Tag Archives: Customer Service Articles

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.

What Kind of Customer Experience Do You Provide?



Customer Experience Is More Than a Buzzword—It’s the Path to Success

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

People love to share their stories about their experiences when interacting with various companies. They post things online, which can have a far reach and may go viral. They also tell people face-to-face, which doesn’t have the reach but has more impact.

The types of stories they like to share seldom fall in the category of typical. Instead they pick outlier examples to tell others about. These are either interactions that went amazingly well or ones that went shockingly bad. The normal experiences are just too average to warrant much attention.

Instead they want to share extreme examples, which are far more fun to recount.

Enhancing the customer experience isn’t the goal. Delighting customers and winning their loyalty is the objective we must seek. Click To Tweet

Negative Customer Experience

Most of the time, extreme customer experience examples are not positive ones. This may be because companies let us down more than they delight us. Or it could be because bad news garners more attention. If you doubt that, just watch the nightly news. Better yet, don’t watch the news, and take my word for it. Rarely does the news include any feel-good stories, even though they do exist.

The more horrific the customer experience, the more interesting it seems, and the more it resonates with everyone who hears it. Revealing their bad experiences to others results in a shared experience of customer service gone awry. We’ve all been there. We all have our stories. We tell them in person to our friends and families, and even strangers. We post them online, forming a permanent record for all to see of how poorly a company treated us and how badly they wronged us.

When we vent, we feel better. This may be the only redress we’ll ever receive for the wounds inflicted upon us by some company. It doesn’t correct the mistake, but it does lessen the sting—just a bit. Unfortunately, the company who stands as the villain in these stories can suffer much and suffer long, especially when the stories are posted online.

Positive Customer Experience

Much less common is a positive customer experience. Though it’s possible they may not happen as often, it’s more likely that we aren’t so compelled to share them. We gain more traction by sharing our horrors than our delights. Even so, astounding customer experiences happen every day. It’s just that we’re less aware of them, because people are less inclined to take the time to share them.

Yet when shared, these stories serve to create a positive bond between us and the company. These tales create loyalty, and they produce repeat business. This is true for us, and it carries over to positively affect the people who hear them.

Just as negative customer experiences have a harmful impact on the company, positive customer experiences create the opposite.

Enhancing the Customer Experience

The customer service bar continually rises. What consumers considered excellent service five years ago is now the minimum standard. Furthermore, what was the acceptable standard five years ago may have now degraded to unacceptable.

Just to stay even, we must seek to enhance the customer experience. And to gain ground, we must go beyond merely enhancing customers’ experience to overhauling it.

We don’t achieve the needed changes by making incremental improvements. Tracking metrics and seeking to improve them seldom correlates to enhanced customer experiences. Instead, we need to rethink all we do in our customer-facing interactions. This includes knocking down internal silos of information and control, empowering agents to do what’s right to best serve customers, and integrating communication channels.

As we do these things to overhaul our provision of customer service, we will enhance the customer experience. But remember, enhancing the customer experience isn’t the goal. Delighting customers and winning their loyalty is the objective we must seek.

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.

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



By Daymon Smith

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

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

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

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

Customer Service Expectations in Healthcare

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

Consumers expect:  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Technology for Optimized Healthcare Customer Service

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

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

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

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

Call Center Training for Optimized Customer Service

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

What Is a Great Customer Service Department?



By Tom Cunningham

If you took a random survey of companies across the globe and asked them if they had a great customer service department, what do you think they would say? Many would say they do. But if you took the customers of those same companies and asked them the same question, I bet you would get a different answer.

Most customers do not have what they would consider a great experience. Somehow, as leaders, we might tell ourselves comforting lies to protect ourselves from unpleasant truths. Instead you need to figure out how to close that gap between the goal of excellent customer service with how customers perceive your efforts—which is your company’s true customer experience.If you make your core values a living, breathing culture in your company, you are well on your way to creating a great customer service department that will set you apart from your competition. Click To Tweet

Make Core Values Real

The first thing is to put policies, procedures, and training into place to deliver on your company’s core values. Many times I walk into a customer service department and see strong, powerful words, developed by the company through extensive effort, with the expectation that the department will follow them.

When I ask employees to recite these core values, I usually get a deer-in-the-headlights look. When I dig deeper and ask how the company measures these core values, they either shrug or say, “I don’t know.” If I ask the leaders of the customer service departments the same questions, I get the same response ninety-nine times out of one hundred. The company has put so much time and energy into developing these ideals, only to have them end up being just words on a wall.

Do you want to be more? Do you want to create a great customer service department?

If so, it will take a lot of work, but you will create something that only a few brands have achieved. It hinges on bringing your core values to life within your customer service department. Unless you can support an action or decision by your core values, you do not do it, period. All brands with great customer service departments treat their core values as more than just words on paper. They invest time and resources to ensure each employee has a clear understanding of those values and how they directly interweave with their job.

Ask Key Questions

The second thing is to ask the following questions:

  • What are the typical measurements and response times in your industry?
  • What are your competitors doing about customer service?
  • What level of service are your customers accustomed to?
  • How can your brand continue to delight your customers?

If you can’t answer these questions, you have some work to do. Study your industry, become a secret shopper, and learn the habits and behaviors of your customers. When you approach customer service this way, you establish a differentiator from your peers that will create a great customer service department.

While working with a CEO, I did some secret-shopper tasks on their brand and their competitors. What I found was eye-opening for that executive team. The industry was set up as an omni-channel, which is simply a multichannel approach to sales that seeks to provide customers with a seamless shopping experience. I took each avenue and tested their brand against their competitors.

They returned social media messages anywhere from twenty-two hours to eleven days later. They answered email messages anywhere from two hours and forty-five minutes to eight hours and eleven minutes later. Both sets of results left me underwhelmed.

Not only was the time between my inquiry and their response subpar, but in most cases, it wasn’t helpful at all or they simply told me to call customer service. The question I asked them was simple: “Why would you offer this channel if you were merely going to tell me to call customer service or not provide me with the information I requested?”

If I were a real customer, I wouldn’t have followed up. When I called each brand, the hold times were either short or I was on hold for over five minutes. However, each call was bland at best and left me, the customer, to do the work after they made their suggestions. The goal is to make the customer effort seamless, and the company did not deliver.

Set Expectations

Finally, with this information, I invited the CEO to consider the following to wow the customer.

  • What channels did they want to use and commit to so they could be most effective: social media, email, chat, or phone?
  • How quickly will they respond to customers on each channel?
  • To close out a request, what turnaround time are they going to communicate to their employees and customers?
  • How will they behave when dealing with customers? Consider tone, language, attitude, empathy, and so forth.
  • Who in the company is responsible for customer service?

These queries are just the first in a series of questions and actions for a brand to consider when a company starts its journey to create a great customer service department. Too many brands settle for just good enough. Is that what you want for your brand, your employees, and your customers? I hope the answer is no.

Conclusion

If you’re looking to create something special—a lasting brand in a competitive market with the needed customer service experience and your success as a company—it all starts with you as the leader. You must be willing—through communication, training, and execution—to hold yourself, your leaders, and your employees up to your core values.

If those values are simply words on paper, your customer service department will never be anything more than a job where people do what they must to collect a paycheck and keep their job. However, if you make your core values a living, breathing culture in your company, you are well on your way to creating a great customer service department that will set you apart from your competition and put you on par with the best in the world.

Tom Cunningham is the North American director of SAAS operations at PerfectServe. Tom has twenty-two years of call center operations management experience. Contact Tom at 865-719-6960 or tcunningham@perfectserve.net.

Need Responsive, Fast-Flex Customer Service?



Get Real with On-Demand, Virtual Contact Center Solutions

By Kim Houlne

Forget real time. Business today runs on get-real time. Enabled by in-the-moment experiences. Catering to rising consumer expectations. To remain relevant, companies require fast-flex service and responsive customer care.

Contact centers operate within this immediacy and expectancy—some with limitations. For instance, brick-and-mortar call centers are restricted by square footage and number of seats. Available talent is confined to local ZIP codes. And at times these centers find themselves in harm’s way when hurricanes or blizzards blow through.

By contrast, virtual contact centers are mobile and move with the business. As demand fluctuates, they turn ever-ready expertise on or off from anywhere, accommodating upticks and downturns. More fluid, these remote resources often are outsourced as stand-alone operations or auxiliary workforces to in-house teams.Extending the brand with qualified customer reps who get it. Got it. And that’s good for clients and their customers. Click To Tweet

Get It? Got it. Good.

With contracted agents on the job and in reserve, work can shift as seasons change, market trends rise and fall, and unforeseen circumstances dictate. By itself, being virtual isn’t enough, however.

Success relies on proven, on-demand processes—from recruiting to onboarding to agent development—and a steady supply of quality reps to sustain performance. Needed are industry-skilled agents who are quick studies and think fast, with rapid-fire service that’s right out of the movies. Like this:

Customer: “I’d like to get in, get on with it, get it over with, and get out. Get it?”

Agent: “Got it.”

Customer: “Good.”

Get Real

Those lines, taken from the classic Danny Kaye film, Court Jester, exemplify the essence of stellar service: delivered promptly, as expected. For contact center clients, the get it?—got it—good, or G³, approach, is as strategic as it is well-timed for their customers. This means quick-turn solutions supplied by agile agents.

Such an on-demand model reduces overhead, eliminates capital expenses, and elevates service. Unlimited in scope, agents scale up or down for everyday operations, seasonal surges, and long-range projects.

The question is: How does a business achieve such workforce flexibility and responsiveness? One answer: Outsource with an on-demand contact service provider with the wherewithal to get real.

To be sure, this requires due diligence to get, if not guarantee, a good return on investment (ROI). Clients should do vetting up front to ensure that the service provider has the means and motivation to:

  • Recruit and retain remote agents with coveted skills
  • Immerse them in a client’s culture, business, and brand
  • Invest in their ongoing development for long-term ROI

Pay the Price—Now or Later

What it comes down to is whether a service provider looks at agents as an investment in a client’s success or merely sees them as a business expense to be passed on. Whatever the perception, outcomes will reflect the level of commitment and customer satisfaction scores.

Consider this: IBM Watson reports that “the overall turnover rate for the call center industry is between 30–45 percent, and each individual turnover can cost a company upwards of $6,440.” Now, let’s multiply it out, with 100 agents on an account. A 30 to 45 percent attrition rate adds up to $193,200 to $289,800. Gone.

That’s a three-way loss: wasted money, high attrition, and sullied service. The provider, client, and its customers all lose.

An Investment, Not an Expense

Regardless of how much self-service automation occurs, high-quality agents remain core to contact center services. Why? Because customers want to talk with agents to resolve problems too complex for chatbots. So, to avoid double-digit turnover and poor service, doesn’t it make good sense and ROI to value agents?

Virtual contact center operators know that remote agents, as independent contractors, work where they want. Their skills are in demand, just like the on-demand services they provide. That’s a given in the gig economy.

So the best working relationship, then, should be quid quo pro—with benefits shared among the provider, agents, and clients alike.

A high-functioning, on-demand workforce takes three things:

  1. A caring culture to attract the best agent applicants
  2. Know-how to educate and engage agents in a client’s business
  3. Ongoing investment to retain agents and build client relationships

Caring Culture Connects

These days, with record low unemployment and savvy digital workers, a low-scoring workplace—be it virtual or brick-and-mortar—probably is at a loss to find and keep talent. If a company doesn’t care, why even apply, much less stay?

Look no further than the jobsite Glassdoor, where employees and contractors rate companies and their leaders. Not only are those reviews read by job applicants, they’re also scanned by would-be clients wanting contact center services.

Face it: if workers aren’t happy, it’s a good bet they won’t be pleasing a client’s customers. That’s why a worthwhile work environment, especially a remote one, needs intelligence on three levels: emotional intelligence complemented by artificial intelligence and intelligent agents—or I³.

G³ * I³ = (G * I)³

Together they equal customer service, which is essential.

Becoming the Client Brand

When a company outsources, it entrusts not only customer service, but its entire brand to a contact center provider. As such, agents need to be immersed in the culture and business—becoming the brand.

Brick-and-mortar call centers normally have subject-matter experts who onboard agents. That’s okay, within limits. Usually it involves one-way classroom lectures or repetitive webinars. At best, by-rote instruction creates a workforce of automaton agents, whose knowledge extends only as far as the lessons taught.

Interactive by design, a virtual contact center classroom goes further to do more. Here, teaching is led by degreed educators who adapt a client’s training to an online education platform, such as Canvas, a learning management system.

To engage agents, curriculum is broken down into micro-learning (PowToon), interactive experiences (Umu), or gamification (educaplay). The result is agents who role-play real-life, customer situations and don’t parrot canned responses by rote.

Investing for the Long Term

Client services and products continually change. Upgrades occur. New products are introduced. Add to them e-commerce that accelerates every aspect of business. Contact center agents must evolve with these changes, if not anticipate them.

Continuing education, complemented by an agent community website, are essential for ongoing development. Remember that $6,440 turnover cost per agent? Odds are the agents who left were given short shrift or felt adrift after their initial onboarding. And bye-bye is the by-product.

High agent attrition atrophies any business. So, when contracting contact center service providers, ask them: “What’s your retention rate?” Three years is a good average. The best contact service providers have agent tenure ranging up to five, ten, and even fifteen years. Clearly, they invest in agents for the long term.

In the end, outsourcing contact services isn’t about adding bodies—be they brick-and-mortar or remote. It’s about extending the brand with qualified customer reps who get it. Got it. And that’s good for clients and their customers.

Kim Houlne, CEO and president of Working Solutions, pioneered virtual contact center services in 1996.  Before founding the company, she held senior management positions in consulting. A graduate of the University of Georgia, she delivered a 2016 graduation keynote address

The Failure of New Customer Discounts



Companies Focus on New Customer Acquisition and Then Encourage Customers to Leave in Two Years

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

My family just completed our biennial cell phone switch. We’ve been doing this like clockwork for two decades. We pick the company that offers the best price and switch to that one. Two years later our rates jump, and no amount of pleading results in a package we can accept. So we switch carriers.

Of course, the same thing happens with our internet service provider and our cable TV/satellite provider. They also entice us with low introductory rates and then methodically jack up our bill every chance they get. We’re on a two-year cycle with them too.

Loyalty Goes Both Ways

new customer

I’d prefer to find a vendor I can stick with and not change every two years. All they need to do to earn my loyalty is to offer fair prices. But they don’t. They give sweet deals to new customers as they gouge their current ones. They apparently value new business more than existing business. Don’t they know it costs several times more to gain new customers than to simply keep the ones they have? They should, but their actions don’t show it.

They prove their disloyalty to me with their unfair pricing. This causes me to be disloyal to them, and I have no regret about leaving them for a better deal. They’ve trained me to act this way.

The Burden on Customer Service Staff

Each time we switch a provider, we make multiple calls and even visits to each potential vendor, gathering information and looking for potential shortfalls in their service package. Of course, we foolishly start with our existing provider, but they’re not interested in keeping our business—at least not yet.

As we proceed, we take time with our existing provider and then all their competitors, including the one we eventually select. Our existing provider spends time with us to lose our business. Our new provider spends a couple of hours to close the deal and transfer our account. That’s a huge investment of time to obtain an account they won’t keep. In addition, all the other providers waste time with a prospect they won’t land.

The Impact on Customers

As customers, we spend a lot of time analyzing our options. Then we expend more time switching providers. But the biggest investment of our time is programming and learning our new technology, be it our phones, video entertainment, or internet access. Maybe someday I will gladly accept my bill doubling to avoid the agony of switching. Or maybe not.It costs several times more to gain new customers than to simply keep the ones you have. Click To Tweet

Churning Customers Is a Futile Business Model

If companies worked harder to keep the customers they have, there wouldn’t be so much pressure to gain new ones. They wouldn’t have to offer their new-customer incentives, which are likely at or below cost. They wouldn’t have to spend as much money on marketing. And their sales and customer service people could avoid a lot a of needless effort that produces no results.

Too Late to Make a Difference

Most of the time, once we switch providers, our former provider then makes a last-ditch effort to “win back” our business. But they’re too late. We’ve just gone through the agony of considering our options and doing a thorough spreadsheet analysis. We’ve gone through the pain of switching. We have shiny new equipment, which looks promising—once we learn how to use it. And now they think they can keep our business? No way. The only way we’ll do business with them is in two, four, or six years as we go through another cycle of selecting a new provider.

Though these service providers will persist in their insane cycle of customer acquisition and churn, your company doesn’t have to. Make sure you don’t follow their foolish example.

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 Customer Experience Is a Long-Term Investment



By Tony Jurica

Maintaining lasting relationships with customers once meant focusing on product ratings and decreasing wait times when a customer called into the organization. While these measurements still matter, now the customer experience is more about understanding the journey the customer makes when contacting the organization and making each step personalized and efficient.

Most decision-makers agree that delivering an exceptional customer experience is important to ongoing success. However, there is often reluctance when it comes to investing the time, money, and effort necessary to optimize their customer contact systems, people, and processes to meet today’s customer expectations.

Struggling to Keep Up

Many businesses find it hard to keep up with customer expectations because they haven’t kept up with how customers want to communicate. A growing number of people (and not just millennials) want to engage on digital channels such as text message, web chat, and social media. Supporting these systems effectively is difficult when you’re reliant on a legacy voice-centric contact center system.

Hindered by an outdated contact center infrastructure, supporting digital channels often means setting up silos of technology. Companies implement separate solutions for chat, social media, and texting. Though the customer can contact the company via their digital channel of choice, the new challenge is achieving a 360-degree view of customer interactions.

Statistics vary, but about half of customers use two or more channels to complete a transaction with a company. Disconnected technology makes it difficult to view and access the journeys these customers take as they use multiple contact channels to complete a transaction.

It’s tempting to think the answer is to simply swap out a solution here or integrate a channel there. Yet patching a system that is growing obsolete produces frustration, added costs, and wasted time. Delivering an exceptional customer experience entails more than a series of minor, cobbled-together fixes. Rather, it’s an ongoing commitment that requires a long-term investment and the right technology to address both current and future needs.After deploying a new contact center platform, it’s much easier to add and integrate additional channels and solutions. Click To Tweet

An Organizational Commitment

Shifting beyond rudimentary customer service to continuously exceed customer expectations requires the buy-in and effort of more than those working in the contact center. Customer service touches most teams, including marketing, sales, IT, legal, human resources, and quality assurance. This means that every employee must be on board with an organization-wide commitment to customer experience excellence. Cross-functional collaboration is essential for placing the customer’s needs first and improving the customer journey along every touch point.

To get it right, drive customer experience goals by customer expectations. Then consider business needs. This begins by identifying the limits of existing technology. With a contact center system designed primarily for voice interactions, it’s clear that a fundamental improvement need is moving to a platform that seamlessly integrates all channels and solutions and breaks down technology silos.

What Are the Possibilities?

By investing in a scalable contact center platform, you gain the flexibility to move beyond offering a series of single interactions to providing cross-channel journeys. These new tools will retain history and context to deliver personalized service and eliminate the need for customers to repeat themselves.

However, this is just the start. After deploying a new contact center platform, it’s much easier to add and integrate additional channels and solutions. Workforce optimization tools, CRM solutions, and new digital channels can also be deployed. This enables you to stay one step ahead of competitors, increase business efficiency, and continuously exceed customer expectations.

Prepare for Rapid Innovations Around the Corner

Artificial intelligence (AI) can automate tasks and improve the customer experience. Businesses use chatbots, powered by AI and machine learning, to maximize self-service interactions. This enables live agents to solve problems more efficiently. And this technology is no longer a novelty—it’s gaining acceptance as it becomes more versatile and efficient.

Meanwhile, intelligently connected devices are also changing the realm of customer experiences. They enable next-generation automation and personalization. Imagine a device that can request a callback through a single button or automatically launch a service ticket that routes to a local service provider. We already see this level of engagement in automobiles, appliances, and medical devices. And it will certainly grow in many other industries.

As these innovations gain popularity and adoption, it will become more important than ever to have a contact center platform that supports the customer experience across all channels. The companies that continue to use outdated technology will slip further behind, missing key opportunities to grow and evolve along with their customers’ expectations.

By investing in the strategies and technologies that support an amazing customer experience, you will build the kind of brand loyalty that turns prospects into repeat customers. Then they’ll share their positive experiences with others, and this represents a significant return on investment.

Tony Jurica, the senior director of Voxai Solutions’ Cloud Practice, brings over two decades of experience in the contact center technology industry, both as an industry consultant and as a technical leader in a Fortune 500 company. Tony lends his expertise in managing enterprise contact centers to customers to support their efforts to improve their customer experience.

Chatbots Should Learn from the Errors of IVR



Chatbots could follow the path of IVR, a once-promising technology that earned customer ire through poor implementation

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

I don’t often use web chat because I find a phone call is faster and more thorough. Recently I made an exception and learned a valuable lesson.

The email said that my new statement was available online. I might be one of the few people who still download and review online statements, but that’s what I do. So I logged in and navigated to the right page. I clicked on the link for my most recent statement, but it brought up last month’s. With more navigation, I found a list of all my statements. Alas, my current statement wasn’t there.

About this time a chat invitation popped up. “I see you’ve been notified that your new statement is available. Can I help you?”

Without giving it enough thought, I typed in, “I can’t download my statement.”

Immediately I received a reply. “Here are two resources that might help you out.”

By the titles of these links, I knew they were pointing me in the wrong direction, telling me what I already knew. I tried again. “No, my current statement isn’t available.”

Again, the chatbot responded immediately. “Here are three links that might help you resolve the problem.”

Once again, the links wouldn’t help. What started as an amusing experience with technology was becoming exasperating. Then I typed, “Can I talk with a person?”

The bot responded immediately, “I can help you.”

Obviously the bot wasn’t interested in connecting me with a real person. I typed in what I thought: “You’re worthless.” (Though I’ve never said that to a person, I often say that to technology.)

But before I could close the chat window, I got another message. “Let me connect you with a representative.”

With a potential for help only seconds away, I stuck around. A half minute later, Lisa popped up in the chat window.

Unfortunately my failed chatbot experience agitated me, similar to what happens after a futile interaction with IVR. At this point, emotion, rather than logic, dictated my first question: “Are you a person or a bot?”

Lisa assured me she was a real person. We then worked to download my statement. She had me try a different method to get to my statement, but that didn’t work either. I pasted the error message into the chat window for her to see. Then she had me try a different browser. I got the same results.

As we continued, I noticed a subtle change on the statement page. First, the proper link appeared, but it still didn’t work. A little while later the link worked. Then I recalled a problem I had with my bank a few years ago. They would send out the email that my statement was available, even though the department responsible for putting it online hadn’t finished their work. The two groups weren’t communicating.

I realized that the same thing had happened with this company. Expecting the statement to be online by a certain time, the email group sent out a notice, not knowing the statement wasn’t available. Chatbots are part of an exciting technology that can help call centers better serve customers, as well as help agents do their job better. Click To Tweet

This, of course, brings up another all-too-common scenario: a company causes customer service activity by their own actions. But that’s a topic we’ve already covered.

The point today is that chatbots are part of an exciting technology that can help call centers better serve customers, as well as help agents do their job better. Yet the improper application of chatbot technology threatens its utility by alienating the customers it’s supposed to help.

This is exactly what happened with the introduction of IVR, and that technology never recovered. May chatbots have a different outcome. Both the call center and its customers need this one to be a win.

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.

Stay One Step Ahead of Your Customers



Why More Companies Are Flipping Their Customer Service from Reactive to Proactive

By Fara Haron

Picture this all-too-frequent scenario: a customer just ordered something urgent from a retailer’s website and received an order confirmation email, but no information about when it will be coming or how to find out. The customer goes to the website and digs around to see if they can find information about their order. But they’ve checked out as a guest and can’t log in to view their order. Now what?

Already frustrated, they pick up the phone to call customer service to ask about their order. They hear an automated recording saying there is a ten-minute wait, and there’s no call-back option. By the time the customer finally reaches a customer service representative, they’re feeling defeated. If this company had a proactive customer service approach in place, it could have eliminated a frustrated customer—and even a call to customer service—to begin with.

Anticipating customer needs and addressing them proactively before they ask for help can be achieved through new technologies. This includes offering callbacks, deploying real-time order updates, and predicting next best actions with the help of artificial intelligence.

It can also happen by creating a new mind-set, adopting new processes, and knowing your customers’ needs well enough that you can anticipate a problem before they call. Proactive customer service is an effective strategy for businesses—and especially for their contact centers. Here are some ways it can help:

  • Bring in New Customers: Reach and influence potential buyers earlier.
  • Build Customer Loyalty: Proactive service can boost customer retention rates by 3 to 5 percent.
  • Create Brand Advocates: Seventy-three percent of customers contacted proactively had a good experience and said it led to a positive change in their perception of the business.
  • Protect Reputation: Resolve issues before they go viral or become a full-blown crisis.
  • Reduce Incoming Support Volumes: Decrease contact volumes by 20 to 30 percent, which allows businesses to use representatives for work in other areas.

The good news is that proactive customer service is on the minds of many businesses, but the jump from decision-making to implementation can be a big one. Here are actionable steps for companies committed to proactive customer service:

Adopt Proactive Technology

There are a lot of customer service buzzwords floating around—robotic process automation (RPA), chatbots, augmented reality (AR)—but in the hype of these new technologies, their original purpose can get lost: to strengthen your customer service department and make it more proactive.Companies should also combine their CRM system with analytics and automation tools to analyze both current and historical data and generate sophisticated insights based on customer behavior and buying patterns. Click To Tweet

RPA is expected to fully automate back-end and repetitive customer-facing activities while increasingly applying AI capabilities. Automation makes it easier to issue things like real-time notifications for order updates, flight changes, and more, as well as providing the option for an automatic callback. But many companies seem unsure about how to implement some of these technologies.

In fact, according to a recent Arvato survey:

  • There’s slow adoption of new technology: businesses aren’t considering using virtual assistants (58.4 percent), chatbots (64.7 percent), and video chat (54.6 percent).
  • Consumers notice different types of technology, but without a clear winner. Notably, 52.3 percent say the phone is the most reliable way to solve a problem, only 11.1 percent say online chat, and just 2.8 percent prefer social media.
  • Luckily there’s a high adoption of callbacks and real-time order updates, with 56 percent of businesses planning to implement automatic callbacks and 72 percent of businesses planning to start using real-time order updates.

Automation makes sense for call centers because technology supports representatives to do their work more efficiently, mostly while dealing with customers. Processes can be handled more quickly and with 100 percent accuracy. This reduces the need for unnecessary repeat contact, freeing representatives to focus on more strategic and complex work. Automation becomes a win-win for both businesses and customers.

Consolidate Data into One Accessible CRM System

Back in the day, customers had one route to a customer service representative: the phone. Today companies can expect to support many communication channels—the phone, yes, but also virtual assistants, social media, and even video chat. To keep track of all these channels and work toward the goal of being more proactive, it’s important to have a single view of customers. By taking this approach and consolidating data into one CRM system, customer information can be presented in a unified, meaningful way. It will also help reimagine the flow of data across the organization and how information sources can change. Lastly it will identify areas for improvement and optimization.

With one, cohesive CRM system, you have all customer data at your fingertips. This can tell you valuable information, such as which channel a certain customer typically uses to contact your organization. Representatives can keep this in mind the next time they proactively contact that customer.

Companies should also combine their CRM system with analytics and automation tools to analyze both current and historical data and generate sophisticated insights based on customer behavior and buying patterns. While especially useful for retail customer service, it also allows representatives to predict the next best action and anticipate demands. This can resolve issues proactively before they escalate further. It also provides an opportunity for representatives to effectively upsell.

Transform Customer Engagement through Social Media

Social media is the first choice for contacting businesses for Generation Y, while voice and email interactions continue to decrease. Today’s customers also expect brands to be where they are, on the channel of their choice, and in a manner they expect. This means that responding promptly to customers on social media is essential for businesses to remain proactive.

While negative issues can become known through social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, businesses should look at these platforms as an opportunity to maintain control and confront problems head-on. Letting customers know you’re fixing a problem in real time is always better coming directly from you instead of having the customer conclude that the product or service doesn’t deliver.

You should regard social media as a tool to reach many more people with a proactive message compared to a one-on-one channel. On public channels such as Twitter and Instagram, customers know that a wider audience can view their messages; therefore, they are more open to receiving proactive messages from brands.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when using social media for customer engagement:

  • Don’t Reach Out Only When There’s a Problem: No relationship is sustainable when you only communicate when something is wrong.
  • Be Human: Bring context, relevance, and personalization to your message.
  • Be Fast and Flexible: Customer service representatives must be able to tap into current events affecting their industry while also responding to customers in a timely manner.
  • Analyze Consumer Behavior for Insights: Read reviews and monitor what people say about your brand. This includes proactively addressing frequently asked questions your contact center receives.
  • Capture Relevant Conversations: Optimize your search profiles and make sure to look beyond issues with @mentions of your brand. You can’t risk losing engagement with your customer because the @ symbol wasn’t used.

Let’s imagine that you’ve adopted all these proactive strategies. The customer mentioned at the beginning of this article looking for their order status never would have had to reach out to customer service to begin with. If the customer did reach out, they would have had an option to choose a call-back, or they would have reached out through social media and gotten a quick response. And when they got through, the representative already would have had the knowledge and data on this customer at their fingertips from using a cohesive CRM system.

When done right, proactive customer service can make customers feel like you understand them and help turn them into loyal supporters or even promoters of your brand.

Fara Haron is the CEO of Global BPS at Arvato and is a member of the Arvato CRM board. She has been with Arvato since 2009 and has led a rapidly growing team of CRM professionals while leveraging her international experience to support Arvato’s global CRM business.