Tag Archives: Customer Service Articles

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

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineMy 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 customerI’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

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineI 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.

Communicating with Your Customers



Embrace the Rapidly Changing Customer Communication Model

By Gary E. Barnett

A phrase often used to describe rapid acceleration of a business model is Change2 (change squared). Change2 is easily observed in segments such as transportation (Uber and Lyft), consumer goods (Amazon and eBay), financial institutions (PayPal and Bitcoin) and even the automobile (Tesla) and space (SpaceX) industries. And although it is subtle to some, if not most, customer communication has also been evolving at a Change2 pace.

For anyone older than a millennial, the traditional form of customer communication—other than the brick-and-mortar, face-to-face variety—was limited to the contact center, where the customer could call to conduct business or be called when appropriate. Even today most contact centers are still based on voice (telephone calls), although new forms of communications (chat, SMS, video, and email) are creeping into the traditional contact center.Traditional customer communication shifts the burden to the contact center, while in a comprehensive model, the burden is lifted from the contact center. Click To Tweet

Contact centers are increasingly labor-heavy. They’re typically a burden on most company’s net promoter scores and often a sore point with customers. And let’s face it, many people dread calling a contact center. Just my mention of being in the contact center industry provokes a stranger’s long-winded rendition of their worst contact center experience. In many cases, what starts as a mundane request for information turns into a more-than-required complex (and many times frustrating) experience.

Reflecting on my own recent contact center interactions, most of the frustration was driven by the fact that I knew more about my issue than the agent. Now, I don’t mean this in a derogatory manner. I simply mean that there’s a myriad of information to communicate to the agent before that person has enough detail to provide meaningful assistance.

In fact, I now approach virtually every contact center call I make as a mission to get the agent as educated as quickly as possible so they can get to the task of solving my issue or selling me their latest whiz-bang product or service. An outbound contact center has an advantage because the agent can be “educated” before placing the outbound call.

Fast-forward at Change2 speed. During my last ride-share experience, I was kept informed through various forms of communication, providing a rather pleasant overall experience. Anytime I wanted to see the location of my driver and her anticipated arrival, I simply had to glance at my smartphone app.

Because of my pickup location, I needed to speak directly with the driver while she was in route. With a single tap in the app, I could immediately speak with my driver. The driver’s mobile number was not exposed to me, and more importantly, my mobile number was not exposed to her. My smartphone lit up with an SMS message when my driver arrived, and my credit card company sent me a notification the moment my credit card was charged.

This is not to say that contact centers will disappear or even become less relevant. They’re going through their own Change2 and will be absorbed by a broader comprehensive customer communication experience. The recent advancement of some contact centers to move from being limited to telephone calls to adding new channels of communication such as chat, email, SMS, and even video is just the beginning.

While these new channels add new choices for the customer, they typically mimic the capabilities of telephone calls. BPOs (business process outsourcers) will see these changes as challenging, but such changes will also provide new opportunities to add valuable services to their portfolios and provide these services to new organizations or business units within their existing customer base. For example, BPOs who primarily handle outbound teleservices will need to consider how outbound notifications through SMS or mobile applications can enhance the services they offer their customers.

Let’s take a closer look at some of my own personal experiences with some of these Change2 companies. They have fundamentally altered the models of their market segments. In the past year I have transacted many thousands of dollars with these companies. My experiences have been highly satisfactory. Their ability to communicate with me, as their customer, in a highly comprehensive manner impresses me. And to my recollection, I never communicated with these companies via their contact centers.

Through a variety of communication mechanisms, I stayed informed throughout my transactions. These channels included SMS, email, websites, and mobile apps. Each of these companies has a clear strategy on when to communicate with their customers, but also how and what to communicate. BPOs who are already skilled in outbound dialing should add these new forms of outbound communications to their portfolio of solutions.

Another attribute of a comprehensive communication strategy is that it must be a corporate strategy rather than a contact center strategy. Otherwise the outcome will appear disjointed and confusing to the customer. In my ride-sharing example, the communication experience would not have been as effective if I had been routed to a contact center, who would have relayed my message to the driver. Even though there was a telephone call between me and my driver, I didn’t have to search for a number; it was integrated into the mobile app. It also gave me a choice between a call or texting.

Traditional customer communication shifts the burden to the contact center, while in a comprehensive model, the burden is lifted (and often eliminated) from the contact center. I have yet to even interact with a contact center provided by Amazon, Uber, Lyft, PayPal, and eBay. Yet I have the perception that my communication level with these companies is high. By shifting the communication burden from the contact center through automation, there is an increased communication, enabled by the appropriate applications throughout the enterprise.

What customer communication applications, and their automation, are dependent upon a specific strategy? Application “hooks” for embedding communications are a must, generally accessing centralized preferences for customization down to the individual customer. Maintaining flexible customer communications preferences will be key, as preferences will certainly differ from customer to customer. They also likely will change for any given customer over time, especially as new communication channels become accessible.

Some enterprises have already created positions to plan, coordinate, and implement these initiatives. This makes sense where applications span multiple organizations and a comprehensive customer communication strategy is of high value. BPOs must monitor their customers changing organizations, which will impact contact center decisions.

Notwithstanding proactive notifications, workflows and other technologies are becoming the significant difference in the evolution to a comprehensive customer communication strategy. In most instances the contact center will no longer be the “center” for customer communication. Customers will view unsolicited proactive updates as highly informative and valuable, especially when using their specific preferences for when, what, and how.

Additionally, customers will expect all contact points be communication-enabled, including websites, mobile apps, and kiosks—and each will offer multiple channels of communication. Contact centers will not survive as islands, but rather they will participate in the overall customer communication strategy.

In summary, new business models incorporate comprehensive customer communication strategies, and these strategies play a significant role in those new models. Contact centers will continue to be necessary and expected by customers, but they won’t necessarily remain the primary customer contact point. Additionally, proactive outbound notifications will become the norm, as will communication-enabled mobile apps.

BPOs have a real opportunity to add new capabilities to their portfolios to help their customers adopt new forms of communication outside of the traditional contact center. Customer communication requirements will not be successful as silos, but instead will be shared across the enterprise. Finally, this will all occur at a Change2 pace. Is your company ready?

Gary E. Barnett is the former president and CEO of Aspect Communications, former president and CEO of Prospect Software, and most recently the former senior vice president and general manager at Avaya. In his thirty-five-year career, Mr. Barnett is known for his technical innovations in the contact center, unified communication, and CTI industries.

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.

Start Today

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.