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

Professional TeledataLike 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 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]

Your Enterprise Transformed

By Bob Brittan

The call center industry experienced a disruptive technology change forty years ago with the availability of the first ACD (Automated Call Distribution). Although the intent was to efficiently route large numbers of customer calls to the most appropriate agent, it soon became apparent it could also help with up-sell activities while improving customer satisfaction.

Today, ContactBabel states in US Contact Centers in 2015 (3rd edition, March 2105) that there are 44,000 contact centers in the United States, with over 3.4 million agent positions focusing on the same ideals. However, the contact center of today and the future is dramatically different, with a heightened goal to not only deliver an enjoyable customer experience but also provide a quality experience that can identify and address the needs and preferences of each customer, regardless of the point of contact.

For example, recorded call analysis can improve customer experience, while other departments (including marketing, sales, and back-office functions) can contribute to customer satisfaction through accurate transaction processing, shipping, and billing. Customer satisfaction has become an enterprise-wide strategy, not just a charter of contact centers. This is where contact center and back office integration becomes a critical factor for success.

Consider the steps required to transform the enterprise in order to deliver a quality customer experience that starts with the initial customer contact. With so many contact options (phone, mobile, text, chat, and social media), the complexity of managing these channels puts service quality at risk. The things that irritate inbound callers are legend. One issue is when an IVR front-ends the connection only to have the agent request the same information.

Investing in cost-effective software applications to unify customer interactions is beneficial to customers as well as employees. This is especially true when all customer contact, interaction, and transaction data (including CRM and ERP data) is linked to one place. When all customer information is centralized and easily accessible, agents can mitigate placing customers on hold, time-consuming data lookup, or having customers repeat information after a call transfer.

The next step is to capture all data from each communication channel. Many organizations have information but struggle to use all that “big data” in meaningful ways. Integrated data capture, data unification, omni-channel analytics, and process automation tools can be automated, unified for evaluation, and analyzed to discover valuable knowledge that then can initiate automated actions (such as coaching an agent for next-best actions), perform 100 percent quality assurance, and manage compliance and liability.

When an angry customer threatens to end their relationship, real-time critical event detection can trigger an action to get a supervisor involved and save the account. This capability goes beyond conventional workforce optimization (WFO) and extends capabilities to incorporate optimization, automation, and unification of a broad range of enterprise functions.

A major challenge in this is managing the end-to-end flow with the ability to provide a holistic view of the critical data, since each part of the process generates valuable information. When accomplished, this enables users to generate actionable knowledge or even automated actions – from simple to advanced – without concern for how each individual element is used in the workflow chain. The goal is to create timesaving and actionable reports, notifications, and APIs (application program interfaces) – and even launch applications to discover new opportunities or obstacles.

This holistic view of data, analyzed through omni-channel analytics, generates powerful information to leverage predictive analysis into what is going to happen as well as prescriptive analytics that can help shape future events by assessing predictive analytic trends and taking appropriate actions. This is not futuristic – solutions that solve real-world business problems like these are available today to help grow business and maintain existing customers with a quality experience.

The final step in integrating the front and back office is finding the right vendor with the most optimized solution, applying realistic return-on-investment (ROI) models, and implementing it using the call center’s own data, processes, and methodologies to make the solution work for that operation.

This is the only way to have a WFO project work optimally for a particular environment. Once implemented, this cost-effective WFO solution can automate and unify customer interactions, transactions, and processes performed in contact centers, back offices, and IT organizations into an easy-to-administer solution.

Bob Brittan is the marketing director at OnviSource, Inc. and has more than twenty years of experience in best practices consulting for emerging technologies and contact centers, with a focus on front and back-office optimization and automation.

[From Connection Magazine Sep/Oct 2015]

Darwinian Call Centers: The Evolution of Modern Contact Centers

By Dennis Cox

Darwin would have felt at home in a modern contact center: He would have been able to study its constantly evolving nature and observed his theories in practice. Call centers have always been in a state of evolution; however, technology has accelerated the process. Sometimes the rapid pace of technology seems overwhelming as organizations try to keep up with the latest solutions, all of which promise efficiency and improved service that lead to increased bottom line revenue.

With the advent of at-home agents and hosted solutions, the old concept of call centers now has a new face. Centers have become more flexible, and previous constraints – such as high turnover due to low agent morale, burdensome oversight of agent adherence by supervisors, and large capital expenditures for hardware installation – have been mitigated or removed by technological advances designed to streamline operations and enhance profitability. Consider these breakthrough areas that benefit agents, supervisors, and organizations:

Web Access: Online productivity tools empower agents to manage day-to-day activities as well as personal performance. Agents in both the front and back office are able to view schedules and changes in real time, submit change requests and trade shifts, view KPIs through a notification system, manage vacation time via automated requests, and communicate through a bulletin board system. The result is streamlined communications and process automation critical for organizations to enhance employee morale by providing necessary tools to perform day-to-day tasks.

Mobile Access: Mobile access gives supervisors flexibility to stay abreast of agent activity while out of the office. Users equipped with smart phones or tablets can check agent status at a glance, modify schedules with a click while in meetings or off-site, send messages and notifications, and view reports from hundreds of miles away. Supervisors can log changes such as sick days or early releases, view agent schedules, and send pop-up and email messages with a click from the same grid without navigating to different screens.

Real-Time Adherence: Bottom line revenue is decreased from time lost when agents are out of adherence. Real-time adherence (RTA) is a key ingredient in improving overall productivity of workforce management and delivering industry standard KPIs. RTA untethers supervisors from their desk and expands oversight to a new level, giving them the ability to effectively oversee agents by:

  • Proactively monitoring adherence on a real-time basis by comparing scheduled activity to their actual state information
  • Eliminating the need to babysit an RTA screen by automating alerts to agents and supervisors when adherence thresholds are broken
  • Distributing industry-standard adherence KPIs and management dashboards to agents in real time
  • Providing mobile-adherence views so managers can view reporting and real-time adherence through Web and smart phone access

In the multi-site world, management can quickly drill down to any center at any given time. Drill down capabilities can be set by an individual site to find the root cause of adherence issues. Conversely, global functionality allows views to be configured any way needed by looking at a roll-up of adherence metrics. Notifications and alerts are set up to provide quick and actionable adherence changes to meet organizational objectives.

At-Home Agents: There are four primary reasons companies implement remote agents:

1) Lower Center Costs: Operating costs associated with at-home agents include lower starting wages and reduced benefits, less need for brick-and-mortar facilities and support staff, increased labor pool with flexible scheduling options, and reduced training costs associated with increased agent retention.

2) Better Customer Service: At-home agents have demonstrated their ability to create a better customer experience, resulting in increased customer loyalty. Customer loyalty due to improved service translates to increased revenue. Remote agents are able to take customer service to the next level and increase customer loyalty.

3) Greater Productivity: In-house agents encounter interruptions throughout the day that affect productivity. At-home agents are proven to be more productive than in-house agents, with reported increased productivity of up to one hour daily. Working in an environment without disruptions allows agents to focus on meeting service-level objectives and customer service.

4) Improved Employee Satisfaction and Retention: Agent turnover is an inherent problem for contact centers, and replacing agents is a major cost consideration. Recruiting and training costs can significantly affect a company’s bottom-line profit margin. Retention rate for at-home agents is 80 percent, versus 25 percent for in-house.

Hosted Solutions: Almost 70 percent of organizations are currently using, or considering, cloud-based hosted solutions for contact centers. As the trend moves toward the cloud, the argument for spending money and resources on a premise-based workforce management solution may be diminishing, especially in a challenging economy.

There are seven compelling reasons for choosing a hosted solution:

1) No Hardware or Software to Install: All hardware and software is installed and maintained by the vendor.

2) Flexible Subscription Costs: Billing is based on the number of agents scheduled.

3) P&L Benefits: Hosted solutions are treated as an operating expense only, as opposed to a large capital expenditure.

4) No VPN requirement: Hosted solutions allow for access anytime, anywhere, eliminating the need for a virtual private network (VPN), which is designed to allow employees to securely access their company’s Intranet while traveling outside the office.

5) Flexible Contracts: Part of the cost savings of hosted solutions is the ability to pay as you grow, not as you go. Most vendors provide month-to-month subscription options, and the cost increases only when you decide to expand services.

6) Vendor IT Management: Most IT requirements are managed by the vendor. One major advantage of a hosted solution is that it allows you to focus on managing your business and leave the IT infrastructure to your vendor.

7) Decreased Costs: Enterprise software capabilities are available at a much lower cost. With hosted solutions, most vendors offer a full suite of enterprise software capabilities without the associated cost. Upgrades are offered as part of the package. You only pay for what you need, but the full enterprise capability is available when and if you need it.

The Results: Technology is constantly challenging organizations to be more profitable through implementation and utilization of solutions of the future. The evolution from call centers to modernized contact centers incorporates a range of solutions for both the front and back office, enhancing KPIs and enabling service objectives to be met more efficiently. Darwin would approve.

Dennis Cox is the managing director of Pipkins, UK. Pipkins Inc is an American company and a supplier of workforce management software and services to the call center industry. For over thirty years, Pipkins has created and delivered workforce management products for contact centers of all sizes with thirteen applications, including their premier product Vantage Point. For more information, visit

[From Connection Magazine Sep/Oct 2015]

Three Reasons for Automating Your Call Center Compliance

By Jeff Fotta

Telephone marketing laws have always been complicated and hard to follow. Recently the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed changes to the “Do Not Call” (DNC) program that would make it harder for marketing and sales calls to connect to potential customers. The result would further complicate contact center compliance. Under the constant threat of ever-increasing fines and stricter enforcement, businesses that rely on outbound marketing need specialized marketing privacy compliance tools and advice. It’s nearly impossible to keep up on your own.

We’re seeing more and more companies adopt cloud-based compliance-automation technology and integrate do-not-call and business rules into their call center platform to take the guesswork out the regulations. However there are a number of benefits to automating your contact center compliance technology, and doing so allows you to take advantage of the opportunities for engaging consumers across multiple marketing channels.

Here are three reasons why you should pursue compliance automation:

1. Stay Out of the Regulatory Crosshairs: Automated compliance technology checks every dial against state, federal, and other do-not-call lists, applies any available exemptions, and either allows the call or blocks it automatically. It also updates this process in real-time to adjust to call curfew, time zone, daylight savings, holiday, and state-of-emergency restrictions associated with every dialed number to ensure all calls are performed legally. This means that you have bulletproof protection against all calling regulations and the resulting brand damage that can come from non-compliance.

Automated compliance technology provides tools for enforcing internal policies as well, helping to onboard staff and instill a compliance-focused environment. Furthermore, automated compliance technology is flexible and can adapt to your needs as they change. Cloud-based, real-time call blocking validates each call request for permission to continue. No list scrubbing is required.

2. Manual Compliance Takes Time Away from Growing Your Business: If your compliance isn’t automated, think of all the time and resources you spend having to constantly stay on top of the latest regulations and update your rules. You’ll need to either cultivate a legal expert in DNC or hire one of the handful who are actually specialists if you go it alone. Wouldn’t it be great if you could use that time and money to actually build your business? When you automate compliance, you free up an incredible amount of time to ensure that risk is reduced and go after your markets aggressively to hit up the best prospects and close deals.

3. Expand Your Marketable Universe: Most people view FCC regulations as a hindrance to their business, but think of it this way: Due to opt-in and consent regulations, you’re actually getting a more focused group of people to call, who, by opting in to communications from your company, are more open to hear about the product you’re selling. So instead of blindly calling people who have no interest in your company or product, you’re zeroing in on the most likely prospects. When done correctly, this approach builds loyalty to the brand and strengthens affinity and cross-selling or upselling opportunities.

What Does All This Mean? Companies that want to be 100 percent certain they are not in violation of applicable laws, regardless of dialing method and equipment, should consider an automated, real-time, and always-current compliance service that integrates with their internal systems. Maintaining a dedicated staff of specialized attorneys and software developers to stay on top of complex and constantly changing federal and state regulations – or doing so yourself – is cumbersome and ineffective.

Proactively addressing the changing regulatory environment will help companies reap the rewards of phone-based marketing. This is in sharp contrast to those firms that ignore the regulations and risk damage to their brand or those that completely stop phone-based marketing. Automated compliance technology allows your business to effectively leverage a marketing channel that has proven to be effective and able to reach the consumer, whether they’re at home, at work, or on the go.

Jeff Fotta is president and CEO of Gryphon Networks.

[From Connection Magazine Sep/Oct 2015]