the conversation to the next.

3. Discovery: Learning about your prospect’s needs is the key to winning their business. Take a minute to ask them a few simple questions about what they’re doing today, what they like about it, and what they don’t. Use a combination of open- and close-ended questions to ensure qualification and get your prospect talking so you can build rapport.

4. Presentation: When presenting an offer, keep it concise. Clearly outline the key details of your proposal, and don’t forget to apply what you learned during the discovery phase of the conversation. Always tie your prospect’s needs back to a feature that provides benefit to them. Verbalizing these value statements is the key to generating interest and buy-in.

5. Assumptive Close: Be confident in your offering. If you’re setting an appointment, go ahead and ask what time of day works best for your prospect. If you’re selling a paid service, ask what method of payment they’d like to use to complete their order today. Until the prospect gives you a reason to believe they’re not interested, always assume a positive outcome.

6. Confirmation/Recap: Take a moment to confirm your prospect’s contact info and ensure they understand their level of commitment, along with any actions they must take. Then set expectations for the next steps. For example, when setting an appointment, let your prospect know that they’ll be getting an email confirmation, and schedule appointments within reasonable time frames to ensure follow through.

7. FAQs/Rebuttals: This is the most important component of any telemarketing script. Answering questions and overcoming objections is often the most difficult step for any telemarketing agent to master. Always remember that knowledge is power. Arm your team with the necessary tools to complete their objective successfully. Anticipate common questions and objections, providing talking points to help agents over these hurdles.

8. Compliance: Always make sure your telemarketing script includes any language that is a legal requirement, such as disclosing that you’re calling on a recorded line. Make this verbiage stand out so that it’s not easily overlooked. Also, carefully consider your wording to avoid sounding too rigid or too official early in the conversation, as this can make prospects wary about the call.

Listening Skills and a Positive Attitude Make the Difference

Two additional components are vital to the long-term effectiveness of your telemarketing script: a listening ear and a positive attitude. An agent’s ability to listen to their prospect and stay upbeat has more impact on the long-term success of your program than any scripted component. In a job full of repetition and rejection, this is a challenge. 

Work with other leaders on your team to apply this information. These telemarketing script components, when combined with effective training, motivational leadership, and responsible quality assurance practices, are sure to make your program a success, now and in the future.

Julie Kramme leads the sales team as sales executive for Quality Contact Solutions. Julie has a record for building strong and lasting partnerships with each client she works with. With more than twenty years of call center and telemarketing industry experience, Julie is an expert in call center operations, regulatory compliance, and technology. She assists each client with creating customized solutions to meet their growth and customer engagement goals. Julie’s primary passion is achieving goals without sacrificing quality.

Five Call Center Improvements Patients Say Would Improve Healthcare Experiences



By Allison Hart

From clinical process enhancements to facility improvements, there are many ways to drive better healthcare experiences for patients. One key area is call center optimization. More than one in three healthcare providers say their organization is updating their contact center or has plans to do so in the near future. Making call center upgrades doesn’t have to be difficult to have an impact. Healthcare teams just need to know what patients want and expect when they call.

Are patients frustrated by having to wait on hold? Are they satisfied with the interactions they have with call center agents? West surveyed 1,036 adults and healthcare providers in the United States to find out and identify ways healthcare organizations can provide better experiences for patients calling contact centers.

Survey responses confirmed that patients want calls resolved quickly and easily with minimal transfers and holds. Many will use self-service features, but they expect live agent availability to answer questions and make recommendations based on their individual medical data and needs. 

The following recommendations—which are driven by this survey data—show five call center improvements patients want healthcare organizations to prioritize.

Ideally, organizations will have their contact center technology connected to electronic health records, their patient web portal, and other systems that house patient information. Click To Tweet

1. Eliminate Extra Steps During Calls

Patients are frustrated by how often their calls are redirected. Callers want to reach a resolution in the fewest possible steps, but they’re often transferred multiple times and asked to restate information to several people during a single call. According to providers, more than one-third (35 percent) of patient calls are redirected at least once.

To create a better experience for callers, healthcare teams can make call center improvements that enable them to route calls to the correct place on the first try. For example, hospitals and health systems can adopt intelligent call routing software with speech recognition features so callers can specify what they need and who they want to speak with. Healthcare organizations can also interconnect their phone systems so calls can be transferred anywhere within their organization. This saves staff from having to ask patients to hang up and dial a different number to reach a different department.

2. Create a Single Point of Contact

Some patients struggle even before they pick up the phone because they don’t know which number to call or who they need to speak with. Dialing the wrong number can lead to confusion and frustration for both patients and staff, as well as making calls last longer than necessary. Nearly three in five of those surveyed (59 percent) say they have trouble understanding which phone number to use to contact their healthcare provider. More troubling is the fact that 28 percent of patients have called their healthcare team and been unable to reach the correct person or department.

Eight in ten Americans (80 percent) want to be able to call a single person dedicated to their health. Hospitals and health systems can give callers a better experience by upgrading to a centralized phone system and routing all calls through one main line. Doing this relieves patients from navigating complex call structures. It gives them one clear point of entry with one phone number they can call to reach anyone within an organization—whether they know who they are looking for or not.

3. Minimize On-Hold Time

Americans don’t like waiting on hold, and many patients feel they do too much of it when they call healthcare organizations. Fifty-three percent of patients report having been put on hold for a long period of time or without a callback option. Providers may be underestimating how much patients are bothered by having to wait and how much time patients spend on hold. Only 29 percent of healthcare providers think patients who call their office are put on hold for an excessive amount of time, confirming a disconnect between what patients and providers deem as an acceptable wait time.

To ensure that patients feel their time is valued, healthcare organizations can take steps to reduce the amount of time patients spend on hold. For example, hospitals and health systems can give patients the option of receiving a callback so they spend less time waiting on the phone. This shows that providers respect patients’ time, and it lets patients choose whether they want to wait to speak with a healthcare professional.

4. Equip Staff with Patient Medical Information

Patients want to feel known by their healthcare team. They want staff members to have knowledge of their health history and be able to answer questions and make recommendations. Unfortunately, 63 percent of patients say the person they reach when they call their provider doesn’t have access to their medical information and therefore can’t provide personalized recommendations. In addition, nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of callers say they haven’t been able to get their questions answered during calls.

To ensure that patients get the help they need, healthcare organizations can make sure technology gives staff quick access to patient data. This will help them better support callers with tailored information. It also will reassure patients that their medical team understands them on an individual basis. Ideally, organizations will have their contact center technology connected to electronic health records, their patient web portal, and other systems that house patient information.

5. Offer Smart Self-Service Opportunities

Patients recognize that sometimes the simplest route to a resolution is through self-service. So, it’s not surprising that nearly six in ten patients (58 percent) say they want healthcare providers to offer self-serve options to complete actions such as paying bills and scheduling appointments. To get the most out of self-service technology, healthcare teams should make sure their system is configured to recognize when inbound calls are coming from phone numbers that have recently received automated outreach messages.

For example, if a provider sends an automated message to a patient with an invitation to schedule a preventive service or screening and the patient calls into the organization, the system should recognize the number and predict the caller’s intention. In this case, the system would ask the patient if he or she is calling to schedule an appointment and then walk the patient through the self-service scheduling process. By using smart technology and giving patients opportunities to resolve calls on their own, organizations can give callers better experiences.

Conclusion

Healthcare organizations put a lot of time and resources into designing top-notch patient experiences. It makes sense to have call center optimization be part of those efforts. By following these suggestions, healthcare teams can deliver on expectations and create better experiences for callers.

Allison Hart is an advocate for utilizing technology-enabled communications to engage and activate patients beyond the clinical setting. She leads thought leadership efforts for West’s TeleVox Solutions, promoting the idea that engaging with patients between healthcare appointments in meaningful ways will encourage and inspire them to follow and embrace treatment plans, and that activating these positive behaviors ultimately leads to better outcomes for both healthcare organizations and patients. Hart currently serves as vice president of marketing at West, where the healthcare mission is to help organizations harness communications to expand the boundaries of where, when, and how healthcare is delivered.

Combatting the Top Reasons for Agent Churn

By Jeff Gallino



Agent churn is one of the most challenging issues for call centers throughout every industry. According to research conducted by the Quality Assurance & Training Connection (QATC), the average annual turnover rate for contact center agents is between 30 to 45 percent, more than double the average for other occupations. In major population centers, it is not unusual for attrition to exceed 100 percent and sometimes even 200 percent. 

With agents being a crucial contact point in the customer journey, this problem has the power to seriously affect a brand’s reputation and bottom line, as seasoned agents with experience and skill under their belt are rare. It’s an expensive problem to have, too, with the average expense for onboarding a new agent costing an organization thousands of dollars.

Agent churn may be one of the most challenging issues for today’s call centers, but there’s no mystery behind why employees are leaving. Click To Tweet

We need a proactive approach in a few key areas for supervisors to churn-proof their call centers. Through understanding the top reasons why many agents decide to leave, leaders can fix turnover triggers and create a place that supports the most valuable customer experience possible.

A Lack of Objective Evaluation and Positive Recognition

As a call center manager, one of the most important aspects of the role is to provide fair, consistent evaluations and objective feedback to agents. However, agents often only receive feedback when its negative, it’s usually delayed, and sometimes it’s subjective rather than objective due to being based on only a fraction of calls. This can create animosity and confusion between managers and agents, driving feelings of unfair treatment or unappreciation on the agent’s side and often clouding the path to performance improvements.

There’s a world of value in providing real-time, objective, data-driven feedback. Recognition goes a long way as well. With speech analytics, call centers can analyze every phone call, painting a much more accurate picture of an agent’s performance versus only analyzing 5 percent of their calls. And with automated scorecards, agents receive an objective score based on criteria established by team leaders as soon as the call is complete—or even during a call— making feedback timely, fair, and objective.

This timely and relevant feedback allows agents to reflect on their performance immediately and work to improve their next call, giving employees the power to self-coach and determine for themselves where they need to seek additional learning. These scorecards also make it possible for managers to recognize agents for successful engagements and positively reinforce good work, commitment, and motivation.

Tools Don’t Help Agents Succeed, but They Do Cause Stress 

A call agent handles between forty and fifty calls per day on average—managing hundreds of problems, concerns, and situations during a given week. And that’s why so many call centers are turning to tech to help their agents sift through information and help each customer as quickly and efficiently as possible.

But according to Gartner, 84 percent of agents say that their company’s legacy tools are not helpful to them in resolving customer queries. In fact, when they have the customer on the line, agents must navigate an average of 8.2 applications to get answers and resolve problems.

Companies should upgrade to tech that is designed to make both the customer’s and the agent’s lives easier. Technology should help agents capture conversational topics and integrate with other systems and tools to allow them to quickly identify repeat contacts and be best prepared to address issues. 

Since call centers also tend to utilize several databases to manage customer information (sales software, CRM, a knowledge center, and so forth), this slows down an agent’s ability to help customers while searching for answers. Managers can simplify their agents’ work by investing in tools that work across databases and feed relevant information and valuable insights into one manageable dashboard.

Repetitive, Mundane Tasks Make Agents Feel Bored and Replaceable

High levels of monotony lead to agent turnover, which is why call centers should strive to empower agents with meaningful decisions and tasks. Automating the tedious jobs that take up much of an agent’s day can free them up to focus on more fulfilling work.

According to Forrester, by reducing routine calls, data entry, report preparation, transaction details, system navigation, logs, and documentation, agents can focus on tasks that deliver personalized experiences for customers. Through implementing AI-powered speech analytics, agents can move away from those monotonous tasks and focus on duties that drive growth and fulfillment. These include creative problem solving for unique situations, showing personality and empathy, becoming better product experts, and focusing on weak spots for a potential promotion or advancement.

Agent churn may be one of the most challenging issues for today’s call centers, but there’s no mystery behind why employees are leaving. Through understanding the top reasons for turnover, call center managers can adjust their strategy to accommodate the needs of agents while creating an environment that they want to be part of. It’s important to remember that feedback is meaningful when it’s given correctly, the right tools go a long way, and fulfillment is an important factor to any human’s happiness, even at work.

Jeff Gallino is the CTO and founder of CallMiner.