Sluggish Productivity as Winter Drags On? Try These Tips!

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Is enthusiasm in your contact center waning as winter drags on? Has productivity dropped? If you’re not sure, here are some warning signs: irritability or frustration, unexplained work absences, coming in late/leaving early, decline in health and isolation. If you’re seeing any of this, rest assured that you can have a positive influence on the situation.

As the boss, you can reshape your staff’s work experience by communicating, motivating and leading. Let’s look at these three areas in-depth:

Communication: Meet with staff individually and as a group to give them a chance to express any concerns about their workload, goals, job difficulties and the workplace. Let them know you’re their advocate. Put the emphasis on the aspect of the job that excites your employee each time you speak to him or her, to keep a focus on the positive. As I’ve mentioned before, I hold quarterly forums with employees across all of our locations, which serves as the perfect opportunity to chat with Communicators.

Motivation: Hone in on what motivates your staff. Does praise in front of other staff work for some … pointing out challenges in private sessions for others? Conversely, give them some control: flex hours, casual attire and telecommuting, for example. This will let employees know that you care about their happiness and will help them address work-life balance.

Show appreciation. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. Just bring in bagels for the team one morning or let everyone bring their laptops outside on a sunny, warm day. If you want to go grander, plan a staff outing or meal together.

Of course, money always talks. Is it time for a raise, or a bonus? Do you simply need to encourage a listless or irritated worker to take his or her vacation days more regularly? Compensation and relaxation can’t cure burnout, but may begin to ease symptoms.

Leadership: Managers who continuously improve their own skills will enable better team harmony and efficiency. Grow your abilities by attending workshops or conducting your own self-learning through books and training materials. You must also get your employees the training they need to succeed. Training is a motivator due to the value it places on the worker’s contributions. Good training topics for contact center staff include time and stress management, improving customer service, and specific computer programs.

In addition, review task assignments. Evaluate whether they are appropriate given the unique abilities of each employee. Be sure workloads are distributed evenly and that no one is bearing the brunt of the work. Offer understimulated staff greater challenges, and rotate tedious work so everyone can try something new from time to time.

Trust Your Frontline Staff to Deliver Outstanding Customer Service

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Do you want to boost morale, productivity and engagement in your contact center? Then start trusting your frontline staff to do their jobs and deliver stellar customer service. Let go of the command and control approach so often applied in contact centers for one that truly focuses on customer service and trusts staff to deliver it.

While processes are purposeful and necessary, they’ll never make up for poorly motivated staff. In addition to setting overall direction, contact center managers should introduce practices that give customer care Communicators a sense of control over their work—and even add some fun to the mix. Some items to consider include gamification, real-time communication and Communicator empowerment. These elements can help to build trust and engagement.

To unleash the potential within your contact center for better business outcomes, consider the following recommendations:

Initiate Communicator focus groups: Who knows your customers better than your frontline staff? So, give them the opportunity to share feedback with you on a regular basis. Ask Communicators for their input on customer pain points and frustrations, ways to improve the service experience and even how to enhance your offerings. To ensure this practice remains fruitful, put a process in place that provides follow-up to staff on issues raised and recommendations made.

Make training a higher priority: You’ve hired the best people, so now inspire them to do their best for you through a comprehensive onboarding program. A variety of avenues exists for offering this to staff in ways that support their learning styles. Consider a mix of traditional in-classroom training and online interactive e-learning and e-coaching. Your efforts to enrich their knowledge and skills will let them know you value their contributions.

Establish and measure goals: Everyone on staff should have a clear understanding of business targets. Make sure KPIs and SLAs transparently and fairly reflect performance—and never single individuals out as poor examples. Instead, look for trends and group problems to address in a diplomatic and constructive way.

Schedule to reduce stress: Put the latest forecasting technology to work to right-size your contact center. Consider seasonal fluctuations in business, holidays and new marketing campaigns when predicting staffing needs. This will go a long way to reduce stress from overworking. Another important tool for work-life balance is flexible hours and working from home/remotely. Both are tools that exhibit trust in your workers. Recent innovations in self-service functions allow agents to trade shifts, request time off and voice other preferences—all of which can be automatically approved instead of waiting for a manager to respond.

Boost contact center status: A contact center staffed with well-trained, motivated and trusted individuals is a boon for business. Giving frontline staff a way to work with other departments to learn tips and tricks for delighting customers is another way to engage them more thoroughly in the business and develop trust. Managers should make it a point to promote the successes of their team to senior executives to continue the evolution of trust and respect for Communicators.

These strategies for the contact center, when deployed properly and consistently, will grow trust, improve productivity and increase customer satisfaction. It’s a win-win-win!

Read This Before Launching a New Channel!

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Consumers are reaching out to contact centers today not just by phone, but using email, chat and social—to name a few avenues. How can your business derive revenue from tapping into these communications channels? That’s the question each organization’s decision makers must ponder before modernizing.

Start where you are. Are you a phone-only call center? If so, you’re practically a dinosaur. Providing customer support over multiple communications channels is standard operating procedure these days. A 2015 study by ICMI and LiveOps shows that 92 percent of contact centers support email, 59 percent chat, 49 percent Web, 46 percent self-service, 45 percent mobile and 42 percent social media.

If you are a phone-only call center, the best channel to add first is almost certainly chat. Chat is the clear winner over email and social when it comes to consumer preference. In fact, chat has become the leading contact source within the online environment, with 42 percent of customers using chat vs. email (23 percent) or another social media form (16 percent), according to J.D. Power.

The reason being that phone and chat have a common denominator: the ability to have a conversation in real time. This helps customers—hungry for instant gratification—resolve their issues efficiently.

If you’re gung-ho to update your contact center in one fluid motion, look for a solution that includes voice, chat, email and social by one provider. Employee training will be more succinct and usage consistent across the board.

If cost restricts such an option, large CRM and contact center vendors offer modular application suites or platforms that allow you to add new services as needed.

It’s easy enough to stay competitive and meet customer expectations by following this simple list of do’s and don’ts:

Do:

  • Keep up with the channels your customers are using;
  • Add chat if you can only add one channel;
  • Look for a solution with one application for all channels;
  • Pick a good routing and reporting platform to manage interactions from the same interface;
  • Consider more self-service if you have high volume and low sales per customer;
  • Invest more in high-touch services if you have high-end products or service; and
  • Automate a callback option for your IVR.

Don’t:

  • Keep waiting for the next big thing;
  • Prioritize email over chat;
  • Choose a separate solution for each channel;
  • Add a channel that costs more than it benefits the organization in customer satisfaction or up-sales;
  • Do what everyone else is doing (not all companies need the same features); and
  • Try brand-new unproven technology if you are a high-touch company with long-term customer relationships.

Once you’ve added a new channel, be sure to connect the dots between channels for the customer. Remember, too, that each channel requires different Communicator skill sets, and be prepared to provide training as each new channel is added.

Five Common Obstacles to Great Customer Service

Very often in life, the things we do wrong are just as important as the things we do right. If you’ve been struggling to improve your customer service and aren’t seeing the desired results, maybe it’s time to look at your customers’ overall experience—the good and the bad—and then focus on fixing what’s wrong.

Below is a list of five common service issues that your customers may be experiencing which could be working against your efforts to improve their satisfaction. Remove these barriers, and you just may find your customer service approval ratings at an all-time high.

  • Customers typically contact you two or more times to resolve an issue. If your first-contact resolution (FCR) number isn’t up to par, you’re making customers work too hard to get what they need. (You should be measuring FCR on multiple channels, if you have them.)

To remove this barrier: First, make sure your Communicators are trained and well-equipped to handle the needs of even the most complex customer queries. That includes being knowledgeable about the technology they use, the procedures for finding information, and the product itself. Make sure you have provided enough resources for them to get the job done, like a knowledge base or product information sheets. Second, review your operations processes. Intelligent call routing and IVR menu options should be delivering customers to the right person the first time around.

  • Customers can only contact you via one or two channels. It’s a challenge to provide great service on multiple channels, but limiting options for contact simply means you’re shifting the burden onto your customers.

To remove this barrier: Make people’s lives easier by giving them a number of contact channels that also naturally fit your corporate strategy. There’s no need to jump into every contact channel available. Find out where your customers are, and use that as a starting point.

  • Customers contact you directly to resolve most issues. It’s burdensome for both you and your customers if there are no obvious avenues for issue resolution other than to contact customer service. You know there are solutions available, but it seems that they don’t.

To remove this barrier: Provide ways for customers to solve their own problems, and help guide them to the right solution. If the website is the best way to update account information, let them know. If billing issues are better handled with a call, tell them that, too. Other information, like frequently asked questions, should be prominently placed on your website.

  • Numerous customers call about the same issues. If customer feedback consistently relates to similar issues, that’s a clear sign of a problem (even if it isn’t communicated as a complaint). Hopefully you’ve been tracking customer feedback; now it’s time to take action.

To remove this barrier: Act now to ensure that future customers no longer have to contend with this issue. Identify the cause of the problem and fix it. If it’s related to product design, inform your design team and work on a solution. Is it a communication issue? Discuss it with marketing and sales and craft a new message. Whatever it is, use this opportunity to turn customer feedback into actionable insights.

  • Customers have to navigate a complex Web-based “help center” or phone IVR system before they can speak with a Communicator. Much customer frustration stems from feeling “trapped” in IVR systems or having to click through too many unhelpful help options. Some customers may end up abandoning the effort altogether.

To remove this barrier: Though you might think all customers prefer to handle things themselves, many people still feel more comfortable speaking with a human (or require a person’s help to get the job done). Don’t make it difficult to reach a live Communicator. Make sure your website offers a clear contact number, and that your IVR system has an easy exit. Sometimes the sound of a live voice is all it takes for a customer to go from resentful to grateful.

The Hidden Benefits of High-Quality Training

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Many contact center managers (and other business leaders as well) allow training to fall to the bottom of the priority list because they consider it expensive, time-consuming and unnecessary. So sometimes it falls by the wayside with the hope that, with some quick on-the-job training, employees will somehow “make it work.” We might even point to employee turnover as the reason for our neglect, wondering why we should make the effort to formally train employees who have such perpetually short tenures.

Formal, high-quality training programs are, in fact, worth every penny—and every minute—spent on them. Throughout the years, studies have consistently shown a link between training and people’s attitudes about their job proficiency. Employees who felt they received effective, meaningful coaching also felt they improved their job performance. Training has also been shown to have a significant impact on mental attitudes related to the job, including increased motivation and commitment, more trust in the organization, and a willingness to go above and beyond to meet job requirements.

Training is typically thought of as something that’s done only once, for new hires. It is a great way to introduce new employees to the company, its culture and its products, and gets the relationship started on the right foot. Here at InfoCision, while we agree on the importance of making every new Communicator feel welcomed—and that training is the perfect opportunity to do so—we disagree that a good training program can be consist of a “one and done” event.

As a matter of fact, the more training you offer employees throughout their tenure, the better off you’ll be. With ongoing training, you’ll have employees who excel at meeting expectations, and your employees will have a greater sense of fulfillment at work.

Here are some suggestions for making your training program the best it can be:

  • Focus your training program on core skills. Too many companies offer training that isn’t 100 percent relevant to the job, devaluing the program. The training you provide should be essential to the job your Communicators are actually performing when they leave the room—not preparation for something else down the line. Identify three to five skills that are absolutely necessary for excellent job performance, and focus the training around those. Here, we work one-on-one with new hires to ensure they have all the knowledge and tools they’ll need when they begin their work. We also frequently review our training procedures to ensure they are up to date and efficient.
  • Make the training interesting. Training should be energizing, not boring. Memorable training is highly practical and usually offered in short bites. Our training, for example, incorporates a variety of methods to engage trainees, including discussions, Q&A sessions, videos and shadowing. Weave small doses of learning with bursts of implementation, giving employees lots of chances to use what they’ve just learned.
  • Make training essential to your ongoing mission. Beyond identifying the core skills for new hires as individuals, what are the characteristics your company needs to develop to be the best in the industry? We know our industry changes seemingly by the day, so what new knowledge can you impart that will keep everyone on the same page, focused on the same mission? How can you, as a group, continue learning to exceed expectations? By embedding training into your business operations it becomes a way of life, giving employees something to work toward together.

If you need proof to convince others of the merits of a formal, ongoing training program, consider calculating the program’s return on investment (ROI). There’s a terrific resource at Management-Issues.com that discusses this subject in greater detail. Having a dollar figure that reflects the value of your training not only justifies its existence, but also opens the door to improving it in the future.

The Omnichannel Contact Center: Three Changes You Need to Make

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

If someone were to ask you if your contact center is “multichannel,” what would you say? Most of us would probably say yes, noting that our services include voice calls, email, Web chat and social.

Now, if you were asked the same about “omnichannel,” is the answer yes or no? If you hedge and say something like, “We’re working on it,” you’d be in good company. Only 10 percent of contact center leaders surveyed for the 2015 Call Center IQ Executive Report on the Omnichannel Contact Center identified their center as omnichannel currently, and 25 percent said it topped their list of priorities for 2016.

When multichannel first came onto the scene, few people intended for the multitude of new channels to operate in isolation. In fact, omnichannel—which is the seamless integration of the channels to create an optimized customer experience—was probably the real goal all along. The challenges of providing a fully realized omnichannel experience, however, are not insignificant. Business leaders who want to succeed must be willing to make some fundamental changes before omnichannel can become a reality.

The Changes

In the push toward omnichannel, failures are bound to pop up along the way. To avoid being one of the fallen, take heed of the following list of the three biggest challenges faced by organizations as they strive to offer a more seamless customer experience, plus ideas on how to address them:

  1. Integrate the right channels. Many organizations start down the omnichannel road in an effort to keep up with customer service trends, forgetting about the real reason for the change, which is to support their customers. Thus they fall into the trap of trying to support too many channels without a bigger-picture strategy.

In reality, there’s no need for every business to utilize every channel, just the ones your customers prefer. There are too many channels—and too little time—to provide excellent support on all of them, so choose your channels wisely.

To do this you need a good understanding of your customer demographics. For instance, on which social media sites are your customers most active? If your product or service is business-related and you know most of your customers are on LinkedIn, you’ll want to be sure that your customers can reach you there. If you aren’t certain where they are, simply ask. A quick survey can give you all the information you need to get started.

  1. Overcome the organizational silos. In the beginning, the tactic of adding one channel after another made it easier to integrate new channels into contact center operations. But along with each channel came specialization (Communicators specifically trained to use it), ownership (a manager dedicated to its operation and success) and service goals (metrics specific to its use). Ultimately, those well-established channel divisions make it harder for all the channels to operate harmoniously.

While it’s not likely that one person would or could manage all the channels, organizational structures may require shifting to address a new mindset—one of working together.

  1. Incorporate the necessary technology. Those separate channels also pose a challenge for Communicators trying to provide the best customer experience possible. Barriers between channels make it difficult for Communicators to access knowledge and information that originates in a channel other than the one they’re currently in. If a customer making an online purchase is unable to complete the transaction due to a website malfunction, for example, or is confused about shipping or taxes, he or she might decide to call customer service or begin an online chat session. Without a way for Communicators to “see” the activity on all available channels easily and quickly, customers have to essentially start over, repeating themselves and possibly becoming frustrated.

Today’s technology tools can solve this problem. In the example above, Communicators could easily access information related to the website and pick up the transaction where the customer left off. In this way, knowledge across the organization can be leveraged to create a better customer experience.

The Unexpected Value of Sharing Knowledge

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

We hear a lot these days about customer service that goes “above and beyond,” but what does that really mean? Customers themselves may not even know, but they know it when they see it. One way your Communicators can provide this level of service is to answer questions that customers didn’t even know they had when they called.

Think about the last time someone gave you an unexpected “tip.” Maybe it was at the paint store, where the clerk steered you—without your having to ask—to a ½-inch-nap lambswool roller, and let you in on the secret that it’s considered the perfect roller by pro painters (it holds plenty of paint without adding too much texture). Or maybe you were wandering around the plant nursery and a worker suggested a trick for opening closed flower buds quickly (put them in warm water first, then cold water). She had no idea you were buying them for company that very night.

If you think people are delighted when they get tips and tricks like these about a purchase, you’re right. Why? Everyone feels good when someone else takes time out of their day, even if it’s just a moment, to help them. Second, we appreciate the “inside” information that we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else simply because we didn’t know enough to ask in the first place.

Here’s where your Communicators can elevate the customer experience. As brand ambassadors, they are considered experts about a product or service. They’ve answered thousands of questions about it, had the same number of conversations about it, and are privy to a great deal of information that customers will likely never know. Taking a bit of extra time on the phone or typing one extra text message with a golden nugget of useful information could be just what the situation needs to turn an ordinary service interaction into an extraordinary one.

Is Social Customer Care As Successful As We Think?

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Every business puts “customer care” at the top of its priority list, particularly in today’s highly competitive environment where consumers have so many choices and loyalty is at a premium. Social media service has been touted as the next big thing, and headlines heralded that it would soon make the old fashioned call center a thing of the past. However, a recent news article revealed the fact that social customer care may already be falling behind, even though it seems to be just hitting its stride.

Customer care delivered via social media may not be as effective as once hoped for several reasons. For one, there aren’t enough well-trained customer care professionals handling social media inquiries. While phone-based customer service is often delivered with a personal touch and a professional attitude, people may lack understanding of how social media works. It is also difficult to finesse a complicated service conversation or complaint over social media without special training and know-how.

For social customer care to be successful, customer care specialists must handle social media interactions must with the same poise, compassion, and professionalism that they bring to telephone or in-person interactions. Social media service shouldn’t be looked at simply as an “add on” or “extra.” Instead, service professionals should strive to fully develop it as a service channel. There are fine points to communicating via social media, and the rules for high-quality telephone interactions should also apply here—such as resolving problems quickly, reducing the need to repeat information, and providing courteous service.

With the right education and understanding in place, social media can become a fully fledged and effective customer service channel, but right now the risk is that it will fall behind and out of customer preference.

Understand, Anticipate and Act on Customer Intent

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Improving the customer experience has been identified as a 2017 critical priority, second only to growing revenue, for 37 percent of marketing decision makers, according to a Forrester study. To achieve this goal, consumer intent must be the cornerstone of your marketing strategy.

As digital continues to disrupt business processes and practices, organizations must take a new approach to customer engagement—one that anticipates and acts on consumer intent across channels. In this way, companies can create moments that matter for consumers and drive successful outcomes.

Technologies for assessing customer intent

In 2017, forward-thinking businesses will leverage the following three technologies to impact operations and improve the customer experience: Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).

Rather than simply analyzing data to understand how customers have behaved in the past—to predict future behavior—companies will leverage machine-to-machine communication through IoT devices and sensors to deliver personalized support, like fixing a product problem before it happens.

Best practice for intent-driven customer engagement

Channel-centric customer engagement is a popular contact center model today. Yet, a focus on optimizing performance within channels is more of a passive, or reactive, approach to customer interaction. This can end up disappointing customers.

Instead, an intent-driven customer engagement model uses data to anticipate a customer’s intent during the purchase journey. The intelligence thus gained allows marketers to present customers with intelligently selected next steps.

Applications in the contact center

Chatbots: According to a 24/7 article, AI-powered chatbots are emerging in more businesses to better handle inquiries efficiently and at scale. Since 93 percent of U.S. consumers use the Internet for research before making a purchase, a chatbot function will become critical to customer satisfaction. Chatbots like Siri, Cortana and Facebook’s Bot Engine for Messenger are already familiar to, and popular with, consumers. In 2017, 24/7 predicts that chatbot technology will extend beyond messaging apps to empower customers with self-service on several channels, including SMS, mobile apps, email and phone.

Communication channels: This year, progressive companies will begin to orchestrate the customer experience by pairing communications channels to ease customer interactions. Logical pairings might include Web and phone, chatbot and live chat, or mobile app and IVR—depending on each business’s unique needs. Leaders will apply AI and ML techniques to company data (customer profiles, histories and relationships) to gauge consumer intent. In turn, this intelligence will allow organizations to deliver experiences that exceed customer expectations.

Personalized marketing: How businesses market their products and services will be significantly aided by advanced technologies that help determine customer preferences in product features. This year, more companies will start to use cognitive science to gain consumer attention. Advertising and marketing campaigns aimed at individuals will funnel results back through ML models to continually improve outcomes.

Intent-driven customer engagement is about understanding your customers—who they are, what they’re doing, the channels they’re using—and leveraging insights gained by employing today’s advanced technologies to deliver the optimal customer experience.