Tag Archives: Customer Service Articles

Build Robust Customer Relationships by Being Proactive



By Jill J. Johnson

While today’s online sales process can appear streamlined, it creates complexities and confusion for consumers who have many options in a global marketplace. The internet has blurred traditional sales territories because consumers can now search the world for the products and services they want or need. Finding the right one requires them to weed through many alternatives so they can make optimal purchasing decisions. 

Proactively building robust and trusting relationships with customers provides opportunities to become their top advisor and go-to vendor. Anticipating potential customer service challenges will help develop a framework for resolving issues in a manner that protects customer relationships. Software applications and marketing automation also create opportunities for enhanced customer insight and relationship development. 

Team Efforts Build Strong Customer Relationships

The most successful salespeople develop strong and lasting relationships with their customers. They focus on solving problems, not just making a transaction. They become an advisor their clients rely on for accurate information and solutions to address their needs. They are responsive and do not leave their clients waiting for answers. With this approach, you can anticipate opportunities for your customers and present new ideas when they are most likely ready to consider them.

Successful sales and marketing team members work closely together to create synergies among all communications used to connect with customers. Service teams must also work in sync with sales to deliver the quality that sales promised. There is nothing worse for the client relationship than a salesperson making a promise that service can’t deliver. In most organizations, service delivery stands separate from sales. Each department has its own evaluation metrics, with little communication between the two groups. When that happens, the entire customer relationship can be at risk.

Companies that effectively calibrate and coordinate their ability to supply the services the customer expects will be the most successful over the long-term. Sales relationships strategized throughout the organization provide the best opportunities for gaining accurate customer intelligence. 

You must move from passive order-taking to developing a customer relationship focused on knowing their interests and requirements. Click To Tweet

Maintaining Customer Relationships Requires Trust

When working with clients who have a long-standing relationship with your organization, it can become easy to take them for granted. Personal relationships often develop among the various parties on both sides. Frequently this evolves into a high-trust relationship.

When there is a glitch in service, client relationships can be jeopardized. If something significant interferes with the trust relationship, the entire account can be at risk. It may be service glitches or price points that are too high. When this occurs, it can be easy for everyone to assume that the relationship will resolve the issue. But when it doesn’t, everyone must remember that business is business. Personal relationships developed with care over time can vanish when mistakes occur. Both parties have their own jobs to protect and their own internal political challenges.

Often the best approach is for a call center to operate on a “no surprises” basis with clients. When you know there might be a service issue, the sooner you alert the customer, the more options you have to maintain the trusted relationship. Understanding the latitude and flexibility you have when there is a problem can move you faster to finding a resolution. No matter what, resolve client problems before they become a social media nightmare or result in lost business. 

Effective Client Relationship Management 

Building and managing relationships with your prospects and key referral sources require effort. It’s more than simply having them on your mailing list or emailing them newsletters or updates. More personal and consistent one-to-one relationships are necessary to achieve your goals. 

You must move from passive order-taking to developing a customer relationship focused on knowing their interests and requirements. Then you can match your outreach and communications to move them through their decision-making cycle. Reassess your prospect management to determine if you are relying on stale efforts that do little to move the sale forward or deepen your relationship. 

Years ago, salespeople tracked customer information on index cards. Today, robust customer relationship management (CRM) software has changed how we manage interactions with current and potential clients. CRM integration with email marketing applications can enhance sales productivity and offer options for customer personalization.

Using CRM tools helps you stay on top of customer follow-up. This requires an investment of time in capturing information into the system. Once you do this, you can take advantage of opportunities to use its robust capability for data capture and market segmentation options. These efforts will help you more effectively manage your client relationships and provide options for efficient and appropriate outreach.

Final Thoughts 

Take time to review the effectiveness of your approach to customer relationship management. Don’t take your client relationships for granted. As with any relationship, they must be nurtured to preserve and grow. Actively managing your customer and prospect interactions creates more opportunities for engagement. Each engagement takes you one step closer to closing another sale or selling a bigger deal than you can currently imagine. 

Being your customers’ subject matter expert, anticipating their needs before they do, and doing their homework for them are essential to successful and lasting customer relationships. Improving your customer’s experience will build word of mouth about your effectiveness as a sales professional—rather than just someone who manages transactions.

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

Balancing Patient Care with Data Security and Privacy



The stakes have never been higher for healthcare providers to deliver a positive patient experience. According to a recent study by Prophet, 81 percent of consumers are unsatisfied with their healthcare experience, while only 40 percent believe providers are best meeting their needs. At the same time, data breaches in the healthcare sector are at an all-time high, occurring at a rate of more than one per day in the United States.

These security incidents not only jeopardize patients’ privacy but also put both patient trust and brand reputation at risk.

All the while, medical practitioners, hospitals, and insurers are pressed to keep up with the ever-evolving regulatory compliance landscape. This not only includes the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) but also the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and a long list of individual state regulations and data breach notification laws.

With HIPAA violations alone incurring fines as high as 50,000 dollars (for each violation or exposed record), healthcare organizations are finding themselves wedged between conflicting objectives: How do you protect patient data and maintain compliance without losing sight of providing the best possible patient experience? 

Contact Center Security

While you can’t please every patient, you can strike a balance between care and data security. The first place to address this is the contact center.

Patients have full control over inputting their information and can enjoy peace of mind that their data is protected. Click To Tweet

Although online interaction tools and patient portals are gaining in popularity, you can’t underestimate the value of the voice channel. Research by PatientPop shows that 58.5 percent of patients still prefer to schedule an appointment via phone.

As such, your contact center is often the go-to point of interaction for your patients and can set the tone for their entire experience. But this also means that your contact center intrinsically holds, processes, and stores copious amounts of personally identifiable information (PII), from medical records to payment card data. This makes the contact center an alluring target for fraudsters and hackers.

However, it’s not only devious cybercriminals who threaten your patients’ data. Company insiders, such as rogue call center service representatives or contact center agents, pose a massive threat, especially if they have access to patient data given over the phone or stored in desktop applications. In fact, 58 percent of all healthcare data breaches and security incidents are the result of insiders, according to Verizon’s Protected Health Information Data Breach Report.

Security Best Practices

With inside and outside threats, as well as vulnerable legacy systems serving as entry points for enterprise-wide breach incidents, contact centers are undoubtedly a weak link in your security chain. But protecting PII, maintaining compliance, and providing a positive patient experience first involve a hearty dose of security best practices:

  • Treat all data as potentially toxic. The more information that is available in the event of a breach, the easier it will be for a malicious insider or cybercriminal to steal a patient’s identity or access their private medical records.
  • Train all employees and always perform thorough background checks. Go beyond basic employee vetting and background checks, especially when hiring for your contact center environments. Educate staff and agents on data security best practices and on how to spot social engineering and phishing tactics.
  • Prepare your response management policy. Have an incident response management policy and process in place, preferably as part of an information security management system. Prepare for a worst-case scenario and assess your incident response plan at least annually.
  • Tokenize data. Replace PII with a meaningless equivalent, so even if a breach is successful, the hacked data will be of no value to the cybercriminal. This approach can also assist in the event of a social engineering attack, which can put even the most trustworthy employee at risk for exposing PII.
  • Enforce the principle of least privilege. Give employees the minimum level of access required to perform their job function at the appropriate time. Introduce exception procedures for when emergency access is needed.
  • Authenticate the user to authenticate the service agent. Prevent agents from accessing patient data until they have received the right data from the user. This means that until the caller has been successfully identified using the appropriate secure authentication approach, access to detailed PII will be denied.

Descoping Technologies

With these tactics creating a foundation for security in your contact center, you can introduce descoping technologies. Such technologies not only strengthen data security and compliance by removing sensitive data from your infrastructure, but they also garner a positive patient experience and journey.

For the voice channel dual-tone multifrequency (DTMF), masking solutions hold great promise, allowing patients to discretely enter numerical PHI—such as payment card, insurance, or account numbers—using their phone’s keypad. The keypad tones, however, are masked with flat tones, so they are not exposed to anyone but the patient. The data collected is encrypted and sent to a compliant third party, bypassing the contact center’s environment completely.

While this process may invoke notions of automated interactive voice response (IVR) systems, it is not the same. Here, agents can remain on the line in full voice communication with the patient, guiding them through the transaction, answering questions, and even handling wrap-up tasks. There are no challenges with misheard or mis-keyed data, which can lead to premature hang-ups and abandoned calls. In addition, patients have full control over inputting their information and can enjoy peace of mind that their data is protected. This makes for a better overall customer experience.

Conclusion

Data security and privacy are key to providing positive interactions with your customers and patients, and there is no longer any need to compromise in either area. A combination of security best practices, strategies, and emerging descoping technologies are ideal solutions to achieve both. No matter which route you take, the less PII you hold and handle, the better off you’ll be. Remember, no one can hack the data you don’t have.

This article is provided by Semafone, a leading provider of data security and compliance solutions for call and contact centers. Learn more at Semafone or contact Rebecca.Rowe@semafone.com.

Six Key Steps to Successfully Outsource Your In-House Customer Care



By Kelli Barabasz

Are you considering outsourcing your in-house customer care? There are many factors that come into play when considering outsourcing. How do you pick the right outsource partner? What should you look for? How long will this take? There are so many questions that it’s hard to know where to begin. 

So how do you successfully outsource your in-house customer care? First you must have a clear outline and clear expectations. Here are the six key steps you must look at when preparing to outsource.

1. Define the Call Center Outsourcing Project Scope

There are many crucial factors to consider in your project. First you must create a project description so that all your partners clearly understand the full extent of the project. Next you need to identify the needs, goals, expectations, and known roadblocks. Finally, you need to get acceptance from all involved partners. This will determine the extent of your project and the factors it comprises.

2. Find Your Outsource Partner

When looking for the right outsource partner, you must consider these essential components of the outsourcer:

  • What is the outsource partner’s culture and values, including their vision and scope?
  • How is the company’s financial stability?
  • What are the company’s capabilities: technology, people, process, and size?
  • Is the company credible? Ask for client reviews.
  • Most importantly, how are communication and client management practices handled?

3. Define Your Call Center Outsourcing Deliverables

What outcomes are you looking for? First identify your stakeholders so together as a team you can identify the requirements and set reasonable due dates for the main components of your project. Document every requirement and due date along with the owner of each. Be sure to include a sign-off piece to this process where at least two stakeholders approve the completion of the deliverables.

Having a great plan in place is essential to success. Click To Tweet

4. Create a Call Center Outsourcing Implementation Plan

Include your stakeholders in all meetings to ensure everyone is involved in creating the proper implementation and execution plan. These comprise milestones, tasks, budget expectations, and timelines. You should include an evaluation process at the beginning of each meeting to gauge the progress of each of the above criteria. Keep these meetings at a high level, and schedule subset meetings to ensure the plan remains on target.

5. Identify Your Roadblocks with Call Center Outsourcing

Problems can derail your project, so identifying potential obstacles up front is critical. Even after listing the possible issues, you will have other glitches that come up throughout your entire implementation. Don’t let the roadblocks stop your progress. Include all stakeholders and come up with alternatives or workarounds.

6. Implement End-to-End Testing 

Once you are ready for your implementation and execution, it is time to start your comprehensive testing. In the end-to-end testing, the entire application is verified in a real-world scenario—such as communicating with the database, network, hardware, and other applications. Having a great plan in place is essential to success. Be sure to include back-end reporting in your testing to ensure that the data transmitted is coming across appropriately in the outsourcer’s reporting.

The Final Consideration

Once you have followed the six key steps to successfully outsource your in-house customer care, it is your outsourcer’s responsibility to manage your account. You will want to establish the right person as the outsourcer’s main contact. In this model, the manager’s role changes. They now manage a service provider, not service deliverables.

Kelli Barabasz is a call center industry leader with over twenty-five years of experience and success with call center startups, client management, and implementations. Currently serving as a senior operations manager for QCS, Kelli’s detail-oriented approach is used to analyze existing operations and to implement best practices, new strategies, processes, and efficiencies, enabling her clients to achieve better outcomes.

Three Ways AI and Machine Learning Is Improving Live Chat



By Dan Somers

Many companies are implementing live chat because it offers a better experience for some queries and with some customers. It also offers cost savings for companies compared to voice. Indeed, the channel has been growing 87 percent per year, according to CustomerThink.

BoldChat found that the top reasons given for why people prefer live chat are immediacy of responses, 71 percent; ability to multitask, 51 percent; and don’t like talking on the phone, 22 percent.

However, canned responses, complex queries, or poor staffing can lead to the opposite experience. This results in channel switching, repeat calls, abandonment, or even churn. Misunderstandings can happen more frequently than during a telephone conversation, and with both customers and agents multitasking, there is plenty of room for error. Offshore chat operations often compound these concerns with cultural issues and additional misunderstandings.

However, new techniques in AI and machine learning make the analysis of live chat both easy and immediately actionable. Here are three ways these tools can transform chat optimization:

New techniques in AI and machine learning make the analysis of live chat both easy and immediately actionable. Click To Tweet

1. Human in the Loop AI

The technology runs automatically in the background until it needs a nontechnical person to assist with tuning the models in a rapid and efficient way. It prompts for a human only when needed. This frees up agent resources and maintains a current, fine-tuned, and accurate model.

2. Automatic Identification of Sentiment and Intent 

Models can automatically tag the chats with customer intent, sentiment, and emotion, such as if they’re considering leaving or expressing some other actionable emotion. This frees agents from several seconds of manual work (that is, after call work), where they can only typically do one tag at a time even if there are multiple issues to address.

3. Automated Next Best Action 

Use these models to drive insight specific to the customer in the moment through the automation of next best actions, enhancing the overall customer experience. They can plug natively into chat software APIs to automatically classify tags tuned to the specific requirements of the business.

Chat provides many benefits to both businesses and customers. Take these three steps to optimize your chat services for even greater results.

Dan Somers is the CEO of Warwick Analytics, developers of PrediCX, a machine learning platform that generates automated and customizable models specific to a particular chat stream.

Asking Questions to Enhance Strategic Thinking



By Jill J. Johnson

The foundation of effective strategic thinking and strategy development is knowing how to ask the right questions. Learning to ask the right questions can be difficult because most people only know how to ask superficial questions that require easy answers. Asking challenging questions allows you to be more impactful in critical situations, have a greater influence on outcomes, and help your organization achieve greater results.

Ask Questions That Matter

The level of uncertainty in today’s business climate is driving major challenges for most leaders. To be an effective leader, you must fully understand the overall strategic goals of your enterprise and key leadership. Use these goals as the framework to align your thinking.

Understand the critical market forces impacting your business strategies so you can determine the questions to answer. What critical market forces are at play in your industry? Are there forces evolving around you that have the potential to impact your survival or growth opportunities? Consider what it will take to grow revenue, expand profitability, improve job satisfaction, enhance productivity, or increase customer retention. How does each of these areas impact the questions you should consider? Structure your questions to challenge the critical issues impacting your ability to achieve these goals.

Three Critical Categories of Questions

There are three categories of questions to evaluate when focusing on strategic thinking. These questions allow you to scan the various elements impacting your enterprise. They include reviewing what is going on internally in your organization, exploring external market forces creating new challenges or opportunities, and a review of your organizational relationships. 

Here are some examples of the types of questions to consider for each level:

Internal Scan: Ask detailed questions about your customers and their evolving needs. 

  • What is the impact of your ownership, culture, and stage of your business life cycle? 
  • Where are the sources of your profitability and capital resources? 
  • What are your leadership capabilities? 
  • How deep is the expertise of your team? 

Make sure you fully understand the key strategies of your organization and the opportunities you have to implement them.

External Scan: Consider the impact of various market forces on your target market and opportunities. 

  • What is happening demographically? 
  • How is your competition influencing your target market’s expectations on service, cost, and quality? 
  • What generational influences impact your ability to compete for your customers? 
  • What are the risks of remaining status quo?

Relationship Scan: Consider the status of the strategic relationships and partnerships you and your enterprise have developed. 

  • How do they impact your opportunities and create new challenges? 
  • Can you tap into other resources they offer or leverage them to achieve your goals? 
  • What are your internal relationships and how can you use them to impact success?

Constructing Your Strategic Questions

Focus your consideration of the questions on the key components impacting your enterprise growth or survival. Your questions should follow the format of who, what, where, when, why, and how. They should be action-oriented. As you answer them, they should provide clarity to your strategic direction and focus. This will guide you into areas needing more research.

Align your questions to address critical business issues. Your questions should help clarify the most critical priorities for your organization. Break these into levels of importance: top, short-term, and ongoing. Also consider the time-horizon for the impact: short-term, mid-term, or long-term. 

By understanding the time priorities, you can categorize your strategic questions to align them with the key external market forces impacting your ability to achieve your goals. Aligning your questions with the external market forces provides you with a deeper level of critical thinking. As you elevate your critical thinking, you can link questions to impact your overall enterprise strategies.

Make sure your questions require some research or reflection. Questions that elicit a “yes” or “no” response are not strategic. Ask provocative questions to encourage deeper thinking. This will bring a higher level of critical thinking to your planning. If your team cannot ask tough enough questions, find an outside advisor or consultant who can provide insight.

Getting Answers to Improve Your Strategic Insight

Often you will have to do some research before you can develop your questions. Think of this as your homework. The right preparation ensures that you will ask better questions. Look to industry associations as a good starting source for insight about emerging issues and challenges. Study how your competitors tackle challenging market forces.

Questions that elicit a “yes” or “no” response are not strategic. Ask provocative questions to encourage deeper thinking. Click To Tweet

Consider your options for obtaining the information that will allow you to confidently address your questions. Outside resources can be an objective source of obtaining information. If you keep this research role internal, work carefully to minimize any bias you might inject into it.

Identify the key metrics you should be monitoring by analyzing industry data. Tie your questions to what improves or impacts each of these metrics. Your questions should consider what impacts your profit margin, return on capital employed, return on investment, and return on assets. If you don’t understand these terms, learn more about them.

You will never have all the available data to answer all your questions. The goal is to obtain enough data to make reasonable judgments or clarify the next layer of questions.

Final Thoughts

Asking questions that matter will build your confidence, and others will be more open to work with you. Learning to ask challenging questions allows you to be more impactful in critical situations, have an influence on outcomes, and help achieve greater results. Thinking strategically is a skill set you must actively work at trying to improve. Find resources to help you learn and practice your critical thinking skills. Building your strategic mindset takes time, discipline, and focus.

What critical questions do you need to ask to improve your business?

Jill J. Johnson is the president and founder of Johnson Consulting Services, an accomplished speaker, an award-winning management consultant, and the author of the bestselling book Compounding Your Confidence. Jill helps her clients make critical business decisions and develop market-based strategic plans for turnarounds or growth. For more information, please visit www.jcs-usa.com.

The Next-Generation Interactive Message Exchange


Startel, Professional Teledata, Alston Tascom

By Bobby Bennet

Contact center clients today no longer focus solely on customer service through phone calls. Prospective clients looking for a call center will evaluate your company’s business strategy and technology. Your prospects have specific needs to meet their customers’ expectations, and they want to know that you can provide them with the tools necessary to accomplish this.

In an increasingly online world, companies now expect their call center to provide customers with an omnichannel experience. They are no longer satisfied with only email, fax, short message service (SMS), paging, and voice communications. As millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) and Generation Z (born between the mid-1990s and early 2000s) increase their presence in the workplace, so does the demand for alternate means of communications. 

Millennials and Gen Z have grown up with the internet and cell phones. They demand quick satisfaction when contacting a company with minimal effort on their part. When they contact a company for a new service, they’re not calling. Rather, they’ll pick up their phone to use web chat or text the company’s phone number. These are features that most major companies have in place today but have been missing within many call center applications for too long. 

Web chat works in most every stage of the customer lifecycle.  Click To Tweet

Mainline texting and web chat are no longer technologies customers may one day want. They’re features that the marketplace demands. On average, Americans text twice as much as they call. Ninety-five percent of texts are read in less than three minutes of being sent, and 33 percent of American adults prefer text to all other forms of communications. Sixty-seven percent of Americans would rather text about appointments, reminders, or scheduling rather than receive an email or phone call, according to the Zipwhip State of Texting 2019 Report. 

SMS Enabling Business Lines

New technology enables SMS and multimedia message service (MMS) on business lines and toll-free numbers for both the contact center and its customers. Imagine having the ability to manage your customer’s text messages the same way you currently do with their voice calls. Adding artificial intelligence and rules-based routing constructed from the interactions and answers of the person texting can populate automated responses that limit or even eliminate agent involvement. 

Enabling SMS for a business can provide customers with a clearer line of communication. Medical offices that send out appointment reminders via SMS a few days in advance with an option to cancel have drastically reduced their number of no-shows. This small change has allowed revenues to increase as well as customer satisfaction with their contact center.

Web Chat 

Web chat is now the norm when communicating with many corporations in the United States. Most of us are accustomed to this growing trend among businesses. A web chat system allows users to communicate in real-time using easily accessible web interfaces, eliminating the need for users to install and learn specialized chat software. 

Many websites now include a live chat button in the bottom corner of the page. This makes it easy for customers to get information about a product, receive assistance, or have questions answered by a live agent. Web chat works in most every stage of the customer lifecycle. 

Email Chat

Email chat is the same concept as webchat except in the form of an email message. An agent can receive an email and respond with the appropriate answer or a predetermined response.

Social Media

Social media for customer service, while not as prevalent as other interactive message exchange mediums, will soon be a mandatory feature for call centers. As millennial and Gen Z demographics increase, we’ll find a growing desire for contact through social media outlets such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. People may respond more positively to a discount offer on social media versus a phone pitch. 

Mass Notification

Mass notification is yet another tool that can provide additional revenue to a contact center. The purpose of such a system is to reach a targeted audience quickly with real-time information. Mass notifications can quickly inform your targeted audience of critical events such as mass casualty incidents, inclement weather, campus alerts, and other emergency-related incidents that require immediate attention. 

There are many nonemergency business applications as well. Uses include company announcements, scheduling requests and changes, marketing messages, billing notifications, appointment reminders, community announcements, school-related announcements, and service interruptions.

If you’ve not already done so, today is the day to plan for the next-gen interactive message exchange.

Startel

Bobby Bennett is the western regional sales manager for Startel (startel.com), a leading provider of best-in-class contact center solutions. He has been in the contact center industry for more than twenty-five years. Startel recently released its platform-agnostic GenIMX solution, which provides contact centers across all platforms the ability to add SMS-enabling LAN lines, web and email chat, and mass notification. 

Customer Service Makes the Difference



The Way Companies Deal with Customer Issues Has Future Implications

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-customer service

A day and a half into my week, and I’ve already endured three major customer service issues from three vendors. Their responses could not have been more different.

One issue was with a global company that whisks money around the world in seconds. Usually, everything works flawlessly. But if there’s a hiccup, they leave customers hanging. I’m left with filling out an online resolution dispute form. 

Doesn’t Care

At best they get back with me within a week, never hours or even a few days. At worst they told me it would take one to three months. Since it only took them three weeks, I suppose I should be grateful. This week’s issue needed a quick resolution, so I didn’t bother to contact them. It only took the person I sent money to and me an hour and a half to figure out a workaround resolution on our own.

This company is hard to reach. I suspect it’s part of their business model. Deprioritizing customer service seems to work for them. They’ll surely retain market share until someone matches their features and provides good customer support. Then they’ll wish they had given customer service more attention.

Puts Forth a Good Effort

The second episode occurred with an even larger global company. People often complain about their customer service. As for me, they always try to help, and they often succeed. That’s not a grand endorsement, but it’s far better than the first company.

I have no doubt but a company's success and growth come from their excellent customer service.  Click To Tweet

Though hard to find, this company gives two customer service options: email and call back. If my question isn’t time-critical or I must convey a lot of detailed information, I opt for email. They respond within twenty-four hours, usually two or three.

However, they encourage phone support. I complete a short form online (picking the right options is the hard part), verify my phone number, and click submit. My phone rings within seconds, and I’m connected to a person within a minute. That person usually resolves my issue on that phone call, without transferring me. 

This time, after spending hours trying to figure things out myself, I contacted them. But I reached the wrong division. The woman instructed me to contact a different group. I don’t know if she couldn’t transfer me or didn’t want to.

The second person was hard to understand, and the audio level was low. For each point, I had to confirm multiple times to make sure I understood correctly. Her words often seemed to contradict what I thought she just said. Eventually, we got through everything, and I obtained the information I needed. As a bonus, it turned out to be correct.

Though this company pushes people to self-service solutions, they do provide personal customer service. From my perspective, they succeed in most instances. However, their smaller, nimbler competitors outshine them in this area, and the company’s market share is shrinking.

Customer Service Excellence

The third incident was with a financial institution. Over the weekend, they upgraded their website and online banking services. They clearly communicated the timetable, what was involved, and what to expect. Despite their meticulous planning, glitches occurred. Though I needed to download a new app, I had trouble finding it on the App Store. This took an hour to resolve. I spent another hour trying to navigate their new interface, configure it correctly, and accomplish the one urgent banking task I had to do.

At one point, I found myself locked out of my account. This required calling them to reset it. Unlike the other two organizations, this one wants people to call. They have their number promptly displayed on every page of their website and each page of their statements. Someone answered on the first ring. Her enthusiasm sounded like this was her first call of the day. Without coming across as haggard or rushed, she reset my password, stayed connected as I logged in, and asked if she could help me with anything else. It was a remarkable experience.

Renowned for their excellent customer service, this successful, rapidly growing, mid-size financial company has won awards and received national recognition as a leader in their sector. 

I have no doubt their success and growth come from their excellent customer service. 

Why don’t other companies get this?

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.

Using Speech Analytics to Improve Customer Relationships in the Call Center



By Jeff Gallino

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What kind of insights does speech analytics offer? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unified Communications: How Endpoint Management Delivers the Goods



By Jeff Kalberg 

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

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

Endpoint management is essential to unified communications succeeding because it:

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

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

Citrix Call Center Case Study

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

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

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

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

Future Proof 

Three factors in unified communications will continue to advance: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vendor Profile – Startel


Startel, Professional Teledata, Alston Tascom

The Unification: Startel, Professional Teledata, and Alston Tascom

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

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

Secure Messaging Gateway Powered by Startel

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

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

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

Secure Messaging Plus 

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

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

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

Flex Agent Interface 

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

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

SS 2.0 Deployment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TBS Payment Portal

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

• Total Billing Solution version 3.1

• Advantage Database Server version 11.1

• An updated TBS3 license, one for each database

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

The Customer Spot 

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

Custom Branded Resource 

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

What’s Next? 

Startel

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