Tag Archives: Customer Service Articles

Chat Availability

Make Customer Service a Distinguishing Factor for Your Organization

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Companies are increasingly offering chat services as a way for their customers and prospects to reach them. Not only is this an option that more and more people want to use, but many businesses find it’s a cost-effective customer service solution. As such, you’d think that customer-focused enterprises would make chat availability a priority. Yet in my experience as a customer, too many do not.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections Magazine

Avoid Turning Chat On and Off

I’ve experienced multiple companies that turn their chat option on and off throughout the day. Though their posted schedule says they’re available during business hours, their practice runs counter to that.

One site indicated that their chat was online. Excited, I begin typing my message, but before I could press enter, the chat availability indication turned from online to offline. Hopeful it was a momentary glitch, I stared at the screen for the next several minutes, poised to press enter as soon as the chat availability changed back to online. I got tired of waiting and went on to my next project. This was most frustrating because I needed to reach them, and chat was their only option.

I’ve seen this occur on other websites as well, with chat toggling between online and offline throughout the day. This is no way to serve customers. But it is a way to frustrate them.

Have a Schedule and Follow It

A retail operation would never open and close throughout the day; no self-respecting business would ever do that. When a customer shows up during regular business hours, they expect to come in and make a purchase. The same mentality should apply to chat service.

Make a schedule and staff accordingly to meet that schedule. Yes, when it’s difficult to hire and keep staff, meeting a desired schedule is problematic. Yet it should be a priority for any company that cares about its customers. And every business that wants to stay in business must put their customers first.

If staffing levels drop too low to support chat in a reasonable time frame, don’t shut it down. Instead note what delay customers may encounter, apologize for the inconvenience, and offer an alternate solution.

One company I deal with boasted 24/7 chat availability. That didn’t last long. They soon scaled back to business hours availability. And a few months after that, they reconfigured their chat window to be a front end to email. You type in your question is normal, and they tell you they’ll get back with you in a couple of hours. The answer comes by email, even if you leave the chat window open.

Offer Alternatives

In addition to chat, other common customer service options include the telephone and email. Presumably if a company can’t staff their chat service, they can’t operate their call center either, which carries an even more time-critical expectation than chat. But many companies have cut their telephone support altogether.

That leaves email. Of the three communication options, it’s the most frustrating, with lengthy delays lasting days—or being ignored altogether. With email, back-and-forth interaction, which happens with ease on chat and phone interaction, is difficult and time consuming. Imagine waiting two days for an email response and receiving a message that says, “What is your account number?”

Yes, there are also self-service options, with many companies offering FAQs, blog posts, and customer forums where users help each other. FAQs and blog posts seldom address the more specific questions I have. And I try to avoid forums because I have no way of knowing if the help they’re offering is reliable or not. And too often no one ever responds to the questions I post.

Chat Solutions

Offering accessible and prompt customer service is even more critical today than ever before, where a business can lose a customer at the click of a button. Offering chat service is a common and cost-effective way to do this.

But to be successful, do it wisely. This means no turning on and off chat throughout the day, posting and adhering to a realistic schedule of chat availability, and offering customer service alternatives.

And if your staffing levels don’t allow for this to occur, look for a contact center you can outsource this to, either to back you up as needed, according to a set schedule, or around the clock. This is the perfect solution to providing consistent chat availability to your customers.

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.  Read more of his articles at PeterDeHaanPublishing.com.

Why Customers Want an Omnichannel Experience

By Megan Hottman

We all know that providing an excellent customer experience is vital for business success. Customers expect interactions with your company to be fluid and singular, referred to as an omnichannel experience. 

HubSpot defines omnichannel as a lead nurturing and user engagement approach in which a company gives access to its products, offers, and support services to customers or prospects on all channels, platforms, and devices. Omnichannel starts with being present everywhere your customers are so that they have no trouble interacting with you through a convenient means. 

Why Is an Omnichannel Experience Important to Your Customers?

The point of an omnichannel strategy is to provide customers with seamless interactions across all channels, which will make them feel like there’s no disconnection when interacting with your brand—no matter where or how they reach out.

I remember this past summer when I was buying a ticket from an airline. My preference is to purchase tickets online, which I usually do. However, for some unknown reason to this day, their “system” would not allow me to apply a previous unused credit towards the cost of the new ticket. I’ve used credits on my own before without incident.

I immediately clicked around to find their online chat function, only to discover that it was out of commission, along with their email option. Frustrating.

As a result, I had to call the airline. After holding for 3 hours and 52 minutes (yes, that’s right, holding because their call back function was inoperable at this time), an agent finally answered my call. 

No one has that kind of time to spend waiting on hold. The ability to engage with the airline in the way I preferred and expected to, wasn’t available. We’ve all been there. We’ve all had the same experience. Think of your customers’ experience with your brand. 

Omnichannel Experience Provides Choices and Drives Loyalty

Customers should be able to engage with a business through their preferred channel and when they want. Providing options like text, in-app chat, email, phone, live chat, or social media enables customers to access whatever they want or need whenever they want or need it. Let customers choose how they’d prefer to engage. Give them options. 

A fluid experience gives customers a deeper connection with the brandboosting customer loyalty. But, of course, everyone knows that keeping existing customers is always easier and less expensive than attracting new customers.

Increase Customer Satisfaction and Builds Relationships

An omnichannel experience targets making consumers’ lives easier from start to finish, ironing out any friction they may face while engaging with a brand.

Providing a quality experience is vital and can make or break customer relationships. All it takes is one terrible experience or a few small repeat bad interactions for a customer to stop using your services or buying your products. 

Omnichannel communication strategies ensure a consistent experience that helps customers understand what to expect with your brand. As a result, customer satisfaction increases as they come to know the quality of service your brand delivers.

It’s Convenient

Consumers want convenience, and many companies have found ways to meet their wants by providing an omnichannel experience.

We can order coffee on an app and pick it up in person, skipping any potential lines. Consumers can do the same with groceries, clothes, and more. These examples illustrate the convenience an omnichannel experience provides today.

An omnichannel experience can be the secret sauce to earning your customer’s loyalty, whether a start-up or a market leader. 

Give Your Customers an Omnichannel Experience

A fluid omnichannel experience is critical to satisfying customers, driving loyalty, and building long-term relationships. Customers want their experience to be seamless, convenient, and personalized, and they’re willing to go out of their way to find it.

Megan Hottmanis the copywriter and editor for Quality Contact Solutions. Megan’s experience includes working as an outbound telemarketing manager for a Fortune 100 company for many years. Megan has been both a client and an employee of QCS, so she knows first-hand the quality, productivity, and passion the team brings to work each day. Reach Megan at megan@qualitycontactsolutions.com or 516-656-5120.

How To Overcome Your Biases Toward Chatbots

By Bob Grohs 

Chatbots are becoming increasingly responsible for assisting with customer service queries. Most customers have already used chatbots, whether they are aware of it or not. In a 2021 survey of over 1,000 chatbot users, some 47 percent of respondents said it’s possible they have mistaken a chatbot for a live service agent and another 11 percent said they weren’t sure. Of these users, 69 percent said they would often or always use a chatbot if it could resolve their issue more quickly. Yet, there were still holdouts, showing that even consumers with positive chatbot experiences harbor biases. 

Just because consumers have hesitations doesn’t mean businesses should. As the importance of customer support continues to rise, it’s time to dispel any reservations you have about investing in chatbot technology for your business. Here, we will address common chatbot biases, consider misguided perceptions, and discuss why the pros outweigh any cons. 

Bias 1: Chatbots Try to Come Off as Real Human Agents

For this first point, we need to delve into the debate surrounding chatbot disclosure. A 2019 study produced evidence of a phenomenon known as the “negative disclosure effect.” When companies disclosed to customers that they were interacting with a chatbot rather than a human, results showed a 79.7 percent reduction in sales. This is due to customers perceiving bots as less knowledgeable and less empathetic. 

However, consumers unknowingly interact with chatbots all the time. The same study found undisclosed bots to be just as effective sales agents as proficient human agents. And they were four times as effective as inexperienced agents. 

So, what’s the best way forward? 

Across-the-board disclosure of bots. Through mass exposure, customers will become accustomed to working with chatbots, and their bias will dissipate. They will learn that positive interactions with chatbots are the new norm. Openly disclosing chatbots will help build trust with your consumer base and ensure ethical chatbot use in sales. Companies should consider naming and depicting their bots in a way that makes it clear to the consumer that they are interacting with artificial intelligence (AI). 

Bias 2: Chatbots Don’t Understand Natural Language

This is a common misconception. Leading AI chatbots have built-in intelligence and understand what people mean—what their intent is—regardless of how it’s phrased. This is known as natural language understanding (NLU). In addition, AI chatbots can continue to learn and improve their accuracy in understanding customers over time with their built-in machine learning capabilities.

Chatbots can learn from every chat or email attached to a successful ticket or case resolution. The bots can also pull information from external sources to create optimized answers. These sources are often public knowledge content, such as help centers, FAQs, and manuals. 

NLU is already a powerful technology that will only become more sophisticated in the future. Chatbots can learn how to understand misspelled words, and the best ones can even understand poorly phrased questions. 

As NLU develops, customers will soon overcome the bias that chatbots can’t understand varied human language.

Bias 3: Chatbots Don’t Provide Relevant Customer Insights 

Many businesses use chatbots to answer quick and simple questions, leaving more complex problems to the humans in customer service. As chatbot technology advances and can process more sophisticated cases, you can tap into the data and insights gathered much more efficiently. 

Chatbots are a first line of defense in your customer support stack. They can quickly pinpoint issues, gaps in your knowledge base, and product defects. Immediate customer feedback from a chatbot dashboard helps support and customer experience management (CX) leaders understand what their customers are doing in real time and react more quickly and effectively. 

Today’s chatbots can identify frequently used words or recurring topics in support tickets and attach search labels or tags to them. This process makes it simpler to categorize queries and issues for easier prioritization and actioning.

Bias 4: Chatbots are Expensive to Install

Installation may seem costly, but only if you are thinking in the short term. In just a few months, the benefits will more than cover the up-front costs. 

Integrating chatbots with customer relationship management (CRM) software and other forum software platforms will result in a huge reduction in ticket volume. This can eliminate the need for adding contact center staff or outsourced solutions, even as you grow. 

In addition, customers want quick answers. The speedy, accurate responses generated by chatbots mean an increase in satisfied customers who are more loyal and valuable to your brand over the long run.

Fully integrating bots with other platforms and making them available 24/7 will ensure that any small problems will find efficient, easy solutions. This frees up human customer support to respond to more complex, time-consuming issues and to better address spikes in requests during traffic peaks. 

It’s Time to Overcome Biases and Invest for the Future

It is understandable to have reservations about how chatbots might impact customer service. But many of the biases we hold toward chatbots are misinformed. In reality, next gen chatbots can be powerful customer service tools that hugely improve the customer experience. Chatbots can hold valuable insight that only AI has the capacity to produce. In addition, with NLU development, their role in customer service is only going to grow. 

The installation and integration costs are worth it. Boost customer service with chatbots, and reduce unresolved tickets and customer turnover. Your return on investment will speak for itself.

Bob Grohs is the director of marketing at Solvvy, a next gen chatbot and automation platform. Bob has been in marketing and product management roles at top technology and SaaS companies for twenty years.

Driving Enterprise CX with Contact Center Applications

By Donna Fluss

The pressure is on for enterprises to improve their customer experience (CX). Executives are trying, and many have spent more to enhance their CX in the last couple of years than ever before, displaying their willingness to invest in improving their performance, perception and brand. This is particularly important now that service quality is one of the primary—and sometimes only—differentiator between what most consumers consider to be commoditized products and services. But the investments are not fully resolving their service problems, based on the rising level of complaints about customer service in the market, as contact centers are only one of the many departments within companies that participate in the customer journey. 

Investing to enhance contact centers is an excellent and overdue first step. Whether it’s an evolution, transformation or a combination of both, the new direction will benefit companies, employees, and their customers. This underscores the growing importance and contributions of contact centers in enterprises, and these investments and changes couldn’t come soon enough, as the quality of customer service seems to continue to degrade with each passing year. What’s ironic is at the same time executives are recognizing that they have a service issue, many are claiming to receive higher and higher Net Promoter Scores. Something is clearly out of sync and needs to be fixed, but it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why service quality keeps getting worse. 

Some people are blaming the pandemic or the work-at-home situation, but these recent events are not the cause. There were major service issues long before COVID-19. Other industry thought leaders have identified the explosion of digital channels as a reason why the quality of service seems to be falling like a rock. While this is a contributing factor for enterprises that previously handled only calls and are now scrambling to support digital interactions, it’s not the primary cause of poor service quality. 

One of the most significant drivers of the increasingly inadequate service experience delivered by many companies is rapid growth. Companies scaled up and added new customers at a much faster rate than they built out their service organizations and contact centers. Their hope (or bet) was that fewer customers would want service, but it seems that the opposite is happening. With each passing year, customers are demanding more and a higher touch service. This a reality that companies need to accept and address. 

C-level executives in many companies hoped to fill the contact center resource gap by increasing agent productivity and providing self-service solutions. The technology vendors are doing their part and, during the past two years, have delivered a new generation of smart and artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled contact center systems and applications that are more productive, but it’s not enough. Consumers’ appetite for help and information is outpacing the productivity improvements. So, other changes need to be made if companies want to put an end to their rapidly deteriorating service experience. 

Getting Service Back on Course

It’s great that executives are investing in their contact centers at a rate never before seen, and that they are making commitments to improve the agent experience. But this is just a necessary first step in righting the servicing and CX ship. 

Companies that want to create lasting improvements that position them to deliver a consistently outstanding customer experience need to identify the reasons why customers are unhappy and reaching out for assistance at an increasing rate. This means that enterprises must find a way to track and measure all aspects of the customer journey—what happens throughout the customer lifecycle, from their first touch at the website through product retirement or replacement. 

An ideal way to address this issue is to roll out contact center applications throughout their organization. By design these solutions give them the visibility and insights they need to identify and resolve service issues and bottlenecks across the enterprise. Contact center applications should become standard productivity tools for most, if not all, enterprise employees. 

The AI-enabled omni-channel routing and queuing engine should replace unified communications (UC)/unified-communications-as-a-service (UCaaS) solutions. Workforce optimization (WFO)/workforce engagement management (WEM) capabilities, including recording, quality management, interaction analytics, workforce management, robotic process automation and customer journey analytics, need to be put in place to give managers better employee oversight and clearer understanding of customer needs and wants. 

Customer relationship management (CRM) solutions need to be available to all employees so that they have the information they need to make the right decisions up front, instead of leaving it to the contact center and customer service departments to fix after the fact. 

Final Thoughts

It’s time for enterprises to transform their perspective about customer service. For this to occur, companies need to alter their culture. Instead of saying that they care about CX and put customers first, they must demonstrate their commitment in every department in their company. The tools and know-how are available to deliver an outstanding CX cost effectively; the unknown factor is how long it will take executives to accept the inevitable and put in motion the changes necessary to convert to a customer-centric mindset, one dedicated to great service across the enterprise. 

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

5 Simple and Proven Ways to Retain Customers

By Kelly Doyle

Did you know that retaining existing customers is far more cost-effective than acquiring new ones? It’s true. Substantial research shows that focused efforts on retaining customers are more profitable. 

So, the question is, why do many businesses often focus more on acquisition efforts than to keep their customers happy and loyal? If customer retention is not at the forefront of your business’s strategic plan, it should be. Here’s why.

Customer acquisition costs are five times that of retention costs. According to Invesp, 44 percent of companies focus on customer acquisition compared to only 18 percent on retention. So why are most businesses hyper-focused on new customer acquisition? We have it backward. 

According to customer acquisition and retention marketing stats, the success rate of selling to an existing customer is between 60–70 percent. In comparison, the success rate of selling to a new customer is typically less than 20 percent. Furthermore, a study cited by Harvard Business School found that increasing customer retention by just 5 percent could yield profit increases between 25–95 percent. 

Through taking care of your biggest asset—your existing customers—you will develop a loyal customer base that becomes your prime source of new business. 

Here are five simple ways to retain existing customers. 

1. Proactive Renewals 

The best way to retain customers is by reaching out to them before their current contract expires to offer a renewal. Proactive calling keeps more customers, and most customers appreciate the reminder. 

Many companies offer special benefits to existing customers, so a pre-expiration call is an excellent time to remind them of these essential benefits, which might be the reason they signed up in the first place. In addition, calling current customers creates a personal connection, which they will appreciate. 

2. Reinstate Lapsed Customers 

Frequently, customers allow their contract to expire without realizing it. How many times have you called a former customer only to discover they didn’t know their contract lapsed? This is a perfect time to offer a special promotion to them. 

Convenience is essential. Always make the renewal process easy by allowing payment directly over the phone. 

Of course, this all sounds great, but what if you don’t have the time to make these calls? Consider bringing in call center professionals. Time is money, and outsourcing calls is an ideal way to make the most of both. 

3. Win Back Former Customers 

When you have dormant customers or former customers not currently using your services, the personal interaction of a courtesy call may be the key to win them back. 

According to LearnSmart, the main reason your customers leave is they no longer perceive value in what you offer. As a result, they stop service—or even worse—begin to look to your competitors. However, frequently the cause of customer abandonment is well within a company’s control. It often comes down to effective communication and successfully highlighting products and services that set you apart from others.

Perhaps your company has new offerings. A touchback call is a perfect time to let dormant customers know about what’s new. Strategically reach out to them, let them know you value them, and remind them of the benefits of continuing a relationship with your company. 

Do not be disparaging, but make sure they know the differences between you and your competitors. Then, finally, seal the deal with a special offer for coming back. 

Last, if you dropped the ball in the past, admit it. Own your mistakes and be sincere. Your former customers may want you back as much as you want them back, but there may be some hard feelings. Nothing breaks down the walls like an apology, taking ownership, and a sincere promise to make it right.

4. Effective Account Management 

Account management is about retaining your customers’ business and helping them grow with your products and services. Take the time to learn about the customers you support, identify their goals, and the role you play in helping them meet and exceed these goals. 

Sometimes this requires out-of-the-box thinking, but the key is to identify why they choose you over your competitors. What value do you bring that others cannot? 

Answering these questions requires you to reach out to your customers often, by phone, to learn their needs, wants, goals, and objectives. In doing so, you become an increasingly valuable business partner, resulting in a more mutually beneficial relationship. 

5. Promotions and Blitz Campaigns 

Is there currently a sale or promotion running on products or services your previous customers bought? Of course, we all receive promotion emails. However, have you thought about the personal impact of a phone call? 

During special promotions, call centers can contact customers, knowing your current promotion and sales offerings. Phone calls may significantly increase sales because they are more personal and create a sense of urgency and excitement about the promotion. 

Conclusion

Retaining customers is not always on the mind of business owners. Companies frequently take their customers and the business they generate for granted. By using one or more of these five simple ways to retain customers, you can start to increase your retention rate significantly, enjoy higher profits, and drive brand loyalty.

Customers have a choice of where to do business, and in today’s increasingly competitive environment, it’s more important than ever to make customer retention a top priority.

Kelly Doyle writes for Quality Contact Solutions (QCS), a certified woman-owned business enterprise and an industry leader in call center and telemarketing services solutions, including B2B and B2C programs. QCS offers many telemarketing services and turnkey outsourced call center services that augment sales and marketing programs. 

A.I. Will Not Replace Customer Service Agents

By Jennifer Lee

There’s a common misconception that technology will disrupt customer service the way it disrupted manufacturing. Using robots to assemble more cars or blenders per hour than human labor solved a mechanical problem, and it did displace workers. 

But customer service is a human activity, not a mechanical one. Call center agents solve problems for an endlessly varied stream of human customers thanks to their uniquely human capacity for empathy and situational dexterity—traits that no robot has today or will have anytime soon. 

We should think of technology as a boon to human agents, not a threat. Customers need to feel understood, and technology can help by liberating and amplifying agents’ uniquely human skills. The right technology—more specifically, artificial intelligence (AI)—empowers agents to apply a stronger “human touch” and solve customer problems faster and more efficiently. 

Technology and Artificial Intelligence

It’s important to make a distinction between technology and artificial intelligence. AI is an advanced form of technology capable of learning and applying that learning to subsequent challenges. Assembly line robots can be programmed to perform predictable tasks repeatedly, but they can’t learn how to deal with a dynamic task. Most robots are technology, not AI.

Technology is also a mechanism that delivers the product of AI. Take the automated call distributor (ACD) system, for instance: Technology delivers an incoming call to the first available agent, but with the addition of intelligent capabilities, AI dynamically matches agents and customers to achieve the most optimal outcome. 

Technology has improved efficiency and performance over the years, but the emergence of AI-powered intelligent automation is raising the bar for contact center performance even higher. These centers generate massive quantities of time-sensitive data each day. Human labor could potentially process that data, but it would take hours, days, or even weeks, and by that time it wouldn’t be useful anymore. 

Intelligent automation is capable of processing all that data in real time and leveraging it to take immediate actions to solve problems that agents, managers, and administrators were previously unable to identify, let alone solve. 

Satisfied Agents, Satisfied Customers

Until now, technological innovation has focused overwhelmingly on customers. That’s obviously a good thing, but resolution of customer problems is no longer enough. 

Intelligent automation goes a step further, solving problems that frustrate agents and impact the service they deliver. When a call comes in just before an agent’s break is due, the agent’s frustration at losing that break may have a negative impact on the caller’s experience. 

But intelligent automation will take that pending break into account, prompt the agent to go to break a few minutes early, and update the WFM schedule—all automatically. By removing this underlying driver of agent dissatisfaction—something no technology has thus far been able to do—intelligent automation safeguards agent satisfaction and contributes to more consistently positive customer experiences. 

The pandemic proved that robots cannot and will not replace human customer service agents. The hunger for human contact remains strong, as evidenced by the fact that call volume has risen sharply since the start of the pandemic and increases in call handle times as customers seek a comforting voice during turbulent times. 

No robot can engage in discussion about critical health insurance or financial issues with a distressed customer; only a human is capable of the kind of empathy needed to properly handle these sensitive issues.

Long Live the Human Touch

We’ve seen that when people have tough problems to solve, they prefer dealing with people. This is confirmed by the existence of a popular website, dialahuman.com, which explains how to circumvent the maddening IVR systems used by so many organizations and reach a human more quickly. 

Moving forward, organizations must equip their contact centers with the flexible technology necessary to support customer service operations under new circumstances created by the pandemic. That technology should be cloud-based, scalable, accessible, and easy to use. This will allow companies to pivot to remote agents and continue to support customers under the tough circumstances of the past eighteen months, and it will also allow them to manage the hybrid workforce likely to dominate contact centers in the coming months. 

Powered by AI, intelligent automation delivers a consistent work experience to both remote and in-center customer service teams. It strengthens agent engagement by removing traditional sources of frustration and makes it easier for agents to deliver all the flexibility and empathy necessary to solve the tough problems of their human customers. 

AI is not a job killer; it’s a customer service enhancer. Contact centers should embrace its ability to make the agent’s work more engaging and the customer’s experience more satisfying.

Jennifer Lee is the chief strategy officer at Intradiem. She has twenty years’ experience in the contact center industry. Throughout her career, Jennifer has served in a variety of roles in the contact center space, including operations, quality, workforce management, and client services. For the last four years, Jennifer led the customer success organization at Intradiem, where her team was pivotal in achieving the historic milestone of one billion automation actions.

Happy Customer Service Reps Equals Happy Customers

By Daniel Fallmann

As the demands and expectations of customers continue to rise, their tolerance level for poor service is dropping. Offering customers impeccable support in response to requests is a core differentiator, particularly in highly competitive markets. But delivering the best possible customer service is fast becoming a challenge, especially given the steadily escalating number of products and services, along with the surge of hybrid work structures. 

The digitalization boom and, most notably, the adoption of new digital communication channels has triggered a change in expectations at the customer level. They’ve come to expect faster and more personalized service, primarily through digital channels. Meeting these demands requires reimagining and redefining both the workflows and the provision of required information.

In particular, the way in which data is managed, processed, and extracted must be adapted to the new circumstances so that it can be processed qualitatively and applied effectively in business processes. As a result, the ability to evaluate and link data intelligently and to make it available holistically now stands as a crucial factor for the success of a business.

Infodemic: A Challenge in Hybrid Workplace Models 

State-of-the-art customer service means 24/7 availability, always staying current, and delivering a speedy, friendly, and accurate response to incoming requests. 

To satisfy these customer demands consistently, employees need instant access to the correct facts, the latest data, and up-to-the-minute customer information, as well as the most recent valid product, price, and approval lists. If this information is only available in piecemeal form—in multiple documents—then searching for details and essential information just to get specific tasks done is every bit as much of a problem as not having the information at all.

On top of this, the increasing demand and popularity of working from home and on-the-go has given rise to a remote, decentralized workforce in which some of the staff work from home or on the road, while other co-workers hold down the fort in the office. That kind of hybrid work environment can make it difficult to maintain a smooth flow of communication and information, leading to heightened stress levels. 

Holistic Views: A Magic Bullet for Customer Service Reps

This boils down to the fact that customer service staff need simple and reliable access to information to gain a comprehensive overview of pertinent data from multiple disparate sources and departments. Use that holistic view of customer data with an analysis of the information from the various sources to identify trends and generate actionable insights to answer specific questions. Applied correctly, this knowledge will enhance the customer experience, drive customer loyalty, and enable companies to utilize their time and resources more efficiently.

Similarly, customer service representatives also need a tangible 360-degree view of the customer and the customer’s activities so that they can respond appropriately.

Instead, companies tend to have several different tools for data storage (business applications, cloud storage, and so on), yet often lack a tool that analyzes and intelligently links all the data stored there.

Four Steps to Prepare Intelligent Information for a Hybrid Work Environment

Step 1: Define the Use Case: To start with, you need to determine “where.” That is, in which department or—even better—in which specific use case your employees need the most support. 

One way to approach this is to specifically involve your staff in this process. Ask them questions, analyze their problems, and identify workable solutions. A useful starting point can usually be quickly established this way. 

Step 2: Evaluate the Available Systems: The number of innovative technologies and systems is virtually endless. Making the right choice is a daunting task. Different vendors with different approaches—from simple knowledge management systems to AI-supported solutions—all promise a swift solution to the problem. 

At this point, it’s about a lot more than just choosing the right application; it’s also about how to implement that application. Many systems are available both on-premises and as cloud services or even as hybrid models. Which option is the right one for your business hinges on several factors. For example:

  • The existing data sources, which ones, such as SharePoint Online or Microsoft 365, are available?
  • The desired level of data security. Is the data considered sensitive? Is this data allowed to leave your company?

The best practice is when companies choose a system that corresponds to the use case defined beforehand and solves the existing problems efficiently. 

Step 3: Conduct a Test Phase with Your Own Data and Experts: When it comes to implementing a suitable system, the proof of concept (PoC) is an important milestone because it helps companies separate the wheat from the chaff. When conducting a PoC, it’s wise to test the solution based on your own data to see if the requirements you’ve identified can be implemented with the solution. At the same time, a PoC using a company’s own data makes it possible to identify problems at an early stage. 

Once the system has proved its merits from a technical point of view, the next step is to involve the real experts—the users from the corresponding departments. They understand the processes and can pinpoint potential areas for optimization. Their feedback is instrumental in ensuring a successful roll-out and full acceptance of the solution. 

Step 4: Go Live: With the successful conclusion of all tests, the transition to real operation can begin. Ideally at this point, all the settings can be migrated seamlessly from the test setup to the production system. Once the go live phase is successfully underway, roll out the system to other departments or business areas, transforming all processes along the way.

Conclusion

These four steps highlight how simple it is today—thanks to existing solutions—to support your workforce sustainably in their day-to-day work. Customers expect companies to handle their concerns quickly and effectively. High quality and superior performance, backed by targeted big-picture data, are the KPIs that drive a company’s success. 

Daniel Fallmann founded Mindbreeze in 2005 at the age of 23 after completing his studies in computer science. With many years of experience in the computer and information technology sector and as the CEO of Mindbreeze, Daniel is a living example of high innovation and quality standards. From the company’s outset, Fallmann, together with his team, laid the foundation for the highly scalable and intelligent Mindbreeze InSpire appliance. His passion for enterprise search and machine learning in a big data environment inspires Mindbreeze employees and Mindbreeze customers alike.

Create Sticky Customer Service in Your Call Center

Real World Customer Service Stories to Inform Your Practices

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

For over twenty years I’ve written a “From the Publisher” column in each issue of Connections Magazine. For many years that meant six columns a year, although it initially was four and at one time it ballooned up to ten, but we’re now rightsized at six. Altogether I count 174 columns, plus many other articles that I’ve published in Connections Magazine over the years. That’s a lot of writing and even more words, enough to fill several books. And that’s just what I’ve done—and more.

I’ve taken my best customer service posts, updated them, and added content. Then I wrote more examples and compiled them into a book. The result is Sticky Customer Service. It’s now available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

The vision of Sticky Customer Service is to share real-world examples to illuminate customer service done well and customer service that falls short. The goal is to help enterprises—including yours—to stop churning customers and start growing your business. Through its pages you’ll discover helpful customer service tips to encourage you to do better and celebrate what you do best.

For the call center industry, we normally think of customer service as happening over the telephone. But it also occurs in person and online. It’s critical that we excel in each of these three areas to form a comprehensive customer-focused perspective that pursues excellence through all channels. And even if your intent is to focus on the section covering telephone customer service, the other sections will still inform your outlook and give you helpful insights.

Customer service isn’t a once-and-done effort. It takes ongoing focus to truly meet customer expectations. Sticky Customer Service delivers over two dozen practical, action-oriented insights to help you turn customer service from an ingrained weakness into a strategic strength. It’s a great tool for organizational planning, staff discussions, and customer service training. It will help you create sticky customer service for your organization.

Sticky Customer Service is the first book of my new Sticky series. Upcoming books include Sticky Sales and Marketing and then Sticky Leadership, capped off with Sticky Living. 

Get Sticky Customer Service and take the first step to turn customer retention into a core business strength.

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

Current Status of Speech (and Text) Analytics

By Donna Fluss

Interaction analytics (IA) removes the mystery from customer conversations. It gives companies access into what customers are “talking” (or writing) about and, specifically, insights into their needs and wants. These increasingly sophisticated analytics solutions have evolved from basic keyword search applications that helped companies understand call reasons to advanced business intelligence (BI) offerings that provide insights and an appreciation of customer sentiment. 

The more advanced IA offerings have expanded their capabilities and benefits far beyond their initial contact center audience but are struggling to demonstrate their value to customer experience (CX) executives who continue to concentrate on marketing and sales functions. 

Product Innovation

Breakthroughs in the underlying natural language processing technology, along with powerful cloud-based processing capabilities, have improved the transcription accuracy, conversational comprehension, and overall business value of IA solutions. Interaction analytics capabilities are now finding their way into many third-party systems, including cloud-based contact center infrastructure solutions, customer relationship management (CRM) solutions, voice-of-the-customer (VoC) offerings, and BI applications. 

And due to technical and operational innovations, many IA vendors are replacing their transcription engines with newer and more effective ones that improve the effectiveness of their own offerings. Improvements in processing speed and accuracy are also making it possible for real-time IA solutions in contact centers to deliver alerts and real-time guidance that empower agents to deliver a better and more personalized customer experience. 

Broader Use Cases for IA

The advancements in IA solutions are attracting new buyers and partners, driving a much-needed replacement cycle for these solutions. Helping this development is the increased adoption of digital channels, which is opening new opportunities by expanding the uses and contributions of IA. Then there are the broader enterprise applications of IA: to identify new product opportunities, at-risk customers, legal risks, and the potential for fraud, just to mention a few. 

IA solutions can provide executives with insights into the reasons customers reach out and ask for help. To date, most companies apply IA primarily in their contact centers, as this is the source of the recordings and digital transactions that these solutions analyze. However, as contact centers receive feedback about departments, policies, and systems from all over an enterprise, IA can provide useful insights about many aspects of a company.

DMG expects analytics-enabled quality management (AQM) to be one of the “next big things” in the IA market. Analytics-enabled QM has been talked about for at least twelve years and has been available to some degree for ten of them. But it’s only in the last eighteen months that AQM solutions are seeing significant adoption, due to innovations in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. 

The market is beginning to transition from traditional QM to AQM, and DMG expects this trend to pick up momentum in the next few years, as there are proven benefits and substantial cost savings from making the switch. 

Real-time guidance is another important and emerging use for IA solutions. A real-time speech analytics solution listens to (or reads) what customers are saying/writing in real time and uses this information to guide agents in how to best help customers. While real-time IA capabilities are just finding their way into the market, they have enormous potential and should be adopted as part of an enterprise digital transformation. 

Real-time guidance is clearly useful in enabling contact center agents to personalize a service experience, but it can be at least as helpful during sales, marketing, and collections interactions. 

Transformational Benefits of IA

The current generation of IA offerings are transformational tools that use AI to provide passive VoC findings and insights, minimizing the need to survey customers frequently. Note that there are still legitimate marketing reasons for companies to reach out to their customers to solicit their opinions in specific situations or about products and services.

The more advanced IA solutions come with customer journey analytics (CJA) capabilities that provide omnichannel insights into each customer’s experience as they traverse an organization and pivot between channels. While emerging CJA capabilities are still under development, IA solutions are the most effective tool available in most enterprises for identifying issues and bottlenecks that prevent companies from delivering the outstanding experience their customers expect and, in doing so, decreasing servicing costs. 

Calls remain the primary use for IA solutions, but more organizations are starting to apply IA to text-based interactions, which is a necessity now that digital customer service has grown in importance. As digital support is still in its early days in many organizations, gaining timely insights into how it’s used and its challenges is helpful for companies that want to deliver an outstanding customer experience, cost effectively. 

Final Thoughts

Interaction analytics has made substantial progress in the past eighteen months, but there is still a great deal of work needed before IA will be accepted and adopted as an enterprise BI solution. Until this happens, the sector’s total addressable market will be limited to the approximately 22 million contact center seats in organizations worldwide. 

Applying IA solutions to improve the performance of contact centers is valuable and will result in a payback within 2–3 years, when used properly. However, the contributions of IA will grow substantially and rapidly when these solutions are applied as customer experience BI tools and used to understand and improve the customer journey. 

To learn more about the interaction analytics market and for help in selecting the ideal IA solution for your company, see DMG’s newly released evaluation of this sector and vendors, the 2021–2022 Interaction Analytics Product and Market Report

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

How Can Your Contact Center Help the Homelessness in America?

By Traci Haynes

Homelessness in America occurs in every state and has many causes. According to the January 2017 Point-in-Time (PIT) count by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the most recent national estimate of homelessness in the United States identified 553,742 people experiencing homelessness. The PIT count is a count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons on a single night in January. Like all surveys, the PIT count has limitations. Results are influenced by the weather, availability of overflow shelter beds, the quality of the volunteers, and the level of engagement of the people being interviewed. 

Most of this population lives in some form of shelter or transitional housing. However, approximately 35 percent live in places not meant for human habitation. The nature of homelessness makes it difficult to quantify the true size of the homeless population, not to mention the PIT methodology (although generally acknowledged to be the most accurate way to establish valid trend data). It is challenging to calculate the exact number of individuals who are homeless, because many live in hidden areas in parks, vehicles, or abandoned houses, and because numbers fluctuate based on weather.

Health Problems Faced by the Homeless

Homeless individuals are at a relatively high risk for a range of acute and chronic physical and mental illnesses. Some health problems precede and may contribute to homelessness, while others are often a consequence of being homeless. And homelessness complicates the treatment of many illnesses. 

One example of a health problem that can cause homelessness is a major mental illness, such as schizophrenia. Without therapeutic interventions and supportive housing arrangements, such an individual may become homeless. 

Another example is an accidental injury, including job-related injuries. Even with benefits under employer programs, these individuals may experience major economic costs leading to loss of housing.

Diseases of the extremities, skin disorders, malnutrition, degenerative joint diseases, dental and periodontal disease, communicable diseases, and the possibility of trauma are other health problems that may result from, or frequently occur in, the homeless population. Medical care and treatment for acute or chronic illness can be extremely difficult. 

Bed rest may be nonexistent for a homeless individual who has no bed or only has a bed in a shelter at night. Special diets and medication adherence are impossible to maintain for a person who is homeless.

Contact centers have long been known for assisting their organizations in offering triage, coaching, remote patient monitoring, and care management for an identified population. Some contact centers have also assisted other community agencies or services in filling a need or gap. 

Triage Call Centers Can Help Address Health Concerns of the Homeless

So, we all know homelessness exists, and it is a tremendous problem, but what does that have to do with triage call centers?

A community triage contact center at EvergreenHealth in Kirkland, Washington, implemented a program around 2000, in which they began to offer low-level acuity triage for their regional 911 dispatch centers. The dispatchers would go through their algorithms with the caller, and once they ruled out any emergent or urgent issue, the caller was offered the option of speaking with a nurse. If the caller preferred, she or he could be connected with an appropriate unit or the individual could be transported to the Emergency Department (ED). This program proved a tremendous success in both caller/patient satisfaction and dollars saved.

A study was published in 2015 for a comparable 911 program in two cities with similar outcomes. MedStar in Fort Worth, Texas, provided nine months of 911 call data, and LMEMS in Louisville, Kentucky, provided thirty-four months of 911 data. The study reported that the 911 program had a significant reduction in callers routed to the Emergency Department (ED) at a cost savings of 1.2 million dollars in payments, as well as a decrease in emergency ambulance transports resulting in a cost savings of $450,000 and a resultant increase in access to alternative care. Overall, patient satisfaction was 91.2 percent.

As a result of the involvement with the regional 911 dispatch centers, the contact center was asked to become involved with yet another identified need: the growing population of homeless individuals. County shelters and housing facilities for the homeless population needed a resource for individuals with low to moderate acuity symptoms, when medical or nursing personnel were not on-site. The fire department was handling 90,000 incidents per year, which resulted in overuse or misuse of the emergency medical response (EMR) system. And while the county shelters were not most of the calls, they were a contributor. 

Addressing the Concerns of the Homeless

A critical concern to the homeless individual is whether they will lose their shelter bed for the night if they are transported. The fire department is not authorized to make a medical diagnosis on the scene, to provide advice or guidance about disease management, to make a referral to other medical resources, such as a primary care doctor, or to provide transportation anywhere except an ED. 

The contact center had the system and tools in place to assist the RN with the individual at the county shelter’s assessment and make recommendations of care. “Right care, right place, right time” is the fundamental premise of contact center RN triage. Their service provided a much-needed solution to an ongoing gap in care. They currently support five dispatch centers in providing contact center RN triage for thirteen shelters.

The contact center educated the staff at the shelters and facilities. They provided training on when to call 911 (a red flag list) and when to call the contact center’s health line. Each homeless individual received HIPAA information that included “understanding and agreement that a copy of the information discussed during the call interaction would be shared with the residence so that they may further assist the individual with their care.” 

The workflow included one number for all facilities to dial into the Healthline contact center. The case manager and the resident had to be available at the time of the call. The RN in the contact center triaged the individual, and then the case manager determined the best non-EMR transportation based on the disposition. The triage note was then faxed to that facility. 

Challenges included the individual wishing to remain anonymous, the individual being a vague or poor historian, individuals declining triage or the recommendation, availability of OTC meds, and individual psych/social needs.

The Results

Eighteen months after the start of the program, the facility staff was queried, and all were either very or somewhat comfortable in knowing what situations required 911. Over 85 percent of the staff felt the service was especially important to the facility. 

By far, the majority felt that the nurses at Healthline were very knowledgeable (83.33 percent). More than 85 percent also felt that the nurse line process was easy to use and felt that the residents were satisfied with the service. Most of the staff felt very satisfied once the resident had talked with the nurse, and 100 percent indicated the importance of having the service available 24/7, adding that it was practical and helpful to the residents in the facility.

Traci Haynes MSN, RN, BA, CEN, CCCTM, is the director of clinical services at LVM Systems, Inc., and has been involved in the contact center industry for over twenty-five years. (Traci thanks Cheryl Patterson, BSN, RNC—TNP, clinical manager—quality and education, Healthline, for her contributions to this article.)