Tag Archives: Technology Articles

How to Ensure That Your VoIP-Based Call Center Is Always Online

By Steve Walker

The industry trend towards Voice over IP (VoIP)-based PBXs is causing a shift in the technology underpinning the call center business. VoIP PBXs bring with them tremendous features and flexibility, but they also create some unique technical challenges. Since a VoIP PBX is essentially software running on a computer, how will you keep your agents active and phone lines up when your VoIP telephony environment goes down?

Computer problems are not a question of if, but when. And VoIP PBXs are no exception. VoIP PBXs may encounter problems on their own (for example, a hard disk failure), network problems may block them, or they may go idle in the event of a local VoIP carrier problem. (VoIP call centers on the East Coast of the United States will remember an extended outage of a particular carrier in November 2017). Any one of these events (and more) can bring your VoIP telephony environment to a halt and idle your agents.

If you’re planning to deploy a VoIP-based PBX, you need to ensure that you implement high availability (HA). In simplest terms, HA means that if one PBX fails for any reason, another will rapidly take its place and restore telephony services. This is normally achieved through “clustering,” which means having a standby PBX ready to take over for the primary PBX if things go wrong.

If you ask your IT person about HA or clustering, you might get an answer well-suited to an office computer but not appropriate to a telephony environment. To design a HA solution suitable to a mission-critical telephony environment, you need to consider the following six criteria:

1. Autonomy

This criteria is the most important requirement when designing a HA telephony environment. It means that damage or failure of one PBX in the cluster cannot negatively affect the others; they must be autonomous (share nothing). Simple or cheap solutions share hardware, software, and disk drives between primary and standby PBXs. But enterprise-caliber solutions, including those serving public service answer points (PSAPs), must have fully autonomous cluster members. Make sure your clustered PBXs are fully autonomous.

2. Synchronization

The information held in the PBX must be kept consistent between the primary and standby PBXs in the cluster, so that either can take over for the other on a moment’s notice. Solutions that share data break the first rule of autonomy, but solutions which synchronize data are ideal. Look for a solution that synchronizes data, not one that shares a data storage device. Just as important, ensure that the PBXs will automatically turn off synchronization if one of them is in poor health. Sharing data that may be corrupted by a failing PBX can destroy the other one, resulting in the call center going off-line.

3. Failure Detection

Simplistic HA solutions define failure as a black-or-white scenario (for example, a power outage affecting the building shuts down everything). But VoIP PBXs fail in their own unique ways. A software bug might prevent the PBX from connecting calls, or a memory error may prevent calls from reaching agents. Enterprise-caliber solutions require sophisticated health sensing and failure detection. This ensures that the PBX is running and telephony services are fully functional. Avoid solutions with simplistic failure detection.

4. PBX Separation

While putting the primary and secondary PBXs side by side is convenient, it minimizes the magnitude of failures the cluster can withstand. Instead you will want to place one PBX in your primary call center and the other far away, perhaps in a different state. That way, if you suffer a local or regional power or carrier outage, the backup PBX running far away can take over. Then agents can connect with mobile phones or work from home. Note as well that simplistic synchronization solutions break down whether the two PBXs are placed far away or one is placed in the cloud. Therefore, make sure your synchronization solution can handle any degree of physical separation of the two PBXs.

5. Rapid Detection and Failover

Your call center will suffer immensely if it takes fifteen minutes for your PBX to detect that something went wrong, and it will suffer again if it takes twenty minutes longer to switch to the backup. And a lengthy outage may put your call center SLAs (service level agreements) or contracts at risk. Ensure that your HA solution can rapidly failover from one PBX to the other and that failure detection (health monitoring) can trigger a failover in under one second if things go wrong.

6. Encryption

If your call center handles personal health information (i.e., for a medical facility), then information contained in the PBX (such as voicemails) may be protected health information (PHI). Voicemails synchronized between the two PBXs may be deemed “ePHI in transit,” which could violate rules pertaining to the protection of this information. Regulations like HIPAA in the USA, PHIPA in Canada, PDPA in Singapore, and so forth may impact your HA solution. You must ensure that communications between the two PBXs are encrypted to secure that information; this will also help protect the PBXs from internet hackers.


These six criteria define a minimum set of capabilities your HA environment must meet to ensure you maximize PBX uptime and maintain the productivity of your call center. Since VoIP PBXs are fundamentally software running on a computer, you will find a range of HA solutions from free and open-source (generic computer HA) to commercial products specifically for PBXs.

As you select your HA solution, evaluate your options using this criteria to find the solution that’s right for you. Don’t wait until your first VoIP PBX outage to start implementing a high-availability solution.

Steve Walker is the CTO at Telium, a manufacturer of telephony and telematics solutions specializing in VoIP.

Machine Learning Puts the “Intelligence” in Contact Center AI

By Bob Kasten

With the advent of computers, thoughts quickly turned to speculation that a computer could someday match human intelligence. In 1950 Alan Turing devised the Turing Test that became a threshold for when a machine is said to become intelligent. The test uses a human evaluator that watches a conversation between two parties. The evaluator knows that one of the parties is a machine, and if the evaluator cannot distinguish between the human and the machine, the machine is said to be intelligent.

While the notion of artificial intelligence (AI) can bring thoughts of computers someday becoming self-aware, we do not have to worry about this just yet. In our era, AI has become an important tool that can be used in contact centers to become a performance differentiator.

Machine learning is a branch of AI. It uses data to feed algorithms that automatically learn and improve. Machine learning falls into two broad categories: supervised and unsupervised. In supervised learning, the output datasets are provided and used to train the machine and get the desired outputs for future datasets. Unsupervised learning does not use output data, but instead the data is clustered into different classes and then analyzed.Having a conversation in a text format gives the ability to mine agent and customer interaction. Click To Tweet

Many industry verticals have become commoditized to the point where offerings are similar or the same across the competitive market. This applies to BPOs (business process outsourcers) as well as the companies that use their contact center services. In order to gain and keep market share, it is essential to give a best-in-class customer experience. Machine learning can help with this process.

Contact centers generate a multitude of data. Data sources include systems for CRM (customer relationship management), billing, collection, agent QA (quality assurance), call recording, chat, email, CSAT (customer satisfaction), social media, and so on. All this data tells a story about the customer and the contact center’s interaction with them.

The recent progress made in AI parallels similar progress with voice recognition and natural language-processing technology. It is now possible to convert real-time conversations or voice recordings to text with a high degree of accuracy. Having a conversation in a text format gives the ability to mine agent and customer interaction.

The easiest way to understand how data and machine learning can work together in concert is to describe a common scenario. The process uses an archetype that can be applied generally to supervised machine learning.

Here is a list of generic process steps, followed by a specific example that uses a voice recording as the data source. Note that the data could come from any of the above sources.

  • Identify data source: Locate a voice recording.
  • Generate learning data: Convert the voice into text.
  • Machine learning analysis: Process text data.
  • Machine learning correlation: Connect success and failure outcomes with patterns in the agent and customer conversation. Find out how the best agents generate success. Identify the criteria of the call that causes the interaction to be successful. The output of this step will produce actionable insights.
  • Make improvement suggestions: Use the insights from the previous step to make enhancement recommendations. Improvements can come in many forms, including agent training as well as agent and customer matching. This provides real-time customer data the agent can use during future sales opportunities or script changes.
  • Implement recommendations: Take action by improving the script or training the agent.
  • Predict success: The insights gained from machine learning can be used to predict the likelihood of success. A benefit of predictability is that an action can be taken based on the predicted behavior.
  • Feedback: Verify that agents are using the training recommendations by running the process iteratively to confirm that the feedback is contributing to attaining key success metrics. Feedback is also used in the success prediction.

Determine what successful agents say is the basis for building on that foundation and give it to agents who are not as successful. Once you know the why of success, you have taken the first step in answering how to improve it. Positive customer experience plays directly into understanding the success equation. A customer who makes a purchase or gives a positive customer satisfaction rating for the service they received will be identified by using the machine-learning process.

Other data sources can be added into the model to improve the predictability quotient. CSAT could be used to help further identify success patterns. Another possibility is using customer attributes that can be obtained commercially. Commercial data includes purchase habits, household income, age, gender, home market value, and occupation.

These data marts are a good way to give agents more direct information about customers. In addition, they are used to improve the accuracy of the predictive modeling. Customer attributes are used to enhance the customer experience and increase the likelihood of success. Many attributes about the customer that are found using their phone number or email address can give further insights.

Using a computer-generated call that speaks as if it were a human being brings this model full circle. This application has been deployed in the past couple of years. It still has a long way to go, because customers can tell the caller is a computer rather than a person. In 1950 Alan Turing probably never envisioned that his Turing Test would be used with automated dialing systems.

Using machine learning in conjunction with learning from the mined voice text, with the advances in natural language constructs, brings new opportunities, as seen with assembly-line automation in the early twentieth century. Calling and speaking using a computer reduces staff and leads to labor cost savings. It should be noted there are TCPA requirements, as well as state and federal laws, that should be thoroughly understood and followed before using this type of technology.

When we get to the point that a customer cannot tell that a machine called and is speaking to them, the Turing Test will pass, and the machine will be considered intelligent. Once that happens, we may be closer than we would like to the day when computational awareness becomes a reality.

 Bob Kasten is the founder of contactcentertools.com. His tools provide a holistic suite of agent performance management modules that includes KPI performance tracking dashboards, voice analytics, QA scoring, knowledge testing, goals, coaching, and secure clean desk agent communication. He spends his time consulting on contact center information technology projects and enhancing his agent performance management tools. He can be reached at bob.kasten@contactcentertools.com or www.linkedin.com/in/bob-kasten/

Add Resilience to Your Call Center

By Wayne Scaggs

Do I get up after a knockout event? My first, second, and third answer is “yes.” Why? It’s because it is in me to find a way over, around, under, or through the issue.

For the purpose of this article, issue refers to your call center system, the beating heart of your business. The processors in your system clock millions of cycles per second, and the software sends the data you need through wires to the screen or printer to provide the information needed.

I do not know who discovered the following proven method of troubleshooting, but I will say that I have used it and it often works. One of the first places to start to look for issues in your system is to verify what is happening between the keyboard and the monitor. This should be approached delicately, because you do not want to disrupt the balance that exists. It can be a tremendous time-saver when this intricate part of your system is at its peak form.

Here are some of the mitigating approaches to data loss you may want to consider to protect and preserve your company’s most valued resource: the data on your servers. This information is based on our experience and research in creating both the hosted and cloud systems that protect and preserve our clients’ data. We are required to protect and preserve that data. Click To Tweet

Procedures you may want to have in place and verify their readiness include Windows updates, snapshots, planned failover, checkpoints, server replication, virtual servers, SQL transaction log shipping, backups, and spares. All procedures may not be applicable to all systems; use the procedures that work best for your business.

  • Windows updates can be an issue. Sometimes they won’t let you shut off your computer or allow you go to work until the update is completely installed. Updates break things, and updates rearrange your comfortable setup that you worked so long to get the way you wanted. Something to remember about Windows updates is that they help keep your computers secure, and the longer the time between updates, the longer it takes to update your computer. More importantly, you cannot operate your business without computers and computers must be updated; it’s mandatory.
  • Snapshots of your server are taken at an instance in time, which you can go back to in order to restore your computer to the time the snapshot was taken. You should use snapshots before a major update or component change-out. Snapshots are performed automatically, and there is a limit to the number of snapshots before they are overwritten.
  • Planned failover is used when you want to use a different server for operations and replicate back to a server. This method keeps the operating server and the replicating server in sync.
  • Checkpoint is a manually created mirror of your server used to retreat to a known working point of your server.
  • Server replication is a scheduled event that replicates your server—both the operating system and all the programs.
  • Virtual servers can operate multiple servers in one physical computer. The physical computer has enough resources (disk drive space, processing power, and memory) to accommodate servers that require fewer resources. A virtual server can be used to house your replicated server. If a failure occurs on your operating server and you have that operating server replicating to a virtual server, you can now bring your virtual server online and continue to operate your business while the failed server is being attended to.
  • Transaction log shipping is a SQL server tool to reestablish your SQL database back to a point, determined by the frequency of the transaction log shipment. To make the transaction log work, you must have a separate and complete SQL server where you can ship the transaction logs.
  • Backup options include online storage, flash drives, physical hard drives, and cloud storage. Performing multiple routine backups and maintaining off-site storage is mandatory.
  • Spares could include virtual servers, disk drive raid arrays, network switches, backup Internet access, and backup online servers.

We live in a software-driven world, with software controlling the data of our businesses; we are required to protect and preserve that data. This article provides a view of a variety of systems from a higher level. Know what you have in place, and then choose to incorporate other options that add resilience to your call center.

Wayne Scaggs is the president of Alston Tascom, provider of call center database information and network telephony systems.




How to Use CRM and Live Chat in Your Call Center

Transform Your Call Center Agents into Customer Experience Ambassadors

By Chris Frascella

In the last decade there has been a vast change in the approach to customer service. Millennials (officially the largest living generation) may be to blame for starting the revolution, but the desire for a more centralized and omnipotent form of customer service is now a universal expectation.

Shrewd industry leaders have recognized the trend and have been transforming what were once simple call centers handling incoming customer complaints into teams of brand ambassadors. Consequently, call center teams are being reorganized, reenvisioned, and tasked with delivering consistent, centralized, and exceptional service to customers no matter what channel they use. Today, live chat is often a key component of call center service offerings.

Innovative Creation or Frankenstein’s Monster? Unfortunately, many agents have to rely on legacy processes from the old call center model: tools that aren’t suited to meet today’s customers’ more demanding expectations. Even centers that have the appropriate tools have often purchased and deployed them over time, leading to a confusing patchwork of log-ins, dashboards, and permissions.

Customers expect agents to know their preferences and history as soon as an interaction begins. They don’t want to wait while agents look up their records, and they won’t tolerate having to give the same information over again. It is impossible to deliver on a promise of centralized customer service when you have siloed information stuck in disparate systems. Agents will struggle, key performance indicators (KPIs) will fall, and customers will end up leaving even more frustrated than when they arrived with their problem or question.

Knowledge Plus Performance Equals Power: Implementing a customer relationship management (CRM) system and an enterprise-wide live chat platform can make a significant difference in the quality of customer service you deliver. Exceptional CRMs contain an incredible amount of valuable information that can inform agent-customer interactions throughout the organization, but if the information is locked in a system that is difficult or time-consuming for agents to access, its impact on actual service quality is limited.

Deploying a system with integrated CRM and live chat within the call center gives agents the tools they need to truly engage users and accurately measure and analyze results. Here are a few examples of how an integrated CRM/live chat system can transform both the agent and customer experience:

Provide Agents with a Single, 360-degree View of Customers: Customer experience agents should never have to log in and out of different dashboards and navigate through various screens to get the information they need. At the simplest level, a CRM/live chat integration allows support staff to instantly view extensive customer data without ever leaving the chat window. This includes purchase history, service records, past interactions, location, and contact information. One-click access to a 360-degree view of the individual with whom they’re chatting lets agents focus fully on their current interaction with the customer rather than on finding and accessing records.

Capture Sales Leads Immediately: If a call or live chat event uncovers a potential lead, a truly integrated system allows agents to easily capture the critical information the sales team will need right away and within the live chat window. This kind of digitally facilitated handoff creates a culture of collaboration and continuous improvement between dispersed call centers, sales teams, and marketing departments.

Build a More Robust Cache of Customer Record with Ease: Customer records locked in other call center or live chat systems lead to siloed knowledge and information gaps, so getting your staff to actually use your CRM is not always easy. Agents should be engaging your customers, not transferring data from one system to another.

Integrating enterprise live chat and a CRM platform allows agents to work in one place. This will minimize the administrative burden, increase CRM adoption rates, and lead to more knowledgeable service and sales teams – as well as happier customers.

Chris Frascella is the director of partner marketing at Velaro.

Fight Social Engineering of Call Center Agents

Make Your Priceless Data Completely Worthless to Combat Fraudsters

By Ben Rafferty

When a new wall goes up, criminals will always search for a door in or a way around. It’s in their nature, and it’s ultimately what fuels them. We are witnessing this transition in the cybersecurity space today.

Companies are investing more in defending their security perimeters and are using daily penetration testing to identify and remedy holes a hacker could potentially exploit. According to the SANS Institute, about 9 percent of IT budgets have been allocated to security in 2016, up from 4 percent in 2014. So-called next-generation endpoint products will surge to a predicted level of nearly $4 billion by 2020. Cyber criminals are watching a substantial wall being built between them and their targets. The skill set required to obtain the same valuable information is increasing and ever-changing. Or is it? Just because some direct methods criminals used in the past will no longer be available to them, unfortunately there’s always another way.

Security involves people and processes in addition to technology. The most logical weakness is the human component – you and me. Hackers caught on to this years ago, and we’ve become incredibly familiar with weak spots that result in “social engineering” attacks that often involving tricking people into breaking normal security procedures. Phishing emails hit our inboxes daily, trying to convince us to approve wire transfers from our “boss,” or click a link to “save” our sick Aunt Nancy, potentially installing malware, or more recently, ransomware.

What to Watch Out For: Digital disruption in the financial industry has led to a rise in third-party payment systems. The Amazon Store Card, Apple Pay, and Google Wallet are just a few examples. And with them, we’re far less likely to actually use our credit and debit cards at the point-of-sale. In fact, our physical use of cards is arguably becoming obsolete.

This trend isn’t going anywhere, and because of it we will continue to deliver more of our personal and account information over the phone, email, and Internet to banks and retailers without thinking twice. But when this information reaches the contact centers that facilitate these interactions, it can be a goldmine for fraudsters and criminals – especially with the rise of massive data breaches exposing huge amounts of personally identifiable information (PII).

Most organizations don’t have the time to carefully vet every phone and digital interaction in order to ensure they are not being socially engineered. If a caller provides accurate information, it’s often all he or she needs to pass through the gates. And we’re not just talking about one crafty individual pretending to be someone else; criminal groups have systematized these intelligent attacks.

One year ago this seemingly simple tactic wounded one of the tech industry’s biggest players, Apple. A flurry of fraudsters took advantage of the Apple Pay authentication process by convincing contact center employees to activate Apple Pay accounts with stolen credit card information. The actual Apple Pay activation was then initiated between Apple and the bank, and Apple gave the bank stolen credit card information to open the account, including the details relating to their iCloud.

Vishing or “voice phishing” calls involve a series of phone calls to a contact center, each one taking minor actions to slowly gain incremental access to an account or turn off alerts by warning of an impending “trip out of town.” Essentially, in two or three phone calls, criminals are able to escalate privileges into user accounts and commit fraud. In this particular instance, fraudsters loaded iPhones with stolen, card-not-present card information and turned that data into physical cards via Apple Pay. This type of attack is very difficult to identify and defend against because one contact center might have thousands of agents, and it’s highly unlikely an attacker would reach the same agent twice.

How to Stop It: Social engineering in the contact center environment is something US organizations have to address, and fast. But unfortunately things are likely to get harder before they get easier.

A US-wide move to chip-card technology has the potential to grow the threat of these attacks. While the transition is intended to help reduce overall fraud rates – its introduction in the UK reduced card-present fraud by 32.5 percent in seven years – in reality it is more likely to simply shift the ways fraud occurs. Fraud that leverages a contact center environment is likely to be exactly where most new fraud attempts will occur, a trend already seen in the UK, according the UK Payments Administration.

Humans have always been, and always will be, the weakest link in the security chain. As more and more cyber criminals target contact centers, contact centers must do everything they can to make sure criminals are not able to socially engineer their employees.

The most effective means of stopping this – and many other types of fraud – is to ensure that even if the human element is misled, other measures are in place to prevent the looting of payment cards and personal information. Many would agree that an effective means of protecting against social engineering is to simply leave the data in some format unusable by the criminals.

For example, tokenization can be used to replace sensitive data with a unique and meaningless equivalent (known as a token) that has no exploitable value. This token is then stored by a tokenization system and acts as an empty stand-in and director for the sensitive information. Many organizations use this to increase the security of critical data and keep it out of the reach of cyber criminals.

Technologies will improve, but humans will always be duped. Acknowledging and preparing for that eventuality is the only true way we can combat social engineering.

Ben Rafferty is the global solutions director at Semafone.

The Call Center Meets Cyberterrorism

By William Lane

Like it, or not, your call center is connected to the Internet. Whether you utilize a premise or cloud-based model, PRIs or VoIP, are located in Bar Harbor, Maine, or Los Angeles, California, or have four agents or 1,004, you are dependent on the Internet in some way. The bad news is that every person, business, organization, and government connected to the Internet is vulnerable.

Vulnerable to What? A few of the threats facing all of us every day include distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, malware, toll fraud (international calls being made from your switch), phishing, crypto-lock attacks, and unfriendly probes. Having antivirus software from a leading company is not enough.

Not only is there an explosion of malware (some estimates are as high as 200,000 new malware samples released every single day), but research shows that only 5 percent of threats are actually identified by existing security software, and in the majority of cases the average time-to-detection rate takes two months (Marc Goodman, Future Crimes).

Our networks, computers, switches, and every other device connected to the Internet are vulnerable to attack. Some of the bad actors are out for the lulz (the fun of it), but an increasing number are out for money. If you don’t believe me, try searching for ransomware.

Your Network, System, or Switch Is at Risk: Some attacks are direct, some are indirect, some (as mentioned above) are just for the fun of it, and some are malicious, purposeful targeting. Often victims of cyberterrorism are merely collateral damage. For example someone releases a malware to Windows, and every Windows user gets the sickness. Or a bad actor releases a web crawler, and it identifies an open public port on your switch, notifies the perpetrator, and your telephone bill goes up thousands of dollars until you notice the charges on your invoice. Experts estimate that some form of cyberterrorism will affect one in eight businesses each year, and the threat is only growing.

So, after painting this bleak picture of the vulnerabilities of contact centers (and everyone else, by the way) being connected to the Internet, what can be done to protect critical systems from cyberterrorism?

  • Be Aware: Understand that every system is vulnerable; so prepare for how to deal with the various challenges before an attack occurs. Don’t be blind to the very real threats that are growing daily; plan contingencies on how to keep your business running should such an attack occur.
  • Practice Safe Software Management: Ensure that all available updates are installed quickly. This will mitigate exposure to known threats. For instance, Microsoft does not even issue security updates for Windows XP anymore. Yet millions of computers with this software are still running, making them vulnerable to attack. Make certain your call center stays up-to-date with software versions and security updates, and avoid open source software not shepherded by your vendor and its partners.
  • Implement Resiliency: Install software and hardware that ensures constant monitoring of your system, such as robust firewalls, routers, and network management tools. Proper resiliency may not prevent every attack, but it will ensure that your system continues to operate (even if in a degraded state) and alert you to issues in a timely manner so you can repair the damage and stay in business.
  • Execute Redundancy: Implement a business continuity disaster recovery plan and test it frequently, ensuring that your system is completely backed up and accessible in a crisis.
  • Choose Trusted and Experienced Partners: No one can do it all on their own. Ensure that your chosen vendors and partners are at the forefront of technology implementation. Make sure they have the ability to enable you to practice safe software management in a cost-effective and timely manner and have key partnerships in place to assist you.
  • Utilize Encryption Technology: Use encryption technology wherever possible, such as secure messaging, databases, routers, and firewalls.
  • Perform Security Audits: Contract with a competent third-party auditor to ensure compliance with best practices for security, including PCI and HIPAA. Use vendors and partners whose products and environment are annually audited.

Recognizing that we live in a dangerous world and seeking solid partners who understand technology and know how to mitigate the risk of cyberterrorism is not only prudent – it is an essential element in today’s world for ensuring that your business not only continues, but thrives. A little self-reflection and thoughtful examination of system and software vulnerabilities may not make it possible to avoid every cyberterrorist attack, but it will certainly create an environment of awareness and minimize the impact on your business.

William Lane has been involved in software development for nearly thirty years and has worked at such companies as Oracle, Microsoft, and ARIS. He is the president and CEO of Startel and Professional Teledata.

[From Connection MagazineMay/June 2016]

Why You Should Care about Your IVR

By Donna Fluss

Contact centers are finally becoming omni-channel organizations where customers can interact using their channel of choice. Technology such as WebRTC is altering the service experience by allowing customers to change modes – moving from a chat session to a phone call, for example – without changing medium. Outbound environments can chase customers using many channels, as long as they comply with regulations. Despite all of this welcome innovation, the traditional, dependable interactive voice response (IVR) systems continue to handle a large percentage of both inbound and outbound calls cost-effectively.

Back to the Future: While the Millennial generation has a strong preference for using non-voice channels that are accessible from their smartphones, they are not opposed to using an IVR, as they often prefer any form of self-service over talking to a live agent. Of course, the IVR experience has to be a good one, which we all know is much less common than it should be. Enterprises need to invest in enhancing their Web and voice self-service channels.

The service experience delivered by these channels needs to be consistent, as should the information available to customers. The self-service channels should be optimized to allow users to easily access the information or transact their business. Web and voice self-service channels should mirror as many activities as possible, as there will be times when customers are unable to call or cannot get online.

Millennials are giving voice self-service a fresh beginning, even if voice is not their preferred channel. But Millennials will not put up with the many poorly designed IVR implementations in the market today. This means that if companies are willing to invest in enhancing the scripts, voice user interfaces (VUIs), and integrations between the system and agents, then they have a great opportunity to use their IVRs, which remain one of the most inexpensive forms of service.

Tips for Using IVRs with Millennials: Here are a few ideas for using an IVR to deliver service to the Millennial generation:

  • Make it speech-enabled, and be sure it works: Millennials don’t have a lot of patience. They may try it once, but if something doesn’t work, you’ve lost them, and even worse, there is a good chance they’ll share their grievances on social media.
  • Make it easy, and give callers the options they want: In the “old days” companies put up the options they wanted callers to use on an IVR. This didn’t work then, and it doesn’t work now. If you want callers to use an IVR, automate the tasks they want to do on this channel.
  • Do not torture callers who do you the favor of using your IVR: Make sure it’s painless for a caller to transfer from the IVR to a live agent. Transfer the customer’s account number, and tell the agent what the customer already did in the IVR. Forcing callers to input and validate their identity in the IVR and then asking them to do it again when they get to a live agent is a waste of time and money for your company – and a total turnoff for any customer, particularly a Millennial.
  • Optimize your IVR scripts and options: Continuously look for ways to improve the performance of your IVR. Callers are open to changing scripts, especially if it improves the service.
  • Personalize the IVR: Use analytics to personalize the IVR experience. If callers always do the same thing on the system, either give them this information after they authenticate, or present it as their first option when reading them the script.
  • Tap technology: Use visual IVR tools to build consistency in your self-service channels.
  • Invest in voice biometrics to reduce fraud risk: Once customers pass the initial verification screening, give them what they want, and if they need to transfer to an agent, make sure they are not asked to re-verify.

Final Thoughts: When scripts and VUIs are well-designed and optimized, customers welcome IVRs as a useful form of self-service. This means that the old days of building an IVR application and leaving it alone for months, if not years, is no longer an option.

There has been innovation in the IVR market, and there is good technology available from on-premise and cloud-based vendors. But companies that want to succeed with voice self-service today must continuously invest in their application to ensure that it’s meeting customers’ ever-changing needs.

Donna Fluss is the founder of DMG, a vendor-independent research and consulting firm that analyzes contact center and back-office technology and best practices. Contact her at donna.fluss@dmgconsult.com with any questions you may have or to learn how to make today’s innovative and powerful technologies and best practices work for your organization.

[From Connection MagazineMay/June 2016]

The Hidden Costs of Pause-and-Resume Payment Card Processing

By Curtis Nash

Businesses are concerned with how to handle the massive amounts of sensitive data presented to them on a daily basis. Technology, and most notably cloud-based services, can help alleviate the problem by leveraging infrastrucure, reducing capital investment, and increasing operational flexibility. This is especially true in call center environments that frequently process sensitive card data as part of the normal workflow.

There is no debating that credit and debit cards have emerged as the preferred method of payment for consumers who are more atuned than ever to security concerns. Card processing technologies for e-commerce and brick-and-mortar stores have continuously improved, but call centers haven’t kept up, and the efforts to protect sensitive card data received via telephone is clearly on the rise.

Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI-DSS), the de facto guideline for call centers, was originally designed to prevent customer data from being exposed to agents or recorded, thus offering theoretical protection of payment card details. Merchants lost a significantly higher percentage of revenue (0.68 percent) to fraud in 2014, compared to 0.51 percent in 2013, according to LexisNexis.

The risks associated with payment card fraud and data breaches continue to haunt call center managers, PCI compliance officers, and company executives. No wonder – last year 700 million records were exposed in data breaches, causing an estimated financial loss of $400 million, with stolen credit card details selling for up to twenty dollars each on the black market.

The constant threats continue to evolve, so companies need to review and update controls regularly in order to stay ahead of hackers and criminals. Unfortunately, it may not be enough to simply meet the high standards of PCI-DSS compliance, and one particular area of risk and concern is “pause-and-resume” recording.

Originally positioned as a quick and easy fix for keeping sensitive authentication data out of call recordings, pause-and-resume does nothing to mitigate fraud, and its inherent flaws can leave credit card details exposed to hackers.

Incredibly, more than half of all call centers still use pause-and-resume. Beyond fraud, however, there are four hidden costs that call center executives should be aware of when assessing if pause-and-resume is still right for their business.

1) The Hidden Cost of Compliance: There are 904 separate reporting entries in PCI DSS 3.0, and compliance costs real money. Support staff monitoring, unenforceable policies, and process maintenance require considerable investments in both time and money. And this doesn’t include processes that are dependent on manual interactions or are transferable to growth opportunities like work-at-home agents. Once toxic data gets into your call center, it requires expensive exception handling and potentially brings all systems into the scope of PCI compliance.

2) The Hidden Cost of Compliant Resolution: Paused call recording not only exposes the workflow to malicious agent activity and attempted scams, but without an audit trail, there is no way to know call details or prove what conversations may have transpired. Resolution of customer complaints means investing time and money to settle claims for which there is evidence either way.

3) The Hidden Cost of Lost Sales Opportunities: Customer demand for secure systems that protect the privacy of card details will continue to increase over time. When data is compromised, either through a breach or fraudulent activity, consumers will quickly seek alternative suppliers and shop elsewhere. Look at what happens to the sales of a well-known brand after a breach goes public.

4) The Hidden Cost of Damaging Your Brand: Building and maintaining a brand costs millions of dollars. Breaches damage reputation, erode trust, and may be unrecoverable for long periods of time. On the flip side, people may frequently talk about your brand and the breach.

Improving the Customer Experience: Call centers rightly should be focused on the customer, not on process. Most consumers don’t know anything about pause-and-resume. They only know that “this call may be recorded for training and quality purposes.” Nonetheless, consumers are becoming more and more hesitant to give out payment card information to persons or companies they don’t know, information that effectively enables someone else to use their payment card or store it in a system that may be compromised.

Imagine if the experience of handling a payment card transaction were different. Suppose your company representative could remain on the call with your customer, boast about your brand, and explain that your systems employ leading-edge technology to prevent payment card details from ever being seen, heard, or stored. Your competitors don’t do that. The agent might instruct the customer to use the keypad on his or her phone to input payment card data, and the agent would be there to assist and perhaps even suggest additional purchase oportunities.

Envision how that might create loyalty or expand your potential consumer markets. Imagine, for example, how this might attract buyers over age fifty, who will have a global spending power of $15 trillion by 2020. That’s a lot of money for a group of consumers who rely heavily on phones and contact centers to make purchases instead of visiting traditional retail locations.

Improving the customer experience for all consumers with secure payment card processing solutions will position call centers to be a viable channel for many years to come.

So when you evaluate pause-and-resume, consider the hidden costs and the impact it has on the customer experience.

Curtis Nash, the founder and CEO of Cognia, brings energy and enthusiasm for taking technology and applying it in new and unexpected markets. As a lifelong technology entrepreneur, Curtis has experience and success in technology, operations, and business development. His interests include mobile telecommunications, compliance technology, cloud services, and real-time communications (such as instant messaging).

[From Connection Magazine – January/February 2016]

A Complete Call Center System in the Cloud

By Wayne Scaggs

The purpose of a call center system in the cloud is providing a more efficient method of receiving raw data, processing that data into value-added information, and delivering the valuable information to customers in a timely manner.

Why use the cloud? First, if you accept the premise that the call center industry is not an island and that technology influences how our customers expect information to be processed and delivered, think “cloud.” When competitors move to the cloud because it is more efficient and then come after your customers with new and cost-effective solutions, how will you keep your customers with your cost-intensive hardware-based system? Cloud systems are here to stay because efficiency always trumps “but we have always done it this way.”

I consistently receive two types of inquiry calls:

The first type of caller asks, “How can paying a monthly recurring fee be cheaper than buying a system that will be paid off at some point?” What these callers do not yet realize is that the hardware system in their equipment room continually costs them money. Start with the cost of the system and then add the interest on a loan (or a lease with built-in interest). Then consider the cost of getting the system shipped to one’s office; installation and training are often in addition to the system price. Plus the system is usually a balance sheet debt, limiting future borrowing power.

T1 or PRI costs will continue to rise, and the last mile is a big part of the bill. How much more are you paying due to the way the phone company charges you for a full PRI, the per-minute cost, and long contracts? What about the service they provide?

You also need a technician to maintain the system. Or are you a do-it-yourself owner? If you are, how do you value your time? How are you paying yourself? You are probably the most valuable person in your company, so working on your equipment is not the best use of your time. You also need supporting hardware: network, network cables, and switching hub, along with the labor to install your network. After your warranty expires you will have maintenance and service fees for as long as you have the system.

Did you include the cost of an UPS and generator backup into your calculations? Another consideration is that your UPS batteries may only last for a few years before needing to be replaced. About six years into the life of your system when things have finally settled down, you’ll need a major upgrade. Whether hardware, software, or both, you are looking at 35 to 50 percent of the original system cost just to keep up with the changes in technology and customers’ demands.

Utility expenses include electricity and air-conditioning for your equipment. Other facility costs include the equipment room itself; the floor space costs something. The equipment has to be insured; this is part of owing your own hardware.

In contrast the second type of caller says answering calls is how he or she makes money; costly equipment is a major business distraction. This caller asks, “What does it take to go on the cloud system?” These callers understand the value of cloud technology so they can concentrate on their business.

A cloud system solution has no capital expenditure, no debt on your balance sheet, and no interest to pay. Your cloud system should use SIP channels and therefore be more cost-effective than T1 or PRI. There is no last mile charge every month from your telephone company. All the system maintenance is the responsibility of the vendor as part of your monthly fee. Your local area network (LAN) only needs to accommodate your workstations and the Internet. There is no need for a large UPS that requires a generator. You’ll also avoid an expiring warranty or the need to buy a service plan.

The decision is in your hands. Become the second type of caller.

Wayne Scaggs is president of Alston Tascom, Inc., which offers premised-based and hosted contact center solutions.

[From Connection Magazine – November/December 2015]

Five Reasons Why Your Call Center Should Go Mobile

By Alleli Aspili

Nowadays you’ll be hard pressed to find consumers without a smartphone in their hands. In the United States alone, mobile analytics company Flurry said that in 2014 each person owned four digital devices and spent about three hours per day using them. It is estimated that twelve billion mobile devices will be used in the next two years, surpassing the world’s population.

And yet in the face of this widespread usage, you’ll be equally hard-pressed to find call centers using their own mobile app for customer support. When GetApp ranked the top twenty-five call center applications in a recent survey, only five of them had both an iOS and Android app, and three had only either one. That leaves seventeen with none.

This has to change. Most customer service journeys today begin on a mobile device. It makes sense to engage with consumers with a mobile app. Some forward-thinking call center outsourcing companies are starting to recognize that customers are increasingly going mobile, which is why these companies are slowly integrating mobile software into their operations.

Here’s why your customer support should go mobile sooner rather than later.

1. Improve Customer Experience: With consumers’ mobile lifestyles, a better customer experience now means the transition from searching a website to talking to a support representative should go as smoothly as possible. What could be simpler than using a mobile app? Customers now have several options with which to interact with frontline service staff. Whether via email, chat, or voice, callers now have options that they can select based on their preference.

2. Enhance Frontline Efficiency: This is especially true for companies with higher security standards, such as the financial services industry. They typically have pre-authentication procedures to verify a caller’s identity, which in turn helps agents decide which types of information can be divulged. This can be a tedious process for callers during call transfers, where the burden of authentication begins anew and customers having to answer questions again to verify their identity. A mobile app can make this unnecessary, thus reducing frustration and the burden of proof of identity on the part of the caller.

3. Reduce Overhead Costs: Less time undergoing pre-authentication measures means shorter handle times, which in turn means lower cost per call. It also lessens incidences of having to deal with irate callers caused by a time-consuming and tedious verification process. Overall operational costs will be reduced considerably. Not only will this shorten call times, it will also provide a better interaction with the customer.

4. Capture Customer Feedback: There are now so many ways to capture customer data by simply keeping track of your customer’s digital footprint. You can use this wealth of information to create a more holistic, 360-degree view of your customers, thus being responsive to their needs based on what you know. A mobile app can be used to capture all this data to ensure that you’re delivering excellent customer service that will win you loyal customers. It also makes you more accessible to customers, making interaction a breeze.

5. Add Flexibility for Call Center Workers: Let’s turn our focus on how call center software can benefit staff as well as customers. A mobile call center application can allow workers to do their job at a remote location. This means they don’t need to be tethered to their desk in an office to perform customer service functions.

This simply mirrors the customer’s mobile lifestyle, and it also provides workers more options with which to perform their duties. Greater flexibility can result in happier workers, which can enhance how they interact with their customers. More empowered agents typically perform better than those who don’t have as much freedom.

The bottom line is that we are living in a mobile-centric world, and call centers need to evolve with the times. Mobile technology gives both clients and call center agents varied ways of interacting with one another, and it also has the capacity to enhance the customer experience. Traditional call centers need to respond to these changes if they want to deliver a differentiated customer experience.

Alleli Aspili is a senior specialist for business development at Infinit Outsourcing, Inc., an ISO-certified BPO company that caters to the inbound call center and provides finance, accounting, and healthcare outsourcing to SMEs.

[From Connection Magazine – November/December 2015]