Breaking Down the Call Center to the Sum of its Parts

July 31, 2015

A recent notable blog post highlights the various tools available for successful companies in the contact center services industry. Whether they choose to handle inbound phone and video support or just complete outbound marketing agendas, there is something for every business that wants to optimize their operations.

The blog post comes courtesy of inContact, a provider of cloud-based contact center software that has its headquarters in Salt Lake City. Written by Gerald Sinclair, WFO Practice manager at Uptivity, an

inContact company, the piece notes that automated call distributors (ACDs) and dialers, customer relationship management (CRM) software, and workforce optimization (WFO) tools are the big three categories of available products.

Everything begins with dialers. This is the most direct link call center agents have with customers aside from the actual process of speaking (voice and video) or typing (instant messages, texting, and social media). Dialers can be useful for businesses both large and small, and they can assist with the automation of sales calls and marketing campaigns to extensive lists of recipients. InContact rightly notes that “all additional solutions should complement the utilization of the ACD.”

This leads to CRM. If dialers are the backbone of the organization, CRM software is the veins that flow through that backbone. This type of product, hosted or on-premise, captures the customer journey across every channel an organization offers. InContact says a proper CRM platform can improve the way in which agents deal with customers because it allows agents to see more than just basic information about clients. The best software can show the entire customer journey across voice, video, and text, and it marks the dates of each interaction customers have with their brands.

Finally, there is WFO, or workforce optimization. Users can break down this category into workforce management software, which can forecast call volume and match that with key performance indicators; call recording and screen recording software that allow for review of calls at a later date; and quality management software, which tracks agent compliance with company guidelines and protocols. Managers can use both call recording software and quality management software to make sure their businesses are operating according to predetermined goals.

All told, these products can be a trifecta of efficiency and productivity within a call center. Managers who know how to use them properly can benefit their businesses’ bottom lines and ensure better scheduling for their employees. InContact provides a few more details about some “honorable mentions” — the secondary features of some WFO tools — and is worth reading in addition to the analysis this blog presents. You can read it in its entirety HERE.

Managed Properly, Outsourcing Can Mean New Incoming Profit

July 29, 2015

A contact center, which has also been referred to as a customer interaction center, is a central point in an enterprise from which all customer contacts can be managed. The contact center typically includes one or more online call centers; however they may also include other types of customer contact.

Additional methods of contact include email newsletters, postal mail catalogs, website inquiries and chats. Information also comes from the collection of information from customers during in-store purchasing. A contact center is generally part of an enterprise’s overall customer relationship management (CRM).

A new study was recently released titled, “Collapse of the Cost Center: Driving Contact Center Profitability”, from a collaboration between the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) and Zendesk, a software development company that provides a cloud-based customer service platform.

The information for this report was taken from a broader global survey, “Moving from Cost to Profit Contact Center Research.” ICMI and Zendesk surveyed 416 respondents in spring 2015, attempting to discover the challenges that contact centers face while they try to transition perceptions from cost-centers to profit-centers.

Although within the corporate view contact centers are sometimes seen as a necessary evil, it is the department that has direct dealings in order to support the company’s customers. Whether they are sending out emails to remind or inform customers about certain deals, or fielding customer calls, the contact center provides what relates to the customer experience.

The report finds that most companies see the contact center as more of a cost center, not really understanding the role they play. This, in part, comes from the idea that about 73 percent of contact centers are not effectively measuring and reporting their service level.

Essentially, the impact that the contact center makes goes a long way toward providing that good customer experience. While, in most cases, this is what makes one stay with a company, unfortunately for the centers, company management is not aware of this.

Justin Robbins, senior analyst for ICMI, said “Contact centers provide unmatched and essential services for organizations, yet their importance is hindered by the lack of visibility their contributions have on a grander scale. Organizations must uncover the opportunities hidden within their operations and take the necessary steps to make their worth apparent.”

One of the things that the report hits upon is schedule adherence. By pushing a contact center representative ensuring that at least 90 percent of their time is being fully utilized, such actions could quickly lead to that person being burnt out. This is the type of employee that will not present the best customer experience. We have all heard expressions similar to “A happy worker is a good worker.” This is what leads to providing a good customer experience, which is a profit for the company.

Outsourcing Among Issues to be Tackled at ICUC Conference

July 24, 2015

Running a busy contact center is a time-consuming task. It’s easy to get bogged down in the problems, both big and small, which plague nearly every contact center. It’s important, however, to occasionally look outside the organization for solutions that can help solve these problems and improve the customer experience. These outside experiences include case studies, networking with other contact center organizations and solutions providers, trade shows, expos and user conferences. These events are designed to offer new ideas and solutions, demonstrate new technologies and provide attendees with an opportunity to share experiences.

From September 29th to October 1st later this year, cloud contact center solutions provider inContact will host its annual inContact User Conference (ICUC) at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City. The event will focus on the most important topics, trends and challenges of the contact center industry, with a view toward helping attendees improve their customers’ journeys. According to inContact, this year’s lineup of speakers, exceptional training sessions, and hands-on workshops have been crafted to offer attendees instrumental tools to lead their organizations into the future in the company of colleagues, product experts, and industry peers.

In a recent blog post, inContact’s Alyse Chiariello highlighted some of the standout features of ICUC, including the planned Technical Training sessions on Tuesday, September 29th.

“Technical training and skills building includes in-depth, hands-on sessions that will enhance your knowledge of the inContact platform and solutions,” wrote Chiariello. “These sessions are designed to meet the needs of those in specific contact center roles and their special areas of interest. You will take away a comprehensive understanding of the inContact platform and software offerings along with one-on-one assistance from our product experts.”

The event will also include breakout sessions that are organized by contact center job function, including executives, managers, technical and IT specialists, workforce optimization (WFO) specialists as well as contact center tours. And for attendees looking for hands-on ways to explore the array of new options for the contact center, ICUC will be encouraging feedback to help make its solutions better to help define the user experience. For this, it’s looking for interactive participation from customers.

“This year at ICUC, we encourage you to participate in our User Experience Lab on Next Generation Agent’s (NGA) software functionality,” wrote Chiariello. “You will work with our UX team to provide feedback on different customer interfaces, including our new agent and supervisor features, which will help determine the direction for what’s coming in the future.”

For more information about ICUC and to register, visit the event’s Web site here

Study Says Contact Centers Will be Taking on Bigger Roles

July 23, 2015

To no one’s surprise, a recent study found that contact centers are playing a growing role in business strategy. But more importantly, it was also uncovered that “CIOs will have to work more closely with business partners to integrate a proliferation of customer engagement channels and disparate IT systems.”

That’s the word from The Wall Street Journal, which took a deep dive into research giant Deloitte’s (NewsAlert) 2015 Global Contact Center Survey.

“Nearly all survey respondents — 96 percent — said their contact center functions were expanding, according to the survey of 300 businesses on five continents,” the Journal said. Business growth and customer experience demands were the two leading factors for that expansion, but they were far from the only ones. Still, the growth was worth highlighting.

“In 2013—the first year the survey was conducted—62 percent of respondents said customer experience as delivered through the contact center was a competitive differentiator; this year, that figure rose to 85 percent,” the Deloitte findings showed.

Andy Haas, director and customer operations practice leader with Deloitte, added to the input by noting a change in reporting structures. For example, in 2013, a mere 37 percent of respondents said their contact centers reported to a single department. That number today stands at a strong 74 percent. That’s a big jump,” Haas told the Journal. “Holding a singular leader responsible for contact center performance signifies its importance to the organization.”

There were other numbers cited by the survey as well. Respondents see growth occurring across all contact center channels, mostly for simple inquiries. That growth is expected to come via the Web (83 percent); via email (80 percent) and by mobile (77 percent). For complex inquiries, the numbers shift slightly to voice (68 percent), Web chat (55 percent), and email (53 percent).

Looking ahead, software-as-a-service (SaaS (News Alert)) solutions will likely be the technology strategy of choice for contact centers. “Respondents were most likely to have SaaS CRM today, while they expected to see the biggest increase in SaaS options for workforce management, social, and mobile over the next two years,” the Journal noted. And Deloitte’s Haas chimed in as well, observing that cloud-based systems could fuel further integration issues. “Cloud offerings make it easy for the business to deploy a system quickly without IT involvement,” Haas said. “Suddenly you wake up and have 50 different solutions supporting customer engagement.”

A chart showing Deloitte’s Top Ten insights can be accessed HERE.

This Ain’t No Game: Run Your Call Center Like a Sports Team

This Ain’t No Game: Run Your Call Center Like a Sports Team

July 17, 2015

If you think about it, it’s not much of a stretch to compare major league sports with a big-time contact center. Both need to be constantly thinking, be “fast on their feet,” adaptable to change and always looking for the best people for the job.

It’s a comparison that Jennifer Waite — Product Marketing Manager at cloud call center leader inContact – examined closely in a recent blog post. Her thoughts on the matter are worth sharing.

“Every football team has its own playbook, filled with options depending on the situation on the field, [and] different contact centers have different operating procedures depending on particular outbound campaigns,” she wrote. “And just as NFL rules of engagement make proper execution a necessity, so do complex FTC and FCC regulations – including TSR (News Alert), DNC and TCPA – make proper contact center execution critical.”

Waite goes on to note that different contact center risk tolerance profiles also call for different play calls. For example, “each company, as advised by their legal team, is going to interpret outbound dialing legislation differently,” she says. “The spectrum may run from liberal guidelines to specific and locked-down procedures for outbound calls.”

Taking the metaphor a step further, Waite notes that the ability (and willingness) to be ‘flexible’ is huge, citing her own company’s adaptability.

“inContact’s outbound dialing solution allows for custom time-zone bounding, so contact centers can optimize performance by calling during narrow time frames that are still within regulatory guidelines,” Waite observes. “And, list filtering ‘filters out’ certain states that, for example, have been hit by a storm and need to keep lines open for emergency purposes. Also, states that require licensed agents for a particular campaign can also be automatically filtered if necessary. Specific compliance guidelines can also be applied to campaigns that have different regulatory requirements, such as collections and proactive outreach,” she summarized.

Compliance management can be a complex challenge for any contact center, but just like the rules in major league sports, such compliance is a necessity. By being aware and being proactive, contact centers can not only stay ‘clean’, but also stay ahead of the game.

Outsource Your Work, but ‘Insource’ Your Humanity

July 15, 2015

In this age of instant, anonymous contact, some customers still will have the need to speak to a real person in real time. Unfortunately, very few of them call to compliment you on what a great job you’re doing. More likely than not they’re calling with a problem or complaint, and it’s in times like these that your contact center people earn their pay.

Still, not everyone who’s answering your phones is completely up to speed. That’s why it’s important to focus on a few critical points, and make sure everyone is on board with at least the basics.

In a recent blog post, Brian Olesen, Director of Enterprise Operations at cloud contact center leader inContact, highlighted four points he believes contact centers must emphasize to maintain good customer relations and keep those customers coming back. His ideas are worth sharing:

Be Human: While it may sound simplistic, it just makes good sense to treat your callers as you’d like to be treated. “Too often, the customer experience doesn’t factor in the human aspect of the interaction,” Olesen notes. “Although we might think of customers as records with account numbers, it’s critical that you make a human connection with the other person on the phone.”

Educate Your People: If your staff doesn’t know about new products or incentives, how can they possibly spread the word to customers? “They should be the first people to know what’s been released so they can answer customer questions,” Olesen says. “Additionally, all contact center employees and managers should receive training on customer service skills, how to maximize the customer experience, and how to handle angry or upset customers with poise and grace.”

Provide Access to Tools and Information: “It’s paramount the agent has the right tools to do the best job they can,” Olesen emphasizes. “No one would dream of asking a mechanic to do car maintenance without a wrench; why then do we deny our contact center employees access to the tools they need?” Again, it seems simple, but it’s amazing how many ignore this critical step.

Implement an Employee Rotation Program: When an employee knows how each department in a company works, they can better answer customer queries more quickly and efficiently, or direct them to someone who can. “A job shadowing arrangement where contact center employees can observe and learn from other groups can not only widen the employee’s perspective but also improve retention, which is a continuous challenge for contact centers,” Olesen says.

Be real, be smart, be prepared and be mindful. The steps are easily implemented, and the payoff can be huge.

What Customers Say Has Real Value: Blog

July 10, 2015

With every call to a contact center taking on greater importance, it’s worth it for companies to constantly seek out new advantages.

Those calls coming in are more than just a conversation between two people: They can provide a wealth of information about the caller, and also provide guidance not only for the worker answering the phone, but also for their colleagues and supervisors as a learning tool as well. One call can yield a trove of data that can be parsed, sliced and diced in numerous ways.

One method being used with more frequency is analytics software, a product used to — as its name implies — analyze calls for valuable data.

Call center leader inContact recently posted a blog from one of its partner companies, CallMiner (NewsAlert). The post by CallMiner’s Jason Napierski showed just how much this field is growing.

“In today’s digital world, it would be easy to assume that emerging communications channels (social, mobile, web chat, etc.) will eventually eclipse traditional channels such as the telephone,” he wrote. “Research, for example, shows the social customer relationship management market is set to experience explosive growth over the next several years.”

But Napierski cited the U.S. Contact Center Decision-Makers’ Guide from last year that showed traditional channels still hold a prominent position.

“The message is that channels aren’t being replaced – even letters will continue to be supported – but rather augmented,” the report noted. “Businesses have to accept that they need to develop an ‘omnichannel’ approach, as that’s what their customers are doing. This means that the pressure to unify the view of the customer across channels is a challenge that isn’t going to go away.”

So the solution would be for companies to adapt ‘multichannel analytics’, Napierski said, highlighting some reasons for his thoughts. To wit:

Information capture across platforms: “Because the best multichannel customer experiences are those that provide a seamless transition between channels, it’s critical to capture customer conversations across channels,” he wrote. “Without doing so, companies risk damaging the overall customer experience.”

Historical context: Developing a single view of the customer isn’t just about capturing and analyzing data – it also involves using that data to deliver an engaging and personalized customer experience. “Consumers increasingly expect companies to leverage this type of historical context,” Napierski notes.

Customer journey: “It’s not uncommon for customers to use multiple channels to resolve a single issue, especially in the case where they require immediate action on a pressing issue,” he says. “For this reason, agents need to be sure they understand the complete customer journey to uncover the root cause of issues and determine how to best resolve them. The end result? A more satisfied agent and a better experience for the customer.”

To see the complete blog post and learn more about how Multichannel analytic software can work to your advantage, click HERE.

Room for Improvement at Federal Call Centers: Finding

July 08, 2015

There’s an old joke that says one of the three biggest lies in America is “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.” While that may be true in some instances, new research shows that the government’s efforts at improving its contact centers is actually bearing some fruit.

That’s the word from CFI Group, a global leader in providing customer feedback insights through analytics using the science of its founding partner, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).

According to data recently released by CFI, citizen satisfaction with government contact centers improved from 2014. The bad news? It still lags behind the private sector.

“We all know government contact centers face inherent and deep-seated challenges,” said CFI Group CEO Sheri Petras, in comments about the findings. “But knowing what matters most to citizens will help contact centers meet their goal of providing excellent customer service.” Petras pointed to the report’s Government Center Satisfaction Index, which uses the proven methodology of the ACSI to provide managers a better understanding of how to meet the needs of their contact center users.

The report cited three critical areas – “Policies and Procedures,” “Contact Process” and “Representative’s Knowledge” – in which government call centers lag behind the private sector, and offers suggestions on how to close the gap.

“Compare those three critical areas against the private sector and you plainly see where government contact centers can score closer to their private sector counterparts and get back to 2012 levels, when the GCCSI score was 72,” Petras said.

CFI said overall scores for government contact centers improved four points in 2014 to 67, a rebound from a nine-point dropoff in 2013 that provides hope for better numbers ahead. The CFI Group CCSI 2014 study found private sector contact centers had an overall score of 72.

It was also noted that the study found a big increase in the number of respondents using agency websites as a means of contact; those numbers went from 14 percent in 2013 to 25 percent last year.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index is a uniform, cross-industry measure of customer satisfaction. Founded at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, the ACSI is a leading economic indicator of consumer spending in the U.S.

Social Media Playing Bigger Role, Even in Outsourced Situations

July 02, 2015

Social media has become so ingrained in American society that the outsider these days is someone who doesn’t participate in this new way of communicating. Whether it’s Twitter, Facebook (NewsAlert), Instagram or any of the other myriad choices available, it seems as if everyone uses something ‘socially.’

This is a point that has not been lost on contact centers. With folks no longer just content to pick up a phone and wade through a menu of options, many customers are now actively seeking out a better way to reach out. As such, customer relationship management and those who maintain it have had to ‘up their game.’

In a recent blog post, inContact’s Mariann McDonagh presented an overview of this phenomenon.

‘With a rate of approximately half a billion tweets sent each day and 1.44 billion active Facebook users, social media presents a host of new challenges and opportunities in the realm of customer relationship management (CRM),” she noted. “People are tweeting not only about their customer service needs but also the good, bad and ugly of the experience that they receive from companies.”

She also quoted some numbers from evolve24, a data analytics and insights company that measures audience perception, using that understanding to help clients change behavior.

“According to evolve24, 70 percent of customer tweets to companies are being ignored — and the damage can be significant. Gartner (News Alert) estimates that failure to respond via social channels can lead to an up to 15 percent increase in churn rate for existing customers,” she added.

McDonagh outlined what she described as the “challenges” companies are facing in this new arena:

Vast quantities of social interactions. “A critical ingredient for success is the ability to uncover the most relevant interactions and prioritize conversations within large volumes of social data,” McDonagh said.

Silos of customer information. As a new data stream, incoming social interactions need to be connected to customer service management and reporting engines as well as to other customer data sources — from CRM to billing to scheduling.

Operational efficiency. “Traditionally social channels have been primarily the purview of marketing teams who are not structured for one-to-one customer interactions,” she observed. “As volume increases, companies are moving social customer care to contact center operations.”

McDonagh cites research that notes about 80 percent of social media posts are not relevant to customer service, which means winnowing through a lot of chaff to find the “wheat.” But such efforts can pay off in the long run, in terms of customer satisfaction – and customer retention. It’s an effort worth undertaking.