Tag Archives: Customer Service Articles

Why Customer Experience Is a Long-Term Investment

By Tony Jurica

Maintaining lasting relationships with customers once meant focusing on product ratings and decreasing wait times when a customer called into the organization. While these measurements still matter, now the customer experience is more about understanding the journey the customer makes when contacting the organization and making each step personalized and efficient.

Most decision-makers agree that delivering an exceptional customer experience is important to ongoing success. However, there is often reluctance when it comes to investing the time, money, and effort necessary to optimize their customer contact systems, people, and processes to meet today’s customer expectations.

Struggling to Keep Up

Many businesses find it hard to keep up with customer expectations because they haven’t kept up with how customers want to communicate. A growing number of people (and not just millennials) want to engage on digital channels such as text message, web chat, and social media. Supporting these systems effectively is difficult when you’re reliant on a legacy voice-centric contact center system.

Hindered by an outdated contact center infrastructure, supporting digital channels often means setting up silos of technology. Companies implement separate solutions for chat, social media, and texting. Though the customer can contact the company via their digital channel of choice, the new challenge is achieving a 360-degree view of customer interactions.

Statistics vary, but about half of customers use two or more channels to complete a transaction with a company. Disconnected technology makes it difficult to view and access the journeys these customers take as they use multiple contact channels to complete a transaction.

It’s tempting to think the answer is to simply swap out a solution here or integrate a channel there. Yet patching a system that is growing obsolete produces frustration, added costs, and wasted time. Delivering an exceptional customer experience entails more than a series of minor, cobbled-together fixes. Rather, it’s an ongoing commitment that requires a long-term investment and the right technology to address both current and future needs.After deploying a new contact center platform, it’s much easier to add and integrate additional channels and solutions. Click To Tweet

An Organizational Commitment

Shifting beyond rudimentary customer service to continuously exceed customer expectations requires the buy-in and effort of more than those working in the contact center. Customer service touches most teams, including marketing, sales, IT, legal, human resources, and quality assurance. This means that every employee must be on board with an organization-wide commitment to customer experience excellence. Cross-functional collaboration is essential for placing the customer’s needs first and improving the customer journey along every touch point.

To get it right, drive customer experience goals by customer expectations. Then consider business needs. This begins by identifying the limits of existing technology. With a contact center system designed primarily for voice interactions, it’s clear that a fundamental improvement need is moving to a platform that seamlessly integrates all channels and solutions and breaks down technology silos.

What Are the Possibilities?

By investing in a scalable contact center platform, you gain the flexibility to move beyond offering a series of single interactions to providing cross-channel journeys. These new tools will retain history and context to deliver personalized service and eliminate the need for customers to repeat themselves.

However, this is just the start. After deploying a new contact center platform, it’s much easier to add and integrate additional channels and solutions. Workforce optimization tools, CRM solutions, and new digital channels can also be deployed. This enables you to stay one step ahead of competitors, increase business efficiency, and continuously exceed customer expectations.

Prepare for Rapid Innovations Around the Corner

Artificial intelligence (AI) can automate tasks and improve the customer experience. Businesses use chatbots, powered by AI and machine learning, to maximize self-service interactions. This enables live agents to solve problems more efficiently. And this technology is no longer a novelty—it’s gaining acceptance as it becomes more versatile and efficient.

Meanwhile, intelligently connected devices are also changing the realm of customer experiences. They enable next-generation automation and personalization. Imagine a device that can request a callback through a single button or automatically launch a service ticket that routes to a local service provider. We already see this level of engagement in automobiles, appliances, and medical devices. And it will certainly grow in many other industries.

As these innovations gain popularity and adoption, it will become more important than ever to have a contact center platform that supports the customer experience across all channels. The companies that continue to use outdated technology will slip further behind, missing key opportunities to grow and evolve along with their customers’ expectations.

By investing in the strategies and technologies that support an amazing customer experience, you will build the kind of brand loyalty that turns prospects into repeat customers. Then they’ll share their positive experiences with others, and this represents a significant return on investment.

Tony Jurica, the senior director of Voxai Solutions’ Cloud Practice, brings over two decades of experience in the contact center technology industry, both as an industry consultant and as a technical leader in a Fortune 500 company. Tony lends his expertise in managing enterprise contact centers to customers to support their efforts to improve their customer experience.

Chatbots Should Learn from the Errors of IVR

Chatbots could follow the path of IVR, a once-promising technology that earned customer ire through poor implementation

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineI don’t often use web chat because I find a phone call is faster and more thorough. Recently I made an exception and learned a valuable lesson.

The email said that my new statement was available online. I might be one of the few people who still download and review online statements, but that’s what I do. So I logged in and navigated to the right page. I clicked on the link for my most recent statement, but it brought up last month’s. With more navigation, I found a list of all my statements. Alas, my current statement wasn’t there.

About this time a chat invitation popped up. “I see you’ve been notified that your new statement is available. Can I help you?”

Without giving it enough thought, I typed in, “I can’t download my statement.”

Immediately I received a reply. “Here are two resources that might help you out.”

By the titles of these links, I knew they were pointing me in the wrong direction, telling me what I already knew. I tried again. “No, my current statement isn’t available.”

Again, the chatbot responded immediately. “Here are three links that might help you resolve the problem.”

Once again, the links wouldn’t help. What started as an amusing experience with technology was becoming exasperating. Then I typed, “Can I talk with a person?”

The bot responded immediately, “I can help you.”

Obviously the bot wasn’t interested in connecting me with a real person. I typed in what I thought: “You’re worthless.” (Though I’ve never said that to a person, I often say that to technology.)

But before I could close the chat window, I got another message. “Let me connect you with a representative.”

With a potential for help only seconds away, I stuck around. A half minute later, Lisa popped up in the chat window.

Unfortunately my failed chatbot experience agitated me, similar to what happens after a futile interaction with IVR. At this point, emotion, rather than logic, dictated my first question: “Are you a person or a bot?”

Lisa assured me she was a real person. We then worked to download my statement. She had me try a different method to get to my statement, but that didn’t work either. I pasted the error message into the chat window for her to see. Then she had me try a different browser. I got the same results.

As we continued, I noticed a subtle change on the statement page. First, the proper link appeared, but it still didn’t work. A little while later the link worked. Then I recalled a problem I had with my bank a few years ago. They would send out the email that my statement was available, even though the department responsible for putting it online hadn’t finished their work. The two groups weren’t communicating.

I realized that the same thing had happened with this company. Expecting the statement to be online by a certain time, the email group sent out a notice, not knowing the statement wasn’t available. Chatbots are part of an exciting technology that can help call centers better serve customers, as well as help agents do their job better. Click To Tweet

This, of course, brings up another all-too-common scenario: a company causes customer service activity by their own actions. But that’s a topic we’ve already covered.

The point today is that chatbots are part of an exciting technology that can help call centers better serve customers, as well as help agents do their job better. Yet the improper application of chatbot technology threatens its utility by alienating the customers it’s supposed to help.

This is exactly what happened with the introduction of IVR, and that technology never recovered. May chatbots have a different outcome. Both the call center and its customers need this one to be a win.

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

Stay One Step Ahead of Your Customers

Why More Companies Are Flipping Their Customer Service from Reactive to Proactive

By Fara Haron

Picture this all-too-frequent scenario: a customer just ordered something urgent from a retailer’s website and received an order confirmation email, but no information about when it will be coming or how to find out. The customer goes to the website and digs around to see if they can find information about their order. But they’ve checked out as a guest and can’t log in to view their order. Now what?

Already frustrated, they pick up the phone to call customer service to ask about their order. They hear an automated recording saying there is a ten-minute wait, and there’s no call-back option. By the time the customer finally reaches a customer service representative, they’re feeling defeated. If this company had a proactive customer service approach in place, it could have eliminated a frustrated customer—and even a call to customer service—to begin with.

Anticipating customer needs and addressing them proactively before they ask for help can be achieved through new technologies. This includes offering callbacks, deploying real-time order updates, and predicting next best actions with the help of artificial intelligence.

It can also happen by creating a new mind-set, adopting new processes, and knowing your customers’ needs well enough that you can anticipate a problem before they call. Proactive customer service is an effective strategy for businesses—and especially for their contact centers. Here are some ways it can help:

  • Bring in New Customers: Reach and influence potential buyers earlier.
  • Build Customer Loyalty: Proactive service can boost customer retention rates by 3 to 5 percent.
  • Create Brand Advocates: Seventy-three percent of customers contacted proactively had a good experience and said it led to a positive change in their perception of the business.
  • Protect Reputation: Resolve issues before they go viral or become a full-blown crisis.
  • Reduce Incoming Support Volumes: Decrease contact volumes by 20 to 30 percent, which allows businesses to use representatives for work in other areas.

The good news is that proactive customer service is on the minds of many businesses, but the jump from decision-making to implementation can be a big one. Here are actionable steps for companies committed to proactive customer service:

Adopt Proactive Technology

There are a lot of customer service buzzwords floating around—robotic process automation (RPA), chatbots, augmented reality (AR)—but in the hype of these new technologies, their original purpose can get lost: to strengthen your customer service department and make it more proactive.Companies should also combine their CRM system with analytics and automation tools to analyze both current and historical data and generate sophisticated insights based on customer behavior and buying patterns. Click To Tweet

RPA is expected to fully automate back-end and repetitive customer-facing activities while increasingly applying AI capabilities. Automation makes it easier to issue things like real-time notifications for order updates, flight changes, and more, as well as providing the option for an automatic callback. But many companies seem unsure about how to implement some of these technologies.

In fact, according to a recent Arvato survey:

  • There’s slow adoption of new technology: businesses aren’t considering using virtual assistants (58.4 percent), chatbots (64.7 percent), and video chat (54.6 percent).
  • Consumers notice different types of technology, but without a clear winner. Notably, 52.3 percent say the phone is the most reliable way to solve a problem, only 11.1 percent say online chat, and just 2.8 percent prefer social media.
  • Luckily there’s a high adoption of callbacks and real-time order updates, with 56 percent of businesses planning to implement automatic callbacks and 72 percent of businesses planning to start using real-time order updates.

Automation makes sense for call centers because technology supports representatives to do their work more efficiently, mostly while dealing with customers. Processes can be handled more quickly and with 100 percent accuracy. This reduces the need for unnecessary repeat contact, freeing representatives to focus on more strategic and complex work. Automation becomes a win-win for both businesses and customers.

Consolidate Data into One Accessible CRM System

Back in the day, customers had one route to a customer service representative: the phone. Today companies can expect to support many communication channels—the phone, yes, but also virtual assistants, social media, and even video chat. To keep track of all these channels and work toward the goal of being more proactive, it’s important to have a single view of customers. By taking this approach and consolidating data into one CRM system, customer information can be presented in a unified, meaningful way. It will also help reimagine the flow of data across the organization and how information sources can change. Lastly it will identify areas for improvement and optimization.

With one, cohesive CRM system, you have all customer data at your fingertips. This can tell you valuable information, such as which channel a certain customer typically uses to contact your organization. Representatives can keep this in mind the next time they proactively contact that customer.

Companies should also combine their CRM system with analytics and automation tools to analyze both current and historical data and generate sophisticated insights based on customer behavior and buying patterns. While especially useful for retail customer service, it also allows representatives to predict the next best action and anticipate demands. This can resolve issues proactively before they escalate further. It also provides an opportunity for representatives to effectively upsell.

Transform Customer Engagement through Social Media

Social media is the first choice for contacting businesses for Generation Y, while voice and email interactions continue to decrease. Today’s customers also expect brands to be where they are, on the channel of their choice, and in a manner they expect. This means that responding promptly to customers on social media is essential for businesses to remain proactive.

While negative issues can become known through social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, businesses should look at these platforms as an opportunity to maintain control and confront problems head-on. Letting customers know you’re fixing a problem in real time is always better coming directly from you instead of having the customer conclude that the product or service doesn’t deliver.

You should regard social media as a tool to reach many more people with a proactive message compared to a one-on-one channel. On public channels such as Twitter and Instagram, customers know that a wider audience can view their messages; therefore, they are more open to receiving proactive messages from brands.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when using social media for customer engagement:

  • Don’t Reach Out Only When There’s a Problem: No relationship is sustainable when you only communicate when something is wrong.
  • Be Human: Bring context, relevance, and personalization to your message.
  • Be Fast and Flexible: Customer service representatives must be able to tap into current events affecting their industry while also responding to customers in a timely manner.
  • Analyze Consumer Behavior for Insights: Read reviews and monitor what people say about your brand. This includes proactively addressing frequently asked questions your contact center receives.
  • Capture Relevant Conversations: Optimize your search profiles and make sure to look beyond issues with @mentions of your brand. You can’t risk losing engagement with your customer because the @ symbol wasn’t used.

Let’s imagine that you’ve adopted all these proactive strategies. The customer mentioned at the beginning of this article looking for their order status never would have had to reach out to customer service to begin with. If the customer did reach out, they would have had an option to choose a call-back, or they would have reached out through social media and gotten a quick response. And when they got through, the representative already would have had the knowledge and data on this customer at their fingertips from using a cohesive CRM system.

When done right, proactive customer service can make customers feel like you understand them and help turn them into loyal supporters or even promoters of your brand.

Fara Haron is the CEO of Global BPS at Arvato and is a member of the Arvato CRM board. She has been with Arvato since 2009 and has led a rapidly growing team of CRM professionals while leveraging her international experience to support Arvato’s global CRM business.

Communicating with Your Customers

Embrace the Rapidly Changing Customer Communication Model

By Gary E. Barnett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six Omnichannel Trends Disrupting Customer Service in 2018

By Murph Krajewski

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

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

The Reevaluation of Self-Service

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

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

Adding Mobile to the Mix

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

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

Moving toward the Cloud

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

Chatbots and Artificial Intelligence

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

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

The Rise in Social Media

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

The Internet of Things (IoT)

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

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

Start Today

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

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

Customer Disservice

Sometimes a Call Center Is Its Own Worst Enemy

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Improving Your Mental Game: Tips for Working through Difficult Calls

By Dean Kaplan

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

Be Prepared:

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

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

Stay Focused:

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


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

Be Respectful:

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

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

Learn to Recognize a Difficult Call:

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

Let It Go:

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

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

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

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

By Rich Hamilton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Customer Experience Management Powered by Intelligent Automation


By Ray Naeini

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should Customer Service be a Sales Channel?

By Donna Fluss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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