The Right Tools Make the Job Easier

November 19, 2015

It doesn’t really matter how good you say your company is; the real proof comes when someone else says it. Validation from outside sources is what makes others in the industry stand up and take notice.

So it was with understandable pride that inContact, the leading provider of cloud contact center software and contact center agent optimization tools, announced recently it had received the prestigious 2015 North American Frost & Sullivan (NewsAlert) Award for Customer Value Leadership.

The recognition means a lot in a competitive industry. Frost & Sullivan is known as the “Growth Partnership Company”, enabling its clients to accelerate growth and achieve best-in-class positions in growth, innovation and leadership. “The company’s Growth Partnership Service provides the CEO and the CEO’s Growth Team with disciplined research and best-practice models to drive the generation, evaluation and implementation of powerful growth strategies,” the company says on its site.

To better support its evaluation of best practices across multiple business performance categories, Frost & Sullivan employed a customized Decision Support Scorecard, which allowed research and consulting teams to objectively analyze performance according to key benchmarking criteria, and assign ratings on that basis. “The tool follows a 10-point scale that allows for nuances in performance evaluation,” the company said. “InContact outscored its two nearest competitors with scores of 9 in both the Customer Impact and Business Impact categories.”

For its part, inContact felt vindicated by the findings.

“We are honored to receive this recognition and further validate our leadership position in the industry,” said Paul Jarman, CEO at inContact. “We recognize that, while having premier technology is crucial, helping companies achieve their goals is essential. This Award from Frost & Sullivan substantiates our powerful combination of highly developed cloud technology with expert services, and a rich partner ecosystem, as the premier solution in the contact center market.”

One company noted that its selection on inContact has made a notable difference. Hoveround Corporation, a provider of power chairs, electric scooters and other mobility solutions, chose inContact for its inbound contact center solution back in 2009. After six years in the cloud, Hoveround added inContact’s Personal Connection outbound solution in 2014 and has seen results by eliminating the telltale awkward pause of typical legacy dialers. The connection rate with customers increased from 19 percent to 46 percent and continues to climb, Hoveround says.

“InContact’s strategy to focus solely on the cloud has enabled it to address many challenges within the contact center market,” said Frost & Sullivan Principal Analyst Nancy Jamison. “First, the all-in-one, multi-tenant approach does away with the integration hassles found in on-premise deployments; second, the company has resolved cloud reliability issues head-on.”

Man or Machine? Making an Argument for the Former

November 18, 2015

Those who work in or manage a call center are already well aware of the value of data. It’s one of the current buzzwords of the year, and that buzz is only getting louder.

And while a new report out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT (NewsAlert)) recently touted a supposed breakthrough in the study of data, sticking with the basics will also yield strong results.

That’s the gist of a recent blog from Annette Miesbach, product marketing manager at cloud call center leader inContact. She pointed to MIT’s announcement that the school is working on taking the human element out of big-data analysis.

“Their new system – [a] ‘Data Science Machine’ – not only searches for patterns in data, but also determines which features of the data to scrutinize for the data analysis to have predictive value,” Miesbach wrote. “This selection process has required human intuition and experience. While MIT’s results are amazing, I believe the contact center ‘human touch’ will continue to be needed well into the future.”

Her point is well taken, as human intuition is something that has value when parsing data, something which machines have not yet perfected.

To that end, Miesbach touted some offerings from inContact to help call centers better understand callers and what they want. Those improvements include:

  • Access to data based on a different summarization methodology, the company’s “Contact Start” paradigm. “This summarization method is frequently used for auditing and third party billing. And choosing the paradigm suited for your report is easy – just a mouse-click,” she notes.
  • New Personal Connection data model: This new data model provides access to metrics directly related to outbound dialing list management. Inbound and outbound, in one convenient, intuitive tool.
  • API-based access to both real-time and historical reporting: This option offers complete access to contact records directly from a contact ID in easy-to-use API calls. “Furthermore, the calls contain the complete contact information in both real time formats for active contacts and historical for completed contacts,” she writes.
  • A new IVR Press Path report in Central offers permission-based access to 90 days of history in a 30-day window. It has filtering, too, Miesbach adds.

In short, while MIT’s efforts are impressive, similar results can be achieved by letting your people do what they’re best trained to do.

Good News for Contact Centers

November 12, 2015

A new report about the use and efficiency of cloud-based contact centers confirms what those in the industry already suspected: Business is strong, and growing.

The study from survey firm Research and Markets queried cloud contact center leader inContact among others, and came up with some interesting statistics in its findings. To wit:

  • Cloud-based contact center infrastructure has hit its stride on a global basis: The market continues to be strong and growing in North America and Western Europe, particularly in the UK. Germany, Japan, China, and the Philippines are also showing strong interest in cloud-based contact center infrastructure solutions.
  • The past year has been the best ever for this market.
  • With an estimated 150+ competitors vying for business worldwide, the cloud-based contact center infrastructure sector is a buyer’s market, although we expect consolidation to begin during the next two years.

“The past 12 months have been outstanding for the cloud-based contact center infrastructure market, the best in the history of this sector,” R&M (NewsAlert) said. “The total number of seats jumped 49.9 percent between August 2014 and the same period in 2015. This increase shows the pattern of steady and strong growth that is expected to continue for the next five years. Worldwide adoption of cloud-based contact center infrastructure has risen from 2.2 percent in 2008 to 11.1 percent in August 2015.”

The report also notes that companies are moving their contact centers to the cloud to realize the flexibility, agility, scalability and cost benefits of this implementation model. “The new seats are coming from competitive replacements of dated on-premise solutions and a growing number of first-time users who are attracted to the cloud-based model, with its low start-up costs and ready availability of experienced vendor resources to assist with implementations and ongoing operations,” the study found.

Hence, global demand for cloud-based PBX (NewsAlert) and contact center solutions has created new opportunities for carriers. This is making cloud-based contact center infrastructure solutions attractive not only to the small and mid-sized early adopters, but also for large and multi-national companies as well.

Updated Headsets in the Call Center Seen Expanding

November 10, 2015

There’s a healthy market that’s little known outside of the call center space, but is nonetheless primed for some big expansion, according to growth partnership company Frost & Sullivan (NewsAlert) (F&S).

The area is the global contact center and office (CC&O) headset market, and according to a new report from F&S, this market is “on the cusp of rapid growth driven by the expansion of software-based communications clients.”

Frost & Sullivan’s recent “Analysis of the Global Contact Center and Office Headset Market” report notes that “adoption will continue as organizations realize the role of CC&O headsets in driving productivity in the workplace by enabling hands-free communications and an efficient work environment.” Its update also says that “as the proliferation and adoption of business desktop communications clients drives the purchase of professional headsets, personal computer (PC)-enabled headsets will also see increasing use by desktop ‘phone-less’ users leveraging unified communications (UC).”

This is good news for those in the call center space, although budget constraints may hold some back from making what can be seen as a costly investment. Tough and ongoing challenging economic conditions might force businesses to shy away from investing in new communication technologies. It’s also a given that price-sensitive companies prefer low-cost endpoints rather than upper-range devices.

Still, F&S makes a strong case for those seeking an edge in business.

“In new work environments characterized by proliferating user devices, the need for mobility and the desire to eliminate noise, such professional headsets can foster smarter collaboration and enhance worker productivity,” said Frost & Sullivan Unified Communications (NewsAlert) & Collaboration Research Analyst Alaa Saayed. “Providing integration with several devices and applications, as well as extending UC features and contextual intelligence capabilities are added productivity benefits that underline the importance of business headsets.”

But Frost and Sullivan warns that the consumerization of information technology and PC-based communications will drive the use of consumer headsets in the enterprise setting, and result in a drop of enterprise-grade headset purchase volumes. “To gain market share, professional headset vendors need to integrate new models with popular offerings including UC. Headset suppliers must also build an efficient and ever-evolving channel ecosystem,” the company advises.

Outbound Communications Key for Expansion

November 05, 2015

While it seems that Internet shopping is helping drive down business at brick-and-mortar locations, there is one industry that’s doing just fine in a Web-driven age: Transportation.

Think about it: No matter what you order from an online site, somehow they have to get the product to you to complete the sale, and with drones not yet widely available, the transport industry is happily filling the void.

That may be one reason why a leading global transport company has just signed on with inContact, the leading provider of cloud contact center software and contact center agent optimization tools, to update its outdated premises-based system. According to a release, the company – which, according to ongoing inContact company protocols was not identified — will utilize inContact’s complete solution, including network connectivity through a scalable cloud platform, to support its growing operations.

“With a worldwide distribution network second to none, this leading transportation company needed a functional, flexible solution to provide superior-level service to its customers,” noted inContact CEO Paul Jarman. “The versatile structure of inContact’s cloud platform, combined with our cost-effective billing model, are ideal for growing organizations to differentiate themselves and succeed in a global and competitive marketplace.”

According to both sides, inContact’s new customer will implement the multi-channel Automatic Call Distributor and fully integrated Interactive Voice Response solutions, key building blocks of the inContact Software as a Solution platform. “The ACD offers a universal queue for all multichannel interactions allowing the company to support customers in their preferred communication channel including voice, chat, email and social media,” the company said. “InContact’s integrated IVR system offers customers self-service options while ensuring their needs are addressed by the most skilled and appropriate agents.”

For outbound communications, the company will leverage inContact’s Personal Connection dialer to increase productivity by seamlessly connecting agents with clients while at the same time eliminating the tell-tale awkward pause of typical legacy dialers.

Outsourced Centers Thrive With the Proper Tools

November 03, 2015

In this increasingly complex world, businesses everywhere are seeking whatever edge they can get over the competition. Whether it’s better staffers, better offers or simply a better product, the search goes on.

But what most don’t seem to get is that they might already have an answer in-house, and aren’t utilizing it. That answer is ‘data.’

In a recent blog post, Gerald Sinclair — Product Manager with inContact company Uptivity – examined the use of data and the growing prominence it’s enjoying in today’s business setting.

“If you have ‘liked’ a page on Facebook (NewsAlert) lately, you have probably noticed that other pages – similar to the one that you have recently liked – are displayed on your wall as being recommended just for you,” Sinclair noted. “If you purchase something on Amazon, the next time you return to the site, you will receive product recommendations based on your previous purchase. These are both examples of how analytics are driving business.”

Sinclair broke down five different types on analytics that can help a call center be more effective, and they’re worth noting:

Speech Analytics: “Speech Analytics analyzes voice transactions for keywords and phrases, and can be utilized to identify customer churn, escalations, procedural inefficiencies and customer satisfaction,” Sinclair noted, adding that it’s typically used with a quality management program.

Desktop Analytics: This application, which monitors 100 percent of system performance and agent workstation activities, extends beyond screen capture by potentially providing real time guidance for the agents. “Desktop Analytics is often integrated with a CRM solution and used in conjunction with Speech Analytics to provide a holistic view of agent performance and organizational processes,” he says.

Cross Channel, Multichannel, Omnichannel and Text Analytics: These solutions help identify the channels used by each customer so businesses can interact with them using their preferred channel.

Self-Service Analytics: “Self-service analytics is increasingly beneficial, since customers often complain or opt out of a self-service tool,” Sinclair stated. “This type of solution allows organizations to identify the self-service areas that most discourage customers and therefore implement needed process enhancements and improvements.”

Predictive Analytics: “This type of solution typically works with a CRM tool, cross channel analytics, and/or speech and text analytics to determine the most effective channel in which to communicate,” Sinclair said. It can also suggest products or present the most appropriately skilled agent for the interaction.

Overall, analytics is a powerful tool that can help any call center ‘up its game.’ But like any good tool, it’s useless unless you take it out of the box.

Calling All College Students; You Owe Us

October 29, 2015

Although the effect of government is not always everyone’s primary concern, there are times when new policies can affect average consumers and their uses of information technology. The latest budget bill on Capitol Hill marks one such policy; passed it its current form, it could include a rider that allows debt collectors to robocall individuals’ mobile phones.

Current rules at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC (NewsAlert)) do not allow companies that process federal student loans, housing mortgages, or tax filings to reach consumers with automatic, computer-generated calls. According to a report on the matter at The Washington Post, such companies have pushed back in recent years, arguing that people such as student loan borrowers will comply more with scheduled payments when loan providers can reach them on mobile.

The Federal Education Department is even quoted as saying that mobile phones may be the only place providers can reach their borrowers.

“Many student loan borrowers, especially those that may just be graduating, move frequently in addition to no longer having landline phone numbers,” the Education Department said. “It can be difficult for servicers to find a borrower except by using a cell phone number.”

The link between government and private entity here is clear. The government pays private debt issuance and collection companies such as Nelnet, Navient, and American Education Services to manage the payments of borrowers. Their concern, as private entities, is to keep borrowers from defaulting on their loans. When borrowers pay on time, each month, they avoid default. However, many people either do not have the funds or personal schedule to keep pace. Even if a borrower just forgets to make payments, regardless of his monetary situation, he could end up in default. Payment managers argue that robocalls could help fix such problems.

Of course, passing of this legislation could adversely affect students and their mobile payments in the first place. Automatic texts or calls could hit hard the number of minutes or allowed texts an individual has in his phone plan. For that reason, among others, the FCC has taken the position of protecting consumers.

At this point, there is a clear standoff between the FCC and what Congress, the Senate, and President Obama will let slide. The FCC appears to continue to hold firm in protection of mobile users. There is apparent support for the bill with Republicans and Democrats, so it will not be a surprise to watch it pass. If it does make it to law, the real turmoil will be in how the FCC responds and how consumers pick up their own phones to make it known that the robocalls are helping or hurting their lives.

Contact Center ‘Fixes’ Available to All

October 27, 2015

To managers keeping a close eye on the bottom line, the call center can be seen as a mixed blessing. Yes, it’s the first line of contact for customers and can be a real help in boosting your brand. But such help comes at a price, and it’s incumbent on everyone in the company to keep those costs in line. What to do?

Industry consultant David Johnson recently wrote an opinion piece with some suggestions on how to improve operations in a contact center. Johnson looked at the bigger picture and identified some areas of concern.

“While we have reduced the absolute number of agent-handled calls, we have actually increased the average handle time (AHT) due to the complexity of the calls that ultimately end up with agents,” he noted. “That’s because the ‘simple stuff’ is being taken out of the mix of our random call arrival patterns, replaced by calls that either can’t be self-served or are so complicated that the caller prefers to talk with an agent rather than struggle through the required IVR or Web-based workflows.”

So Johnson came up with a number of options for savvy managers to consider, and they’re worth a look:

Targeted Coaching: “Instead of focusing on the bottom 2.5 percent or on pure handle time nagging for the bottom 33 percent, look for specific skills, knowledge, and behaviors that are reducing overall quality and coach to them,” he suggests.

Evaluate the Evaluator: “Do a quick time- and motion-study of your evaluators,” Johnson said. “Let them tell you how they think they spend their time and consider resetting supervisor/evaluator priorities based on what you hear.”

Remove Authentication: The call-part analysis will likely show that the longest segment of the call that can be automated is customer authentication. “Start evaluating voice biometric technology, which can trim every call by 45-60 seconds,” Johnson advises. “If you have 250 agents handling six-minute calls 45-50 times per day, that means about three million calls per year. Take just 45 seconds off those calls and you save more than 37,500 hours every year, increasing capacity by 12 percent without touching the rest of your workflows.”

There are other worthwhile suggestions in his piece, but the biggest takeaway is this: Costs can be shaved, but ironically such savings are achieved by more listening than talking.

Are You Giving Clients the Best Connection?

October 22, 2015

We’ve all heard the terms and even bandied them about ourselves on occasion, but do you really know the difference between ‘multichannel’ and ‘omnichannel’, as they pertain to technology today?

Not many people do, but now there’s help at hand.

Gerald Sinclair, Workforce Optimization Practice Manager with Uptivity, an inContact Company, recently posted a blog on inContact’s homepage where he took a look at the related but different technologies, and clarified their differences.

“The term multichannel defines the various channels that are made available to connect with an organization,” Sinclair said. “If you ever shopped online or ordered something via a mobile app, you have already participated in a multichannel customer interaction.”

He went on to note that companies may offer several ways for a customer to interact with their organization, but the experience is not always consistent. As an example he said that he might be able to purchase items online in half the time it would take to call the organization and place the order by phone.

But it’s also worth noting that while ‘multichannel’ is the term in vogue, it’s been around for a while in various forms.

“Consumer shopping via TV, catalogs, contact centers, in-store, [and] door-to-door were all available prior to the technology explosion, allowing even more ways to engage,” Sinclair says.

Omnichannel, on the other hand, refers to a more consistent relationship and message across all channels.

“Omnichannel connects the dots between each available channel. In addition, it also explains the simultaneous use of two or more channels,” Sinclair says. “If you have ever logged on to a rewards or coupon site on your mobile phone and displayed the discount during checkout in a retail store, you have experienced an omnichannel interaction.”

He notes that whichever technology a company chooses to use, they can benefit from either.

“Organizations that are not investing in multichannel customer engagement strategies are at a high risk of missed profit opportunity and falling to their competition. Furthermore, organizations that are implementing an omnichannel strategy will experience a 3.4 percent increase (on average) in customer lifetime value,” Sinclair says. “As businesses become more customer-centric, it is vital for them to evolve and adapt to an omnichannel experience management program to create a holistic, positive and efficient customer service experience.”

Outsourcing Company Expands with Wounded Warriors

October 19, 2015

We hear a lot of talk about how we owe a debt of gratitude to our returning veterans, but one Florida-based company has actually done something about it, and is now going even further.

The company is StatesideBPO, whose U.S.-based call center agents are Americans with disabilities, U.S. Veterans, and U.S. Veterans with disabilities, all working hard and dispersed across 40 states.

Back in 2014, StatesideBPO selected inContact to power its contact center operations with the company’s Cloud Contact Center Platform. After experiencing the reliability, flexibility and scalability of the cloud firsthand, StatesideBPO has announced it will extend its investment into inContact’s cloud technology by adding agents and solutions to its existing multi-country inContact agreement.

“InContact allows StatesideBPO to extend multi-channel capabilities to our clients for their contact center and customer service needs,” said Garrett Mullins, Chief Sales and Client Service officer at the company. “This allows StatesideBPO and our clients to reduce costs and increase productivity by sharing a common contact center platform.”

Stateside BPO’s unique mission of providing Americans with disabilities with such jobs enables customers to interact with dedicated, highly educated, full-time agents. “This means your customer experience is intelligent and compassionate, and succeeds in a high volume of fulfilled call rates,” StatesideBPO says on its website. “Our management, agents, and contact center services are focused, organized, and dedicated to proving a return on investment while maximizing your customer’s experience.”

StatesideBPO’s expansion of inContact solutions includes a suite of Workforce Management (WFM) tools designed to improve contact center operations and increase efficiency. Such WFM will enable StatesideBPO, and its clients, to balance employee needs and staffing levels with customer satisfaction and call volume levels, ensuring the most appropriately skilled agent is available for each customer interaction.

“The BPO market has recognized the cloud advantages and is leveraging those assets by disseminating them directly to their clients,” said Paul Jarman, inContact CEO, in commenting on the enhanced contract. “We are pleased to have earned StatesideBPO’s confidence to expand their inContact solutions and integrate additional functionality with their existing cloud contact center core.”

StatesideBPO supports a wide range of industries including energy, healthcare, pharmaceutical, retail, and high-technology companies.