Tag Archives: Customer Service 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.

Vendor Profile – Startel


Startel, Professional Teledata, Alston Tascom

The Unification: Startel, Professional Teledata, and Alston Tascom

It was only two years ago when three companies with long, rich histories in the evolution of software for telephone answering services were united. Startel and Alston Tascom’s resumes go back to 1980, while Professional Teledata started in 1983.

Since the merger in September 2017, Startel, Professional Teledata (PTD), and Alston Tascom (Tascom) have expanded their product offerings and expertise. Here’s a look at some of their latest innovations.

Secure Messaging Gateway Powered by Startel

As messaging technology has grown and evolved, healthcare organizations have been presented with many secure messaging applications from a wide variety of providers. In some cases, a single organization may have multiple platforms used in various departments and locations.

The secure messaging gateway, powered by Startel, allows users to send and receive electronic protected healthcare information, or ePHI, to the most popular messaging providers—OnPage, TigerConnect, DocbookMD, Twistle, Mediprocity, DocHalo, pMD, HipLink, Telnyx, Imprivata, TelmedIQfrom one HIPAA-compliant application.

Startel's Secure Messaging Plus allows users to send and receive electronic protected healthcare information, or ePHI, to the most popular messaging providers. Click To Tweet

Secure Messaging Plus 

In today’s mobile and fast-paced world, the use of secure messaging applications has become the preferred channel of communication among business and institutional professionals as well as technicians in the field. It’s quicker, more efficient, and less invasive than a phone call. Because of that, Startel offers Secure Messaging Plus.

Accessible from the web or an application downloaded to one’s smartphone or tablet, Secure Messaging Plus (SM+) offers a secure, HIPAA-compliant way to safely exchange sensitive information via text. Users experience all the benefits of texting, but in a secure manner and environment. With Secure Messaging Plus, users can:

  • Maintain compliance: Stay HIPAA, GLBA, and SOX-compliant with messages and attachments that are encrypted in transit and at rest on devices using SM+ as well as on the servers which house the content prior to expiration. Startel also undergoes an extensive annual HIPAA audit to ensure it has met or exceeded compliance standards.
  • Control message expiration: Set messages to expire at a predetermined time or when marked as read or filed. Messages that do not have a defined expiration will expire within the originating subscriber’s default number of days, not to exceed thirty. This feature offers users an additional layer of security.
  • Send attachments: Securely send and receive attachments such as voice recordings, audio, and image attachments for better collaboration with colleagues. This is a key feature for physicians and staff to consult on patient files.
  • Track message status: Subscribers can know when a message from their device has been sent, viewed, read, and filed. Using SM+ in conjunction with the Startel CMC, messages and their content are fully tracked, archived, and encrypted. Administrative personnel can generate real-time reports based on several criteria, including duration of time and subscriber use.
  • Forwarding of messages: Prior to sending a message, users can indicate which messages can be forwarded. Administrators can also enable certain accounts to not allow message forwarding.
  • Group response and messaging. When replying to a group message, users can choose to reply directly, either only to the sender or to the entire group.

Flex Agent Interface 

Startel took their agent interface to the next level with Flex AI (FAI). This new design allows agents to process calls easily and quickly by allowing them to move vital information where they need it. Designed with dockable windows, FAI allows agents to take full advantage of large and multiple monitors. 

Startel recognizes the continued need for simplicity and efficiency within their community. Classic AI will still be available in future CMC versions to support the needs of those call centers who choose not to transition to FAI.

SS 2.0 Deployment

The Startel softswitch routes calls based on skill level, queue priority, and user-defined scenarios. In addition, it also provides real-time status of contact center activity via the Startel dashboard. The softswitch resides on a Linux server and uses software to route calls, eliminating the hardware needed in legacy switches and creating a more reliable platform with fewer points of failure. The softswitch includes Startel’s embedded voicemail and voice logger solutions, eliminating the need for separate servers and expensive cards for integration.

In Startel Softswitch 2.0, a new call return feature allows callers to opt out of a queue and request a callback when an agent is available. Upon the request, a call is generated to wait in queue. When the agent answers, the agent is asked if they will accept the callback call. If accepted, the agent is connected to an outdial attempt to the number left by the caller. If the agent does not accept, the call goes to another agent.

The Startel softswitch is more reliable, because it uses servers with redundant drives and power supplies, and there are fewer points of failure. A second softswitch server provides redundancy and disaster recovery for the switch, voicemail, and voice logger, and it can even deploy at a second location, giving additional options to enhance business continuity.

The dashboard gives an organization a real-time view of traffic and SLAs via a PC on the network, a remote PC, a smartphone, a tablet or even a large flat-screen TV mounted in the contact center.

Organizations now capture more accounts by offering services that their competition cannot. The Startel softswitch uses open architecture software protocols, which enables companies to develop integrations into third-party software.

Secure web access to voicemail, voice logger, and system dial plan provides easy access for programming and enables remote diagnostics, soft fixes, and software uploads.

The Startel softswitch is a native SIP platform, enabling the integration of SIP-trunking and utilizing the latest VoIP protocols while also allowing the use of analog, T-1, and PRI circuits as well.

TBS Payment Portal

ThePaymentPortal.com is a hosted, online, secure e-commerce site where a company’s accounts can access statements, view invoices, and pay bills at their convenience. It is an optional feature for Professional Teledata’s accounts receivable billing system, Total Billing Solution 3 (TBS3). The system requirements to run ThePaymentPortal.com are:

• Total Billing Solution version 3.1

• Advantage Database Server version 11.1

• An updated TBS3 license, one for each database

• A USAePay account for each TBS3 database to collect payments online

The Customer Spot 

The Customer Spot (TCS) is the self-service customer portal where Startel, Professional Teledata, and Alston Tascom users can create new cases, track existing cases, access the knowledge base for relevant company and product resources, and stay up to date with company news and announcements

Custom Branded Resource 

Need some marketing materials to help grow your brand? Startel has created a variety of marketing materials that they will brand for customers to grow their contact center, call center, or telephone answering service. This is possible because Startel knows they are not just a vendor to their customers—they are a valued partner. Startel recognizes that their customer’s success is tantamount to their own success.

What’s Next? 

Startel

Stay tuned for Project Nova and more exciting innovations from Startel.

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.]

Five Realities of Contact Center Customer Service Reps



By Kim Houlne

There’s nothing like real-world experience to put on-demand customer service in proper perspective. To gain more insight, Working Solutions recently surveyed several thousand of its remote contact center agents across the United States and Canada. Their responses and experience offer insight into the realities of frontline service today. 

While a number of these workers came from brick-and-mortar call centers, many also moved into virtual customer service from a wide variety of corporate and commercial jobs. Click To Tweet

1. Agent Age

The survey results show that more than half of the respondents (57 percent) were ages thirty-four to fifty-four, with an additional 18 percent reporting between fifty-five and sixty-four. Fewer than one in five was under thirty-four, with a mere 3 percent under the age of twenty-five. 

More than half of the respondents were college graduates with practical work experience.

For instance, Jennifer, an on-demand agent in North Carolina, works on a client program that provides learning-enhancement instruction from pre-K to high school. She has a degree in finance and once worked as a director of a preschool. On one occasion, she received a call from a mother in New York City with a son in preschool who was desperate to help him read. Drawing from her background, Jennifer was able to help the woman find an appropriate educational program.

2. Agent Experience

Respondents most often reported sixteen years or more of experience in customer service delivery (37 percent). An additional 26 percent reported six to ten years of experience, with 15 percent having been in the business for eleven to fifteen years. (The rest had less than five years of customer service experience.) Clearly, more experienced agents are migrating to the virtual world to work. 

Sophisticated customers expect this level of experience. In today’s connected world of ready search and online purchasing, consumers can access lots of information and buying options that don’t require customer support. On-demand agents most often come into play when situations become too difficult for self-service solutions. At that point, buyers need the help of a more mature, well-versed agent to navigate the complexities.

Another example: Kathleen began working from home in the late 1990s after several years as a customer service representative in the offices of Continental Airlines and DuPont. Afflicted with polio as a child, Kathleen now deals with later complications that make remote work a much more practical option. She serves on a client program for a corporate travel booking site. Once Kathleen received a call from a businesswoman at 11:00 p.m. who was in Paris and needed a flight early in the morning to return home to the United States. As Kathleen searched for a flight, the woman fell asleep. She could hear her snoring and kept holding—for thirty minutes. Eventually, Kathleen texted her the new flight reservation.

3. Agent Location

More than half of the agents reported they chose to work from home to take advantage of the flexible hours (57 percent). Another 14 percent said they preferred an entrepreneurial lifestyle that allowed them to manage their own resources and career paths. (The rest had other reasons.) 

While a number of these workers came from brick-and-mortar call centers, many also moved into virtual customer service from a wide variety of corporate and commercial jobs. This real-world experience makes these agents knowledgeable about the work and lives of the customers they serve.

Case in point: Barb managed her own travel agency for ten-plus years. She knew the business inside out. When her family needed more attention, Barb gave up running the brick-and-mortar business. Today, she’s a remote travel agent plying the trade and applying her well-honed skills as an on-demand call center agent. Plus, the entrepreneurial style enables her to balance family needs and work from home. 

4. Geographic Location 

After forsaking offshore call centers in recent years, many businesses now know onshore service providers provide more culturally attuned agents to their customers. The current hot spots for hiring remote workers are Atlanta; Miami; Dallas-Fort Worth; Chicago; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Orlando.

This widespread, home-shore availability of contact center workers is especially important when customers want to speak with someone from their own region. Recently, a client that makes products marketed to a specific Northeast US region requested agents from there, believing they would relate better with its customers. Having an onshore network of on-demand agents made this possible.

5. Requisite Skills

When asked to identify the most essential skill for successful customer service, almost half (44 percent) pointed to empathy and understanding as the most critical. Third among responses was problem-solving or conflict resolution (25 percent), topped only by knowledge of company products and services (31 percent). Clearly, among educated and experienced agents, connecting with the customer comes first.

For example, twenty years ago Teresa began her role as an on-demand customer service agent. She’ll tell you that the key to customer service is showing compassion and knowing you can make a difference. Today, Teresa works for a client that provides assisted-living services for seniors and others. One day a young woman called, distraught because her father was ill and unwilling to accept his limitations. Based on experiences with her own dad, Teresa felt empathy for the caller. Teresa shared what she’d learned with the woman, telling her to comfort him, remember the good times, and see this as an ongoing life process. With care and understanding, Teresa helped this caller better care for her father.

Final Thoughts

The realities of today’s customer care call for an experienced agent workforce to serve clients and their customers. Even as artificial intelligence (AI) self-service increases, intelligent agents will be needed to pick up where technology leaves off. Customer service that blends high tech and high touch will be required to serve and satisfy.

Kim Houlne is chief executive of Working Solutions, an on-demand contact center outsourcer.

Understanding the Importance of Decision Triggers in Selling to Your Prospects



By Jill J. Johnson

A key component of effective target marketing involves developing deep insight into how the decision-making process influences your prospects to make their purchasing choices. For organizations working with diverse customer needs, moving your prospects from “I’m interested” to “I’ll buy” is a complex process. What’s significant and how this will impact each of your prospects in their buying decisions can vary. These buying decisions may also impact how they view the value of buying additional services or other resources you offer.

Understanding how your target market makes decisions is fundamental to more effectively promoting your products and services. It’s essential for you to understand your prospect’s decision-making process and what triggers their buying decisions to move your sales more quickly to a “yes.” Insight into what triggers your prospects in their decision-making process allows you to adapt your messages to highlight the unique characteristics of concern to them. You want to adapt your sales approach to their needs rather than using a cookie-cutter approach. By tailoring your promotional strategies, you can enhance your opportunities to win the sale or deepen your relationship with your potential customer. You can use this insight to carefully craft your sales approach to meet their unique needs and concerns.

Your goal is to keep them engaged with you and moving forward toward completing the sale and joining your customer ranks Click To Tweet

Each Prospect Has Unique Decision Triggers

Knowing what will move your prospects forward in a sale is just as important as knowing what is holding them back from saying yes. Decision triggers can range from stress about the costs of your product or service and not understanding the value-add you offer to believing they need support for the decision from a trusted member of their leadership team. In your sales approach, you need to utilize probing questions to isolate how they will make their decision about investing in buying a product or service from you. You must also uncover and understand the motives of who else is involved in making the decision.

Do the work to understand what decision triggers are at play with your prospective customers and with the other key stakeholders they rely on for support. Knowing how to activate or neutralize these triggers will provide you with vital insight on how to adjust your sales-messaging tactics. Once you understand their decision triggers, you can determine what you should provide your prospect so they can move forward with their decision to buy from you. 

Navigate the Decision Continuum

As you move your prospective customers through their decision continuum, consider what your goals are each step of the way. If they reach out to you via your website or email, your goal is to get them to talk with you in person. If they ask you for information, determine what information they really need and what you can follow up with if the sale is going to take longer than one interaction. Your goal is to keep them engaged with you and moving forward toward completing the sale and joining your customer ranks, both now and long-term. 

Understanding how to navigate a prospect along their decision continuum requires you to probe carefully about what is important to them and their key stakeholders. In this process, you identify their critical decision triggers while gaining an understanding of how to incorporate this insight into your sales approach. 

All too often when a company or organization has been around a long time, the process of selling to prospects becomes stagnant. Use decision insight to make sure your messaging is fresh, unique, and clearly matched to the evolving needs of your prospect. It might be time to reassess and revise your messaging to ensure you’re hitting the hot buttons of your prospects and matching your approach to what they’re most concerned about. This approach will get them to buy and stay with you beyond the initial sale. 

Decision Triggers Drive Sales and Promotional Strategy

Listen carefully to the words your prospective customers use and how they describe their needs and concerns. This insight can help you shape your sales messaging back to them in ways that mirror their words. As you match your sales messaging to where they are on their decision continuum, you will have a better understanding of how to highlight key product or service features or benefits. This approach leverages the decision triggers to your target market to match what matters most to them. By specifically tailoring your messages to your prospect’s decision triggers, you can significantly increase the potential for achieving the sale. What you offer only matters if it matters to your prospective customers. 

Once you understand the decision triggers driving your sales prospects, you can tie it to the rest of your promotional strategy. You can incorporate your deep customer insight into all your collateral materials, advertising, public relations stories, video clips, website, and social media. These communications messages can reinforce how you want your prospective customers to respond to your sales messages. If there is a disconnect anywhere in the decision continuum, you’re at risk of not achieving the sales success you desire.

Final Thoughts

By incorporating insight about your prospective customer’s decision triggers, you can help your prospect gain confidence that your product or service will truly benefit them and make a difference in their life or business. They will have more confidence in buying from you because you will have tied your presentation to their concerns. 

As a result, your prospective customers receive reassurance that your products or services can and will effectively meet their needs. Using your prospect’s decision triggers will make your sales cycle more efficient. It will result in more sales, help you build superior customer relationships, and boost customer satisfaction when you deliver on what you promised. 

Jill J. Johnson is the president and founder of Johnson Consulting Services, an accomplished speaker, an award-winning management consultant, and author of the best-selling book Compounding Your Confidence. Jill helps her clients make critical business decisions and develop market-based strategic plans for turnarounds or growth. Her consulting work has impacted more than four billion dollars’ worth of decisions. She has a proven track record of dealing with complex business issues and getting results. For more information, visit www.jcs-usa.com.

The Ten Commandments of Creating Lifetime Customers



By Tra Williams 

Everyone has experienced this scenario at one time or another. What you thought was going to be a simple, everyday transaction for a product or service turned out to be an experience that earned your lifetime loyalty as a customer. Sadly, this doesn’t happen very often—which is exactly why it’s so surprising when it does happen.

Today’s consumer-driven environment focuses intently on instant availability, and for good reason. More than ever, customers want immediate access and lament any speed bumps between them and the conclusion of a transaction. Immediacy has become the golden calf of customer satisfaction. Customers continually worship the quickest solution with frequent patronage, but the results of that lust for instant gratification has come at a painful price. The line between optimization and true innovation has been blurred as the customer experience has been sacrificed on the altar of speed.

Escaping this cult of self-satisfaction, where “likes” pass for loyalty, requires you to rewrite the rules of comparison. Don’t allow the value of your product or service to be determined by an outside metric. Instead, change the game and redefine what the word value means to your customer.

Here are the ten commandments of value creation and earning a customer for life.

1. Reduce Technology

In today’s world of technology immersion, the human touch matters more than ever. Each escalation of technology reduces human interaction. Each reduction of human interaction is a missed opportunity to earn a lifetime customer who judges the value you provide by metrics that you define, not just speed. 

The time, money, and productivity lost on a hire who is inconsistent with a company’s culture is immeasurable. Click To Tweet

When someone takes the time to provide personal enhancements to an individual experience, that’s impressive. You can’t cut through white noise with more white noise. Remember, innovative technology is usually meant to optimize our lives. Therefore, you can purchase service optimization, but not service innovation. Real service innovation comes from the people within an organization, which brings us to commandment number two.

2. Focus on Frontline Staff

Your frontline staff who interact directly with your customers are the most important people in your organization, not the owner or the VP. It’s the frontline employee who is friendly and patient, smiles all the time, and remembers customers’ names and business needs. Ultimately that person will make or break a company. Make sure your culture emphasizes treating your frontline staff with the time and attention they deserve, and they will treat your customers the same way.

3. Pursue Real Relationships with Customers

Recognize that the relationship you have with your customers should not be transactional. Of course it’s important to look for opportunities to make the transaction simpler, easier, and more pleasant for the customer. But it’s also imperative that you add value to their lives in ways that are unrelated to the transaction. Look for ways to be a resource, not just a provider.

4. Develop a Customer-First Culture

Culture is binary. You’re either in or out. It starts with a slow and methodical hiring process. The time, money, and productivity lost on a hire who is inconsistent with a company’s culture is immeasurable. Take your time and hire the right people. Then focus on their development. They in turn will grow the business. Customer loyalty comes through people, not despite them.

5. Cultivate Reciprocity

We are hardwired to do more for those who do things for us. When it rains, Chick-fil-A’s employees wearing ponchos run to people’s cars when they pull in and hold an umbrella over them while they walk inside. And then they escort them back to their cars when they have finished their meal. It’s no wonder their average unit volume is three times the average of most QSRs while only being open six days a week. Cultivate reciprocity.

6. Eliminate Policies

“I’m sorry, ma’am; that’s just our policy.” In business, no one should ever utter those words. They reveal to your customer that your culture values adherence to arbitrary rules more than customer satisfaction. You should have only one policy, which is to do everything within your power to exceed your customers’ expectations.

7. Empower Your Team

If you’ve followed commandments two and four, this one should be easy. Every team member should feel empowered to do what is right in each specific situation. “Let me ask my manager” tells your customer that you don’t trust your employees’ discretion or decision making. And if you don’t trust the people you hire, why should your customers trust that they will have a consistently great experience?

8. Celebrate Everything

Everybody loves a winner, and nobody wants to be on the losing team. Customers want to feel like the money they spend is making the world a better place. Publicly celebrate your wins, your anniversaries, your employee accomplishments (both in and out of work), your growth, your community engagement, your awards, and your achievements. Did one of your employees just get her master’s? Have a baby? Compete in a triathlon? Celebrate it. This commandment has the added advantage of developing both employee and customer loyalty. 

9. Raise the Stakes

Service innovation inherently means that you challenge the assumptions of traditional expectations. On the flip side of this coin is the realization that doing something new is also a new opportunity to fail. Fortunately, studies show that customers value your effort nearly as much as the result. As such, they are incredibly forgiving of failure, providing you made every effort to succeed. So challenge your team and yourself. Raise the stakes. Go big. Consistent yet average is still unimpressive.

10. Have a Mission

People aren’t motivated by what; they’re motivated by why. If your goal is to make tons of money and eventually go public, you’ve missed the point. Where you spend your money is a major part of your identity. Customers align themselves with organizations that mirror who they are, or at least who they’d like to be. Therefore, the motives that drive your organization also drive your customers’ loyalty. Without a mission, you and your customer have no why.

Conclusion

Embrace these commandments. Carve them in stone and bring them down from the mountain. When you arrive, if you find your team obsessed with the golden calf of immediacy, tell them this: In today’s world of instant gratification, do not worship speed. When speed becomes the only metric by which you judge service, true service becomes irrelevant. Instead of conjuring up new ways to complete a transaction faster, make the experience so amazing that the customer will never want it to end. 

Tra Williams is a speaker, business consultant, and author of the forthcoming book Feed Your Unicorn. He is a nationally recognized thought leader in small business, franchising, leadership, and entrepreneurship. Tra works with people, professionals, and organizations to help them define success on their own terms and build the framework to sustain it. For more information, visit www.TraWilliams.com.

How to Enhance the Customer Experience



Pursue Big-Picture Solutions, Not Incremental Improvements

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-customer experience

There’s a lot of talk about customer experience and ways to enhance it. Though this is the right outcome, too often the approach to get there is shortsighted. Making incremental changes to improve one metric may help a bit, but how many metrics must you improve and by how much for the customer to realize an enhanced experience? And how much stress will your frontline staff endure to get there?

Instead of focusing on the minutia of data that call center systems are so good at producing, take a step back and address big-picture issues. These will have the greatest impact on improving customer experience. And the side effect of these changes will make it easier, not harder, for your staff to do their job with excellence.

Integrate Isolated Repositories of Information

How many places do you store customer data and the information your staff needs to serve callers? How easy is it for agents to get all relevant information displayed on a single monitor—or even two?

Ideally you want everything in one place, in a unified database. However, sometimes this isn’t feasible. In those instances, it’s critical to be able to seamlessly move from one to the other. Consider how often customer service representatives give wrong information simply because they aren’t looking in the right place.

Integrating or interconnecting databases for seamless customer experience is something for vendors to accomplish; it’s too complex for end-users to solve. However, investigate whether your implementation of your vendor’s solutions hampers your team from fully using the tools you already have. Sometimes the solution is there, but you can’t tap into its power because of how you deployed it.

When agents can’t serve customers to the best of their ability and keep those customers happy, you end up losing those customers’ business. Click To Tweet

Remove Internal Silos of Control

Many companies operate as a group of disengaged fiefdoms. This occurs in departments such as operations, marketing, sales, accounting, tech support, and so forth. When management measures each department head for that unit’s individual performance, disconnected from the company’s overall objectives, the result is managers doing what is in the best interest of themselves, their job, and their staff. Customer needs and the overall good of the company comes in second. 

To correct this, deemphasize—but don’t eliminate—individual department objectives and performance incentives. Instead elevate company-wide results and the way in which each department plays a role to achieve those objectives. 

For example, companies are in business to make money, regardless of what their corporate vision and mission statement affirm. Look at how each department contributes to this, either directly or indirectly. It comes down to two activities: how much money they spend and what they do to drive revenue. It’s true that there are secondary metrics, often unique to each unit, that affect this. But to remove internal silos of control in your company, downplay the importance of the specific measurements and instead look at overall company metrics.

Empower Agents So They Can Best Serve Customers

Everyone knows to empower frontline people. However, this is easier to say than to do. It’s hard to let entry-level employees make decisions that cost money. Yet prohibiting them from doing so has an even worse result: it costs customers.

When agents can’t serve customers to the best of their ability and keep those customers happy, you end up losing those customers’ business, both now and in the future. Yes, sometimes empowered agents go overboard and make ill-advised decisions. Although undesirable, wouldn’t it be better for them to do that than being prohibited from doing what’s right for the customer, thus losing those customers?

Integrate Communications Channels

With omnichannel, the goal is to provide contact options for customers. Again, this requires sophisticated technology from vendors. Yet as end-users of contact center platforms, make sure that your implementation of the technology doesn’t interfere with your ability to use it to its fullest and enjoy integrated communications channels.

Final Thoughts

These are big-picture considerations. You won’t solve them quickly or easily, but you must pursue them if you want to provide the customer experience that callers expect—a customer experience that will retain them as your customers and not your competitors’.

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.

Why Telephone Triage Nurses Are a Perfect Complement to Telemedicine



By Charu Raheja, PhD

Telehealth model

Telemedicine has been a medical buzzword for several years, and the variety and depth of services provided have grown dramatically during this time. There is little argume

nt that telemedicine is a great way to supplement traditional medical practices.

The advantages are clear: more convenient care for patients, more doctor availability, less driving time, and less waiting-room time. But like any new evolving field, there is still a learning curve and a need for developing a process that makes telemedicine viable and profitable and doesn’t require doctors to work 24/7 to meet patients’ requests.

One of the biggest hurdles for doctors is that their time with patients is limited. In a traditional office setting, nurses start the patient visit. Nurses take vitals, talk to patients, and evaluate their needs before a doctor walks in the room. The same type of process needs to be designed for telephone medicine, with the difference being that the nurse will do her job over telemedicine, just like the doctor.

Some practices have the nurses in their office taking patient calls and scheduling visits with a doctor. When managing these calls, the nurse needs to perform two tasks. First, the nurse must evaluate whether the patient actually needs the doctor or whether the nurse can help the patient over the phone with home care advice. Second, the nurse must document patient symptom information before making an appointment for the patient to speak with a doctor.

This is where having a good platform to document patient calls and ensure standard protocols comes in. This can ensure patient safety and help make the process efficient. Medical protocols—such as Dr. Schmitt and Dr. Thompson’s protocols—ensure a standard care process every time a nurse takes a call. These protocols are also available electronically, making them easier to use than textbooks. Electronic protocols can also allow the care advice to be documented directly on the patient chart for review by the physician during the telehealth visit.

However, not all doctors offering telehealth services have nurses available to answer patient calls when they first come in. An alternative for these doctors is hiring a telephone nurse triage service. This can serve as an extension of the office by providing patients with a trained nurse to evaluate patient symptoms and determine what actions to take.

Telephone nurse triage allows a practice’s telemedicine program to work seamlessly, whether the office is open or closed. Click To Tweet

What sets a high-quality telephone nurse triage service apart is the ability for the physician to have custom orders and preferences built into the system so the nurses can act as a true extension of the physician. A high-quality nurse triage service is also able to schedule patient appointments when necessary.

Providing patients with access to triage nurses can also be helpful for those doctors who don’t have the ability to provide telehealth services 24/7. If given the appropriate instructions, triage nurses are typically able to resolve over 50 percent of callers’ issues without the need of a doctor.

From a survey of over 35,000 patient phone calls, in over 50 percent of the cases, the nurses were able to resolve the caller’s medical symptoms by giving them home care advice. These nurses were also able to determine which callers required a physical visit to an urgent care or an ER in an event of an emergency (such as symptoms of a potential heart attack).

Telephone nurse triage allows a practice’s telemedicine program to work seamlessly, whether the office is open or closed. Setting up a nurse triage system where nurses use standardized protocols to answer patient questions increases the productivity and profits for a doctor’s practice.

When nurses use triage protocols, physicians can have confidence that they are asking the right questions and not missing anything. The basic patient information, the protocols used, and the nurse notes can also be used as a quick reference for the physician prior to the telehealth visit—similar to the notes doctors receive when their nurses first see a patient during a physical office visit.

Charu Raheja, PhD, is the CEO of TriageLogic a leading provider of quality, affordable triage solutions, including comprehensive after-hours medical call center software, daytime triage protocol software, and nurse triage on call. Customers include both institutional and private practices. If your hospital or practice is looking for information on setting up a nurse triage service, contact TriageLogic to get a quote or set up a demo.

Channel Surf to Enhance Your Customer’s Journey



Call Centers That Switch between Multiple Channels Enhance Customer Experiences

By Steve Newell

Changing trends to the contact center arena is a response to changes in consumer behavior and not solely the result of changing business strategies. Today’s customers are increasingly savvier about using various digital channels for their day-to-day communication.

Consider the following everyday scenarios where people use multiple channels to communicate:

  • Dad calls his son on his cell. It rings and goes to voicemail. He sends a quick text and gets a reply text immediately.
  • Mom WhatsApps her daughter on vacation overseas. The daughter responds to Mom and then initiates a FaceTime session, both successfully navigating around long-distance tariffs.
  • Dad texts Mom about weekend plans, and they go back and forth discussing various options, sending web pages, and reading reviews. Finally, Dad simply calls Mom to finalize plans.

In each case, these individuals are seamlessly surfing between communication channels, even within the same engagement. So why is it that analysts have determined contact center traffic is still 80 percent voice and email, while only 20 percent of traffic flows through all the other channels (social media, video, chat, Facebook Messenger, etc.) combined?

Surely customers are able and eager to move beyond simply voice and email. Call centers and agents that are able to surf multiple channels alongside their customers and offer “one call, one agent” resolution will truly enhance their customers’ journeys.

Why Do I Need to Provide and Staff Multiple Channels?

Let’s look at those three common scenarios more closely to see how offering many different channels can empower your customers and enhance their experience with your team.

Contact centers will need the ability to cover all the main communication channels because conversations will increasingly move from one channel to another as the engagement deepens Click To Tweet

Chat

When Dad calls his son, the son doesn’t answer, but when Dad texts him, he texts right back. The son is saying, “I don’t want to talk. I want to control this conversation.” As exasperating as that might be for Dad, it’s important to realize that the son is going to comprise the bulk of your customers in the future, and that is how they want to engage.

Though voice calls aren’t at risk of going extinct anytime soon, millennials—who make up an overwhelmingly vast percentage of the mobile phone market—prefer not to have to speak on the phone. To be more exact, they would rather text. According to OpenMarket (May 5, 2016), when given the choice between being able only to text versus call on their mobile phone, a whopping 75 percent of millennials chose texting over talking.

Our goal is to make it easier for our customers to connect with us how and when they want, and chat offers a familiar and comfortable option.

Video

Mom WhatsApps her daughter, and they end up switching channels to have a video call. Why? It is strategic: “I don’t want to pay for an overseas call, especially on a cell phone,” but it’s also emotional. Mom misses her daughter and wants more than a voice connection. She wants to see her. In your contact center, there will be times when the people you serve will want the connection that a video call provides. Video is great when you don’t want to travel, such as for telehealth, or when a picture just won’t do, such as video of car damage after an accident.

“Video chat provides customers with a richer sense of presence, personalized experience helped by coordination of communication and the support of emotional expression, and the real-time sharing of content,” stated Brian Manusama, research director at Gartner. 

It is telling when global business leaders recognize that adding the video component to their services is necessary to provide a more meaningful and personal customer experience.

Voice

In the third scenario, Mom and Dad exchange text messages and website addresses, but in the end, they need to talk to get final resolution. It is empowering for a client to fully control their engagement by surfing a website (no agent engagement), asking questions on the webchat portal (partial agent engagement), and finally picking up the phone to speak with the same live agent to get questions answered and complete the transaction (full agent engagement). There will always be a significant role for voice in the contact center, and combining voice with other channels increases its effectiveness and improves the customer experience.

What Kind of Technology Will I Need?

Contact centers will need the ability to cover all the main communication channels (voice, video, webchat, text, SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and so forth) because conversations will increasingly move from one channel to another as the engagement deepens. It is also important to be able to view all these channels inside a single portal so the agent can surf from one channel to another seamlessly, just as the customer does.

Can a Single Agent Handle All These Channels?

With a single view of all these channels, yes. Clients get frustrated when they are handed from agent to agent, having to explain and re-explain their situation to different people, all the while wondering if each channel transition loses significant details. Offering a “one call, one agent” resolution provides an excellent experience for your customers.

Clearly, the way we communicate with each other is evolving rapidly, and all these new, additional channels offer great opportunities to enhance the customer experience. Our challenge is to combine thoughtful planning, intelligent technology, and constant training to deliver exceptional service for our customers.

Steve Newell is a telecommunications veteran of over twenty years, including eleven years in the telephone answering service software field. He currently serves as regional sales director for Cirrus Response, a premier developer of contact center solutions specializing in omnichannel, AI, and translation software.