Tag Archives: Customer Service Articles

Six Omnichannel Trends Disrupting Customer Service in 2018



By Murph Krajewski

Two thousand seventeen was the year of operational shifts in customer service as archaic legacy systems were replaced with technological innovations to make service faster and improve customer interactions. However, this shift alone cannot win the customer service battle in today’s competitive marketplace. As consumers’ demands become increasingly harder to achieve, companies will need to be more proactive by offering a true omnichannel experience.

Omnichannel may seem like a buzzword, but it’s more than that. It’s a fluid journey that provides a consistent, seamless, and personalized experience that most consumers crave. However, only a small percentage of contact centers today describe themselves as omnichannel. While staying ahead of the curve as new technologies become mainstream seems like a daunting task, companies that focus on streamlining omnichannel capabilities to further assist, engage, and enhance their agents, while also understanding the trends disrupting customer service, will enjoy the new year.

The Reevaluation of Self-Service

In 2018, many contact centers will see a reevaluation of self-service, which plays a critical role in today’s omnichannel approach. Self-service tools are an important concept that unfortunately have not always been used well and have some recovery work to do in the eyes of customers.

To accomplish this, companies will enhance data collection processes for the types of inquiries being received across all channels to create a concise portal with applicable questions and answers. Agents will then use this page as a resource by directing future callers to a specific link or copying and pasting answers to common questions. While customers haven’t always been wowed by their self-service options, there is new life coming to this avenue of omnichannel. The vendors leading the way will set the bar for this trend in 2018. As consumers’ demands become increasingly harder to achieve, companies will need to be more proactive by offering a true omnichannel experience. Click To Tweet

Adding Mobile to the Mix

As the number of smartphone users moves closer to 2.5 billion, mobile will increasingly gain momentum as it continues to become the most popular customer service communication channel. According to OneReach, 64 percent of consumers would prefer to use texting rather than voice for customer service, and 77 percent are more likely to have a positive customer experience through mobile per a report from Aberdeen Group.

Other reports show that mobile capabilities among contact centers have grown substantially, but 2018 will be the year when many move from the siloed mobile approach and seamlessly combine it with other channels. Customers live their lives on their mobile devices. Companies must meet their customers where they are to provide a smooth customer experience, and that means meeting them on mobile.

Moving toward the Cloud

Cloud-based and cloud-native contact center infrastructure is key to the globalization of customer service. According to a 2017–2018 DMG Consulting Report, adoption of the cloud among contact centers continues to pick up momentum, especially in the financial sector. Thanks to advances in cloud technology, particularly from vendors that do not have to recalibrate legacy systems, cloud-native and cloud-based systems are highly secure, reliable, and provide quality infrastructure. In the new year, it can be expected that more operations will move to the cloud, allowing agents to access the platform at any time worldwide and disseminate information in real time to create a more relevant customer experience.

Chatbots and Artificial Intelligence

In the beginning, chatbots were designed primarily to optimize business operations. Now there’s a newer breed of chatbots that use machine-learning capabilities to provide superior customer experiences. Not only do they help anticipate the needs of “being there” throughout the customer journey, but they also help brands provide options for self-navigation. Plus, they know when it’s time to connect a customer to a live agent.

Fueled by artificial intelligence, chatbots become more intelligent day-to-day by collecting data on customer conversations. However, like any new technology, these tools need to be carefully integrated into the customer experience. To be effective they must be deployed in messaging apps, web chat, and other channels as part of an omnichannel strategy. This also means that if an agent needs to jump in, they can switch channels efficiently without the customer having to repeat information. This has been the goal of AI-to-agent experiences, but few companies have implemented the process at its fullest potential. Those that streamline this experience will see the greatest success.

The Rise in Social Media

A recent Hootsuite report revealed there are more than 2.8 billion active social media users with an annual growth rate of 21 percent. Among users under twenty-five, social media remains the first choice among support channels. Though most businesses have observed the need for social support, nearly one-third of businesses are still not incorporating social into their omnichannel approach. Instead users are being redirected to another channel. Although a temporary fix for an ever-evolving market, social media will play an even more important role in omnichannel this year.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

More than half of contact center leaders plan to enable Internet of Things (IoT) in the next year, signaling a shift toward accelerated innovation in the contact center. And since more than 30 billion devices will be wirelessly connected to physical things by 2020, IoT is going to completely alter the way companies connect to customers. It will usher in the era of proactive customer service.

Soon data from devices will empower companies to be aware of issues in real time and intervene before a customer even knows there is a problem. IoT will also allow for shorter wait times and more efficient service as automated solutions solve routine problems, freeing associates to focus on more complicated issues. In addition, those lagging in the implementation of IoT will feel increased pressure from customers to conform. Failing to adopt will erode customer loyalty over time due to slow service processes, fostering a lackluster impression compared to those companies who have moved forward.

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Companies can no longer afford to get away with subpar customer experiences by offering a siloed approach that erodes customer loyalty. Instead focus on implementing a true omnichannel methodology that meets the needs of customers and adheres to industry trends. Doing so will provide an experience that meets the needs of customers in 2018 and for years to come.

Murph Krajewski is vice president of marketing at Sharpen, a contact center platform with an agent-first focus. With nearly twenty years of experience in the contact center industry, he has tackled a variety of roles on multiple sides of contact center systems and gathered incredible insights on what provides exceptional customer service. In his current role Murph focuses on creating better experiences for contact center agents, which he believes makes for happier customers and could even change the world. He is also a regular contributor to the Forbes Communication Council.

Customer Disservice



Sometimes a Call Center Is Its Own Worst Enemy

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineWhen call centers work as intended, they’re an amazing resource. They provide needed information and allow for the speedy resolution of problems. They’re fast, convenient, and effective—most of the time.

Though I like to celebrate call center success in this column, it’s more informative, as well as more entertaining, to talk about their shortcomings. By learning from their errors, we can take steps to avoid them in our call centers. This makes the industry better, as we serve callers more effectively. Here is this month’s story.

I work at home, and I rely on the internet. When it goes down, I’m usually the first of my neighbors to know. When the internet went down last month, I found a project to do that didn’t require me to be online. But after I wrapped it up, the internet was still down. I reset the modem and router without fixing the problem. I needed to call customer service.

Customer DisserviceMy internet provider’s rep did some remote testing and got confusing results. After several minutes she determined that she needed to dispatch a technician. Since it was midafternoon on Friday, she said most technicians were likely committed for the rest of the day and would be heading home at five. The next available slot was Tuesday afternoon. As firmly as I could state, and still be a tad polite, I told her this wasn’t acceptable. I explained that I work at home; without the internet I couldn’t work. She was sympathetic, but she offered no options other than to let the dispatcher know my plight.

As my neighbors began arriving home from work, our community Facebook page lit up about internet issues. My neighbors heard what I heard: There was no system outage, and our problem was unique to our individual homes. Their repairs were scheduled for Thursday, six days in the future. Everyone was fuming.

Not accepting the explanation that these were all isolated instances, I called again. This time the rep told me there was a major system outage affecting half the state. He also said crews were diligently working on the problem to find a solution and wouldn’t stop until they resolved it. He promised me a callback to let me know when the problem was fixed.

I posted this information on our Facebook page. I doubt anyone believed me. Even those who called after me received the explanation that their problem was isolated to their home.

By Saturday morning the internet was working again. One neighbor posted that he received a free speed upgrade because of the problem. I called for my upgrade. This rep said the system in my area couldn’t go any faster. When I mentioned that my neighbor had received an upgrade, the rep gave me a lame excuse that my neighbor’s feed was from a different source. However, we both live on a dead-end road and the internet feed for the whole neighborhood runs past my house.

Other neighbors also called for their free upgrade. One received it, but everyone else was denied. The explanation was that they were rolling out a system upgrade and our area should receive it in a couple months. Then we would automatically receive the higher speed.

On Monday afternoon I received a phone call telling me my internet service was restored. This came about sixty hours after the fact.

I don’t blame any of the reps for providing wrong information.

I do blame the company’s support system and the training their reps receive on using it. One rep knew it was a system-wide outage, yet the others couldn’t access this information. Two reps knew how to give a free speed upgrade, while the other ones insisted it wasn’t available.

How many extra calls did my neighbors make trying to find correct information and receive the same responses other neighbors received? By giving out wrong information, the cable company probably received twice the calls they should have had they been able to provide consistent and accurate responses.When call centers work as intended, they’re an amazing resource. They provide needed information and allow for the speedy resolution of problems. Click To Tweet

In the end, instead of customer service, they provided customer disservice. May we strive to do better.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of  Connections Magazines. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

Improving Your Mental Game: Tips for Working through Difficult Calls



By Dean Kaplan

Whether you’re receiving customer calls or making outbound calls, if you work in a call center, chances are you manage at least one difficult call a week. If a call is truly challenging, it can affect all your other calls and possibly your non-work hours as well. Difficult calls are hard to prepare for because you often don’t see them coming. However, there are mental steps you can take to make handling a difficult call easier.

Be Prepared:

In an outbound situation you may know that a call you’re about to make could go poorly. Pull all relevant files, discuss the situation with a manager, and review notes from previous interactions before making the call.

For those at inbound call centers, make sure files are organized and you know where information can be found, but also know the appropriate escalation tactics. You can help coworkers prepare for difficult calls by taking good notes during your calls. A call often goes poorly the moment a customer becomes frustrated by having to repeat his or her story.

Stay Focused:

If you’ve worked on the same accounts for a while, it can be tempting to let your mind wander on a routine call. But you never know when a call can go wrong. Train yourself to stay in the moment, even when you are inclined to let your thoughts drift. Take breaks to clear your mind, study yoga and meditation techniques, and limit distractions on your desk.

Listen:

When a customer is explaining a problem or situation, don’t interrupt. Instead, as they talk, write down any details and questions and ask for clarification after the customer is finished talking. Not only will listening to the whole story first give you a better idea of the issue or question involved, but it will also help the customer feel better. There are few things more frustrating to an angry caller than not being heard.

Be Respectful:

Sometimes it can be difficult to treat customers with respect. This is especially true if you think the problem you’re handling is related to a mistake or poor behavior on the customer’s end. However, if you can’t be respectful of the customer and listen to their story with empathy, you should not be on the call. Remind yourself before each call that everyone has a story, and everyone deserves empathy.Being respectful also means respecting their time. Click To Tweet

Being respectful also means respecting their time. If you are making an outbound call, ask if this is a good time or if there’s a better time to call. If it’s an inbound call, you can try saying something such as, “It sounds like you’re driving; would you prefer to call me back when you get to your location?”

Learn to Recognize a Difficult Call:

We tend to think of difficult callers as people who yell or stonewall us, but there are many other types of difficult calls. People aren’t aware of what they need, they ramble, they are irritated for reasons unrelated to the call or are distracted, or they have genuinely upsetting stories. The sooner you recognize that a call may turn difficult, the easier it will be for you to mentally prepare.

Let It Go:

The most important part of handling a difficult call is once the call is over. Make appropriate notes, then take a deep breath and let the call go. When you hang up the phone, hang up on the call as well. Dwelling on the stress of dealing with a difficult situation can make other calls more difficult than they have to be and even affect your relationships outside of work. If you know that you’ve done the best you can, there’s no need to keep reliving a bad call.

Learning how to handle difficult calls takes practice. You must learn appropriate negotiation techniques and answers to frequently asked questions, and you also must develop skills necessary to listen, empathize, and emotionally move on from a call.

Dean Kaplan is president of The Kaplan Group (www.kaplancollectionagency.com), a commercial collection agency specializing in large claims and international transactions. He has thirty-five years of international business experience, traveling to over forty countries to negotiate over 500 million dollars in mergers and acquisitions and other business deals.

A PCI-Certified Level 1 Call Center Will Better Protect Your Customer’s Data



By Rich Hamilton

You’ve made the decision. Your organization is seeking an outsourced call center to work on your behalf. Outsourced call centers are often referred to as service agencies, telemarketing vendors, or business process outsourcing (BPO). Regardless of what they are called, many factors will need to be considered, including call center size, location(s), management, technology capabilities, and experience with different types of calls such as helpdesk, customer service, or sales. One factor that should not be overlooked is information security. How secure will your customer data be with a potential call center? Let’s look at how a PCI-Certified Level 1 call center will be able to best protect your customer data as opposed to a call center that is not PCI-Certified Level 1.

No Brainer for Credit Card Processing: If your outsourced call center will be processing credit cards, the decision is a no brainer. A PCI-certified call center should be used. What is PCI? PCI DSS stands for “payment card industry data security standard” and is an information security standard for organizations that handle credit cards from the major card providers, including Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover. Standards for becoming PCI-certified are so high, makes customer data will be more secure. Click To Tweet

There are four PCI-certification levels available. Levels 2–4 only require a self-assessment in order to receive certification. Level 1 is more rigorous and requires a third party to audit corporate governance (policies and procedures), the operations and processes, and all technology involved. Through this thorough review, along with penetration tests, the third-party qualified security assessor (QSA) is able to determine if all systems and processes are secure with the proper protocols and encryptions. Obviously becoming PCI-Certified Level 1 involves more time with a higher cost, but having a third party review all aspects of your organization ensures that your customer data will be very secure.

If your organization’s outsourced call center will handle credit card data or other sensitive personally identifiable information (PII), you really don’t want to take any chances. Depending on the volume of credit card transactions you process with your merchant account provider, being PCI DSS compliant will be a requirement, either at a low level or at the Level 1 extreme. In addition there are also other negative consequences that can result from a data breach of your customer data, including financial penalties, bad publicity, and possibly losing credit card transaction processing privileges. Taking the proper steps to become PCI-certified will help protect both your customer data and your organization’s well-being for the long term.

 What About Call Centers Not Processing Credit Cards?: If your third-party outsourced call center does not need to process credit card transactions, you’re probably wondering why you would require the organization to be PCI-certified. Keep in mind that since the standards for becoming PCI-certified are so high, your customer data will be more secure.

The following items are required for a PCI-Certified Level 1 Call Center—but not for a call center that is not PCI-certified:

  • Detailed policies such as password policies, physical security policies, acceptable use policies, and information handling policies
  • Processes to support the detailed policies
  • Secure firewalls: protecting customer data from cyber-attacks
  • Proper encryption while customer data is at rest and in transit
  • Yearly security awareness training for all employees
  • Quarterly and yearly penetration scans to ensure that customer data is secure

Based on this, which call center do you think would be able to more securely handle your customer data? Clearly, a third-party outsourced call center or teleservices agency that is PCI-Certified Level 1 is the best choice. They have committed the additional time and money needed to ensure that the proper policies, processes, and technologies are in place (with a rigorous third-party audit) to handle customer data in a 100 percent secure manner.

Rich Hamilton is the director of marketing and product development for Quality Contact Solutions, a leading outsourced telemarketing organization. Rich works tirelessly to bring new products to the teleservices and call center market. Rich is also the creative powerhouse behind executing on a wide spectrum of marketing initiatives for the organization. In addition, Rich is a telemarketing compliance guru with a customer engagement compliance professional (CECP) certification to back it up. Rich can be reached at rich.hamilton@qualitycontactsolutions.com or 516-656-5105.

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Customer Experience Management Powered by Intelligent Automation


Onvisource


By Ray Naeini

Establishing positive customer experiences leading to customer loyalty is today’s major objective for all enterprises. Customer loyalty differs from customer satisfaction in that it establishes a long-lasting relationship for retaining customers. Achievement in customer satisfaction is an ongoing journey, not a single set of actions.

Enterprises first focused on customer interactions with agents by capturing and analyzing customer calls, emails, and chat. They followed this by training agents to better serve customers during calls. To a great extent, this approach delivers certain objectives toward customer loyalty, but it ignores several other steps of the customer journey critical to customer experience management. For example, no matter how well-trained agents are in interacting with customers, customer satisfaction is already impacted negatively if a customer struggles with a confusing interactive voice response (IVR), has to wait on hold for a long time, gets routed to the wrong agent, or has to repeat information.

Customer experience management demands a holistic view and improvement of the entire customer journey. This consists of four major segments:

  • Routing customer service requests to the right center, organization, and agent rapidly, accurately, and without the customer repeating information
  • Managing the customer interaction for the best outcome for the customer
  • Processing customer service requests accurately and on a timely basis
  • Capturing and analyzing customer feedback and sentiment from all customer touchpoints, both during and after the completion of service, and implementing calibrations and corrective actions.

Achievement in customer satisfaction is an ongoing journey, not a single set of actions. Click To TweetThis is, however, hard to do. Enterprises face major challenges in effectively integrating and implementing these four critical elements of customer experience management. This is where intelligent automation (IA) technologies can greatly power the customer experience management initiative. As the name implies, automation is achieved by intelligently analyzing data and making decisions to launch an automated action. The nucleus of IA, commonly used the same way in all four segments, is comprised of:

  • Data and media capture, aggregation, and unification, with big data management performed on an enterprise-wide basis from all entities critical to the customer journey. This includes telecom platforms (network routers, IVR, PBX, and ACD) and key performance indicators (KPIs) from workforce optimization and management, CRM, and ERP.
  • Multi-channel analysis (speech, desktop, and text) of unified data and creation of actionable knowledge
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) drives learning decision-making engines (LDME) to further analyze actionable knowledge to make best decisions and continuously learn from historical data and analysis.
  • Automated activities driven by LDME to launch actions and automate functions

Recent advancements in AI and learning machines that have transformed these concepts from theory to real products are the key to making IA a feasible solution in powering the four steps of customer experience management.

In the customer service routing segment, IA continuously and automatically captures, monitors, and analyzes the status and performance of all entities engaged in the customer journey, makes the best decision, and in real-time, launches the action to intelligently route the service request. It also captures customer information from each touchpoint and deposits it in a single place accessible to all agents and systems to prevent customers from having to repeat information.

During agent interactions with customers (calls, emails, chat, and desktop transactions), IA captures and analyzes interactions to automatically conduct QA, compliance management, and customer sentiment analysis, to then automate agent interactions through real-time coaching, workflow automation, reminders, and notifications. The recent developments in AI, AI-based chatbots, and intelligent virtual agent (IVA) technologies intelligently automate customer interactions while reducing enterprise expenses.

When it comes to processing customer service transactions, IA utilizes robotic process automation (RPA) to automatically, intelligently, and rapidly process repetitive tasks in various processes without human errors. Business process automation (BPA) then performs data collection, unification, and analysis of customer transactions to automate business processes.

Finally, IA continuously and automatically captures customer sentiment and feedback from every customer touchpoint during and after service (including social media content and customer surveys), analyzes the data, and provides actionable knowledge to LDME that can offer conclusions, trends, and actions. This is all designed to improve systems, processes, and the interactions engaged in the customer journey.

OnviSourceRay Naeini is the CEO and chairman of OnviSource, Inc.

Should Customer Service be a Sales Channel?



By Donna Fluss

Wells Fargo is no longer making daily news headlines, but the impact of their overly aggressive cross-selling culture will be felt by contact centers throughout the United States for a long time. This is a case where one poorly managed organization has hurt an entire industry, as cross-selling is a positive activity when managed properly.

Setting the Record Straight: It’s highly unlikely Wells Fargo’s management was unaware of what was happening in their contact centers. There are many checks and balances in contact centers to ensure that renegade agents do not negatively impact customers or a company’s brand. It’s standard procedure (and a requirement) to record sales calls, and in many cases both the call and screens are captured.

Some recordings are reviewed by a quality management team who evaluate, score, and coach agents on their performance. While DMG does not have any insight into the specifics of Wells Fargo’s contact centers, it’s likely that agents were given sales and up-sell goals that were closely monitored by management. And agents surely participated in training courses where they were instructed in how to improve their sales skills. Agents should deliver an outstanding customer experience. Click To Tweet

Customer Service Is an Art: Delivering an outstanding and personalized service experience is an art that is supported by systems, knowledge, and training. The best customer service reps are innately friendly, love helping people, and enjoy solving problems. They are fully trained and knowledgeable about a company’s products and services and are comfortable using technology to perform their job.

Good service reps are insightful and adept at figuring out what products or services will benefit their customers. As a result, they are excellent at up-selling and cross-selling, particularly when this task is facilitated by a good customer relationship management (CRM) sales system.

Most service reps say they don’t like to sell, but that doesn’t mean they won’t sell when they think it is the right course of action for their customers. Agents do not want to be held accountable for sales goals because it detracts from their primary goal of delivering great service.

Forcing unrealistic sales targets on reps, as was done at Wells Fargo and in many other organizations, changes the dynamic of interactions with customers, which makes agents uncomfortable and unhappy with their jobs. The outcome is often poor service experiences, resulting in unhappy customers and disenfranchised reps who are likely to look for a new job where they can dedicate themselves to doing what they signed up for.

Reward Reps for Enhancing Customer Relationships: This is not to say customer service reps should not be invited and motivated to enhance relationships by offering their customers products and services that are right for them. There is a big difference between requiring agents to attempt an up-sell on every call and encouraging them to enhance relationships by using incentives and perks. The most important difference is that when agents are rewarded for doing more, the company gives them the respect they deserve by leaving it up to them to decide when it’s appropriate to attempt a cross-sell.

Case in Point: A few years ago DMG was asked to help a telecom contact center where agents were threatening to go on strike. There were many issues in this operating environment, but the most offensive to the agents was the requirement that they attempt an up-sell on every customer service call, even if the customer was angry and yelling at them. Fortunately, management backed away from this onerous and inappropriate requirement, at which point the staff was willing to work things out with the company.

Final Thoughts: Agents should be empowered to do what is right for their customers and deliver an outstanding customer experience. In some cases, this may mean talking an angry customer “off a ledge.” In others, it will be offering customers additional products or services.

Give your agents the credit they deserve, and let them choose the right course of action.

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

How Gamification Can Motivate Customer Service Representatives



By Gerald Major

Call center representatives may never get the chance to interact with customers in person, but they are an integral part of any successful business operation. A call center representative is a crucial team member because he or she often meets customers at a turning point in their relationship with a brand: at a time when callers are displeased and looking for answers.

A recent Better Business Bureau survey found that 40 percent of consumers became repeat purchasers after a company successfully resolved their post-purchase issues. The study also found that 72 percent of customers reported that quality service would drive their repeat purchasing, and loyal consumers spend upwards of 67 percent more than new customers. A great customer service experience can turn a dejected customer into a repeat purchaser with the right tactics and approach.

An engaging customer experience is especially important to businesses that have a strictly online presence, as they look to draw buyers without the benefit of a traditional brick-and-mortar store and human-to-human sales experience. According to Internet Retailer, while e-commerce sales grew 14.6 percent in 2015, many consumers believe you cannot replace the in-person customer experience, particularly for larger purchases. It is the call center representative’s job to reverse this sentiment and prove that meaningful retail experiences can happen over the phone.

This is particularly important for an e-commerce company, where the only human-to-human interaction is between a customer service representative and a customer. Whereas a patron can go into a brick-and-mortar store and chat with an associate about products or needs, the interaction a client has with an e-commerce customer service agent in most circumstances is the first, last, and only exchange they have with an e-retailer. It is a critical opportunity to differentiate from the competition and show that e-commerce stores can maintain a positive customer relationship.Team morale increases as representatives discuss and compare their interactions. Click To Tweet

In order to deliver value to shoppers, you must incentivize your call center representatives to deliver the best customer experience possible. Many agents do not realize they are truly at the front lines of brand loyalty, so they must be encouraged to perform at the highest level at all times. One way to do this is through the process of gamification. Gamification is defined as “the incorporation of game elements, such as points and reward systems, to tasks as incentives for people to participate.”

Gamification is used to turn potentially challenging and taxing tasks into fun, energetic competitions. Most people naturally have the desire to compete and win, so gamification is a way to tap this existing drive to assure that team members have the support they need to deliver great customer experiences.

An example of gamification can be something as simple as leaderboards throughout the call center that display key performance metrics, such as a rating of the representative’s responsiveness, helpfulness, and overall performance. In a healthy competitive environment, seeing other representatives at their peak performance receiving five-star reviews and positive comments will push others in the call center to strive for the same results.

In addition to fostering healthy competition, gamification can also create a more meaningful customer interaction. When customers are able to share their comments after the call for all in the center to see, these individual interactions become more memorable and personal. Team morale increases as representatives discuss and compare their interactions and learn from the constant feedback.

Gamification can also assist call center managers from an internal perspective. Keeping better track of customer feedback and factors such as call rates, talk time, returns, and cancellation rates can help identify the performance of individual team members more accurately. If certain representatives are consistently receiving glowing reviews, a manager can look at their specific tactics and use them to train the rest of the team. If some representatives continuously struggle, using specific metrics can help identify measurable ways to help change their approach to ensure success in the future.

Gamification as a concept has existed for a long time, but only recently have companies begun to study and quantify the results of implementing this tactic in their businesses. According to a study by Hamari, Koivisto, and Sarsa, published in ResearchGate, that analyzed twenty-four studies on gamification, a majority of the studies found that gamification does indeed produce positive effects and benefits.

Of course, for gamification to be effective, it has to be personalized to your work environment; some gamification tactics may not appeal to every company or employee. If you customize your gamification method to fit the needs of your call center representatives and foster their growth, it is likely that your employees will be more motivated to succeed. In a world where an unhappy customer’s voice can be amplified on social media with a click of a button, call centers can’t afford not to invest in proactive tactics to create a superior customer experience.

Gerald Major is the director of customer experience at CARiD, an online seller of all things automotive and more.

The Power of Conversation: We May Be Looking at Productivity All Wrong



By Holger Reisinger

When was the last time you heard someone rave about his or her experience with a customer service representative? If you can’t recall, it’s not surprising. According to my company’s research, 80 percent of customer service workers say they deliver “superior” service. Yet only 8 percent of customers agree. Where’s the disconnect? It’s centered on the productivity of the worker.

The performance of traders, advisors, call-center employees, and customer service representatives is typically measured by tracking volume of calls, time between calls, and number of breaks. Instead, the emphasis should be on improving employee concentration and efficiency through discovering the power of conversation. At most companies this could close the gap between the most and least productive employees by 47 percent. 

The Importance of People: To supplement live operators, more and more companies are automating customer service functions, but I would argue that this is not the answer. Interacting with an automated recording often inconveniences and angers customers. Anyone who has ever walked through the multistep automated customer service menu only to finally be redirected to a person can probably agree that the experience is frustrating at best. While there is a time and a place for automated calls, such as allowing customers to check bank balances or make payments, we gain much with human communication.

Only a human being can actively listen, understand nuances, and seek information that directly correlates to a customer service problem. This means that customer service representatives have the potential to transform the customer experience. Humans can empathize, solve problems, and help make decisions, unlike a prerecorded machine.

Humans can have a dialogue. Through the power of conversation, employees can encourage brand loyalty and promote a positive brand reputation.

Statistics to Consider: While conversations are an important business tool, organizations put themselves at risk of losing business when they use customer service representatives who lack training in the power of conversation. A few stats to consider:

  • Eighty-nine percent of customers will leave a brand for a competitor after a negative customer experience.
  • Poor service entices up to 91 percent of customers to rescind their business, and that’s not limited to poor service from automated systems.
  • Customers angered by poor service not only leave a brand, they also share their negative experiences with up to fifteen other people.
  • Conversely 73 percent of consumers say they will love a brand if they receive friendly and helpful service on the phone.

Data like this reinforces how critical it is for organizations to put the time and effort into training employees to deliver a positive, memorable experience. With this in mind, it’s shocking to find that only 12 percent of marketing budgets address servicing existing customers.

Deal with Distractions: In addition to small budgets, the changing office landscape also contributes to call center worker challenges. In the move to create open and collaborative office spaces, employers are introducing new and bigger distractions. In fact, a quarter of call center employees count interruptions from colleagues and a loud workplace as their biggest distractions. Trailing not far behind, the number of calls and emails each day are also cited as a major distraction and stressor.

As if a noisy environment isn’t challenging enough for delivering quality customer service, 73 percent of decision-makers in call center environments say there’s an increase in the complexity of customer interactions. Today’s customers are well educated on their problem before contacting the brand. Through an increase in technology, customer service is expected to be available online via chat, email, over the phone, or via text. Increased complexity means there is an even bigger need for concentration on the task at hand.

Some Simple Suggestions: Calls have an important place in the organization, and they aren’t going away any time soon. In fact the length of calls is expected to increase by 40 percent in the next five years. The open and collaborative office space isn’t likely to go away any time soon either. So what can an organization do to help their employees battle distractions and stay focused?Employees can encourage brand loyalty and promote a positive brand reputation. Click To Tweet

A few tricks that we uncovered include:

  • Stay hydrated: Our research found the most productive call center agents were 22 percent more likely to say “bottoms up” to a glass of water than the least productive. A recent study in the U.K. found that one in five office spaces has about 25 percent relative humidity—nearly that of the Sahara Desert. It’s no surprise that productive agents are more likely to stay hydrated when you consider how difficult it would be to concentrate on a conversation with a parched mouth and itchy throat from nearly four hours of talking (in the desert) each day.
  • Control noise: The most productive call center employees have the right supporting tools to help them stay on task, including noise-canceling technology to drown out the open office buzz and hone in on what the customer is saying.  
  • Improve posture: Shifting posture throughout the day was another key factor that separated the most and least productive call center employees. Encourage employees to be mindful of their posture and move as needed instead of focusing on the number of calls they can zip through in an hour. You just might find that actual productivity and the number of happy customers increases.

Boosting customer satisfaction doesn’t require an overhaul of the way your organization operates. Call center employees and their human touch have and will remain vital in creating value for customers and delivering high-quality service. Instead, smart companies are providing working conditions that enable concentration and help service representatives overcome top challenges to productive calls. With the right tools and support in place, organizations can finally realize the full power of conversation.

Holger Reisinger is SVP of Business Solutions at Jabra.

IVR Optimization Improves Service and Reduces Costs



By Donna Fluss

In many customer service contact centers, the interactive voice response (IVR) system handles approximately 55 to 95 percent of the calls, depending on the vertical and the effectiveness of the system. An IVR can save companies millions of dollars; a typical customer service call handled by a live agent costs $3.00 to $6.50, while an IVR transaction costs $0.03 to $0.25 per minute.

IVRs are so good at deflecting routine calls from agents that companies often take them for granted and do not give them the attention they deserve. The issue is that over time, business requirements and customer expectations change, while many IVRs do not. This costly oversight can be addressed with a small and continuous investment in your IVR application.

DMG research shows that both baby boomers and millennials prefer to use self-service solutions to resolve an issue, but they will interact with a live representative when the automated tools are not successful. This indicates great potential for self-service solutions: Companies can improve their customer experience (CX) by enhancing their IVR. When an IVR is well designed, easy to use, and effective in giving callers the information and answers they need, it’s no longer an issue of customers tolerating the IVR; it becomes a preference instead.

A small ongoing investment in your IVR will make a major contribution to your contact center or enterprise’s bottom line. As importantly, since self-service is a valuable step in the customer journey and plays an influential role in the overall CX, keeping an IVR current, relevant, and easy to use is a necessity for your brand. An IVR optimization initiative delivers significant benefits because it enhances the customer experience while reducing operating costs and improving agent engagement.

IVR optimization efforts are intended to address many activities, such as identifying and eliminating impediments that prevent callers from completing a transaction, improving the process flow to make it easier for callers to address their needs, enhancing grammars (for speech-enabled solutions), replacing outdated and awkward phrases, reducing the number of times a phrase is repeated, and changing the pace of communication.

The enhancements required during an optimization effort depend on a business’s current needs, which change as the market and consumer expectations mature. If a company is willing to develop a personalized and adaptive IVR application, the benefits will be even greater, but this may require an investment in new technology in addition to a major usability refresh. Many callers are happy to use an IVR, and many even prefer it for simple activities. Click To Tweet

Customer expectations have changed since the early 1980s when IVRs were first rolled out. These days, many callers are happy to use an IVR, and many even prefer it for simple activities—if it is well designed and allows them to quickly and easily conduct business and transfer to an agent when necessary.

Visit www.dmgconsult.com/your-customers-deserve-a-better-ivr/e to see IVR optimization return on investment (ROI) models that show the monthly and annual savings that can be achieved by enhancing your IVR self-service solution. You can also find best practices for building an IVR optimization program to deliver ongoing benefits to your customers and organization.

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

Vendor Profile: American Tel-A-Systems (Amtelco)

Amtelco


Amtelco is proud of its long history of innovation and serving customers, and that innovation and service will continue as its focus in 2017.

Amtelco is a leading supplier of call center and messaging systems in the telemessaging and healthcare industries due to its commitment to serving the needs of customers with advanced technology and solutions. Amtelco President Tom Curtin states, “At the very core of Amtelco is our reputation for innovation. Many great products come from Amtelco, and many of these products and features are the result of listening to our customers. Amtelco celebrated its fortieth anniversary in 2016, and we are excited by the prospects for the next forty years.”

Partnering with Customers: Amtelco is focused on advancing solutions by partnering with customers. Amtelco works closely with its customers, both through direct communication and the National Amtelco Equipment Owners (NAEO) and the Telescan User Network (TUNe) organizations.

Amtelco and NAEO coordinate on innovations and communications about new developments through the NAEO future direction committee, with Amtelco represented on the committee by Kevin Beale, vice president of software, research and development; Greg Beale, vice president of customer services; and Alan Tucker, director of software, research and development.

Amtelco and TUNe coordinate on innovations and ongoing communications with Bob Vornberg, Telescan’s general manager and director of product development, leading those efforts.

Communications: Amtelco is committed to providing ongoing communication and updates to customers through monthly Amtelco Insider newsletter articles, regularly scheduled webinars, and NAEO future direction committee webinars.

Customer Service: Amtelco is committed to providing the best possible customer service with one of the largest customer service teams in the telemessaging industry. The customer service department demonstrates this commitment by staffing Amtelco’s help desk at the corporate headquarters in McFarland, Wisconsin, from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., central standard time, with a demonstrated standard for answering calls within three rings (eighteen seconds).

Beyond standard support hours, service calls are dispatched immediately to an on-call Amtelco support engineer equipped to address any issue. Amtelco has a demonstrated track record of responding to after-hours support calls in thirty minutes or less. Amtelco provides a customer service Web portal for customers to access product documentation, training videos, software updates, and technical resources and documents.

Research and Development: Research and development and innovation are a primary focus for Amtelco. Amtelco has one of the largest research and development groups in the telemessaging industry, and it is dedicated to advancing Amtelco’s software solutions by working closely with customers and the NAEO and TUNe organizations. Amtelco builds solutions that offer advanced features while maintaining simplicity of administration and system management, with comprehensive integrations through Web service APIs, database integrations, HL7 electronic medical record integrations, and IP switching integrations.

Reliability: Reliability and maximum uptime are a primary focus of Amtelco solutions. Amtelco’s Infinity Intelligent Series has a demonstrated uptime of 99.998 percent with an average annual downtime of less than ten minutes during 365 days of nonstop, twenty-four-hours-a-day call processing.

Amtelco has numerous examples of call centers that have had continuous operation of their system with no extended periods of downtime, including a hospital with continuous operation for seventy months, another site with continuous operation for forty-four months, and a third location with continuous operation for twenty-nine months.

HIPAA and PCI Security: Amtelco maintains a standing security working group that is comprised of director-level and managerial-level representatives of every department in the company. This group is charged with monitoring the compliance of Amtelco’s business practices and product offerings with federal, state, local, and international privacy and security regulations, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and Payment Card Industry (PCI).

Spectrum: The Telescan division of Amtelco offers the Spectrum call center and messaging system which includes a skills-based ACD, voicemail, call recording, messaging, and dispatching. Spectrum includes the Prism II software-based switch.

Infinity Intelligent Series: The Infinity Intelligent Series platform has been a leading call center and messaging system in the industry since its introduction. The combination of Infinity switching, skills-based multichannel ACD, call recording, and voicemail with the advanced applications of the Intelligent Series have enabled Infinity call centers to grow and prosper with advanced industry capabilities. The long history of the Infinity Intelligent Series reflects Amtelco’s commitment to continue development of and support for its products without forcing customers to migrate to new platforms.Amtelco is committed to providing the best possible customer service. Click To Tweet

Genesis Intelligent Series: The Genesis Intelligent Series elevates the Infinity switching platform with software-based switching. It provides a skills-based ACD for more than five hundred agents, call recording and playback, full motion video capture of agent screens, voice processing, text-to-speech conversion, conferencing, the simplified soft agent interface, and a mobile-friendly user Web interface.

The key to the Genesis Intelligent Series is the simplified administration and management of all call center applications within the Intelligent Series supervisor. This reduces errors, administration time, the time required to activate new clients, and maintenance overhead. It reduces or eliminates the need to contact Amtelco for support, and it increases revenue through reduced labor and faster client activation.

The Genesis Intelligent Series is an entirely software-based solution. This enables deployment in a virtual machine environment. Virtual machine deployment provides simplification of server utilization and maintenance to improve reliability and reduce overhead costs.

The Genesis Intelligent Series is perfectly suited for cloud applications. This enables deployment of the solution in cloud environments such as Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure. Cloud implementation reduces premise-based equipment and overhead and provides flexibility and reliability by capitalizing on the cloud provider infrastructure.

MergeComm Automated Dispatching: MergeComm automated dispatching elevates capabilities of the Intelligent Series by adding automation to the process. MergeComm reduces errors and saves labor by automating inbound message and outbound dispatch activities. MergeComm enables receiving inbound messages via email, Web service API, SMS text message, TAP page, WCTP page, HL7 record from an EMR platform, and phone call. MergeComm automates outbound dispatching with automated retries, escalations, and dispatching for individuals and groups.

Web and Mobile Solutions: Amtelco’s Web solutions provide end-user access to directories, on-call schedules, messages, reports, and call recordings. Amtelco introduced the miTeamWeb mobile-friendly Web interface in 2016 to provide an interface that can be accessed equally as well from a personal computer, tablet, and smartphone.

Secure Smartphone Messaging Solutions: Amtelco provides secure smartphone messaging with the miSecureMessages solution. MiSecureMessages provides the ability to send and receive messages securely using Android and Apple mobile devices and personal computers. MiSecureMessages is tightly integrated with the Intelligent Series applications to enable sending messages to users and receiving updates from users, including read receipt and replies. This provides true interactive two-way messaging.

AmtelcoCustomer Commitment: The combination of Amtelco’s products and customer support ensures the success of Amtelco’s customers. Amtelco wishes to thank its customers for partnering with them and looks forward to an even brighter future in the years to come.

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