Tag Archives: Trends

The Year Ahead: Call Center Trends of 2019

By Maureen Hoersten

As we head into 2019, we’re seeing a shift in the call center industry. As companies expand, the effects are felt by the call center industry and many are changing operations within their organization. Doing so boosts engagement, retention, and helps them remain competitive both in the labor market and the marketplace.

Here are four trends that are changing the call center internally in 2019.

Increased Agent Training

Training and development programs are the most effective way for companies to improve their customer experience and stay competitive in today’s tight labor market. As competition for talent continues to grow, training and development will be more important in 2019. Not only do training and development opportunities directly impact how engaged employees are at work, but the better employees are trained, the more likely they’ll be good agents.

A hiring tip for employers in 2019: in today’s tight labor market, don’t seek talent that meets the hard skills necessary for the job. Instead hire agents with strong skills for customer service and train them on the technical skills they may not have.

Customers should have to put in low effort to achieve the results they need. Efficient, user-friendly service is critical. Long phone wait times, faulty service, and being transferred to different departments all should go away in 2019. Companies should invest in training their customer service reps to have enough expertise in all areas a customer may call about. Automation will help process calls faster and better direct them to the appropriate people. Companies may also spend more money on programs to help them overcome faulty service, such as dropped calls or delayed responses.

Implementation of Career Pathing

A critical move call centers will want to make in 2019 is developing career paths for agents, especially in the tight labor market we’re currently in and will continue to see. Agent career pathing will not only boost retention but will also help call centers build out their talent pipeline.

In terms of career pathing, it’s important to recognize that individual agents may seek out different career paths based on what motivates them. For example, not all high-performing agents will grow into managers and supervisors, and that’s okay. Some high performers may be better on an account management track. Making sure you help your agents find the right path for them by identifying their unique motivators is critical. Someone who doesn’t want to be in a leadership role but is in one won’t be effective in developing the next generation of talent at your organization.

Promotions within customer service roles are typically based on skill and tenure. Career pathing is critical to retention because someone who’s been with a company for a few years isn’t going to want to be ranked at the same level as someone who started a month ago.

Some call centers find success by having levels of accreditation, where an agent must complete certain tasks to move up in an organization. Others offer different titles to deal with different types of call. A more seasoned agent will deal with more difficult callers in this sort of system. With both, a pay increase comes with the title change.

Push to Retain Agents

Turnover has always been an issue in the call center industry. Today’s tight labor market doesn’t make it any easier to keep employees. Losing a contact center agent, then hiring, onboarding, and training a new agent is costly. Focusing on employee retention by meeting the needs of call center agents in 2019 is key.

Consider offering opportunities for flextime or remote work. As call center technology advances, there are more opportunities for employees to work remotely. Remote work is highly sought after by call center professionals and may keep them at your company longer. Those who manage remote call center workers can find success by putting mandatory check-ins, call logs, and daily reports in place. Technology and software has been designed to help manage remote workers, such as screen sharing, schedule assistants, analytics tools, and automated reporting software.

Another way to effectively retain employees is holding daily or weekly competitions. Call centers are intense, and agents feel the heat with metrics. Creating competitions around metrics can help motivate and engage agents more. Competitions can be as simple as announcing that the first five people who hit a certain metric will receive a gift card or get to leave early.

Offering benefits to employees is another retention tool. Companies now often offer health benefits. If you’re not offering benefits to your agents, you won’t be competitive in the field. Go beyond basic health benefits to be more effective in retaining your agents.

Hiring More Recent Grads

A few years ago, we saw more companies hiring recent college graduates for customer service roles. As the labor market stays hot, we’re going to see more of this. Recent graduates join organizations in customer service positions and then transition into other departments such as marketing or accounting.

There are two main profiles companies look for. One is the traditional call center professional who has experience in the field. The other profile is a fresh grad. Traditional call center professionals use intense goals and metrics, but often they may be stuck in their ways, complaining, “That’s not how we did it at my old company,” or they bounce around from company to company for more money. That’s why it can be beneficial for firms to recruit fresh grads to fill call center roles. Companies can train and develop them how they want, and the role helps the recent grads learn the business from the bottom up.

By staying ahead of 2019 trends, call centers can be successful in recruiting and retaining talent that meets customers’ needs better than ever before.

Maureen Hoersten is the chief operating officer of LaSalle Network, a national staffing, recruiting, and culture firm specializing in customer service and call center roles. Hoersten has helped hundreds of businesses find top customer service talent, from small to large businesses in a range of industries. She has developed a deep knowledge of the space and understanding of what sets apart the top professionals during her more than fifteen years of experience.

The Bots Are Coming!

Automated and AI-Driven Programs for Business

By Elena Langdon

Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) are all the rage these days—for good reason. The technology behind once too-good-to-be-true tools like facial recognition and 3-D printing has advanced rapidly. Many of us own or pine for smart devices and use dozens of apps a day for personal purposes. So what about business? How much can automation and AI boost productivity and profit at work? And what are the no-go zones for this exciting area of development?

First, Some Terms

“Automation” and “AI” are often used interchangeably, but there are important differences. Automation refers to processes that can be undertaken through a chain of events that trigger each other without human interference. We’ve seen it in manufacturing for decades. Simple contemporary business examples are Hootsuite or Buffer, programs that help automate a business’s social media participation.

AI refers to machines undertaking processes and making choices on their own, based on their programming and what they learn from it. There are different levels of AI, and the most powerful two—levels at which a machine can understand human thoughts, and be self-aware, respectively—have not been reached. So what can be accomplished now?

The Digital-Assistant Revolution

While C-3PO from Star Wars or Ava from Ex Machina are not in our immediate reality, AI is a driving force behind many business applications.

Personal digital assistants such as Siri and Cortana are good examples of AI-driven programs that can boost productivity, save time, and facilitate our lives. With one of these programs, you can delegate scheduling, play music, and check the stock market, all without typing, thanks to voice recognition capabilities. Pen, paper, and typing can be eliminated from the entire process.

Google Duplex is a more recent digital assistant that takes automation to a new level. It makes calls to humans to schedule appointments, request information, and order food. Instead of speaking with a typical robotic tone, Google Duplex mimics real speech patterns and uses fillers such as “um” and “hmm.” Plus, this bot interacts with human responses and can carry on a conversation. For this reason, its reception so far has included a mixture of awe and trepidation.

Proceed with Care

Caution might be needed for that type of digital assistant, especially from ethical and privacy standpoints. Should a human receptionist know that he’s talking to a machine? Is he being recorded so Google can learn from the exchange? Nevertheless, most of the tasks accomplished by Google Duplex involve little personal risk. If your haircut gets scheduled at the wrong time, it would be a nuisance but not a big loss.

However, you should approach some types of AI-driven programs with caution when it comes to business because of the risks involved. For example, in language translation, the technology can’t yet match the human capacity for communication. Automatic translation engines are great for getting the gist of a letter or website, but using them for business can result in embarrassment, misinformation, and even financial loss.

Most companies put time and money into writing compelling and clear texts; foreign-language copy requires the same attention. Despite recent advances in deep learning, machine translation is not like Google Duplex—it does not sound human, and it’s much less eloquent. More importantly, accuracy is seriously compromised with automatic translation—just think of all the menus with indecipherable items such as “The water fries the potato” and signs saying, “Beware of safety.”

Apply the same caution for verbal translation or interpreting, which has made headlines with programs that combine machine translation with voice recognition. Holding a conversation with someone in a language you don’t know by using “translator earbuds” might work for casual exchanges with inconsequential outcomes. However, if you need to speak to an employee about her performance or to an international branch manager about next quarter’s sales goals, you cannot rely on AI to accurately transmit your message. Between speech recognition flaws, cultural differences, and the incredible creativity behind any human being’s speech, it’s best to stick to a professional interpreter for bilingual business communication.

Lawyer Up or Bot Up?

If creative speech is one reason not to trust the machines, what about legal discourse? Does it make sense for a business to rely on automated contract-writing programs or document-reviewing apps? As with many machine-based applications, such programs can work, albeit in a limited context for limited purposes.

AI-driven programs will review legal documents at a fraction of the cost of a lawyer. This review process takes humans significant time, and lawyers take years to master it, yet computers have apparently learned the skill. That said, even apps’ websites make it clear that the apps will not provide legal advice and should be used only for the specific purpose of reviewing documents.

The formulaic language and boilerplate nature of legal documents lends itself well to AI and frees up time and money for actual legal strategy. In some ways, it’s like translation—you can get some entry-level tasks done, just not anything that requires tactics or nuanced meaning. And of course, nothing involving any risk to your business.

Look Both Ways Before You Leap

So the next time you see an ad for a new app that looks like a miracle cure for what’s ailing your business, by all means, don’t ignore it. There are many good applications for automated and AI-driven programs. Just be sure to research the program and consider its uses. The more complex the task, and the more it involves human reasoning, the less likely it will work for business—at least in an all-encompassing manner. Work patterns and skills are certainly changing, but the bots aren’t taking over just yet.

Elena Langdon is a certified Portuguese-to-English translator and interpreter and an active member of the American Translators Association (ATA). The American Translators Association represents over 10,000 translators and interpreters across 103 countries. For more information on ATA and to hire a translation or interpreting professional, please visit www.atanet.org.

Apocalyptic Forecasts and the Contact Center

By Donna Fluss

Every few years the soothsayers among us predict global trends that are either totally alarmist or too good to be true. Here are some of my favorites from the past few decades:

  • The world is running out of oil. This started in the 1970s.
  • New age sensibility and meditation will bring world peace, circa 1970s.
  • The office is going paperless, circa 1980s.
  • Programming will be so easy anyone can do it, circa 1980s.
  • All interfaces will be speechified, circa 1990s.
  • The Y2K bug will bring the modern world to a catastrophic end, circa 1990s.
  • Two thousand eighteen will be the year of driverless cars, circa 2016.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) and robots will replace all human workers, the “big news” in 2017.

The call center world hasn’t escaped its share of sensational claims, which include:

  • Voice response units (VRUs, predecessors of the IVR) will replace the need for live agents, circa 1980s.
  • Email will replace the phone as the primary form of customer service, circa 1990s.
  • Social media will eliminate the need for contact centers, circa 2000s.
  • Web and mobile apps will eliminate the need for live agents, circa 2010s.

Time has put to rest most of these claims, although it remains to be seen what will happen with driverless cars (by 2018) and AI/robots. But as they’re here on the list with all the other failed predictions, my opinion is clear.

While apocalyptic forecasts and sweeping claims make for great headlines and generate a lot of discussion, they rarely come true. And if they do become a reality, it is often over a longer time and with much less impact than originally predicted. Despite the silliness of some of these predictions, they reflect what society and the business world is thinking about.

It’s clear from all the bombastic rhetoric about contact centers that there has been, and continues to be, a push to reduce dependence on live agents. As contact centers are people-intensive organizations, where agents account for 65 to 75 percent of departmental costs, it makes sense for businesses to look for ways to reduce their dependence on live agents and make them more productive.

DMG does not believe that contact centers are going away for the foreseeable future. However, we do expect they will change. Here are a few of DMG’s predictions about contact centers and the likelihood of each scenario happening:

  • Robotics (robotic process automation [RPA], aka bots) will automate an increasing amount of work currently done by agents in contact centers within the next five years: 0.9 probability.
  • Machine learning will be incorporated into many contact center applications to improve performance and reduce dependence on IT resources within the next five years: 0.9 probability.
  • Speech analytics will replace the traditional quality assurance (QA) process in the next eight years: 0.7 probability.
  • Customer journey analytics (CJA) solutions that capture, analyze, and identify opportunities for improvements will emerge in the next eight years: 0.65 probability.
  • AI will drive omnichannel routing to ensure that all interactions get to the right people in the organization to resolve the issues, while considering the cost of handling each transaction, in the next eight years: 0.35 probability.
  • Contact centers and back offices will merge in the next ten years: 0.3 probability.
  • Self-service solutions will eliminate the need for live agents in the next ten years: 0.1 probability.

The overarching theme these contact center trends have in common is productivity improvement. What makes this push different from what we’ve seen for decades is the use of technology to automate activities previously done by human beings instead of motivating agents and supervisors to perform their jobs faster and do more with less.

It is our job as executives, leaders, and managers to discount silly claims while considering the relevant ones. The objective is to increase contact center effectiveness every year by taking advantage of technical and operational innovation while improving the service experience. The pressure rightly is being put on contact centers. Those that identify and embrace the right trends and innovation will experience measurable improvements, but organizations that stick to business as usual will be left behind in the digital transformation.

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

Top Ten Contact Center and Servicing Goals for 2017

By Donna Fluss

In November and December 2016, DMG conducted a worldwide survey of contact center and enterprise servicing goals for 2017. The results of our annual survey are always interesting, but what makes them useful is that they have proven to be an accurate indicator of company priorities and investments.

Outstanding Service Tops the List: In this year’s study, participants were asked to select their top servicing objectives from thirty-three categories and were invited to write in additional goals. Along with the four write-ins, thirty-seven unique goals were identified in the survey results. The top ten contact center and enterprise servicing goals for 2017, in order of priority, are:

  1. Deliver an outstanding customer experience (60.8 percent)
  2. Improve productivity (56.0 percent)
  3. Improve self-service (50.4 percent)
  4. Reduce cost of service (48.0 percent)
  5. Deliver a personalized customer experience (39.2 percent)
  6. Reduce customer effort (35.2 percent)
  7. Enhance customer engagement (33.6 percent)
  8. Improve customer retention, 33.6 percent
  9. Improve cross-departmental coordination (28.8 percent)
  10. Enhance reporting/analytics (27.2 percent)

What’s New in 2017? Company servicing goals and priorities have changed in the past year, although the position of the first two goals—delivering an outstanding customer experience and improving productivity—have been the same for the past three years. Increasing and improving the use of self-service capabilities has increased in importance. DMG expects to see investments in intelligent virtual attendants and bots, as well as enhancements in web self-service capabilities.

Reducing the cost of service decreased slightly in importance this year, although it’s still a factor companies are taking into consideration when making investments. This is an indication that companies are going to invest in initiatives that prioritize customer needs even if they do not save money, although many investments that improve the customer experience also reduce operating costs.

Delivering a personalized customer experience showed up on the list of contact center and servicing goals for the first time in 2017. This is an area of major investment for companies and an example of a servicing goal that may not reduce operating costs but will improve the customer journey. Companies are finding their customers expect a personalized service experience in their channel of choice. DMG expects to see significant investments to address this objective during the next few years. Personalization is greatly enabled by analytics, the tenth-ranked goal on the list.

Reducing customer effort, a goal that burst onto the enterprise landscape for the first time in 2015, has been slightly de-prioritized for 2017. Companies are doing their best to make it easy for their customers to transact business, but they find it difficult to measure this goal and therefore are investing in and prioritizing related areas. Enhancing customer engagement is a more measureable goal, and it’s one that increased in importance for 2017. This goal is tightly related to improving customer retention, which maintained the same position as the last couple of years. Companies are using analytics to determine personalized approaches for engaging their customers. These initiatives, which should include making it easier for their customers to take care of business, have a proven correlation to retention.

As companies strive to deliver a consistently outstanding customer journey for each customer, they are starting to appreciate the value and benefits of improving cross-departmental coordination. This goal increased in importance in 2017, and though not sexy, it can pay great dividends. This is especially true for companies that figure out how to break down organizational boundaries and look at the company through the eyes of their customers, who do not care which department they interact with as long as things are done the way they expect.

Last, enhancing reporting and analytics dropped significantly in importance in the 2017 list of goals. This is an indication that vendors are finally listening and responding to the needs of their customers for better reports and analytics, not that companies care less about this essential goal. Customer and employee analytics are a necessity for companies to deliver on many of the top ten goals in 2017.

Final Thoughts: The new goal in the list of service priorities for 2017 is delivering a personalized customer experience. Enterprises are realizing they need to make substantial investments to make it easier for their customers to do business in order to engage and retain them. Analytics is key to helping companies figure out how to deliver a personalized experience. At the same time, analytics can help reduce costs, improve the customer experience, and retain customers, which are also top-ten goals for companies in 2017.

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

7 Predictions for the Future of Customer Engagement in the Contact Center

By Tom Goodmanson

The “smart” technology that revolutionized our cell phones is finding its way into just about everything: medical devices, baby monitors, smoke detectors, thermostats, running shoes, even cows. Yes, cows: A company in the Netherlands has developed a sensor that attaches to a cow’s ear, monitors its vital signs, and reports back to the farmer via email or text.

The pace at which technology marches forward is incredible. The researchers at Gartner estimate that nearly 12.5 billion devices are connected to the Web. By 2020 the number of connected “things” is expected to rise to 30 billion, and devices will outnumber people on the Internet. Should we be worried? Are computers finally taking over? Experts like Carlos Dominguez, a technology evangelist with Cisco, don’t think so. Reassuringly, Dominguez predicts that although machines will be automating more and more processes, humans will still be in control – and responsible for the outcomes.

When it comes to the power of all this data, it’s time the customer engagement folks get involved. And that begins in the contact center. Here are my seven predictions and a few tips about where the contact center is going in the future.

Prediction #1: Brands Will Be More Proactive. It’s the year 2020. Your washing machine stops working, but you’re neither worried nor surprised. It’s a relatively new model, equipped with sensors and communications technology that automatically alert the manufacturer if the appliance needs service. The manufacturer has already notified you (via email, which it recognizes as your preferred method of contact) that the machine needs repair.

A virtual agent initiates a service call by accessing your calendar application of choice to set up an appointment. On the scheduled day, the technician gains access to your home by entering a single-use passcode into your front door (which is outfitted with a smart lock), completes the repair, and triggers an automated confirmation email to both you and the manufacturing center. The ticket is closed, and you are washing your next load of laundry before you are ever affected by the issue.

For contact center leaders, however, this vision of the future might seem daunting. A service environment with this level of automation, one that blurs or breaks the line between agents and distributed “experts,” doesn’t create itself, and it certainly doesn’t happen overnight. You need the right tools and partners to get all the moving pieces to work together. You also need to build a culture in which this blurring is even possible, which may actually be the bigger of the two challenges.

Prediction #2: Virtualization Will Break Down the Walls of the Contact Center. As work becomes more of a thing we do and not a place we go to, more customer care agents are working remotely. They work in different states, different time zones, and different languages, so contact center systems for workforce management, CRM, and analytics will have to be that much more integrated.

Prediction #3: Self-Service Options Will Continue to Expand. The expansion of self-service options – from the traditional interactive voice response (IVR) and website help to community-based tech support (what some call social customer service) – will also increase, enabling customers to get fast answers to their questions, especially routine ones, without human interaction. Remember that, no matter how service is delivered – by a human or by a machine – the customer is still interacting with your brand. Is that interaction positive or negative? Does it strengthen or weaken your reputation? Understanding these touch points and how they shape your customer’s experience will be more important than ever for retention and repeat business.

Prediction #4: Everyone Will Be an Expert in Something. If self-service and automation will be the norm in 2020, what will that mean for agents? Employee’s roles will certainly change, and the need for specialized care from subject-matter experts inside the enterprise will increase drastically.

In the future the first point of contact for the customer whose problem is not routine might be a subject-matter expert. Ideally contact centers will know enough about who is calling, emailing, or texting and why so they can automatically direct the customer to the right person on the first try. The full expression of this will be a tier-less agent system in which every customer-facing employee is able to access the same service processes and technologies.

Prediction #5: Customers Will Live and Buy in an Omni-Channel World. We will build and live in a digitally messy world. Once customers had one channel: the phone. But call centers aren’t just for calls anymore; now we have email, social media, and even texts to manage. In 2020 we’ll have even more channels, and your contact center must be flexible enough to support all of them in an integrated way.

Machine-to-machine communications has become known as the Internet of Things (IoT). We’ll see more of this as communications channels open. We saw this in the washing machine scenario, in which the sensors in the machine communicated with another machine (a computer) and set the whole process in motion. Touch points are going to multiply, but standards – though important – will lag. Which clients (for example, washing machines) will communicate with which smart home hubs and with which protocols, and who will actually get the call? It will be challenging, but customers will demand the seamless, no-fuss future they were promised.

Prediction #6: Security Will Be a Priority with Deeper Customer Engagement. With all this connectedness and emerging channels comes the need for smarter security. Security is not a new concern for contact centers. We now have to protect a bevy of new and in many cases, yet-to-be regulated customer data – not just credit card numbers or medical records, but location data and biometric information, too. Think of the security risks at every point in the connected washing machine example: access to the customer’s calendar, physically entering the home, trusting the home’s network security, and so on. Now imagine one of your contact center reps having to identify, diagnose, and resolve an issue in this tangled web from a remote location.

Prediction #7:  Data Won’t Matter without Powerful Analytics Tools. Analytics will be vital for the multichannel contact center of 2020. It will be critical to have systems in place that can handle all this data, organize it, and mine it. Then, once you’ve mined it, you must have the infrastructure and company culture in place that allows you to act on it.

With the right analytics systems, you can take huge volumes of data and pick out the important patterns and trends without having to know the right questions to ask. The right analytics will allow companies to tap into one of the single most powerful capabilities the contact center has to offer: real-time, root-cause analysis.

Tom Goodmanson, president and CEO of Calabrio, has twenty years of experience leading software and technology companies.

[From Connection MagazineMay/June 2016]

Four Investment-Worthy Contact Center Trends

By Donna Fluss

The contact center world is on fire. Never before have enterprise executives so fully appreciated the contributions and benefits of these customer-facing organizations. Innovation is robust and rapid, driven by a new generation of cloud-based contact center infrastructure vendors who are not limited by the traditional six- to eighteen-month software release cycle.

Here are four contact center trends that are expected to attract substantial investments this year. All of these trends will make substantial contributions to their enterprises, customers, and employees.

1) Cloud-based Contact Center Infrastructure Solutions: The contact center infrastructure (automatic call distributor (ACD) and dialer) market has changed dramatically. Companies are no longer held captive to a small group of premise-based vendors who dictate the functionality, implementation schedule, and pricing for these solutions. Companies of all sizes – from those that need two agents to organizations that need thousands – now have access to a new generation of cloud-based contact center infrastructure solutions. There are currently more than 150 of these vendors with offerings of all types, sizes, and functionality. Additionally, enterprises can easily purchase both private branch exchange (PBX) and ACD/dialer functionality from the same vendor on a worldwide basis.

2) Speech Analytics: Today customer calls are being recorded for more than just quality assurance purposes. It’s time for organizations of all sizes to use the rich content customers share with organizations in phone conversations to identify trends, operational and technical issues, and new opportunities. Post-call speech analytics solutions capture and convert unstructured phone conversations into metadata that can be analyzed and used for many purposes, but the six most common uses are: root cause analysis, trend analysis, emotion detection, talk-over analysis, script adherence, and analytics-enabled quality assurance. The chief challenge with speech analytics is implementing best practices that will allow organizations to succeed with this enterprise change agent.

3) Multi-channel Contact Centers: The time has come for companies to transition to omni-channel contact centers. (Omni-channel is another name for multi-channel; vendors are trying to change the terminology to distance themselves from the failures of the past.) Customers are no longer willing to put up with having to start over and repeat themselves each time they transition to a new communications channel. Baby boomers and Generation X-ers were willing to put up with this dysfunction, but Millennials clearly are not. Millennials want to seamlessly migrate from one channel to another in accordance with their needs.

But there is more to this story. While it’s a good idea for companies to allow their customers to interact with them in the manner and channel of choice, the fact is that in many companies it is too expensive to continue to maintain the separation between functions. Yes, it will be painful, time-consuming, and costly to eliminate the silos. However, companies that are doing the analysis and building the business case for this evolution are starting to see a clear payback – albeit one that is going to take three to five years.

4) Adaptive and Intelligent Real-Time Routing: Companies can now provide personalized service. When an interaction (call, email, chat, SMS, or tweet) arrives, the ACD’s routing engine can determine the value of the customer (and possibly even a prospect), identify the best way to achieve the objective of the interaction, and then route the transaction to the best qualified person or system to handle it. This type of one-to-one service is enabled by the deep level of integration between ACDs and other enterprise servicing applications, including customer relationship management, sales, performance management, quality assurance, and speech analytics. Using sophisticated adaptive and intelligent routing capabilities that are emerging in the market, companies can truly optimize the service experience. Then, in doing so, they can greatly improve customer and agent satisfaction thus increasing productivity while reducing operating costs.

It’s time for companies to rethink their servicing strategies and begin to build next-generation servicing organizations. This year is expected to be a great year for contact center investments. Start with a plan that takes into consideration the many ways contact centers are expected to contribute to their enterprise, and prioritize the investments that will get you there quicker.

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

[From Connection Magazine Mar/Apr 2015]

How Contact Centers Will Change in 2015

For contact center operators, the only constant is change, and 2015 will be no exception. That’s the outlook from Cliff Rees, president of Voxox, which provides VoIP and cloud communications solutions for contact centers and other businesses. In a recent Q&A with Connections Magazine publisher Peter DeHaan, Rees outlined what contact center operators should expect for the coming year.

What’s the most important change you foresee in the contact center landscape in 2015?

Short message service (SMS) or texting will play a significantly larger role than it has in the past. Adding SMS as a way of reaching target audiences is growing. Younger audiences in particular are far more likely to respond to a text than they are to take a phone call.

What advice would you give to contact centers looking to overhaul their operations in 2015?

Definitely get rid of all PSTN circuits and equipment. VoIP connectivity and applications are much less expensive and far more flexible. With VoIP you can go from using fifty channels one day to using 1,000 the next, all without any delays for installing DS-3 circuits – and without any commitment to pay for unused channels for the next year or longer. Also look for ways to integrate SMS in your strategy.

What are the top things contact center operators need to do to field inbound SMS?

Call centers need to connect to at least one SMS aggregator in order to have their SMS messages routed properly. In addition they need to be aware of the difference between long-code and short-code texts. Long-code is generally less expensive, but it’s also supposed to be used only for person-to-person (P2P) messaging. Application-to-person (A2P) messages requested by the recipient are generally okay, but marketing A2P long-code texts are a serious no-no and will cause the aggregator to block all texts from the call center. Marketing A2P texts should go over a short-code service, which is generally more expensive but allows pretty much any type of message.

What are some examples of contact restrictions? And how can contact center operators accommodate those restrictions?

If the contact center is based in the United States, it must abide by the laws state and federal governments have enacted to restrict unwanted contact. The first restriction was a simple time-of-day limitation: no calling after 9:00 p.m. local time. Next came Do Not Call (DNC) lists, both federal and state. Do Not Call lists have all sorts of exceptions; the primary one is that the provider can contact you if there is a “pre-existing relationship.” – which means pretty much anything the provider decides it means (previous purchase, previous serious enquiry, and so forth). Naturally the politicians exempted their own political campaigns completely, so any phone is a valid target for someone backing a particular candidate or issue. Do Not Text lists will undoubtedly spring up shortly.

Call centers can get a subscription to the DNC list by going to www.donotcall.gov/faq/faqbusiness.aspx and signing up for a SAN (subscription account number). This gives data access to the federal DNC, and it’s very easy to integrate into most calling applications if the call center has any programming skills available to it.

What are the three biggest challenges that contact centers will face in 2015?

The first is making up for the lost revenue due to 2015 not being an election year. The second is complying with increasingly onerous restrictions for who may be contacted. The third is including SMS texting as a growing technology for reaching potential customers.

As president of Voxox, Cliff Rees is an experienced telecommunications executive and entrepreneur whose expertise is rooted in building new businesses and rapidly growing existing ones. As an industry veteran, he has held leadership roles with several global VoIP providers, overseeing sales, marketing, and operations globally and managing revenues of over $1.5 billion.

[From Connection Magazine Jan/Feb 2015]

Two Eyes Toward the Future

By Wayne Scaggs

Trying to look into what is coming next is a factor of how far we want to look, how accurate we want to be, and what we are looking for. For many years I have enjoyed writing future-focused articles because it allows me to daydream about what I believe our clients and industry want in their call center systems. As vendors, our job is to provide the systems and the tools our customers need to operate their call centers successfully.

It is a lot of fun for us vendors to work in our development labs and then pat ourselves on the back because we developed a new cool feature we believe will be the next industry disrupter, the one thing no one can do without. We take it to market and find out yes, it is cool and yes, we developed the feature extremely well; we also might discover that it’s not selling well because no one really wanted it but us.

It is, however, possible to forecast the future of our industry. This future is right in front of us in the form of ideas that come from what other high-tech companies are doing and from our own customers’ clients. We have two eyes, and we need to use both of them.

We use one eye to watch what other high-tech companies are doing. Even though our industry is not always known for its cutting-edge technology, we want to make sure we’re not too far behind. We need to find out how other companies are capturing data and then storing, analyzing, and transforming it into valuable information, ready to send to those willing to pay for it.

We use the other eye to look to the end user, and then we listen with both ears. For many ideas, it is tempting to ask, “Why would you want to do that?” However, the key is not to ask why beyond what we need to know to develop the feature. We must remember that our end users have a dream, and they are doing their best to make that dream come true. By all means, we should share any knowledge we have to help them the best we can, while recognizing that we are not in the business of crushing dreams. I am glad I did not let anyone crush my dream. I, too, had naysayers, including accountants, lawyers, consultants, and even friends. After all, we are all in the business of meeting the needs of our customers when they come to us for help.

At the same time, if your end user does not value what you have done, why are you doing it? If you think your customer will appreciate all you do for them without attaching a value to it, you may have made a mistake.

We are all exposed on a daily basis to more and more technology; a big part of our job is figuring out how to use some of that technology in our business. We need to step back from the forest so we can see the trees. As we then pick what will enhance our industry and fully embrace it, we will be better for it.

With all that said, the communication and business worlds have become so competitive that all our resources need to be going in the same direction. We have clients, operations, employees, sales, and marketing to manage and lead, with specialized equipment that answers thousands and thousands of calls accurately.

An outsider may look at what you do each day and ask, “How do you do all that needs to be done?” When you live it, you may not even know how much you are doing. Just concentrate on gaining a real competitive edge over your rivals. Focus on your business strengths, eliminate distractions, get a good night’s sleep, reduce your expenses, get help when needed, and keep up with the latest technologies, such as hosted services.

When you look at what the future brings with new technology, you might at first feel fear and a loss of control. Although it might be scary at first, I recently heard a TED Talk, which stated that to be comfortable, we first must be uncomfortable – it’s called change.

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

[From Connection Magazine Jan/Feb 2015]

Speech Analytics Is Ready for Prime Time

By Donna Fluss

Post-call speech analytics is ready for prime time. Real-time speech analytics is an emerging solution that is highly compelling. Although the underlying technology for these two types of solutions can be the same, their uses are different.

Post-call speech analytics is a strategic enterprise application that companies should use to rapidly identify operational, procedural, technical, and staff-related issues, as well as to identify new revenue opportunities. Real-time speech analytics is a tactical application designed to alter the outcome of phone conversations while the caller is still on the line. This makes it a contact center tool that can be used to reduce risk and minimize bad customer experiences. As a result, it also becomes an effective coaching tool for agents.

Post-Call Speech Analytics Is Reaching Maturity: Speech analytics is the only application that can structure phone conversations to find insights and trends. The technology component of these solutions is the easy part of the implementation; the challenge is to figure out how to apply the findings. Speech analytics solutions are sophisticated tools that require highly trained resources to administer them in order to realize the expected benefits and return on investment. These solutions require ongoing care and oversight – tuning, searching, and filtering – to deliver targeted and effective findings. Then, once trends and insights are identified, companies need a formal process to share this information on a timely basis as a vehicle for driving change.

Not All Solutions Are Created Equal: There is a misconception in the market that most speech analytics solutions offer similar capabilities. Solutions designed to spot key words and phrases (which are the most common) cannot perform a forensic analysis and identify new trends, for example. Speech analytics packages built to address specific business issues that come with pre-defined lexicons (libraries), searches, reports, dashboards, and key performance indicators are different from those that come with a blank canvas where users have to build everything themselves. You should carefully evaluate the various solutions, keeping in mind that if you are getting it for free, there is probably a good reason why.

Speech Analytics Reduces Risk: From the beginning, speech analytics has been used to measure agent script adherence and ensure that agents are not saying inappropriate things to callers. But as governments and other agencies in countries around the world have introduced regulations to control the handling of sensitive customer credit card information, debt collections, sales, calls to mobile phones, etc., speech analytics has become a valuable tool for proving that a company is in compliance. Real-time speech analytics is also beginning to surface as a new capability for outbound solution providers who need to demonstrate compliance with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).

QA Gets an Overhau: Companies have been doing quality assurance (QA) the same way since this technology was introduced forty years ago. Analytics-enabled QA takes QA to a new level. Speech and text analytics can be used to identify calls, emails, social media interactions, and chats where agents do not follow departmental policies and guidelines. As long as a company can build a rule to check for certain things, speech and text analytics can find it (although there are still lots of things that speech and text analytics cannot catch). Given that most companies only check three to ten calls per agent per month, or just 1 to 3 percent of all calls, applying speech analytics to 100 percent of calls improves the odds of identifying behaviors that need to be changed, even if it does not catch everything.

It’s All About the Customer Journey: Companies are finally building multi-channel and cross-channel servicing environments. Companies need customer experience analytics to measure all customer touch points in the customer journey, and speech analytics vendors have jumped at the opportunity to deliver packaged solutions to address this need.

What to Expect in the Future: The speech analytics market has come a long way in a short time, and a great deal more is expected. Real-time speech analytics is in its infancy, but its potential is great, as it gives companies a new way of looking at and interacting with customers. More companies are going to integrate speech analytics with real-time guidance solutions to transform the way their staff handles customers.

Speech, text, and desktop analytics will be integrated with predictive analytics solutions and the output used to feed real-time guidance applications. More vendors are going to build customer experience analytics solutions that can capture and analyze customer behavior throughout their journey. It’s clear that speech analytics is useful on a stand-alone basis, but its value increases as it is integrated with other high-value applications and processes.

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. For more information, contact Deborah Navarra at deborah.navarra@dmgconsult.com or 516-628-1098.

[From Connection Magazine Nov/Dec 2014]

The Buzzwords Battle: Is It Omni-Channel or Multi-Channel?

By Donna Fluss

There is a new buzzword battle in the contact center market. The defender is the term “multi-channel,” and the contender is “omni-channel.” While it’s tempting to let Webster end this debate, buzzwords and phrases are not subject to the rules of language. Therefore, anything goes, and the market gets to make the choice.

In the past few months, I have been interviewed on the benefits of omni-channel contact centers versus multi-channel contact centers, corrected by vendors when I used the “outdated” term multi-channel, and laughed at when I suggested other vendors are more comfortable using omni-channel as opposed to multi-channel. While this inconsistency is laughable – even if it causes vendors to spend thousands of dollars to change their marketing materials and website content – the underlying reason for the desire to move away from the term “multi-channel” is a serious matter.

The History of Multi-Channel Contact Centers: I went to Gartner seventeen years ago to cover two emerging trends: Web self-service and multi-channel contact centers. As someone who had spent the prior fourteen years in financial services, I saw the great potential of Web self-service solutions and multi-channel servicing environments. As is often the case with new technologies, however, the adoption curve was much slower than anticipated by the vendors. In the case of Web self-service, the market and consumers around the world experienced the pain of the early generation of these environments. While there is still great opportunity for improvement, companies have been steadily making investments in their websites, though it has taken too long to realize that customer service should be an essential element in every step and every screen.

As bad as the investment picture was for Web self-service, it was much worse for multi-channel environments. Investment dollars, already limited in the late 1990s, become almost nonexistent for customer service and contact centers in 2000 due to the technology recession. The mantras of “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” and “doing more with less” became the standard for these departments around the world. At the same time, new servicing channels were becoming popular among consumers, who expect companies to support them in their channel of choice – which hardly ever happened then and is still rare now. Email came on strong in the late 1990s, although most organizations either didn’t bother to respond or waited too long to get back to customers. Chat arrived on the scene a few years later, followed by SMS. And social customer care is still being ignored or mishandled by all but a few organizations, even while the volume of these interactions is growing at warp speed.

Slow adoption of multi-channel servicing was exacerbated by the lack of integration between servicing applications. The more innovative companies who were willing to spend money on their service organizations added new channels. But even they missed the importance (or were not willing to make the investment) of creating a frictionless customer experience and instead established siloed groups to handle each one. So, all too often, if a customer first sent an email and then called, the phone agent had no knowledge or way to find out what happened in the alternative channel, forcing the customer to start over every time they reached out using a different mode of communication. The US continues to lag behind Europe, particularly Scandinavia, in adoption of servicing channels, but the lack of a fully integrated servicing environment remains a major issue around the world.

Though brief, this summary of the history of servicing channels points out that most companies have not invested properly in building multi-channel servicing environments, even though the technology has been available for years. This is where the omni-channel concept comes in.

Does a Name Make a Difference? When pushed, vendors explain that the difference between multi-channel and omni-channel is that the former is a failed concept and the latter is an unsullied one with great potential. In the world of “buzz,” the words “multi” and “omni” are virtually interchangeable. What’s different and worthy of attention is the growing emphasis being placed on building effective omni-channel contact centers to deliver an outstanding and consistent customer journey throughout all channels. If changing a word can get companies to invest in improving their servicing environments, then count me in the “omni” camp.

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. DMG uses this information to help enterprise and contact center leaders build their servicing strategies and select the right solutions for their environments. Contact Donna at donna.fluss@dmgconsult.com.

[From Connection Magazine Sep/Oct 2014]