Tag Archives: Software Articles

Using Technology to Humanize Customer Care

By Matt Lautz

Most everyone would agree that when it comes to modern customer care, technology is integral to service delivery. But that doesn’t mean we always like it, especially when it interferes with – rather than enhances – the customer experience.

Such has been the case in the past with traditional workflow automation and call scripting software. With limited flexibility, such tools give customer care agents little opportunity to think on their own and adjust to various scenarios. And while attempting to juggle multiple call scripts (and sometimes multiple screens), the agent becomes less focused on the customer and more intent on managing the process.

What is the result? A customer experience that’s scripted, robotic, and anything but effective. But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can have your technology and provide an outstanding customer experience.

Technology as a Force for Good: Keeping employees, management, and customers happy is challenging for customer care managers. Customers’ high expectations and the importance of the agent’s role are in direct contrast with the fact that agent jobs are often entry-level positions, sometimes with limited financial incentives or opportunities for advancement.

These realities, combined with other challenges – such as agent turnover, complex product lines, rapidly changing scripts, and compliance requirements – can make managing a successful customer care center a formidable undertaking.

Fortunately, the newest generation of workflow automation software has evolved to meet these demands. The best of these offerings put people (customers, agents, and their managers) at the center of workflow solutions. Modern workflow tools not only work in collaboration with customer needs but also with the way agents access the systems. In addition, these tools also provide managers with the ability to quickly create and share consistent and accurate information with the front lines.

The result is a much more natural interaction that’s focused on the customer.

How Does Workflow Work? Today’s cloud-based workflow software allows companies to centrally manage key business processes. While offerings can vary from vendor to vendor, many provide managers with the ability to easily create and turn diagrams of business processes into automated applications, online screens, and guided call scripts that agents can then reference for contextual guidance during customer interactions.

Via screen prompts, agents are equipped with the next best action to take, troubleshooting questions to ask, or sales suggestions to make based on the path the conversation is taking. Hence modern workflow tools make it easier for agents to act like real people, while reducing the amount of training required. Agents are not only well informed and more helpful, but most importantly, they’re able to treat the customer as a fellow human being.

In this regard, technology has provided a better agent experience that allows for a better customer experience. It has actually helped rather than hindered all the humans involved: Managers build the processes they want and drive more efficiency; agents get the tools they need and become more empowered; and customers get the results they desire without the robotic interactions.

In short, workflow automation is not only a technology tool that accomplishes its task; it makes people happier in the process. And at its most essential level, that’s what outstanding customer service is all about.

Matt Lautz, president and CIO of Corvisa, is responsible for business development, strategic partnerships, and product vision. Matt has served as the CIO for Corvisa’s parent company, Novation Companies, Inc., for the past three years; he is an original founder of Corvisa. Matt brings more than fifteen years of experience in building and leading software companies. Previously Matt served as CEO of a wholesale VoIP carrier and software development firm.

[From Connection Magazine Jul/Aug 2015]

Vendor Profile: OnviSource

Founded in 2004, OnviSource enables companies to cost-effectively optimize, automate, and unify their customer interactions, business transactions, and processes for their contact centers, back offices, and IT organizations through software products, cloud services, or outsourcing solutions. With a customer base in a wide range of industries, independent analyst Ventana Research has recognized the company as a major contender in enterprise and contact center workforce optimization. Since its inception, OnviSource has experienced consistent growth and profitability, regularly launching innovative solutions.

The company offers the OnviCenter 7™ suite of advanced and highly affordable solutions, including:

  • Telephone answering services, teleservices, emergency and medical services, help desk services, and customer service solutions
  • Call recording, screen capture, and quality assurance
  • Automated, analytics-driven and socially enabled quality and liability management for 100 percent of customer interactions
  • Multi-channel analytics, including speech analytics, desktop, text, and process analytics, as well as social media analytics
  • Voice of Customer (VoC) and customer sentiment
  • Workflow and process automation
  • Workforce management
  • HIPAA/HITECH-compliant secure messaging and content delivery
  • Unification of all customer transaction journey and operational data across multiple organizations, platforms, and sites
  • Integrated social media engagement and management
  • Operation continuity and automated IT

Supporting the Teleservices Industry: OnviSource has an expanded suite of unified and enterprise-wide solutions. It recently announced OnviCom™, integrating an end-to-end IP-PBX, teleservices, and CRM applications with workforce optimization. OnviCom enables multi-channel connectivity, interactions, and transactions via traditional methods such as telephone, email, and text, as well as through social media channels.

The specific strategy for the answering service vertical market is centered on the Web-based, universal OnviCom platform. OnviCom is the next generation of teleservices offerings that has evolved into an all-software, all-inclusive set of solutions. It can support all functions of a telephone answering contact center, including a variety of network interfaces, PBX capabilities, answering service applications, secure messaging, database management, reports, client portals, billing, call recording, screen capture, quality assurance, operator scheduling, and operation continuity.

As with all OnviSource solutions, OnviCom is delivered as software products, cloud services, or outsourcing solutions, all supported through the OnviCare™ customer lifecycle assistance program. OnviCom is anchored by the current release of the OnviCenter 7 product suite.

Collaborative Management: OnviCenter 7 offers OnviLink, a collaborative management solution that allows contact center managers to manage their local or remote agents through real-time collaboration, chat, bulletins, messaging, and document exchange to be virtually present with each agent and significantly improving their performance. OnviLink also provides a unified user interface, single point of security, process automation, and OmniVision management of the entire enterprise.

Multichannel Analytics: OnviSource’s multi-channel analytics solutions provide big-data management and transformation into actionable knowledge from all interaction channels of calls, desktop, emails, chat, messaging, and social media. Through multi-channel analytics, users can automate quality assurance, compliance management, coaching, workflows, and next best actions. Capabilities in predictive and prescriptive analytics offer insightful and enterprise information, followed by the user-defined automated launch of actions.

Secure Messaging: OnviGuard™ is a secure two-way messaging and content delivery solution, maintaining private communication and full privacy of messages with end-to-end message encryption, verification, and data integrity through SSL. It also provides a Web-based secure messaging server accessed by clients only through encrypted passwords and other security measures. It is fully compliant with HIPAA and HITECH regulations, securing and protecting sensitive information for healthcare personnel and their patients.

Client Self-Service: OnviClient™ is a Web-based application that enables telephone answering providers to offer convenient self-service access for customers to easily manage their own account information, calls, and messages. Clients can even update their account information and maintain their own on-call schedules. Billing for self-service functions builds incremental revenue while providing clients with easy, convenient access to their account activities 24/7.

Implementing OnviClient™ saves time and resources as end clients now have the capability of using the Internet to manage their own accounts, retrieve messages, and monitor call recordings on demand, giving the call center a competitive sales advantage.

Operation Continuity: OnviSource’s operation continuity and compliance solutions reduce operation management expenses and IT workload while maintaining operational continuity through a series of automated operation management tools. Several new features include enhanced backup and purging functions to support HIPAA regulations that mandate file archiving for up to ten years.

Customer Lifecycle Assistance Service: A key vendor differentiator is the OnviCare customer lifecycle assistance service, including the advantage program. The advantage program is a special service program assisting new and existing customers faced with complex business issues. The advantage program guides and assists clients with a complete knowledge exchange that helps customers learn and understand the software and easily manage and administer solutions.

In addition, OnviSource helps customers with the challenges of understanding and selecting the right solutions, implementations, deployments, and ROI recognition of their products and solutions. This includes speech analytics and data mining through provisioning of application analysis, ROI analysis, free trials, project planning, customization, pilot programs, and business continuity-assurance measures. The advantage program offers true partnership services, with the objective of making sure that OnviSource’s products successfully and cost-effectively work for their clients.

OnviSource has a strong focus on customer satisfaction and customer loyalty through dedicated customer-centric programs managed by a customer relation management (CRM) team consisting of fully empowered executives of the company. OnviSource’s best-of-class customer support has enabled it to maintain high customer satisfaction, resulting in a 95 percent customer retention rate.

Strategic Partnerships: OnviSource continues to develop strategic partnerships that enable it to offer relevant products for today’s evolving enterprise and call center environments. One new solution is a comprehensive and analytics-driven social media management solution, offered as an all-inclusive managed service designed to make the customers’ socially enabled enterprises work for them in customer service, sales, marketing, and branding.

The company also maintains a re-seller program for those companies that desire to be more successful and profitable by adding and re-selling OnviSource solutions to their product portfolio.

Additionally, OnviSource is actively involved in its partnership with the OnviSource Equipment Owners (OEO) association users group. This alliance continues to strengthen the company’s ability to better serve its TAS customers with their specific needs.


Partners for More Than Twenty-Five Years! “For me, it’s all about the people. The time OnviSource team members take to care and share their knowledge – that’s what makes the difference. I am supported across the board from the executives to my account manager, technical support, and the responsiveness of the OnviSource Equipment Owners Association. In addition consistent improvement in features and product reliability over time has contributed significantly to my longevity in the TAS market,” says Nancy Kotich, executive director, Physicians Answering.

Evolution in the Technology: “OnviSource products have continued to evolve to meet the demands of the market, and we need that. They have introduced us to technology that enables us to run a leaner operation without sacrificing our quality of service. We realize cost savings as a result of improved efficiency and productivity at multiple levels,” adds Steve Kenny, owner, Best Answer.

[From Connection Magazine Jul/Aug 2015]

Call Centers Look to IT for Better Document Access in 2015

By Simon Wieczner

Having access to timely information empowers call center personnel to react quickly to customer needs no matter what they are. There’s nothing worse than not having access to existing information that can help resolve an issue. That information can range from an email or letter from the customer to the entire customer file or diagrams and photos. What’s key in all of these situations is reducing resolution time while also minimizing the need to escalate issues internally. In 2015 we will see companies making a concerted effort to improve document access systems in order to reap these benefits and streamline operations.

Challenges in the Global Marketplace: The many challenges in today’s global marketplace make implementing a universal interface for viewing information critical. In order to compete, numerous companies offer 24/7 support, but to do this across time zones, a call center’s staff might be dispersed geographically across the globe. In this case they need to have tools in each operator’s native language and may need to satisfy cultural factors – such as the need to output to paper even with the availability of electronic copies. Other IT challenges include slow communications to central databases and difficulty standardizing the hardware and software for agents on different continents. In some cases it makes sense to consider tools that are independent of the operating system and the hardware.

Browsers and Viewers: So what tools do call centers need to accomplish this? Today’s call centers need to be equipped with computers that have modern browsers, a phone, a back office server with full customer data, a CRM system that can access customer data, and a viewer for customer records such as letters, photos, and insurance claim forms. With these tools in place, let’s talk about connection.

In order for call center personnel to have reliable document access, call center computer stations need to be connected to company servers where customer data is stored on a CRM or other database system. Connections could be through a local network or over the Web for remote workers. It’s also helpful to have a modern browser with fast network and database access. Lastly, customer records must be available digitally (including scanned documents) and organized for quick access.

In a perfect world, with perfect data access, a customer phone call, chat, or email should not have to wait due to lack of access to existing documents. It’s a simple concept – but one that few companies have mastered.

A Multimedia Environment: In today’s multimedia environment, there’s an increasing multitude of document formats in a typical customer file: paper scans, photographs, faxes, Word documents, spreadsheets, and database reports. To address this document diversity, the best solution today for Web-based document viewing and processing is simplifying the number of applications needed to handle customer information.

Historically there have been issues with training operators on multiple applications (i.e., Adobe, Word, and Excel) as well as the cost involved. In addition to initial training and refresher training, there is the effort required in updating the client software and the risk that geographically dispersed call centers and systems would have different versions of the applications they were running.

One Universal Viewer: Clearly having one user interface for viewing all documents would simplify training and installation. Similarly, application software that does most of the processing on a central server ensures that everyone is working with the same version of the application and accessing the same database.

Today it is possible to avoid specialized document viewing applications like Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Word, fax viewers, and others. Now one viewer can handle all the documents in the customer record. And if that viewer is using the latest HTML5 technology, then all that capability can be provided from the central server while the client system has minimal requirements. This alone can drastically reduce training and support efforts, as well as response times.

The result is that call centers can actually have universal viewers running entirely within a browser that operates on any PC, Mac, or Linux system – or even on a tablet or smartphone. These viewers can seamlessly operate on a variety of different Web browsers and therefore can significantly increase the efficiency and reduce the response time for call center agents. This also makes incremental device updates a non-issue, which is key, because it’s rare for a global call center to upgrade all of its devices at once and virtually impossible to do so instantaneously across different regions.

Future Streamlining: There will undoubtedly be more technological advancements in the future that further streamline document access, but as we look to 2015 and beyond, browser-based call center systems can unlock many of the doors blocking call center agents from the documents they need to resolve issues. The benefits of a universal interface, simpler support leading to lower support costs, less training, and greater flexibility are all possible with current technologies. Organizations will be using that technology to build on their current processes to further streamline operations and give call center agents unfettered access to the information they need when they need it.

Simon Wieczner is the CEO of Snowbound Software. Simon’s background includes over twenty-five years of software industry experience. His management and marketing experience spans a number of companies, including First Data, Computervision, ADP, BSO/Tasking, Numonics, Ergo Computing, and AccuSoft. He holds a BS in Management and an MBA in Marketing from MIT.

[From Connection Magazine Jan/Feb 2015]

The Demystification of Information Management: A Non-Techie Guide to Software Applications for Call Centers

By Ross Vance

If you are like most contact center professionals, you have attended at least one networking event or industry conference where collecting, managing, and reporting on information was a topic of discussion. In contact centers today, “information management” is a term bordering on trendy. However, not everyone understands the concept of information management software or how it applies to his or her role in an organization.

Knowledge Management Systems: You may have overheard a contact center professional say, “We can greatly impact metrics if we roll out a knowledge management system (KMS).” An effective KMS is a warehouse of company information that draws on proven best practices rather than expected policies or common knowledge. These best business practices can be represented in the form of articles, flow diagrams, and process documents. In order to help contact center agents predict or respond to customer questions, these documents are compiled into a searchable database that can often be added to or edited by the employees themselves.

Knowledge Management in the Call Center: For call center leaders, a centrally located virtual warehouse of company best practices is extremely valuable, as it provides access to specific details they might need in order to make decisions. Additionally, employees themselves can find answers about processes and procedures not only from a manual but also from the historical experiences of the company’s own customers and agents.

With a KM tool at their fingertips, call center agents can schedule or reassign themselves without concern that more training or direct oversight is necessary in order to maintain process integrity. Having such a clear way to access best practices creates confidence in both the representatives and operational business units (such as workforce and project management).

A KMS is a vital component to have when educating employees – but definitely not something that should stand on its own. In order for a KM system to reach its full potential, employees must have a foundational understanding of company processes, policies, and procedures so they have the ability to articulate their questions and ultimately know where to find the answers. This makes any database of best practices serve more as a training tool than a training replacement. Additionally, having the ability to definitively answer questions related to best practices on the fly will reduce training time and errors in quality.

Where Do You Start? Skip the Google or Yahoo search in an effort to fill a proposal for potential KM solutions. Instead, shop around for success stories. Hyundai, a strong player in an industry plagued by customer service challenges, decided to implement a KM application to help its call center representatives. Because of both greater efficiency and higher job satisfaction, a key performance metric for the call center, calls-per-case, revealed a 15 percent improvement.

For those with a preference for open source software (OSS), a simple hosting account with a provider that offers a one-button installation of common Web applications, such as MediaWiki or DocuWiki, costs less than the average movie rental and can be up and running in a matter of minutes. Furthermore, open source does not mean less powerful or unsupported. MediaWiki, a popular and free wiki application, is the software base for the KM giant Wikipedia and is supported through an initiative of hundreds of developers worldwide.

Customer Relationship Management: Customer relationship management (CRM) systems are another type of information management tool. A CRM application is designed to collect valuable customer and contact specific information. CRM software provides the backbone for reporting and analytics. Some systems provide integrated scripting tools, allowing agents to create a seamless experience by capturing and referencing customer information for more informed and knowledgeable responses.

CRM in the Call Center: A data-driven CRM system should give call center leadership the ability to view call statistics, agent activity, dialing lists, and campaigns in real time. Also, a singular repository of customer information allows for better security and compliance safeguards.

A common criticism of many CRM solutions is that they do not easily align with a company’s current workflow. An effective CRM should not be responsible for outlining call processes. Instead, call processes should outline the requirements for the needed CRM solution. When that happens, operational processes become intuitive and easier to manage.

A CRM solution that is agent-centric makes it difficult for information to be entered incorrectly. Since call center representatives handle copious amounts of customer information every day, it is important to ensure that the CRM makes it easier to accomplish necessary tasks. This not only reduces the need for consistent refresher training, it also increases the knowledge retention of an individual by giving them appropriate context clues during a call.

Where Do You Go from Here? From an enterprise perspective, there are several major players in the CRM industry. From Microsoft to Oracle, there is no shortage of application styles. Most CRM software companies offer a trial period of their software. Taking them up on their offer may reduce some headaches and potential downtime due to incompatible matches.

If an open source approach is desired, it is easy for someone with limited technological knowledge to set up a simple hosting account with a provider that offers a one-button installation and install any number of free, open source CRMs. Two of the most popular are SugarCRM and VTiger, both of which can be used immediately upon installation or customized to match a call center’s needs.

In conclusion, the collection, management, and reporting of customer information and best practices are essential elements to maintaining an effective business strategy. Customer service organizations thrive on data, and those that manage it well are leaders in the industry. Even though “information management” may seem like a buzzword, there is a reason it’s at the forefront of conversations these days. Information management is essential for growth in the contact center industry. Understanding the role that information management software can play in your organization will keep your contact center cutting-edge.

Ross Vance is the training manager for SupportSeven.

[From Connection Magazine November 2013]

Application Suites Versus Best-of-Breed: Is Less Really More?

By Donna Fluss

DMG is frequently asked if it’s better to purchase a suite of fully integrated applications or to invest in multiple best-of-breed solutions that require integration at the customer’s site. While the answer may seem obvious, particularly given the shrinking amount of internal IT resources in many companies, it’s not always a simple decision.

All Suites Are Not Created Equal: Part of the reason this question is challenging is that not all suites are created with the same level of functionality or integration. Integration has a different meaning depending on the individual vendor’s history and perspective. End-user expectations for integrated solutions also vary widely. As a result, the benefits of pre-integrated solutions differ considerably. In an ideal situation, a suite of applications is fully integrated, shares a common architecture, has a standard administration environment, delivers fully consolidated reports that share data between the various applications, and even provides functional synergy. In this case, an application suite is advantageous and beneficial for an organization—as long as each of the suite’s modules has the key functionality that the end user needs.

The challenge in using suites arises when individual modules or applications are not sufficiently feature-rich, not on par with stand-alone, best-of-breed applications, not fully integrated with other applications in the suite, do not share a common administration environment, and do not offer consolidated reports. While it’s helpful to reduce the number of vendors that a company has to deal with and manage, if the functionality of the individual suite modules is weak or not fully integrated, the headaches may be greater than the benefits. This is often the case when vendors purchase third-party solutions with the intent of integrating them into their platform, but then delay doing so. Anticipating the integration benefits, the buyer’s senior management may jump the gun and plan IT budget cuts and staff reductions. But during the implementation – surprise! – they learn that they now must hire additional resources to perform the promised integrations.

A Real-World Example: A great example comes from the relationship between contact center infrastructure solutions – automatic call distributors (ACDs) and dialers – and workforce optimization (WFO) solutions. Companies frequently purchase recording capability when acquiring a new contact center infrastructure solution; they may also decide to purchase quality assurance, speech analytics, voice of the customer, surveying, and workforce management modules at the same time.

For years, most of the contact center infrastructure vendors sold third-party WFO and recording solutions and then performed the necessary integrations. These custom integrations earned them a large amount of professional services revenue but annoyed their customers by adding complexity and cost to an already expensive task.

In the last two years, a number of contact center infrastructure vendors, as well as many of the cloud-based ACD providers, have started to offer their own fully integrated recording and WFO suites. Even though end users are paying a slight premium for the OEM version of these solutions, many are happy to do so to avoid custom integrations and reduce the number of vendors they need to manage. This has become a significant source of income for contact center infrastructure vendors.

Consider the Trade-Offs: Application suites make a great deal of sense unless the individual modules are functionally weak or not truly integrated. Therefore, prospects are encouraged to check the functionality of all the suite modules to ensure that they work as needed and to test the level of integration. Be sure to separate vendor promises from reality when making a selection. This can be done by checking references in an environment comparable to your own and by requesting a thorough product demonstration.

If a vendor promises that they will provide integration in the future, be sure to reflect all future work and timeframes in your purchase agreement, and include penalties for non-performance, as failure to integrate carries a significant cost. Keep in mind that some integrations are not as helpful as vendors would like you to believe. For example, regardless of vendor hype, there is not a great deal of synergy between workforce management and quality assurance applications. So, while it generally makes sense to purchase multiple applications from the same vendor, there are always exceptions to the rule.

Donna Fluss is the president of DMG Consulting and author of The Real Time Contact Center.

[From Connection Magazine September 2013]

2013 Contact Center/Back-Office Application Shopping

By Donna Fluss

It’s been a tough few years for businesses. Technology investments have been constrained since the financial crisis first hit in 2009, creating a great pent-up demand. This demand has been fueled by a new generation of highly innovative, actionable, and surprisingly practical solutions delivered by contact center and back-office vendors.

Here is DMG’s list of nine new or greatly improved applications and solutions that enterprises should consider investing in, due to their highly compelling value proposition. Each of these solutions can help contact centers or back offices enhance the overall customer experience while improving staff productivity, which are two top enterprise goals for 2013.

Application CategoryBenefits
Proactive customer careFacilitates all types of outbound communications with customers, constituents, students, etc. These multi-channel servers can change the cost dynamics and perception of an organization by communicating useful information at the right time using the right channel.
Speech analyticsA change agent, it structures phone conversations and identifies customer insights, needs, and wants to help companies identify staff, process, and system trends and issues that need attention. Newly emerging real-time speech analytics solutions can alter the outcome of conversations.
Analytics-enabled quality assuranceAutomates the traditional quality assurance process, enabling companies to cost effectively review 100 percent of their calls and identify issues that require management intervention.
Text analyticsThe “killer” application for social media. Similar to speech analytics, but it structures and finds the meaning and insights in written communications such as emails, SMS, social media tweets/comments/posts, agent notes, etc. This enables companies to rapidly identify and address customer issues and uncover trends that require remedial intervention and resolution.
Dialing solutionsImproves the ability to reach a targeted list of customers, prospects, donors, etc. These solutions, which were ignored by vendors for close to a decade due to do not call (DNC) limitations, are being rejuvenated. The newly enhanced generation of dialers enables organizations to reach their target audience cost effectively.
Desktop analyticsProvides transparency and visibility into 100 percent of employee (front- and back-office) desktop activities, enabling managers to identify training, operational, and systems issues; eliminates manual processing by providing workflow and desktop automation; delivers real-time-guidance and next-best-action recommendations to agents during calls.
Contact center performance management (CCPM)Remains the most underappreciated application in contact centers, despite its great value. This solution collects and quantifies the performance of the contact center, teams, and agents, and it functions as the primary system of record. CCPM solutions institutionalize the change process by identifying issues and partially automating the change management process.
Predictive analyticsThis is the future of contact centers. These solutions gather and present agents with the information they need to optimize every customer contact. This is an emerging application area that is attracting investment dollars and being delivered on a “one-off” basis via professional services engagements.
Back-office workforce optimization (WFO) suitesDeliver work allocation and management functionality, workflow automation, workforce management, and quality assurance to back offices, assisting them in optimizing staff performance. These emerging suites enhance the customer experience, improve staff productivity, and greatly reduce rework and complaints to contact centers.

There are quite a number of applications, such as workforce management and surveying/voice of the customer, that are not on this year’s list. These are still important, but the vendors have not delivered enough innovation in the last few years to qualify for this list.

You’ll notice that this list does not include cloud or hosted solutions. This is because most of these solutions can be purchased on a premise, cloud, hosted, or managed service basis. DMG recommends first selecting a solution and then working with your finance department (CFO or controller) to determine the most favorable acquisition method for your company.

Just one word of caution: There remain substantial differences among the vendors’ offerings, particularly in newer IT sectors.

DMG is a vendor-independent research and consulting firm that dedicates thousands of hours to analyzing contact center and back-office technology and best practices. They use this information to help enterprise and contact center leaders build their servicing strategies and select the right solutions for their environments. Please contact DMG via email at donna.fluss@dmgconsult.com when you’re looking for help.

[From Connection Magazine March 2013]

Choosing the Right CRM System for Your Situation

By Athenee Mastrangelo

Your clients are your number one priority, right? So how are you managing their information for them? Do you have all their information stuffed in a shoebox, or do you have an effective CRM (Contact Relationship Management) system? Or are you somewhere in between?

Choosing the right CRM system can make your business; choosing the wrong one can break it. However, finding the right system is not an easy task. It’s also a personal task: Just because Mike next door is happy and successful with his CRM system does not mean it’s the right system for you. Every person, every business, and every situation is unique.

Five Key Areas

Scenario 1: Kevin wanted only the top of the line for his team and chose one of the more expensive CRM systems. Unfortunately, it was too complicated and time-consuming, so in the end his team never used it.

Scenario 2: Becky started out with a free CRM system but had to start buying upgrades to get the necessary options. She ended up paying more than what she would have for the average system, but she got less in return for her investment.

Rather than making these same mistakes, assess your situation. Before you invest your time, money, and energy into a new CRM system, make sure you consider these five key areas.

  1. Contact Management: For starters, you know you need to store and manage information about all the people in your life (clients, colleagues, leads, and vendors), but what do you need to save (aside from the obvious – name, address, phone numbers, emails, etc.)?
  • Do you want to store family information, such as spouse’s, children’s, and pet’s names, birthdays, and stories?
  • Are you a visual person? Do you want to be able to store a business card image or logo? What about pictures?
  • Do you want to be able to organize your contacts into groups? (Hint: Yes!)
  1. Your Relationship: Now that you’ve decided on the type of information, what about your relationship with each person? Is this important to you? If so, what data you want to store and manage?
  • Do you plan to list all phone calls and take notes of important things discussed?
  • Will you keep a record of topics covered and discussed during meetings and presentations?
  • Are you going to save any email correspondence? (If email is an important part of your business, you’ll definitely want to look at a CRM system that syncs with email.)
  1. Projects, Tasks, and Events: Some CRM systems have their own calendar, and others can integrate with your calendar system, making it easy to share events, projects, and tasks with other people on your team. If it is helpful to sync your tasks and events with your contact system, this is definitely worth checking into.

With some CRM systems you can even automate many of your assignments and tasks; this is a great time saver. For example:

Let’s assign a task to Jane, asking her to call a new lead. That task will have all the details and instructions for that call; it will include what to say and what questions to ask. For instance: “Is the lead interested?” If Jane answers, “Yes,” the CRM automatically creates a personalized email to that lead, thanking the person for his or her time. It also creates a follow-up task for Jane to drop by the lead’s office with a welcome basket.

  1. Your Sales Cycle: Here is where you can be as simple or as detailed as you want. Some things to think about are:
  • Do you need to keep track of your sales cycle with each client?
  • If you sell products, do you require a system for keeping track of your inventory?
  • Do you need an online shopping cart?
  • Do you want to be able to invoice clients directly from your CRM tool?
  1. Your Team: How many people are on your team? Is it just you, do you have only a few people, or is there a big team? Size does matter when looking for the right system.
  • When working with a team, do you want to keep track of who is working on what?
  • Do you need a social network site for your team (something that works like Twitter and Facebook, but is exclusive to your team)?
  • Will all your team members use the same operating system? (Hint: Consider using a cloud-based system so this won’t be an issue.)
  • Would it be worth looking into a time-tracking system, even if it is just for you?
  • Where does everyone work? At the office? From home? Or are some team members mostly on the road?

Important to Check Out

Now that you have a better idea about what you need, evaluate potential CRM systems in light of the following factors:

  • Accessibility: With today’s technology, consider looking into a cloud solution. You’ll have access to your important information no matter where you are. All you need is a computer, iPad, iPhone, or any other smartphone.
  • Security and Backup: Will your information be secure, and is there continuous backup?
  • Pricing: Know your budget, and remember that more expensive does not necessarily mean better (for you).
  • Export strategy: If you do decide to leave, you want to be able to easily take your information with you.
  • User-friendly: Is the CRM easy to use, and is there a good support system?
  • Reviews: Do you like what you are reading about the solution you are considering?
  • Customizable: Are you able to customize your dashboard, fields, and reports?
  • Integration: Does the CRM play well with other systems, such as email, calendar, scanners, invoicing, online forms, etc.?
  • Social Media: Some CRM systems let you sync your contacts with social media sites, so you’ll always have the latest news and information.

Athenée Mastrangelo helps busy professionals use technology to stay organized, productive, and connected. She is available for workshops, online training, and individual consultations.

[From Connection Magazine September 2012]

What to Look For in a Live Chat Software Solution

By Jim Iyoob

There have been drastic changes in the business world due to technological advances. Technology has made it possible to increase collaboration internationally, promote flexible work hours, and shop online. In today’s environment, there are numerous communication channels that can be employed – more than ever before.

Making the right choice of customer interaction methods and technologies is one of the most critical tasks for business decision makers. Live chat can be used internally for employees to communicate with one another or externally to talk with customers. Now is the time to find the right software for your live chat needs. Investing in the right software depends on your company’s size and the functionalities you are seeking.

With businesses aiming to improve online sales, it is essential to have a credible and reliable live chat software solution to cater to the online customer. There are many chat software options available in the market to address business needs. According to a survey conducted by Bold Software in 2010, 53 percent of online shoppers who interacted through live chat on business websites spent more than $500 online. And 56 percent of all respondents showed an inclination to make a purchase when a website offered live chat.

Live chat can increase your online customer base and improve conversion rates. The following are a few items to consider when selecting a live chat software solution:

  1. Web-Based Software Versus Desktop Software: Chat software is everywhere. Its presence is seen in phones, desktop computer screens, and Web portals. Many of the legacy solutions are desktop-based and must be installed on each computer separately. These software packages also come with a cap on the number of times the software can be installed and require licenses for additional installations. These solutions are meant for handling low chat volume on low-traffic websites and require IT expertise to set up, install, and maintain.

Web-based live chat software solutions offer greater benefits than desktop software in terms of flexibility, scalability, reliability, and better integration with Web browsers on mobile devices. It allows agents the flexibility to login from any Web browser from any location. Web-based solutions are free from firewall conflicts and upgrade requirements, and they can handle high chat volume.

  1. Off-line Customer Support: Tracking of visitors in real time can improve sales. Chat provides client support and technical aid 24/7. Providing a 24/7 live chat service on a website increases the chances of making a sale and developing customer loyalty. Questions can be answered faster along with providing assistance in finding particulars for interested shoppers, supply incentives, and receiving feedback.

Many Web-based chat solutions ensure easy integration with mobile Web browsers and are compatible with any phone. This means that when an agent is not present online, a text message can be sent to the agents when they are needed. When an agent clicks this message, they are directly connected to customers through a mobile Web browser.

  1. Canned Responses: Attracting customers to a website is one thing – getting them to buy is another. A guest will spend no more than fifteen seconds to find what he or she is searching for before leaving the site. Live chat software installed on a website is an outstanding way to save time for visitors and quickly help them locate what they are looking for and turn them into customers.

Canned responses can also be used by agents to increase the speed of chat and lead to higher customer satisfaction. It is important to select a live chat software solution that offers agents a quick reply to customer queries or complex questions. These solutions can store useful information from day-to-day operations and form a comprehensive knowledge base, which can be used to prepare canned responses that can then speed up chats when agents are handling multiple customers.

  1. Web Analytics and Reporting Tools: Apart from the basic features such as canned responses, proactive chats, and co-browsing, live chat software solutions should also include reporting tools and Web analytics. Web analytics provide insight into website traffic, such as repeat visitors and which pages were visited most. Web analytics can reveal crucial information regarding online behavior of the website visitors.
  2. A Customizable Solution: In order to better adapt with changing situations, the live chat software solution must be customizable to keep up with evolving business requirements. Some solutions, for example, provide a cut-and-paste method to easily integrate code into multiple pages of the website. Solutions should also allow for easy customization of chat buttons, chat skins, themes, and customer facing interface. Easy customizable solutions ensure that businesses can maintain consistent brand identity across all marketing and customer-centric channels.
  3. Pricing: Customer service through chat is an excellent way to keep customers happy. Not only is it a relatively inexpensive way to provide the attention customers demand, but it’s effective at carrying out this task. Businesses are wise to first assess their needs before moving forward with a selection of a live chat software solution; some software solutions provide basic features at a low cost per single user while others provide ample amount of features that can be scaled to meet business requirements and follow a monthly billing model. Businesses should conduct a detailed analysis as to which solution satisfies their needs and provides good ROI.

Live chat is becoming an increasingly important element of the overall customer service and sales strategy for many businesses. Chatting is an immediate and direct way of communicating your business message to the buyer. Being the most talked about business in your field is possible, but you must create a following first. Thankfully, there are many ways to a customer’s heart.

Dilip Barot, owner of Creative Choice Group, has found live chat to be an integral part of his customer service strategy. “Live chat is a simple solution to customer service and sales. I would not open a brick-and-mortar store without sales associates, so why let our prospective customers browse our websites without any assistance?” says Barot. “Providing live chat on a website helps businesses reach out to online customers in a cost-effective way. When selecting software to provide live chat on a website, the solution must meet the requirements of each individual business and easily integrate in the business process.”

website visitors often infer trust and loyalty when given the opportunity to promptly chat with an agent. When visitors to a website reach the point where they need to connect to an agent, they want to contact a real person. Providing live chat assistance is the solution.

Jim Iyoob is vice president of global development at Etech Global Services (EGS), a provider of intelligent sales and service solutions utilizing inbound and outbound voice and Web chat.

[From Connection Magazine September 2011]

ACE the Call Scripting Process

Amtelco Cloud-Based Platform Solution

By Wayne Waldner

The need for accuracy, correctness, and efficiency (ACE) is driving call scripting in the call center environment. The days of entering simple text-based messages are slipping away. Today’s call center clients have increasingly complex needs and expectations.

Call centers and their equipment vendors have adapted to new customer demands for ACE in call processing. These days, scripting software expertly guides agents through calls, providing concise information and gathering the data needed accurately, correctly, and efficiently, and it can even include scripting of the dispatch and message delivery process.

Graphical user interfaces greatly enhance the ease of script usage for agents processing calls. Graphics, colors, and prompts can steer agents to make prompt and accurate decisions during calls. Databases on the backend of scripts store the collected data in a safe and secure manner. Scripts can also connect to clients’ external databases to access and update the customer data directly.

However, even with all these advances, some necessary steps need to be taken to ensure that agents ACE the call scripting process. The call process begins long before an agent receives a call and begins collecting data. Data is collected from the client that dictates how calls need to be processed. Most clients have unique data that needs to be collected by the agent. Additionally, how information is delivered to the client can vary greatly. The clients’ needs determine how the script will be built.

Obviously, depending on which vendor’s scripting platform you use, the method you use to build a script will vary. Most modern scripting platforms sport a GUI and time-saving features so scripts can be cranked out with minimal effort. However, before building the script, there are a few points to keep in mind during the process. These steps will ensure that you ACE the call scripting process both in the beginning and as the needs of the client change.

Don’t Repeat Yourself: Duplication is perhaps the biggest problem when it comes to building and maintaining scripts. It is very tempting to duplicate client data in various places in a script instead of having it in a single location. The issue is not with displaying data but with having data entered into a script multiple times.

Consider the maintenance necessary to update a piece of information for each item that is duplicated in a script. Each time information is duplicated, it makes it difficult to find all the instances when a change is needed in the script. Missing one instance causes the agent to be presented with invalid information.

You may have updated all ninety-nine instances but forgot that last one; does it matter that you went through all the work to update the ninety-nine when the one you missed may cause the call scripting process to fail? If so, you are no longer the ACE.

Duplication can be avoided in several ways. When building scripts and setting up client information, always try to have the least amount of duplicated data. This may not be possible in every instance, but avoiding duplication should become a high priority.

Depending on your system, the exact methods will vary; however, in general, it is easy to avoid duplication by saving client information in a database, a directory, or in script variables. This will allow various components to readily retrieve the data, and –best of all – one update will affect every use of the data.

Don’t Be Too Rigid: When building scripts, don’t hard-code client information such as phone numbers and contact names directly into a script. These should be saved into a separate database so they can be updated and the changes will be reflected when the script is run.

Generally, it is better to update a database than to modify a script. It’s a lot less error-prone to update a database instead of changing the script. Sometimes it becomes more difficult to create the script initially, but avoiding hard-coding values in a script pays off when updates are made.

As a more advanced point on this subject, also avoid having logic in a script that depends on variable data. When a script contains conditionals based on variables such as a contact name, you will be forced to update the script when you need to add more contacts or a contact changes.

When you find the need to put phone numbers, emails, and other contact information into a script, this is usually a sign that a database or other storage system should be used. Having conditional branches in the script that are based on information not gathered during the call is often a symptom of being too rigid. This leads to a final point.

Don’t Homogenize Logic and Data: Scripts generally are a collection of various bits of data and logic or processes. For instance, the script may prompt the agent to collect some order information, and then, during some later process, the order may be sent to a fulfillment house and a confirmation email may be sent.

As much as possible, try and keep a strong separation of the various processes that need to happen in a script. This will allow each process to be modified without radically affecting some other process.

For instance, in the previous example, the process that sends the confirmation email only cares about the content and the email address. As long as this information is provided to the confirmation portion of the script, the email confirmation portion will work even if the rest of script is modified radically.

Scripts are easier to maintain and modify if you preserve a clear distinction between the data and the process that operates on the data. It is best when the process that works on the data is clearly separated so that either the script that collects the data or the process that dispatches the data can change independently.

As a rule, coupling data and processes too tightly will make the script difficult to maintain and modify. If this is not kept in mind, making a simple change to a script may cause a cascade effect, forcing many other changes to keep things working.

Always remember, the success of the result of call scripting is always a product of careful planning up front. What happens behind the scenes in building call scripts is vital in garnering results that will please customers and create satisfied callers.

This all depends on ACE – accuracy, correctness, and efficiency – in the scripting process. This principle starts when the client is assigned and continues through the beginning of call processing.

Wayne Waldner, a senior software engineer at Amtelco, developed the original architecture for Amtelco’s Infinity Intelligent Series scripting tools.

[From Connection Magazine Jul/Aug 2010]

Appointment Scheduling in Today’s Call Center

Amtelco Cloud-Based Platform Solution

By Ken Marty

Almost all businesses require some type of appointments, and call center businesses are no exception. What is an appointment, anyway, but just a complex way to look at a schedule?

In the “old days” before the personal computer, you bought the time-tested appointment book – or even a simple notebook or binder – and promptly started taking appointments, writing down names and blocking out time with a combination of Xs, slashes, and arrows. Of course, it was always full of eraser marks, Wite-out (remember that stuff?), and the everlasting coffee ring when the book was used as a coaster several times during the day.

At the end of the day came the unbelievable delivery of this information to the customer, probably making copies and either faxing them off or storing them until the client picked them up, or even worse, trying to relay all of the newly acquired appointment information over the phone.

Today things are not all that much different, but there are better methods to achieve the same result in our more professional, twenty-first century world. The same information still needs to be recorded, changes still need to be made, and the delivery of information still must take place. Recording the information has become much more complex, but the end result increases efficiency at least twofold.  I have yet to see the elimination of the coffee ring, but at least with these more modern methods the client won’t have to see it.

What information needs to be collected? There are two kinds: information about the shift and information about the resources involved. The shift is a no-brainer; it’s the start time and end time (or the start and duration of the appointment). The resources, on the other hand, tend to take on a life of their own.

Normally, everyone thinks of the resource as a person or some contact, but that’s not always the case. The resource may represent needed equipment, another vendor, or a customer, but the resource might also be the location where the appointment will occur. This will all depend on what your client requires. An appointment can include multiple resources, but it must include at the least one – otherwise, what’s the point?

The resource can and will become a more complex issue when you start factoring in items such as vacation time, sick time, and whether or not to allow double-booking. Taking that one step further, each resource probably will need several ways to be contacted. Of course, once you start talking about how to notify someone it always leads to some hierarchy of how and when he or she needs to be reached; such as, “Call my cell first.  If I don’t answer, call me at home, but always send me an email and text me twenty-four hours before the appointment.”

Therefore, you can see that the shift element of an appointment is quite simple and straightforward; it’s the resource who has become accustomed to using a cell phone, BlackBerry, or a Web browser that needs to be won over and probably will prove to be the biggest headache for you. But it’s that resource who pays the bill, so you have to deal with it.

Once an appointment is taken, it can lead to another issue: whether to also book a “recurring” or “follow-up” appointment days, weeks, or months in advance. This makes it imperative for the appointment-scheduling package to be equipped with flexible searching options in order to quickly and precisely determine the next available open appointment.

Then there’s the issue of how appointment changes are made.  We’d all like to think that things are written in stone and will never change, but the fact is that everything changes. With today’s technology, changes are more global than ever. Everyone has access to the Internet – these days, who doesn’t have a cell phone with Internet access?

A cancellation or appointment change should alert all parties involved in real time so adjustments can be made with everyone on the same page. This could be performed by allowing each party to confirm or deny a change request with the click of a button, a response to a text message, or a simple “yes/no” to an IVR announcement. If an appointment is canceled, the resources from another scheduled appointment, whether later in the day or week, could be contacted with the opportunity to move to an earlier time, all without human interaction.

The final step of the appointment-scheduling process is the delivery of information. The appointment schedule is really geared to being the input mechanism of the process. For a total solution, it needs to take advantage of other systems such as IVR calls, SMS or email messages, or even website.

IVR, SMS, and email are excellent ways of communicating with customers and receiving feedback to be applied to appointments. A website is really the icing on the cake by providing anyone in the know with the ability to make changes or see at a glance when the next appointment occurs.

There are many Web-based appointment-scheduling packages available today, but finding one that integrates well with an existing call center system is the trick. A Web-driven appointment schedule empowers clients to handle their day-to-day business. It can provide different views of the schedule (daily, weekly, monthly) plus the ability to handle any changes a client would like to make, all in real time. It can even provide the client with the ability to run reports against their appointment schedule or, even better, to see at a glance confirmed or cancelled appointments. Moreover, the best part is that the capability is provided by the call center and is tied directly to their account.

Appointment scheduling will never be a one-size-fits-all part of life. Each client is going to want it done their way and will expect different options. Clients really don’t care how the technology works; they’re more focused on the services provided to them. That’s where a call center has the opportunity to distinguish itself from its competition by providing additional services with appointment scheduling, such as IVR reminders and confirmations, SMS text, and email notifications.

Ken Marty is a software engineer at Amtelco and was the principal designer of Amtelco’s several scheduling solutions for call centers.

[From Connection Magazine March 2010]