Tag Archives: Telephony Articles

Vendor Profile: Szeto Technologies

Szeto Technologies has been a leading vendor of answering equipment and communication systems since 1986. As the industry has evolved extensively over the last thirty-two years, Szeto has continued to remain on the leading edge of technology in providing solutions in voice-plus data processing and telephone switching. Technology has certainly changed over time, but Szeto’s greatest strength has not changed—they continue to provide their customers with turnkey, customized communication systems to meet their client’s needs.Szeto Technologies recently added the capability of automatically handling the check-in and check-out procedures using satellite SPOT (satellite positioning and tracking) devices. Click To Tweet

Call Linx & SSS-100

Powered by Linux, Szeto’s Call Linx TAS system is built to be reliable, flexible, and user-friendly. Through the years, Call Linx has expanded add-on features to complement its traditional telephone answering service applications. In 2013 Szeto Technologies modified the generic Asterisk software and tailored it to be their Call Linx telephony switch, the SSS-100. This approach replaced their proprietary hardware strategy in their telephone switch and allows them to provide redundancy and reliability using virtual servers. Another advantage of adopting Asterisk is the freedom of having multiple technology suppliers.

The company’s latest wireless features secure text messaging for HIPAA compliance and employee safety monitoring for remote or isolated workers. The popularity of webchat has grown in the past years, and Szeto Technologies makes it easy to provide businesses with this feature, which was once available only to large corporations.

The story of Call Linx, SSS-100, and Linux is still evolving. The TAS service industry is striding into the future in full force. So is Szeto Technologies.

Secured Text Messaging App

Szeto’s secured mobile app ensures that messages transported via wireless mobile devices are secured for HIPAA compliance. This protects medical patient privacy and personal health information.

In conjunction with the Szeto-designed mobile app, the company also has special APIs (application program interfaces) designed to interface with third-party vendors such as TigerText, OnPage, eVigil, Qlig, Doc Halo, Secured Bridge, and Med Tunnel.

Employee Safety Monitoring

Employee safety is a concern for most employers. All employers are expected to take reasonable precautions to ensure the safety and the well-being of their employees. Workers in remote areas, unsupervised, working with dangerous equipment, or in hostile environments need assurance of their safety and well-being. Business owners must offer the workers additional means of security, by routinely monitoring their safety in the field.

Szeto’s employee safety monitoring provides preventive monitoring of employees working in potentially dangerous environments. In the event of an employee found in danger or requiring emergency help, the system will trigger a rescue procedure to alert the appropriate personnel for human intervention. Those who can benefit from such monitoring are organizations with workers in remote locations or dangerous environments, handlers of dangerous and hazardous materials (such as oil and gas field workers), maintenance crews in remote areas (electricity, telephone, antenna sites), employees vulnerable to possible hostilities (visiting nurses, social workers), and security guards.

Features include:

  • Automatic identification of current or next work location by satellite or mobile apps
  • Automatic detection of a worker-down situation
  • Check-in devices (telephone, SMS text, and mobile APP)
  • Alert methods (telephone, SMS text, email, and pager)
  • Time-stamped logs of transactions and activities
  • Web access to work team status

Szeto Technologies recently added the capability of automatically handling the check-in and check-out procedures using satellite SPOT (satellite positioning and tracking) devices. This monitoring equipment is a stand-alone system but can also be tailored to integrate with existing data equipment.

Web Chat

Web chat enables your operators to offer online help via text chat for people visiting your clients’ websites. Szeto has recently enhanced its web chat to be friendlier, including the option of displaying the agent’s picture. While large companies can have their own agents for web chat support, this may be too expensive for small- and medium-sized businesses. Szeto’s web chat gives call centers the opportunity to supply this feature to clients who can benefit from this opportunity.

SIP Service

Szeto Technologies has partnered with Pulsar 360 to offer SIP services to its customers. The company also recently developed software to directly interface with SIP services without relying on any third-party middle piece of conversion equipment. This eliminates a potential source of hardware failure and the necessity of providing spare parts, not to mention saving having to rent the equipment. If a customer already has the setup with gateway arrangements, they can continue with that approach.

Szeto TechnologiesFor additional information please contact Szeto at info@szeto.ca or 877-697-9386.

Why Telemarketing Programs Fail, Part 4

By Kathy Sisk

In the last issue we discussed properly assessing and preparing agents for training before the start of your campaign. Now we’ll look at what happens during the calling period.

A Challenging Task

When it comes to outbound campaigns, it isn’t realistic to think the prospect is waiting by their phone in anticipation of your call. On the contrary, the prospect may have already been inundated with calls like yours, in the middle of doing something more important, or they aren’t available.

Additionally, they may not have an interest in what you’re calling about. If you get any negative response early in your presentation, the method of handling it is critical. One of the most challenging parts of an outbound call is handling a premature “I’m not interested.”

The Easy Close

Using the “easy close” technique will help you through this challenge and allow you to continue with your presentation or keep the door open for future contact.

Here’s a typical easy close to the I’m-not-interested brush-off: “I respect that. If I could provide you with information that could save you on your insurance policy, how open are you to receive more information about this?”

The idea is to get the prospect to say “yes”; this turns a negative into a positive. This approach allows you to move on to the next portion of the easy close, which is to qualify their interest by saying, “To make sure that you can benefit, I need to verify some information, if you don’t mind.” This final portion of the easy close gets another positive response that helps you go to the next step of your presentation, the probing step.Preparation is a vital key to overcoming potential obstacles. Click To Tweet

When the campaign is carefully planned, and you incorporate what you learned in your training, you will gain greater confidence in handling calls and experience more positive outcomes. Preparation is a vital key to overcoming potential obstacles.

In the next issue we’ll tie everything together for a cohesive, well-thought-out outsourcing campaign.

Kathy Sisk Enterprises Inc. has forty years of experience providing call center setup, reengineering, assessments, training, script development, and project management services to centers globally.

How to Stay Positive in the Telemarketing Services Industry

By Angela Garfinkel

No. Not interested. Thanks for your call, but no. No.

You get the point. Working in outbound telemarketing sales can be a difficult job. Working in telemarketing management is also hard, but at least we aren’t the ones who are told no every five to seven minutes throughout an eight-hour day. Most telemarketing programs average one sale every four to five hours. Some really great programs get one sale every two to three hours. The very best programs get one sale for every hour of calling. In an eight-hour day, that’s about one hundred noes and, at best, a handful of yeses.

Remaining upbeat and positive is a challenge, but the key is knowing that what you’re selling is worth the effort. We call it “worthwhile work.” It’s important to carefully evaluate each client program to ensure that it meets the minimum standard of being worthwhile work. If I go to Thanksgiving dinner and tell my grandma what project I’m working on, will I be proud of it? If the answer is “not really,” then we’ll choose to not work on it. Click To Tweet

Here Are Some Criteria I Consider:

  • Would our team enjoy working with this client? Would our management team get along with them and find there is a true partnership? Obviously, it takes a while to build a relationship, but within an initial conversation, I can normally tell if there is a seed of potential for our team to enjoy working with a client.
  • Is the potential client a reputable company? I check the Better Business Bureau. I look at their website. I read press releases and other news about the company. If I can’t find anything that validates them as a reputable company, that isn’t necessarily a negative, but then I do my own assessment by asking some detailed questions about the company and how they approach their market.
  • Is the product or service something the target market needs? This can be difficult to assess, but you can normally ask some questions that will give you insight to the need in the market. One key question is asking them how many products they’ve sold so far. If it’s zero, that could be a real challenge.
  • Is the product or service something that can be sold over the phone? Has the client already tested telemarketing? Was it successful? If not, look at the potential for success with scrutiny.
  • Is it a program our team will be successful with? That’s hard to quantify, but with thirty years of experience, I’m pretty good at identifying if our team will do well with a client program or not.
  • Is it something a consumer or business may ultimately view as a rip-off or scam? Obviously if the answer is yes, then we carefully walk away from the potential opportunity.

Based on these answers, I’ve found that it is critical to carefully consider whether the program will be viewed by our team as worthwhile work. In the simplest of terms, I explain it this way: If I go to Thanksgiving dinner and tell my grandma what project I’m working on, will I be proud of it? If the answer is “not really,” then we’ll choose to not work on it.

Here Are Some Programs My Team Considers Worthwhile Work:

  • Calling physician offices and hospitals to sell them billing and coding resources.
  • Calling existing utility customers to offer a warranty and appliance repair program from the utility.
  • Calling small business owners to ask if they’re interested in learning more about 401(k) benefits for their employees.
  • Calling existing customers of auto dealerships to schedule service appointments and conduct after-service surveys.
  • Calling small and medium businesses to sell them regulatory and compliance resources to help them navigate complex regulatory requirements in their industry.
  • Calling small businesses to ask them to listen to the radio for a chance to win a prize.

And while I won’t mention the brand names represented in these worthwhile calls, they are household names our employees love to work for.

So here’s my theory: when you’re conducting worthwhile work for well-known, respected brand names, you can take pride in what you do and know that it matters. This makes it easier to stay positive and let those noes roll off your back. There’s an old chant we used years ago that I still think is relevant and a great way to put the noes into perspective: “Some will. Some won’t. So what? Who’s next?”

Angela Garfinkel is the president and founder of Quality Contact Solutions, a leading outsourced telemarketing services organization. Angela has the pleasure of leading a talented team that runs thousands of outbound telemarketing program hours each day. Angela is also a certified Self-Regulatory Organization (SRO) auditor with the Professional Association for Customer Engagement, and she is a designated Customer Engagement Compliance Professional (CECP). Angela can be reached at angela.garfinkel@qualitycontactsolutions.com or 516-656-5118.

Looking Ahead


By Bob Vornberg

Telephone answering services (TASs) have played a unique and important role in our economy, from the early days of cord boards to the current era of smartphones and soft switches. A TAS combines people and technology in support of the business processes of their clients, helping small companies to grow and larger companies to continue to prosper.

As a creator of products for the industry, we at Amtelco and Telescan have this same relationship with you, the users of our products. We strive to create tools that are general in function and still powerful enough for you to service a wide range of clients’ needs and assist you in assimilating these tools into your operation in a timely and cost-effective way.

With today’s mobile workforce, servicing your clients’ needs means supporting them in their workflow in ways that were until recently not feasible. In the past, reception of a message meant an interruption to the workflow and consisted of several discrete steps of notification, message delivery, and follow-up. But now, thanks to the pervasiveness of wireless and smartphone technology, these steps are seamlessly combined and serve to enhance the workflow rather than interrupt it. This also implies a TAS now can participate more fully in the workflow itself.

Timely, reliable, and secure communications always have been a characteristic requirement of the medical community, and they have been the first to benefit from the ability to use these new communication tools. But the technology used to support it also can be applied effectively in other business settings. When working with your clients, analyze their business processes and be attentive to how new technology can be applied.

For example, when dispatching to on-call personnel, a secure message delivered using the Spectrum Secure Delivery app can keep the TAS informed automatically throughout the lifecycle of the message, from “viewed” to “in process” to “completed.” The on-call personnel can exchange notes with each other through the app or can optionally notify the TAS through the app to enlist backup support. Supervisory personnel can log in to the desktop or tablet version of the app as an admin to obtain access to the status of all outstanding and completed calls. As an admin, supervisors can create messages and notes, thus joining and supporting the workflow as appropriate.

Or consider Amtelco’s MergeComm, the Intelligent Series feature that automates a myriad of dispatch scenarios. It is being augmented to provide a dashboard for the status of its programmed workflows, providing real-time monitoring. This enables response delays to be identified and corrective action to be taken when needed. For the TAS itself, the Spectrum Charts application provides powerful analytical tools for evaluating agent performance and staffing requirements.The goal is to provide a service to a company that you do better than they do. Click To Tweet

These are just a few examples of how you can apply new tools to make your service and your clients more productive.

Todd Kamp of Business Centers in St. Louis, and a TUNe (Telescan Users Network) users group member, recently shared with me a maxim of how to acquire and keep clients. Citing research from an early market study done by the National Amtelco Equipment Owners (NAEO) users group, Todd said, “The goal is to provide a service to a company that you do better than they do and do it more cost-effectively.” He went on to say, “If you only do one of those two, they will keep [the service] in-house.”

As you analyze your client relationships, strive to identify the critical components of their workflows that can be improved by your involvement and at the same time lead to a reduction of their overall costs. Look for ways that new technology can be applied, perhaps in ways that were not anticipated. This is the key to innovation. This is the key to seizing opportunity.

Through our partnership with our customers, Amtelco and Telescan developers stay keenly aware of our responsibility to provide the tools needed to meet these challenges. This is the spirit that guides our development process.

AmtelcoBob Vornberg is general manager and director of product development for the Telescan division of Amtelco, a manufacturer and supplier of call center solutions located in St. Louis, Missouri. Contact Bob at bvornberg@amtelco.com

Telephony and Connectivity to the Cloud: Considering an All-in-One Contact Center Solution

By Mariann McDonagh and Mike Perry

As a contact center executive, telephony is critical to your business. If you’re moving – or thinking about moving – your contact center to the cloud, the last thing you need is a cobbled-together connectivity solution with telecom services from one vendor and cloud contact center software from another.

If you want to streamline your cloud connectivity solution, eliminate hassles, and spend more time on your core mission, consider an all-in-one cloud connectivity solution. A true all-in-one solution is pre-integrated, end-to-end, and provided and managed by a single vendor. It combines telephony, cloud infrastructure, and contact center software into one harmonic solution.

Avoid Communication and Implementation Headaches: Most cloud contact center software providers cannot provide and integrate a broad range of telephony solutions. Therefore, contact center executives must bring in multiple vendors to meet their telephony needs.

In this scenario, contact center executives serve as the go-between for software and telephony vendors. Not only must they manage multiple contracts and reporting systems, they must also act as a conduit between vendors from different worlds: Each vendor has an incomplete understanding of the other’s technologies, which were not designed up-front to be compatible. Communication issues are almost guaranteed.

Furthermore, the contact center executive must align vendors prior to building, connecting, and deploying a solution. He or she must coordinate and manage each phase of implementation, define roles and responsibilities, and keep each party accountable.

In short, the contact center executive and his or her team must duplicate work with multiple vendors. This can make for hassles, uncertainty, and time-consuming discussions. Even simple call routing can become difficult. And that’s just setting up the solution—it will only get more complex when problems arise and changes are needed.

There is a better way to address telephony and connectivity to the cloud. The following are key benefits of a true all-in-one solution.

Benefits of an All-In-One Cloud Connectivity Solution: A true all-in-one cloud connectivity solution helps optimize call center operations and eliminate deployment and management hassles.

  • Streamlined: One partner working for you means a single and open channel of communication. There’s no management between multiple vendors. You have one reporting system, one contract, and – perhaps most compelling – one partner to hold accountable.
  • Transparent: When you work with one partner that understands the nuances of your unique telecom solution as integrated with your cloud contact center, you and that partner have a clear view of your total solution, its architecture, and its performance.
  • Convenient: When you have one dedicated partner responsible for your solution, you have someone who listens and is responsive to requests.
  • Rapid deployment: A cloud connectivity partner with a pre-integrated carrier network means you’ll get up and running faster. Additionally, changes like adding or eliminating phone lines and locations will be easier and quicker.
  • Flexible: It’s important to find a partner able to combine a broad range of telephony options and accommodate any type of connectivity model working with any PBX system.
  • Objective: One relationship means one partner fully invested in your success, interested in finding what works best for you rather than selling a particular type of connectivity.

What to Look for in a Cloud Connectivity Partner: If you’re interested in pursuing a true all-in-one cloud connectivity solution, here are attributes to look for, beginning with an overview of what a complete solution should include.

A true all-in-one contact center solution includes telephony, cloud infrastructure, and cloud contact center software.

  • The global telecom infrastructure needs to be from an enterprise-class global carrier, with a full range of telephony options, provide switching and routing, and offer global, geographical, and toll-free numbers.
  • The cloud infrastructure must be secure and reliable, with a redundant network and platform, include international data centers, have network operator centers staffed 24×7, and provide a trust office with open access for all customers.
  • The cloud contact center software platform features should include interactive voice response (IVR), workforce optimization (WFO), cloud applications, CRM integrations, disaster recovery, multi-channel ACD, blended predictive dialer, reporting and analytics, workforce management (WFM), customer feedback tools, and quality monitoring.

Attributes of a Cloud Connectivity Solution

  • End-to-end connectivity: Security and quality are integrated at every point in the contact center’s telephony and IP connectivity.
  • Carrier-grade connectivity: Extensive telephony options are offered, including global inbound numbers, ISDN, PSTN, VoIP, MPLS, and SIP trunking in any
  • Broad international coverage: Agents may be located all over the world, with follow-the-sun routing available. The network has multiple, geographically-disperse POPs to reduce call latency and increase voice quality.
  • Pre-integrated technology: The carrier network and cloud software solution were built with one another in mind and optimized to work together from the start. Technologies are compatible, use the same protocols, and are ready to implement.
  • Redundancy and business continuity: The solution includes redundant fiber links, edge and core routers, firewalls, and VoIP hardware, as well as multiple ISP and diverse toll-free carrier routes. Multiple mirrored server centers function as both primary and backup locations so that call flows continue uninterrupted if there’s a problem. The vendor provides a documented disaster recovery plan to ensure business continuity.
  • Transparency and unified reporting: The vendor has a CSO (Chief Security Officer) and Trust Office and provides transparent online reporting. Unified reporting includes performance measures for telephony and cloud contact center software.
  • Expertise in telecom and cloud technologies: The vendor has in-depth expertise in both telecom and cloud technologies. He knows how to seamlessly integrate the technologies and has experience implementing telecom solutions while also serving telecom customers. The network infrastructure and architecture is robust and managed by the vendor’s own employees. Finally, the vendor is continually improving and upgrading to the latest technology.

Summary: As a contact center executive, your time is valuable and your priorities, many. If you’re contemplating moving your contact center to the cloud, consider a true all-in-one solution. Avoid the hassle of managing multiple vendors. Don’t become the go-between and struggle with implementation and management when you can focus on what you do best – delivering a superior customer experience, maximizing contact center performance, and growing your business.

It’s possible to simplify operations while staying on the leading edge. When you consider a true all-in-one cloud connectivity solution, you can build tomorrow’s contact center today.

Mariann McDonagh is the CMO at inContact.

[From Connection Magazine November 2013]

Five Reasons Why Voice Remains a Vital Channel

By Joe McFadden

With all the fuss, excitement, and chatter about new media marketing channels – digital and mobile – it’s a wonder we can hear and think about anything else. But the voice channel remains a vital conduit for customer engagement, sales, and service. In fact, the digital marketing explosion, featuring tools such as push-to-call and mobile advertising, is actually driving more consumers to the phone. Companies therefore, have to keep the consumer phone-call process vibrant, dynamic, and effective.

Here are five reasons why voice remains a vital channel:

1) Live calls convert to sales at a much higher rate than other advertising channels alone, such as web advertising. An October 2011 Business Week article reported that twenty percent of Nutrisystem transactions that occur on the telephone result in a sale, while only 2 to 3 percent of consumers who click on an online ad continue on to sign up for the program. That’s a big difference – and one that companies should take note of.

2) People respond to human contact for sales. Greg Sterling, an analyst at Opus Research, told Business Week: “The naïve assumption that people made in the early days was that e-commerce was going to decimate other kinds of customer contact. When there’s a human connection, there’s a lot more that can be sold, and those customers are a lot more valuable inherently.”

3) Lead-to-sale conversions are supercharged when cross-sell and up-sells are based on product relevancy. This is especially true when consumers are in the midst of a trigger event in their lives. For example, if you are buying a house and you call the cable company to sign up for new service, you may also be interested in a new home security system, homeowners’ insurance, or even a home-cleaning service.

4) Live one-to-one interaction allows for greater insight into what the customer is looking for. There’s a give-and-take, a personal element, during phone conversations you simply can’t get with an online purchase.

5) Pay-per-call campaigns are typically performance-based, allowing advertisers to pay only for calls they receive or those that result in a sale. According to a September 2011 Forrester report, there is significant demand for call-focused digital advertising from small, medium, and large businesses, as well as medium and large advertising agencies. Forrester predicts US marketing spent in this new space will be at least six billion dollars by 2014.

With the onset of mobile and digital marketing, companies are continuing to invest heavily in their contact centers and finding ways to evolve them to meet the needs of today’s marketplace.

Joe McFadden is vice president of marketing for SalesPortal, a partnership-marketing network for enterprises using contact centers as a strategic customer engagement channel. He has more than twenty-five years of experience, primarily in marketing customer service software solutions to global enterprises.

[From Connection Magazine May 2013]

Anatomy of a Telephone Call

By Wayne Scaggs

What is more basic or universal in the call center than the telephone call? No matter how different, unique, or special your call center is, the one common thing we all share is that we handle telephone calls better than anyone else. We take that basic telephone call and make it special in our own way. Some add style to the call, others add humor, and we all know how to help the person on the other end of the line. That is what we do.

What does a telephone call really mean to us, though, and how do we get paid from it? The drawing (figure 1) will dissect an inbound call and add some possible revenue generators.

CM June 2014 - #5

1) When the telephone company sends a digital call to your switch, the call has a data stream containing information about that call.

2) We match up the information from the telephone company with the information programmed in the switch; the amount of time to do this is in the milliseconds.

3) When the caller hears ringing, we have connected to the call and are playing the ring tone. Callers are so accustomed to hearing the phone ring that in most cases we play the ring sound even though the call has been answered. A typical ring cycle is six seconds, and if you are playing two or three rings before making the call available to the agents, it is time added to the call that may not be necessary. Assuming the average call lasts one minute, if you reduce the number of rings by one, you are able to answer eleven calls in the time it took to answer ten calls.

4) The call is now in queue waiting for an agent. At this point we start to see the differences that make it special to be at one call center as opposed to another.

  • If you do “live” answer and take one call at a time, this time may be zero; however, your ring time may be extended while the caller is waiting for the live agent.
  • If you do live answer and place the caller on hold, you will have a short ring time and a short agent queue time with extended initial hold times.
  • Another method is to take one call at a time and let the call queues handle the distribution of the calls. When the call is in queue, the caller usually hears hold music, but what if you provided targeted advertising for that client to his customers? You will add value to answering their call and either bind that customer closer to you or increase the value of that call, which makes it possible to add an additional fee to the calls.

5) Above all this is the make-or-break point of the caller’s customers’ experience. The caller may hate any automated services. The live agent can make that caller feel like the most important person in the world, or confirm to the caller that he or she is just a number in the system. The agent answering your calls is the heart and soul of your call center. Simple and kind words from the agent can enhance the caller’s experience to the point the caller may not want to speak with anyone else. I know those agents are out there because I often get to talk with them. It is a real joy to call many call centers, if for no other reason than to say hello.

6) In the some cases it’s necessary for the agent to place the caller on hold. To maintain a quality caller experience, the hold time must be short.

7) While the caller is on hold, you can play the appropriate hold music, but what if the caller was informed about the business they are calling (advertising)? Take a lemon and make lemonade. Increase the value of the call and prove how wonderful your service is and show that you offer something truly special and unique.

8) At this point your agent will get a second chance to make your service shine with person-to-person communication, and the agent will get the satisfaction of providing the caller with a most pleasant caller experience—the hallmark of why we exist.

9) This is the end of the person-to-person experience, and the termination of the call will have made the client happy with you because you have made the caller feel special.

10) The call is not finished until the wrap-up is completed.

Some of you have been handling calls longer than I have, and since I am a vendor, we probably look at calls a little differently. This article hopefully has given you a different look at what you do every day. Can you find something to improve your business or increase your revenues? If you are answering 100,000 calls a month and you are able to add one penny or save one on each call, it’s an extra $1,000 per month. We live in a competitive world, where pennies and tenths-of-a-second do matter.

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

[From Connection Magazine May 2013]

The Importance of Voice Communications

By David Baker

The age of social media is upon us – it’s the new, cool kid at school. How quickly everyone forgets about voice communications! Voice may have been cast aside once again for the newer, cooler thing of the moment, but voice is resilient and will always play an important role for companies.

Let me take you back to when the Internet boom hit and everyone thought voice would fade off into the sunset. Fast-forward twenty years, and voice is still prevalent for companies around the world. The phone is a ubiquitous device, and people have anytime, anywhere access to it. It is not always easy to type or order something from the Internet on your phone, but it sure is easy to call a company and interact with their IVR system or customer service agents.

Some companies are spending money on upgrading or replacing their voice infrastructure because they realize the importance of it on their everyday business. As much as some people don’t like talking to an automated phone system, they also don’t like having to wait in queue only to deal with unpleasant customer service agents. IVR is the lesser of two evils, allowing the caller to get what they need and move on to the next thing.

There are other options available to the customer today to interact with companies, such as the Web, chat, and email. Although they get their fair share of traffic on a daily basis, voice communication will continue to play an important role in how companies interact with their customers. During a recent visit to one of our clients, I found out that they had an end-of-life, end-of-support IVR system that was handling calls for some of their most prestigious clients. I asked them, “What would happen if that IVR system crashed?”

“We would be in big trouble with our key clients,” was the response. I then asked, “How much money would it cost you for every minute that IVR was out of production?” They didn’t know the answer. My final question was, “Who is ultimately responsible if your IVR should go down and you get flooded with calls from angry clients?” The executive in the room said, “I am.” Although voice is a very critical component for most companies around the world, it still is treated at times like the ugly duckling when compared to newer, slicker technologies like the Internet or social media.

Voice is a key component to a company’s infrastructure, but it often gets put aside and never touched again. Meanwhile, companies are busy spending money updating their websites and training additional staff to handle the social media onslaught, but very rarely, if at all, do they invest the time and money to refresh or “retrain” their voice systems by enhancing current applications or adding new ones. The technology just sits in a corner of the data center and does its job handling call after call.

Companies need to budget as much money, if not more, for their voice technology as they do for other customer touch points. It’s just as important a channel as the others are, but it is never given equal weight when the budget dollars are handed out. The corporate mindset is that it works so no action is necessary. Your car works too, but it probably wouldn’t last as long if you never changed the oil or performed routine maintenance. A little TLC goes a long way when you make the annual investment in updating and maintaining your voice infrastructure.

As much as technology has changed over the past twenty years, voice has always been the one constant that has truly stood the test of time. From Alexander Graham Bell to the current day, voice has been the one technology that both companies and individuals around the world have come to rely on time and time again.

No matter what new technology might take the world by storm over the coming weeks, months, and years, voice will once again survive the lovefest that happens with the next new, cool kid at school.

David Baker is vice present of sales at Servion.

[From Connection Magazine June 2012]

Phone Failure Fiasco

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineLast month I shared that our house took a minor lightning hit, resulting in the need to call our satellite television provider and telephone/Internet provider. The satellite provider understands how to provide great customer service; the phone company does not.

Though my business line was unaffected, our home phone had a loud hum and much static. We could make distorted calls, but no one could call us. The Internet was meandering at one-tenth its normal speed. (Our Internet is on our home line because the phone company insisted that DSL couldn’t be installed on the business line.)

I first reported the problem on Tuesday and was promised resolution by Saturday. My dismay over this delay was met with apathy and unwavering resolve.

Repairs were not made by Saturday, so I called again. After navigating the IVR maze, the agent happily informed me that I had canceled the service call. My insistence to the contrary was met with disbelief – until the agent realized the repair ticket had been filled out incorrectly. He issued a credit and promised repair by the following Friday.

Friday came and went. I called again and was assured everything was working – because the technician had “cleared a short.” When I pointed out that no one had stopped by or called to test the line, the agent reiterated that the repair was complete. I hit my phone’s conference button so the agent could hear the noise on my home phone. “That’s really bad,” she said in surprise. “We’ll have it repaired by Wednesday.” That was unacceptable; I insisted on talking with a supervisor. After holding for twenty-seven minutes, I was disconnected.

By that weekend, our 1.5 megabyte Internet connection had slowed to a mere .01 – even slower than dial-up. Now adept at navigating their inane IVR prompts, I called again. The agent comprehended my frustration, but the Wednesday date was absolute. I informed her that without the Internet, I could not work – but would have all day to call them. She then told me to report my Internet problems to a different number. I was issued another credit, and the trouble was finally escalated.

On Tuesday, the repairman arrived midmorning. He looked inside the interface box and said, “You’ve been hit by lightning!” Soon we were back in business.

How to provide poor customer service:

  • Fill out the report incorrectly
  • Be apathetic about lengthy delays
  • Irritate customers with irrelevant and time-consuming IRV options
  • Disbelieve or argue with the customer
  • Disconnect people waiting for a supervisor
  • Require a customer to call multiple numbers
  • Insist that things are fixed when they aren’t

Other items I didn’t mention:

  • Waste an hour making the customer reinstall and reprogram their modem
  • Threaten that there will be a $90 charge if it’s not the phone company’s problem
  • Warn that if no one is home with they come out – even though they can’t specify when that will be – they might not fix the problem
  • Take thirteen days to repair the issue

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

[From Connection Magazine October 2011]

The Trials and Triumphs of Telephone Support

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineI’ve been thinking a lot lately about customer service via the telephone, even more so than usual. There are some things that I am excited about, while others are a concern.

On the negative side, consider a large telecommunications company that provides cell phone, Internet, and long distance. Another is a large national banking institution. You know them both. They are notorious for their consistently abysmal record of poor customer service. If I were to name names, there’s a good chance that either you or someone you know has had a bad experience with them. Actually, saying “bad” would be kind. Uncaring, unconscionable, and unethical come to mind.

With these companies, it seems that once a problem occurs, there is a strong likelihood that it will never be resolved. This is not an overstatement. People have only so much patience, and then they give up. Excessive runaround, hours spent on hold, and limited energy to pursue a satisfactory resolution eventually overwhelm frustrated customers. Either they decide to accept the problem or they switch providers.

Although some of these companies’ frontline staff truly do care and try their best, others do not. Regardless, there seems to be cumbersome bureaucracy thwarting every move and complex support systems that make no allowances for nonroutine problems.

There is a real opportunity awaiting these two companies – and others like them – if they can just provide effective telephone support. With best-in-class phone support, I envision their cancelation rates dramatically decreasing, customer satisfaction levels skyrocketing, and a whole lot less negative press.

Maybe these companies are simply too big or offer too many services to be effective. Perhaps their call centers are mismanaged or bogged down by bureaucracy. But I suspect the underlying reason is that upper management treats telephone support as an expense item that needs to be minimized. The reality is that providing good customer service is good business – but one that requires an investment to fully realize.

I recently experienced the trials and triumphs of phone support after my house took a minor lightning hit, affecting our phone, Internet, and TV service. I called my satellite provider and spoke with a woman named Beth in the Oklahoma call center. The first time I encountered a call center agent telling me his location, I thought it was a bit hokey and an overreaction to the backlash against offshore call centers. But it actually helped me establish a personal connection with him. In the same way, I was positively predisposed towards Beth from Oklahoma. While waiting for various diagnostics to run, we had time to chat about call center stuff, which I greatly enjoyed. A service call was soon scheduled for the next day, when the problem was quickly fixed and service restored.

However, six days out and I’m still waiting for my phone and Internet to be repaired. Multiple phones calls, missed commitments, wrong instructions, and conflicting information: that’s no way to run a call center – or a business.

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

[From Connection Magazine September 2011]