Tag Archives: Customer Service Articles

How to Super Charge Your Customer Experience Remotely



By Jeff Singman

According to a recent research report by SalesForce, 84 percent of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services. The same study found that nearly 80 percent of customers expect consistent experiences across channels with the same capabilities and contextualized engagement based on earlier interactions. Furthermore, 73 percent expect companies to understand their needs and expectations. They want a personalized experience.

The report also found that 62 percent of respondents now expect companies to adapt based on their actions and behaviors, yet only 47 percent say companies are living up to these expectations. According to these results, companies were already struggling to meet customers’ expectations prior to the coronavirus pandemic. If this is truly the case, how will they fare post-pandemic?

Allowing employees to work from home offers significant benefits to both the company and their staff. Click To Tweet

COVID-19 has had an impact on so many areas of our lives: economic, health, education, and business. Many organizations have succeeded in enabling their employees to work from home. But what about the staff responsible for customer success and support? Moving their contact center operations to a remote model can be a costly and logistically difficult challenge, especially for small and medium-size businesses. 

A recent study conducted by analyst firm Nemertes Research found that across key verticals such as healthcare (70 percent) and retail (68 percent), employers are planning to allow their contact center employees to continue to work from home following the coronavirus pandemic. So, what does this mean long term for contact centers and their ability to serve their customers remotely? It means there must be an innovative approach to how contact centers succeed in this “new normal.”

Traditional on-premise enterprise contact center platforms may not have the capabilities to provide adequate support for remote employees. Additionally, many of these platforms can’t process omni-channel interactions, or they make it cost-prohibitive to do so. If you already have a conventional on-premise platform in place, upgrading to the latest multichannel features requires additional capital outlays, special training, and expertise, making the platform even more difficult and expensive to manage and scale.

Newer cloud-based contact center solutions can help companies of all sizes avoid equipment cost and complexity, modernize customer engagement, and support remote workers. But many systems target large-scale contact centers, with advanced capabilities such as multichannel communications and chatbots, with a price tag beyond the reach of many businesses. Worse still, many cloud contact center solutions require six-figure professional services engagements just to begin.

But there are solutions on the market that are easy to set up, can integrate with existing contact center platforms, and are affordable. These solutions can enable a company’s contact center employees to offer world-class customer service and support regardless of where they work.

Platform Goals

When searching for a modern contact center solution, that solution should empower companies to:

  • Eliminate the cost and complexity of traditional on-premise enterprise contact center platforms. Ideally it would be cloud-based, so there’s no need to buy or install any on-site equipment or special-purpose software.
  • Eradicate the expensive professional services required to get the contact center up and running. The solution should be easy to deploy and manage, and require no complicated setup, plug-ins, or configuration.
  • Deliver an affordable, comprehensive collection of cloud-based communications and collaboration services. You want a solution that delivers immersive customer experiences, including video, screen sharing, social media, and web integration, as well as traditional phone calls. Cloud platforms provide the latest features in real-time with no costly upgrades or downtime. 
  • Remove the need to buy costly agent hardware or specialized software that you must install on every agent’s computer or laptop. Agents should be able to easily log on from anywhere, engage with customers, and access all features and services.
  • Elastically scale and add capacity on demand as business requirements dictate. For example, departments or work groups should be able to temporarily add agents to support promotional campaigns or seasonal traffic spikes.
  • Protect and extend existing investments. Look for solutions that give you the option to deploy it as a stand-alone solution or one you can integrate with legacy call center platforms.

No solution is perfect, but those that have these features and functionalities will help ensure that companies not only have satisfied customers, but also happy employees. The Nemertes study also found that there was a direct correlation between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction. For companies that keep agent turnover at less than 15 percent, there is a 26 percent improvement in customer ratings, which is huge. 

Additionally, allowing employees to work from home offers significant benefits to both the company and their staff. For the company, the most significant benefit includes real estate cost savings. According to national averages, the cost of office space per agent is about $8,300 per year, and a fifty-agent contact center saves more than $200,000 per year in real estate by allowing employees to work from home part-time. 

In the Nemertes survey, the reasons companies cited for allowing employees to continue to work from home included: 

  • Fifty-seven percent of companies said it will improve agents’ quality of life, which could in turn lead to lower turnover rates (and lower turnover rates means happier customers).
  • Forty-six percent said it will prepare agents for future disasters. The pandemic made many companies realize they are not ready for a major disaster (such as another pandemic, terrorist attack, or weather event).
  • Thirty-six percent said it is better for the environment to allow people to work from home.
  • Thirty-four percent said the technology works better than they thought.

The bottom line is that we must rethink the way we work. Having the right solutions will be critical in ensuring the success of the contact center industry moving forward. The good thing is that there are cost-effective solutions available today that will allow the modern contact center to super-charge the customer experience, regardless of where their agents work.

 Jeff Singman has been a vice president with Kandy/Ribbon Communications since January 2016. A serial entrepreneur, his experience includes IT, security, telecom, and software solutions, with depth in industries including media, entertainment, financial, and healthcare verticals.

How to Manage Unrealistic Customer Expectations



By Deeksha Dadu

Ask any customer service representative about challenging calls, and they’ll have much to share. Chances are at least one example will be about dealing with a customer’s unreasonable demands. The first instinct is to simply deny the customer when they make an unrealistic request. However, doing so risks upsetting the customer and losing their business. 

Managing customer expectation is an art, but to decode this you must first understand why customers make unrealistic demands. This usually happens when they aren’t aware of your rules, policies, and practices. They don’t understand what your limitations are and what you can or cannot do for them. 

Being transparent in your communication will reduce unrealistic customer expectations. Click To Tweet

Often their expectations hinge on an overpromising sales pitch, which is why they ordered your product or service without spending much time reading your policies. Or it could be they know your policies but still try to take advantage of you.

Be Transparent

Being up front about your policies is an essential step to build trust with your customers. If your sales team makes unrealistic promises and the product team fails to live up to those promises, customer service is bound to encounter that gap in expectations. If they can’t bridge that gap skillfully, customers will stop using your services and leave a negative review, making your company look bad in front of potential customers. 

That’s why it’s essential that your sales team set realistic expectations. It’s better to under-promise and over-deliver. Clearly state your exchange and return policies, product features, and so forth. Publish those on the website and social media pages. Communicate them through pamphlets and company literature as well. 

Most importantly, train customer service representatives to be up front with customers instead of fabricating stories or playing the blame game. They should explain why they’re handling an issue in a certain way and patiently educate customers on what to expect. This will help set reasonable expectations and avoid such conflicts.

Empower Employees 

Arm your customer support representatives with alternative solutions when customers ask for something that is not feasible to give. This is equally applicable if a call center outsourcing partner provides your customer support. These employees are the first point of contact for customers when they have an issue. Support must provide a direct or indirect resolution to the problem and counter any unrealistic expectations the customer might have. The response could range from providing a replacement of the product or offering an extended warranty.

Know Your Ideal Customer

Any company that sets out to sell a product or service, needs to conduct thorough research first. Here are a few steps:

  • Try to understand the product through the customer’s lenses. Which needs does it cater to? How does the product add value to their life?
  • Know your target market. What is the age group of your customers? What is their income? Are they entrepreneurs or students? Where does your ideal customer reside? Where does he or she work?
  • Figure out in which season or at what time the customer buys your product.
  • Determine the decision-making process of your customer. Which part do they focus on before making the purchase?

Communicate with Empathy

Every customer service manager will want employees to understand what the customer is trying to convey. It is hard unless you are deeply empathetic toward what a customer needs. Listen to what the customer is trying to say rather than take a hard line with them. Then the customer will open up to you and trust you to solve their problem. 

For this to be effective, you must talk with the customer and listen to every detail of their experience. Be empathetic and show emotions ranging from surprise, sorrow, anger, and shock to being apologetic. Ask them questions rather than just be another customer service representative answering with a mild “OK.” 

What if the customer has already made up their mind about stopping use of your services? What if they had huge expectations and quietly left when you were unable to meet them? How do you ensure that you meet your standards each time and live up to the customer’s expectations too?

First, to understand a customer’s psychology, review old emails and chats. Try to find what irked them in the first place and what made them calm down. Was it your mistake? 

As you do this, seek to understand what the customer is going through. Realize that a customer decided to place their trust in you. If your company made the error, be apologetic with the intent of retaining that customer. If you come across as uncaring, you will lose the customer.

Ask pointed questions to address their fears. For example: “Are you worried about our service quality?” or “I get a feeling that you’re skeptical of our company. Is there anything I can do to alleviate your fears?”

This will help you to understand what the customer is going through. After that, you can tell them how your product is going to solve their problems, along with its limitations. Being transparent in your communication will reduce unrealistic customer expectations.

Establish Realistic Goals

A customer service manager must be clear about their methodologies and set measurable targets for both parties. For example, a customer might demand, “I want both the laser printer and the printing paper delivered tomorrow.” You know it isn’t a realistic expectation, so you tone down their demands. You come up with a measurable target and say, “I will get you the perfect size of paper delivered by tomorrow and the printer one day after that. I will also help you set up the printer and install its drivers.”

This sounds like an attainable goal if you have done your research and know your strengths. If the customer approves of this, you will have countered unrealistic expectations and set reasonable goals for your company at the same time.

Share Expectations

A company must provide customers with the timeline of their processes. Let’s assume that a customer paid for premium membership to a job portal. It’s the company’s responsibility to provide details about the strategy they will implement, the number of companies they will send the customer’s resume to, the length of time involved, and the likelihood of landing a job. 

The company must delve into its client history and product escalations to make sure they come up with attainable targets and set reasonable expectations. It’s important that a company keeps clients informed. Moreover, it’s important to listen to the client’s suggestions, remembering that it is their money you are working for.

Connect as Requested

Be honest and transparent when communicating with the customer. If a customer wants regular contact and progress updates, provide this. Contact them through email, phone, and chat to alleviate their concerns. If the customer trusts you, they won’t challenge every part of the process. This will establish goodwill.

Conclusion

Customer service representatives must address apprehensive clients. It can get tricky if they hold unrealistic expectations. Follow these steps to successfully address client concerns.

Deeksha Dadu is the co-founder and marketing head for LiveSalesman, a multilingual call center offering support in over thirty European and Asian languages, all delivered by native and bilingual agents. 

Enhancing the Customer Experience with Expanded Services and Automation



By Nancy Lee and April Forer

Call centers exist in an ever-changing marketplace. New channels and technologies are constantly emerging. Using a multichannel, all-in-one system makes it easier to support customers’ needs and earn their loyalty. A true omni-channel system eliminates many performance challenges call centers face today. Agents need to be able to assist customers without having to access multiple systems.

Remote agents are increasingly in demand to maximize the availability of resources. Software and virtual operator applications make working from home easier. To be effective, these tools should be scalable and capable of offering fully functioning call handling.

Automation adds value by accurately handling everyday, tedious tasks, which allows agents to focus on providing a higher level of customer satisfaction. Artificial intelligence (AI) can be employed to improve call taking and reduce errors. Digital channels have become popular tools to enhance the customer experience. Users can use analytics to improve customer retention rates and enrich the caller experience.

These tools can translate popular social media posts, messages, and notifications on the client accounts into tasks for agents to manage. Click To Tweet

Transitioning to Virtual Call Centers

Faced with limited space, some call centers are using a unique solution by having their agents work remotely from home. One of the benefits of running a call center in a virtual server environment, or in the cloud, is the ability to use home-based operators.

Communications software and virtual operator applications make working from home easy. These applications are scalable and offer fully functioning call handling to transform any personal computer into a professional telephone agent station, accessible through the internet or local intranet. All agent functions are still available for remote agent connections, including call log recordings and retrieval, which allows for a smooth transition. For callers, the fact that the agents are remote is transparent.

A cloud-based messaging system is omni-channel and offers flexibility and efficiency. Establish a VPN connection for remote operators to ensure that their connection is secure. Set up the data link via direct connection, remote desktop, or thin client and an audio connection via integrated audio or external audio.

It is helpful to have a remote system that performs directory searches, scripted messaging, and dispatching, and also provides access to call log recordings, web content, and on-call schedules. Custom call center scripting guides remote operators through each call with the exact information they need to provide. The ability to easily edit scripting protocols means that frontline operators, working from any location, will have the most up-to-date information to provide the best caller experience and reduce errors or misinformation.

Benefits of Utilizing AI

AI can reduce customer effort and help resolve customer needs on the first contact. First-contact resolution is a leading sign of a great customer experience. Meeting this goal includes making call taking easier for agents, speeding up the call process for the caller, and reducing the possibility of errors.

AI can enhance skill-based call routing to determine the best agent to receive a call. By using a call’s automatic number identification (ANI), the artificial intelligence ACD feature can determine the best agent to receive that call based on which agent previously worked with the caller, started a dispatch for the caller, and is the most qualified to handle the call. 

Expanding Digital Channels

By offering additional digital channels such as chat, mobile, and social media, users can engage customers with meaningful support. These channels are becoming increasingly popular as customers feel more comfortable with them.

These tools can translate popular social media posts, messages, and notifications on the client accounts into tasks for agents to manage. Check Facebook accounts for keywords, inbound messages, posts, comments about posts, shares of posts, and reactions to posts such as likes and other emoticon-based comments. Monitor Twitter accounts for keywords, inbound direct messages, replies to account tweets, and for likes, hashtags, retweets, mentions, and reactions to posts by the customer. Track Instagram accounts for likes and comments regarding a client’s posts.

Utilizing Analytic Tools

Tapping new analytic software is important to improve customer retention rates. Speech analytics allow supervisors a deeper analysis of call logs, such as providing a transcript of the call and describing the overall tone of the caller. Speech analytics can also look for keywords in the call recordings and alert supervisors about those keywords. Then supervisors can analyze the data through charts, reports, and transcripts.

Evolving Technology

As technology continues to evolve, using a multichannel, all-in-one system will provide agents and customers with a more efficient call handling solution. Using automation and enhanced services allows call centers to provide a higher level of customer satisfaction while reducing frustration for both the agent and customer.

Amtelco

Nancy Lee and April Forer are marketing specialists at Amtelco. Founded in 1976 to provide communication solutions to the answering service and medical messaging industry, Amtelco has a strong history in the telemessaging industry. Amtelco focuses on providing call center solutions that meet or exceed customer expectations, backed by top notch service and support. For more information contact them at info@amtelco.com or 800-356-9148.

Coronavirus Communication



Seek Balance in Your Customer-Facing Messaging

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

It seems cliché to say it, but we live in an unprecedented time. We don’t have a roadmap on how to navigate this crisis we’re in. Responses to this pandemic vary, with some overreacting and others being dismissive. We need balance in our response, neither panicking nor ignoring. The same holds true when communicating with and supporting our clients and customers.

Here are some ideas to help guide us forward.

Answer Questions

Do your stakeholders (both customers and staff) have questions about the impact of coronavirus? Anticipate their queries, and answer them before anyone asks. They’ll appreciate your initiative. Then fine-tune your messaging as updates become available.

Consider Your Situation

However, you may not even need to formulate a coronavirus plan. For example, since I, and all my subcontractors, work at home (or can work at home), it’s business as usual. I’ve not made a coronavirus statement to our customers. What’s interesting is that no one has asked. This makes me wonder how many companies are spending time on coronavirus messaging when they don’t need to.

Whether tomorrow is a return to normal or a new normal doesn’t matter as much as what we can do to make the most of it. Click To Tweet

Avoid Overcommunicating

In the past month, the number of email messages I receive has decreased greatly. Yet a disproportionate number of them are about coronavirus and COVID-19. Some of these emails come from businesses I use regularly. I appreciate their initial message telling me what to expect. But I don’t appreciate receiving additional emails that don’t tell me anything of value.

Other businesses where I have, at best, a tangential relationship have contacted me too. I don’t care, and I unsubscribe. What surprises me most is the number of companies with whom I’ve never done business that feel I’m interested in their coronavirus response. I’m not. These emails merely cause irritation.

Provide Help

Look at your company’s product and service offerings. How can these items help your stakeholders? Consider their pain points and how you might be able to offer something that can address these needs. 

Of particular value are products that carry no incremental cost to provide. Yes, by giving them away for free for a time, you lengthen the payback period of your initial investment, or you lose income to reinvest in your operation, but offering these tools don’t carry a direct cost. And when you do so, you invest in a long-term relationship with your stakeholders. They won’t forget it.

Offer Respect 

No doubt you’ve heard of people and companies taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis. This is not a time to maximize profits. I’ve had memberships and subscriptions that I couldn’t use because the organization closed due to coronavirus, keeping me from using what I had paid for. Yet they’re not offering an extension when they reopen. Instead they’ve already asked me to renew even though they’re closed.

Another local business promoted home delivery of their products for twenty-five dollars. But when I placed the order, it doubled to fifty dollars. I contacted customer service for an explanation, but they never responded. Three days later I decided to place my order anyway, but the delivery fee had tripled to seventy-five dollars. I’ll never forget that this business—one I often frequented—ripped me off.

Treat your stakeholders with respect, and they won’t forget it. Take advantage of them, and they won’t forget that either.

Seek to Maintain Business as Usual

One company’s coronavirus email simply said that since all their employees already work from home, I could expect no interruption to their availability and the level of service they provide. For them it was business as usual. To the degree possible, we should seek to do the same. I don’t want to diminish the critical situation that coronavirus has put us in, but I do want to point out that by focusing on it, we serve to amplify its impact.

Going Forward

Some people look ahead to when things return to normal. Other people worry that this won’t happen. Instead, we’ll form a new normal. As we move forward to an unpredictable future, let’s take the lessons that we’re learning now and apply them to tomorrow. Whether tomorrow is a return to normal or a new normal doesn’t matter as much as what we can do to make the most of it.

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.

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.