How to Respond After a Data Breach

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

The world recently watched in horror when it was revealed that hackers stole the personal data of at least 143 million customers from credit agency Equifax.

The company received further attention, though, for its customer service team’s questionable response after the hack was announced. Employees reportedly did not know that the breach took place when customers dialed in.

Of course, there could be many reasons as to why this happened. But it serves as an important reminder about the need for real-time communication, and emergency response planning, in the contact center. First and foremost, communication is absolutely critical. All team members must be notified as soon as possible, so that they are ready to spring to action and deliver the appropriate messages at the right time.

Remember: Immediately after a data breach, your team members need to spring to action with unified messaging to handle angry customers, listen to their rants and try to keep them from leaving the company and going to competitors. This is customer service damage control at its hardest.

When shopping for a contact center solutions provider, don’t limit yourself to thinking about what they can provide for your organization when things are going well. Think about how they will respond when emergencies arise. Do they have the communications technologies in place to transmit information quickly? And are there strong leaders in place to ensure to align team members and perform response management? Taking the time to think about these questions early on could save your organization a great deal of trouble down the line.

 

To Hire or Outsource? That is the Question

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Many business leaders are still in the dark about the idea of outsourcing customer service operations. It’s an often-misunderstood topic — but one that could be beneficial to just about every organization, if done correctly.

Customer service, in other words, can be completely outsourced to third party solutions providers just like any other business process — completely eliminating resource-intensive tasks related to hiring, managing and monitoring agents. Outsourcing customer service can also eliminate many hefty capital and operational expenditures for technologies and facilities.

Keep in mind, though, that not all third party contact center solutions provider offer the same level of quality. There are a lot of pitfalls that you need to be aware of.

Here are some things to take into account should you decide to outsource your customer service operations:

Data security is critical: A data security incident can be absolutely devastating to an organization and its customers. So, don’t take data security lightly when shopping for an outsourcing provider. Remember that the company you partner with will be responsible for overseeing a large volume of customer information on a daily basis. As such, it’s important to ensure that they have the proper security technologies and professionals in place to keep your data protected.

Technology is also important: In addition to cybersecurity, you should also ask about the technologies that are available to the agents who will be handling your customer interactions. For instance, are they using hardware and software that is old and buggy, and prone to crashing, or new and innovative? Even the best customer service agents need access to fully-functioning, and reliable, equipment.

Location matters: At some point during the outsourcing process, you will need to determine where you want to source your agents. Should you explore overseas contact center markets in places like India or the Philippine? Or, should you opt for domestic workers? In our experience, we have found that domestic contact center agents tend to significantly outperform agents operating from overseas. They are also easier to train and coach when they are working under the direct supervision of a local team member.

Quality over costs:  Something else to consider is that not all contact center solutions providers will offer the same quality of customer service agents. This is one area where it pays to be highly selective. Don’t settle for the provider offering the lowest cost solutions. Instead, partner with agencies offering highly-trained, experienced and driven customer service representatives.

It’s Time to Start Planning Your 2018 Customer Service Strategy

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Author Alan Lakein once said that planning is bringing the future into the present, so that you can do something about it now. What a powerful quote — and something to think about as we prepare to head into the final stretch of 2017.

What can you do today to make your contact center more effective next year?

Keep in mind we’re getting down to the wire for 2018 planning. Pretty soon, the busy holiday rush will be here followed by the start of a new year. So if you haven’t already done so, it’s time to start looking ahead.

Here are some things to consider as you plan your 2018 customer service strategy:

Automate intelligently: When you think of automation in the contact center, artificially intelligent bots probably come to mind. A growing number of organizations are now using bots in their chat boxes and phone systems and will continue to do so over the next year as they work to provide more self service options for customers. Now, this is not a bad thing. Bots can certainly make the contact center more efficient. But they certainly can’t replace the power of live, human agents. So make sure to also supplement your agents with automation software that enables them to make more informed choices during customer interactions. Recent advances in sales, marketing and even billing automation can reduce costs, increase efficiencies drive more sales in contact centers.

Cut costs: Customer service is very important, but it can also be very expensive — much to the detriment of the organization. This is especially true of large contacts centers that staff large teams of in-house agents. You will pay for extra overhead, technologies, salaries and benefits. But if you outsource your customer service, you can avoid these expenses without having to sacrifice the quality of your customer service. In fact, it will improve. Plus, you will have extra money to pump back into processes like research and development.

Avoid hiring headaches: Every year, the same problem happens around the holidays: To handle spikes in call volumes, businesses are forced to hire, and train, large numbers of temporary employees. It’s an expensive, time consuming and risky process as it involves bringing in agents who are often inexperienced and looking for temporary work. Again, though, this problem can be easily streamlined by outsourcing to a third party contact center solutions provider who will handle all aspects of hiring, training and managing customer service employees for you.

Drive more sales: Outbound contact centers conducting fundraiser campaigns should have one primary goal for the next year: Make more money. To do this, however, you will need access to high quality customer service agents who will know how to talk to your customers and convince them to contribute to your campaigns. Trust me — high quality agents go a long way in generating higher quality customer interactions.

Key Findings from the 2017 Contact Center Trends and Market Landscape Survey

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

A new report has been released that contains a trove of important data about the current state of the contact center market.

As explained in the report, the traditional improvement goals around most contact centers today haven’t changed much over the last few decades. Most businesses are looking to reduce costs, improve the customer experience and increase flexibility and stability.

What is rapidly changing, though, are demographics, customer demands and contact center technologies. These changes are proving to be difficult to keep up with, and so many businesses today are looking for assistance from third party contact center solutions providers.

Here is a closer look at some of the key findings from this interesting report:

Downtime is still an issue: Unfortunately, many contact centers today continue to struggle with unplanned network downtime. According to the report, 67.5 percent of contact centers reported downtime of their telephones or contact center technology within the last 12 months.

What’s more, 7.5 percent of contact centers experienced downtime that lasted for 31 hours or more. And almost 1 in 4 have had downtime that lasted between 6 and 30 hours.

This is somewhat of a surprise, when considering that many organizations invest in dedicated contact centers to improve their chances of reducing downtime. So when searching for a provider, make sure that network efficiency, redundancy and disaster recovery are all offered.

 “Gadgets” are out: Fancy gadgets — like handsets with widgets, or Google Glass — are no longer in high demand. Now, demand has shifted to services and integration.

The report, for instance, shows that the top three investment priorities for 2017 include multichannel, chat, email and social media (32.5 percent); metrics, business intelligence and reporting (32.5 percent); and workforce management (28 percent).

The report also sheds light on what business leaders see as the capabilities offering the most value:

  • Workforce management (62 percent)
  • Quality management and agent scorecards (57 percent)
  • Phone system/ business application integration (54 percent)
  • Using metrics to create business intelligence (51 percent)
  • Social media as a customer interaction solution (42 percent)

Quality agents are in demand: Many respondents indicated that they are using multichannel solutions that combine email, chat, social media and SMS. And to take advantage of these solutions, organizations are now leveraging “double agents” that are capable of handling voice and non-voice channels. In fact, 52.5 percent of survey respondents are using double agents. However just 23 percent of respondents have enabled 100 percent of their staff to handle both voice and non-voice channels.

What’s troubling is that for 47 percent of respondents, an inability to monitor agent activity was a main concern. This problem can be addressed by using smaller teams of agents, which are typically more coachable and easier to train.

 

 

 

How to Maintain Consistency in Your Contact Center

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Now that football season is in the air, pay attention to how some of the veteran players like Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady approach the game. Most of the time, these players show the same face regardless of whether they throw an interception or a touchdown. They are, in other words, even-keeled and consistent.

The topic of consistency has been receiving a great deal of attention lately in the customer service arena. In fact, it’s now widely seen as one of the most important fundamental aspects of great customer service. But what exactly does it mean to offer consistent service?

Consistency, in this sense, means striving to ensure that every interaction along the ongoing customer journey gets treated with professionalism and uniformity. All customers and donors should be treated equally regardless of how much money they spend or contribute to a campaign, or what they need. Simply put, you can’t cherry pick which customers you want to be nice to. All customers deserve consistently great care.

Here are some simple, but effective ways of establishing consistency in your contact center:

Use small teams of agents: In order to create consistent customer interactions, you will need to use agents who are capable of delivering high quality experiences during every interaction. Take a look at any contact center excelling in consistency today, and you will notice they are using well-trained agents. Generally speaking, it’s better to use small teams of agents because they are easier to train and monitor on a daily basis. Large-scale contact centers, on the other hand, tend to have more mistakes and inconsistent experiences.

Leverage data: In addition to using small teams of well-trained agents, you’ll also want to make sure you are leveraging data during customer interactions. The more data you collect and leverage, the easier it will be to understand what customers are going through. Agents should have a wealth of information to browse when engaging with customers including past interactions, up to date notes, demographic data and purchase histories.

Communicate across departments: Finally, it’s vital to ensure that different departments are communicating and using the same protocols. Sales, for instance, can’t operate independently from marketing, design or editorial. The entire company needs to work together as one unit, meaning all policies and procedures need to be aligned and enforced. Otherwise, you could wind up dealing with rogue employees. And this could be very detrimental to providing consistent customer experiences. Hold regular meetings, share data between departments and hold team members in different departments accountable for their actions. Consistency is sure to follow.

 

Small Mistakes Can Lead to Big Data Breaches

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Businesses today are at a big disadvantage in trying to combat data breaches, as there are so many ways that they can happen. Sometimes, they can originate from outside hacking groups. Or, they can come from malevolent internal actors. Other times, they can happen by mistake.

Just recently, for instance, news broke about a phone company whose customers received an email asking for a copy of their driver’s license. The purpose of the email was, supposedly, to verify their address — a move that the company deemed necessary to prevent fraud.

As is to be expected, many customers replied and provided the company with their personal data after they were solicited. But there was a problem: Responses were sent to every other recipient who had received the original notification.

According to The Verge, this was no phishing scam. Rather, the data breach was due to an email misconfiguration. The email did in fact come from the phone manufacturer, but it was sent as a group email. So when customers replied, they did so without knowing that they were sending their sensitive personal data to every other recipient on the list.

Unfortunately, there is little that the company can do to rectify this situation. It remains to be seen whether a class action lawsuit will be filed against the company, or whether the company will attempt to settle the case individually. It’s not clear exactly how many customers were impacted, or whether any of the misplaced data was used in a harmful way.

What is clear, though, is that there will be some sort of negative repercussion for this company. If nothing else, the company now has to live with a tarnished reputation. It’s hard to imagine that customers will be pleased about this error. And some may now be questioning whether they want to continue doing business with this organization.

So, what could have been done to prevent this situation? It comes down to being careful. This was a simple mistake that was not caught, and wound up leading to a data breach.

Here are some tips as to how you can avoid this issue:

Use experienced agents: Always make sure that the people who are managing your day-to-day customer needs are experienced and of the highest quality. Simply put, hire agents that know what they are doing and will be less likely to make small and careless mistakes.

Have employees double check their work: Encourage your contact center employees to work smarter, not faster. Rather than rush to complete a task and hit quota, have them slow down and double check their work. Asking employees to think through problems rather than rush them or dash them off could go a long way in preventing costly errors.

Avoid using email lists for sensitive requests: If possible, avoid asking to verify identities using an outdated or inefficient platform like email. Instead, ask customers to securely log into your website and verify the data themselves. It’s much safer this way.

The Contact Center: A Critical Piece of the Customer Experience

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

In recent years, there has been a widespread awakening in the business world about the importance of the overall “customer experience.”

A problem, however, has been steadily growing.

While many companies have been working hard to improve service for their customers, a large number have fallen behind in their efforts. As a result, a customer experience performance gap has been created where some companies are offering great service, and others are not.

For consumers, this is resulting in fragmented experiences across different organizations. Now, when customers pick up their phones and try to reach support, they have no idea whether they will receive great or abysmal treatment from service representatives. As such, many people still dial customer service looking for a fight.

The good news is that it’s possible to close this performance gap. More business leaders simply need to recognize that the customer experience really matters, and that offering great experiences can pay dividends over time.

The hope is that over the next few years, great service will cease to be seen as a competitive differentiator and will emerge as a necessity for business growth.

So, how do you ensure strong customer experiences? First, you need to create the right customer service environment. And this is where it helps to have the services of a third party contact center services provider.

Here are some ways that contact centers can help ensure positive customer experiences:

Rapid response troubleshooting: Few things anger customers these days more than having to wait to resolve issues when they arise. Speedy issue resolution is critical for keeping customers happy. Contact center providers today offer advanced technologies for receiving incoming communications, processing them in a timely manner and resolving them. Conversely, companies that opt to keep their contact centers in house are more liable to get overloaded. And this can lead to slow response times and unhappy customers.

Real-time Communication: Most of the time, customers just want to be heard. Sometimes, they want to vent. Other times, they want to share ideas about how to improve products or services. Contact centers give customers an opportunity to connect with live agents and share information. They can be used to humanize a brand.

Compromise: No company wants to lose customers, and contact centers can be one of the most effective tools for retaining them. For example, imagine a customer gets let down by not receiving a shipment on time. Contact centers can staff certain specialty agents to listen to customer complaints and work with them to find resolutions. So contact centers can provide a level of flexibility that can be instrumental in retaining customers.

 

 

 

TCPA Violations Could Come Back to Bite You

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Many companies today are still not getting the message about the dangers of automated calling. The common belief is that automated calls — even illegal ones — can be swept under the rug and forgotten about, so to speak. It seems to be a game for certain organizations as to how many calls can be made without running into any Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) violations.

The TCPA, in case you are unfamiliar with the term, is a set of rules and regulations that limits how automatic dialing systems, SMS text messages, faxes and prerecorded messages can be used to contact customers.

Here’s the thing, to remember: Haphazardly experimenting with automated, or “robo” calls is a bit like playing with fire. If you anger enough customers, you can rest assured that there will be consequences. Your company may wind up facing a large class action lawsuit. And sometimes, the lawsuit could take place years down the road — years, even, after the people who originally sanctioned the calls have moved onto other organizations.

One marketing agency, for instance, is now in hot water for making automated phone calls on behalf of multiple cruise lines. The company is now facing scrutiny for calls that were made between 2009 and 2014.

As it turns out, a class action suit was filed in 2012 claiming that the company’s calls were in violation of the TCPA. While the company claims individuals offered consent to receive calls, the company that sold contact information to them argues that the data was purchased from a broker.

Just recently, a federal judge offered preliminary approval for a class action settlement. Now, the company—and the major cruise lines it represents—will have to set up a fund of between $7 million and $12.5 million to pay people who received the calls.

To receive compensation, customers simply have to run their number through a database to see if they were contacted during the specific time period of the violation. Customers can receive up to $300 for each call that was received. The maximum payout is $900 per person.

So let this be a lesson:

If you are thinking about engaging in automated calling, you need to be very careful along every step of the way. The TCPA law is very complex, and it’s full of tiny details that you may overlook. So before you make any executive decisions about automated calling initiatives, it’s critical that you run your ideas by a team of legal experts to make sure you are in compliance.

For this reason, it’s very helpful to hire a third party business processing outsourcer offering a team of in-house legal experts. With the help of an in-house legal team, you can eliminate guesswork during outbound marketing campaigns and go to market faster, and with more confidence.  Choose to go it alone, and you could face stiff penalties down the road — as well as a tarnished business reputation.

 

Three Creative Ways to Engage With Your Customers

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

At this point it’s no secret that customer engagement is critical for business retention and growth. According to one study, companies with the strongest omnichannel engagement strategies retain about 89 percent of their customers while companies with weak strategies only retain 33 percent.

It’s one thing to recognize the need for customer engagement, though, and another thing to execute it effectively. Many marketing departments today are trying very hard to encourage dialogue with their customers, but a large number are failing in their efforts. Engagement needs to be done very carefully in order to invoke valuable responses from customers.

Is your team struggling to engage with customers? It’s time to start thinking outside of the box. Here are three strategies you can try to encourage customer engagement:

Expand your horizons: Some companies today are rather limited in terms of the subject material they have to talk about online. That’s because certain industries simply have little industry news, and products that are pretty self-explanatory.

Engagement for companies in this situation, however, is not impossible. It just requires taking a different focus. One company that does this very well is The North Face, makers of outdoor athletic gear. Instead of talking about their industry or their own products, the company’s blog highlights all of the amazing professionals who are using North Face gear in the wild. There are stories and interviews with mountaineers, snowboarders and even conservationists. The content is interesting and highly sharable online.

Value customer input: When you think of customer engagement, your first thought may be Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. Understand, though, that customer engagement needs to extend beyond social media.

One of the best places to engage customers is over the phone, with the help of a dedicated contact center. Give customers direct access to support specialists, technicians and even managers. Provide direct opportunities for feedback and suggestions. Then, show customers how you are taking their input seriously. In doing so, you will make customers feel like they are part of your team. And in response, they will be much more likely to reward your company with brand loyalty.

Host a webinar: Take customer engagement to the next level by hosting an online webinar where you zero in on an important subject and provide a comprehensive educational experience. You could offer commentary from your own team members, outside industry experts and even customers who are using your products on a daily basis. A webinar is an excellent way to attract new customers, retain current ones and penetrate new markets.

While it may take some effort to engage with your customers, it certainly won’t be impossible to get them to interact with your team members. The more you do it, the more interest you will generate in your products and services.

 

62 Billion Reasons to Make Customer Service a Priority in Your Budget

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Customer service continues to be one of the most widely-discussed topics in business today. It’s talked about endlessly on LinkedIn. It’s been the subject of countless keynote addresses. And it’s discussed daily in board rooms around the world.

Many people, however, are still wondering why customer service is so important. They know they need customer service, but they are still struggling to understand why they have to play the game and keep customers happy. After all, the “customer first” attitude is still a relatively new phenomenon. A few decades ago, before the advent of the Internet and social media, companies took a much different approach to customer service.

Now, there are many ways to approach this question. I’m going to tackle it from a purely financial standpoint:

Poor customer service can cost your organization a lot of money. End of story.

In fact, according to one recent report, businesses are losing a total of $62 billion per year through poor customer service. And this figure is increasing annually.

This is because we are living in an ultra-connected era, where customers have endless options at their fingertips. If a company fails to meet a customer’s expectations, all that customer has to do is take to Google and consult with a competitor. There are endless options available to browse. And as the above figure shows, customers are not afraid to shop elsewhere when they are let down with poor customer service.

Here are two more telling statistics about the importance of providing great customer service:

  • 86 percent of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience by 2020.
  • By 2020, the customer experience will surpass product and price as they key brand differentiator.

So, what can your business do if it’s falling behind in its customer service efforts? Understand that strong customer service starts and ends with a reliable contact center. So if your customer service department is failing to perform up to expected standards, it may be time to consult with a third party business process outsourcing provider who can streamline the process for you and help you generate the profits your company is capable of producing.

Contact center operations, in other words, can be outsourced in the same fashion that you would with any other business solution. A company like InfoCision, for instance, will offer cutting-edge, hosted infrastructure, high quality — and experienced — Customer Communicators and a data-driven approach to marketing. Altogether, you will save money by outsourcing while also gaining all of the pieces you need to provide amazing inbound and outbound interactions.