Why You Should Be Selective About the Agents You Are Hiring

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Art critic John Ruskin once stated that “quality is never an accident, it is always the result of an intelligent effort.”

The same thing can be said about contact centers. High quality customer service is never an accident, either. It takes a great deal of research, planning, communication and hard work to achieve success.

Hiring, for instance, is one task where it pays to take your time and be selective about your decisions. Customer service agents, after all, have a great responsibility to keep customers satisfied and making repeat purchases or donations. Also, agents are often the first touchpoint for customers when interacting with a company. First impressions are important, and can go a long way in determining how a customer feels about a company. The agents you hire will literally be the voice of your brand.

Here are some things to consider when hiring agents:

Attitude is important: You want to fill your contact center with agents who are positive, friendly and enthusiastic. Look for agents that you think will be able to show up every day genuinely happy to help customers. As you interview a candidate, pay attention to how they are able to carry on in conversation. Ask yourself if the person you are talking to is someone you would want to be interacting with your customers.

Are they hungry? For outbound communications, it’s essential to fill your contact center with team members who are hungry to drive sales and keep donors happy. Such roles should be filled with agents that have consistent track records of proven success, and a can-do attitude to grow the business and achieve amazing results. What’s more, hard-working and highly-driven individuals are great for team morale. They make others work harder, and inspire them to be better.

Teamwork is important: Many questions will arise over the course of a business day that go beyond the scope of the customer service agents and need to be escalated. It’s therefore critical to staff your contact center with people who aren’t afraid to ask questions and rely on their team members. Agents tend to run into problems when they attempt to solve complicated problems on their own, and wind up making promises they cannot deliver.

Contact center hiring can be a time-consuming process. It’s something that you and your managers simply may not have the time for. It’s for this reason why so many businesses today are outsourcing their contact center operations to third party contact center solutions providers. Outsourcing your contact center is a great way to get the high quality service that you want, at an affordable price.


It’s National Cybersecurity Month: Is Your Contact Center Vulnerable?

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

October is National Cybersecurity Awareness month here in the U.S., and it couldn’t come soon enough. Cyberthreats are rapidly increasing in both volume and sophistication, and the vast majority of organizations are unprepared to handle them. In a recent study, more than half of U.S. businesses claim they have experienced a cyberattack in the last year.

Now, you may think that cybercrime is a problem for the IT department. But make no mistake about it: Cybercrime is now an organizational concern. Every employee, regardless of his or her role, needs to be educated about the current cyberthreat landscape in order to effectively detect and defend against incoming attacks.

The contact center, in fact, is now one of the most heavily targeted areas of the enterprise. That’s because it’s often an easy entry point for fraudsters who are looking to worm their way into corporate networks. It’s much simpler, in other words, to phish for information from a customer service representative or spoof someone’s identity than to use traditional hacking tools and strategies.

Here are some common cybersecurity weaknesses that contact center administrators need to be aware of:

Uneducated end users: The email inbox is typically one of the most common targets for cybercriminals, who use them infect end user accounts with malware and gain entry into corporate networks. This is especially problematic in the contact center, where agents often communicate directly with customers — transmitting documents, and opening attachments. Employees need to be taught to recognize and stay away from suspicious-looking emails, as well as fake phone calls and text messages.

Internal threats: Contact centers are also at high risk for inside data breaches, from malevolent contact center agents who have access to sensitive data. This problem is especially hard to stop in large contact centers, where there it’s difficult to monitor agents and make sure they are following the rules. It’s important to protect databases with strong access controls, in order to prevent customer service agents from abusing their privileges and stealing data or selling network access information for their personal gain. It’s very important to do this with remote agents, especially when they operate from other countries.

Synthetic identity theft: Cybercriminals are now using stolen data from different individuals and using it to literally create new customer identities. This practice, which is often referred to as synthetic identity theft, has gotten much worse after the recent Equifax data breach which exposed the records of 143 million U.S. consumers. Last year, it is estimated that synthetic identity theft may have cost financial institutions more than $6 billion. Customer service agents need to be informed about this practice, so they know how to stop a fraudulent transaction when they suspect it.

Highlights from the 2017 Customer Experience Index Study

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

In case you missed it, IBM recently released the results of its “2017 Customer Experience Index Study,” a report which provides a nice overview of how companies across multiple industries are keeping up with rising consumer expectations.

As it turns out, there is still quite a bit of work that needs to be done before we reach a state where amazing customer service is ubiquitous across all companies. Right now, there is still a major customer service “gap” where some companies are excelling, and others are falling behind.

The study, for instance — which surveyed more than 500 organizations — is that brands need to work harder to satisfy their customers. Companies, in other words, can no longer get by offering subpar or even basic customer service. Now they need to go above and beyond to meet their needs.

The study outlined several specific areas that are in need of improvement. For example, companies today are struggling to personalize their omnichannel shopping experiences. And only 19 percent of companies are offering more than a basic level of personalization across the online shopping experience. This one is important, as more and more customers today are shopping for products online and expect a flawless process. They also need immediate access to service representatives in live chat boxes and on social media.

Mobile is another area that is in sore need of improvement. Consumers now prefer using mobile for customer support, yet 38 percent of brands are providing either a poor mobile experience or none at all. And just 31 percent of brands now allow customers to manage and access their accounts over a mobile app which is very low. Every company should seriously consider using an app to communicate with their customers and enable online shopping.

What’s more, the report also touched on how companies are handing social media. 76 percent of brands are offering a social media experience rated “good” or “better” and 71 percent of brands are active across four or more social channels. 45 percent of brands, however, took 24 hours to respond to customer inquiries — or they didn’t respond at all.

What’s the best way for companies to improve their customer service offerings? The answer, of course, is to work with a third party contact center solutions provider. It’s a way of gaining access to all of the latest contact center technologies as well as the best possible agents. And it’s far easier than maintaining your own facility.

By outsourcing to a contact center solutions provider, you and your colleagues can put your time and energy into other pressing matters, like growing your business, knowing that your contact center is in good hands.

Beware: TCPA Litigation is Growing

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

We see this problem occur time and again: In an effort to drive sales and improve brand awareness, companies increase their outbound communication efforts. Along the way, they wind up going too far and illegally reaching out to consumers who do not give expressed consent to be contacted.

When this happens, it’s a direct violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), a complex set of rules and regulations that govern exactly how companies are allowed to communicate with consumers. First passed into law in 1991, the TCPA restricts the use of automated dialing systems, short message service (SMS)-based text messages, faxes and prerecorded voice messages.

Two major TCPA rules, for instance, prohibit actions like contacting consumers after 9 p.m. or people who are listed in the National Do Not Call Registry. As you can see, these two violations could be easily overlooked by people who are unfamiliar with the law.

What can happen if you violate the TCPA? First and foremost, it can anger customers and tarnish your brand’s reputation. There are also strict financial penalties to be aware of, too. A consumer, for instance, can sue your organization for each TCPA violation, or to recover financial loss stemming from a TCPA violation. Oftentimes, customers will band together and fire back against companies with major class action lawsuits following TCPA violations.

This recently happened to a major cruise line, which now must pay out settlements of up to $900 to customers who were contacted by the company.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can fly under the radar and avoid a TCPA violation, either. Consumers are quick to report possible TCPA violations, and are doing so more than ever. According to a new study, there has been a major uptick in TPCA violations since 2015. In fact, TCPA violations have increased by a whopping 50 percent since this time.

The study, TCPA Litigation Sprawl, revealed that there has been 3,121 TCPA cases between August 1, 2015 and December 31, 2016. And more than 1,000 of these cases are nationwide class action lawsuits seeking tens of millions, or even billions of dollars in compensation. Companies have been affected across more than 40 different industries.

The industries with the most lawsuits included the health, retail and education sectors. Combined, those sectors represented more than 20 percent of all defendants.

Businesses must therefore operate with extreme caution when reaching out to consumers with offers and promotions. Oftentimes, organizations get into trouble when they do not understand TCPA law well. As such, it’s very beneficial to have access to an onsite legal team who can offer advice and recommendations during outbound marketing campaigns.

It makes much more sense to partner with a third party contact center solutions provider offering onsite legal services.


What is Customer Journey Mapping?

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

The hope is that when a customer buys a product, he or she will continue doing it well into the future. After all, over the course of a lifetime, a single customer could conceivably wind up spending a significant amount of money with an organization — that is, assuming they continue to have positive experiences.

Customer retention, however, is never guaranteed. This is especially true in today’s ultra-connected marketplace, where customers have easy access to competitors. It often takes hard work on the part of the contact center to keep them coming back and making purchases again and again. Account-related issues like billing need to be dealt with promptly and professionally; Customers need to feel like their feedback is understood; and personalization needs to be used to make them feel appreciated.

Perhaps most importantly, there needs to be a system in place to track customer engagement and manage their needs. Without this structure, customers are bound to get lost in the shuffle — and swooped up by competitors.

The management system I am talking about to is often referred to as customer journey mapping, a process which involves laying out all of the different touchpoints that customers go through when engaging with your company. The customer journey starts the first time the customer interacts with the brand, and continues throughout their whole lifetime.

Customer journey mapping, in other words, is a long-term strategy. There may be breaks in the journey, where a customer explores competitors or stops doing business with you for awhile, but with a sound customer journey map in place you can ensure that whenever they do come back you will have a clear sense of the products they have purchased, passed issues they have had, and their likely current expectations.

Of course, the trick is to foster brand loyalty early on and eliminate these gaps in service. And this can only be done by being diligent about collecting data, taking notes and reviewing them during each and every customer interaction.

Remember that customer service is not magic. It’s all about being an active listener, and applying the insight that you glean from customer interactions. Customers will often tell you, very explicitly, how they feel about your company as well as what they need to keep doing business with your brand.

As you can see, customer journey mapping is no small effort. It’s also much harder in large-scale contact centers, where hundreds or even thousands of agents interact with the same data. In our experience, we have found that customer journey mapping is most effectively done by small teams of agents who can put extra effort into the process and provide the necessary oversight for high quality customer service.

No Contact Center Should Be Carved in Stone

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Think about how much the average consumer has changed over the last decade or so. Now the vast majority of your customers are using technologies like smartphones, home automation systems and even connected cars on a regular basis. They have all become commonplace.

Unfortunately, many contact centers aren’t keeping up with the pace of change and are still operating like it’s 2007. Contact centers tend to move at a much slower pace when it comes to adopting new systems and technologies, which puts them at a disadvantage when interacting with customers who are lightyears ahead of them. This is often due to tight or shrinking budgets, and an unwillingness to change on the part of company decision makers.

Suffice to say, no contact center should be carved in stone. After all, the contact center is often the first touchpoint that a customer has with an organization and if it’s not working up to speed it could reflect negatively on the business as a whole.

Here are some of the things you will find in a modern contact center:

Actionable data: This is one of the most important things you should be using today. Think of data like a roadmap that can help you understand the habits, trends and needs of your customers. Through data, you can learn things like which technologies your customers are using, which social channels you should be active on and more. Data should be actively collected, analyzed and shared with team members in a customer relationship management (CRM) system.

Flexible scripting: We’re living in a real-time world, where everything is connected and customers are constantly informed about the latest issues. Businesses need to take this same approach with their interactive voice response systems, too — updating their scripts as needed to address customer needs. For instance, imagine your company gets hit with a data breach. Naturally, there will be large volumes of callers. So you would need to post a new script on your IVR system greeting them and directing them immediately to the right location.

Omnichannel support: Customers often like to move around different devices and channels when shopping. For instance, a customer may start on a desktop, and visit a website. Then, the customer may switch to a social channel before picking up the phone and loading a mobile application. While most companies today offer customer service across all of these different channels, many still keep them siloed from one another which creates fragmented customer experiences. In an omnichannel environment, though, a customer can open a support conversation on one channel and migrate to another as needed without losing the agent in the process.

Security Alert: Beware of Fake Customer Service Agents

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

If there is one thing we cannot stress enough, it’s the importance of staying informed about the ever-changing threat landscape. Businesses and consumers today are under constant attack from a variety of new and dangerous challenges, ranging from cybercrime to telephone fraud.  If you’re not informed about the latest threats, you could wind up getting blindsided.

One new threat that you need to be aware of, for instance, is a scam where fraudsters are pretending to be support technicians in attempt to steal sensitive customer data. In some cases, fraudsters are taking to social media sites and joining conversations about products and services while offering links to fake websites and fake telephone numbers.

Motherboard recently published an article explaining how this is happening on Twitter. The author claimed she was following a conversation about Apple’s password management system, iCloud Keychain, but when she clicked on an associated hashtag it brought her to several  dozen accounts that could be confused for Apple tech support.

What’s interesting is that the fraudsters were not just pretending to be from Apple, but from a variety of companies. They were offering support for services like YouTube and Adobe Flash Player as well.

This is a frightening development, as it shows how scammers are getting increasingly sophisticated in their efforts to steal consumer information. Even worse, some of the accounts that were revealed on Twitter dated back to February of this year. So this has been happening for a few months now.

Understand that this could be happening to your organization. There could be fake agents out there, pretending to be your own contact center representatives and trying to steal your customers’ data.

Unfortunately, there is little that you can do to shut these services down. As with most cyberthreats, it’s essentially pointless to go after the fraudsters themselves. Many, after all, operate from overseas and therefore are impossible to catch or punish.

What you can do, though, is to inform your customers to be on the lookout for scams. Consider posting a notification on your website or blog, or sending letters informing your customers about this threat. Customers will appreciate the notification, and you may prevent some from accidentally clicking on a harmful link or calling a phony number.


Tips for Managing Customer Expectations

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

One of the hardest parts about customer service is the fact that you and your team can do just about everything right, and yet you will still have some customers who will be unhappy with your products or services.

Understand, though, that every customer is important to your organization. For this reason, it’s important to have a strategy in place to manage customer expectations. A customer service department must strive to create an environment that is fair, flexible and empathetic to customer needs.

Here are some things you can do to manage customer expectations more effectively:

Always communicate clearly: Customers get upset when they are told one thing, and then receive something completely different. Oftentimes, this happens due to a miscommunication during an interaction. For this reason, it’s important that agents avoid rushing when engaging with customers, and always speak loudly and clearly with them — especially when discussing deliverables, terms and conditions. An interaction should not end if a customer sounds confused or irritated.

Never over-promise: Customer service agents and sales representatives get into trouble when they make promises that cannot be delivered. When this happens, it typically either results in the company having to admit to an error in the customer’s favor, or let the customer down. Both are unfavorable outcomes. It’s always better to be honest with a customer upfront when you cannot meet their needs, instead of leading them on to appease them during a call and dealing with the consequences later. Customers hate being lied to above all else.

Anticipate customers’ needs: Sometimes, the easiest way to deal with a demanding customer is to be proactive about engaging with him or her. This can be done by collecting customer data during an interaction, analyzing it, and determining an appropriate plan as a team. By forming an engagement strategy, teams can have a system in place so that when a demanding customer contacts the organization, everyone is aware of who they are dealing with and what they need to do to keep them happy.

Outsource contact center operations: Small teams often struggle to deal with demanding customers, especially when they don’t have a dedicated contact center to resolve customer issues. When you have to juggle multiple hats on a daily basis, answering phones and responding to email can be enough to put you over the edge. Businesses in this situation are strongly encouraged to outsource customer service operations to a dedicated contact center solutions provider. It’s an easier, and more cost-effective way to manage customer needs.


Where Are Your Customer Service Blind Spots?

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff  

One of the big downsides to managing a contact center is that it’s tough to see the forest from the trees, so to speak. In other words, when you are caught up in the day-to-day needs of your department it’s possible to overlook gaping holes in your customer service strategy.

Over the years, we have consulted with many customers who think their contact centers are performing at high levels when they are actually riddled with inconsistencies and performance issues. Oftentimes, customers are surprised when we uncover areas that could be drastically improved.

So, now is a great time to think about where your customers service “blind spots” are located. Is there anything that you could be doing better?

Here are some common examples to help get you thinking:

Identifying opportunities: Brands that fail to collect, process and utilize data also fail to capitalize on unique opportunities that could lead to upselling. For instance, a customer could express interest during a call in a particular solution that is not available to purchase yet. But unless an agent records a memo and makes it a point for someone to follow up in due time, that sale could fall by the wayside — to the detriment of both the company, and the customer. Therefore, it’s very important to be active about data management, ensuring that information is collected and stored during each and every customer interaction.

Fraud: This is a problem that is bad and getting worse, especially following the recent Equifax data breach which resulted in the personally identifiable information of millions of customers leaking into the general public. Experts, it should be noted, are now warning about a new type of fraud impacting businesses called synthetic identity fraud, which involves piecing together stolen data points from multiple consumers to form new identities. Making matters worse, there are many businesses that lack the proper security technologies and expertise for identifying and eliminating fraud. These businesses will have a very difficult time in the coming months as fraud continues to proliferate.

Agent performance: Agent performance is consistently one of the biggest customer service blind spots. This happens for a few reasons. First and foremost, most contact centers are too big to watch over each and every agent. Large scale contact centers typically have a very difficult time monitoring customer interactions and making sure that agents are performing up to expected standards and following company protocol at all times. What’s more, many contact centers are not using the right technologies for monitoring and tracking agent behavior.

Angry Customers are Often Right

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff  

One of the hardest realities to face in the customer service industry is that even if you do everything right, there will always be unhappy customers that require extra attention. You just can’t please everyone all the time, no matter how hard you try. This is the nature of business.

If you think about it, though, angry customers can be highly valuable to your organization. After all, angry customers typically have a lot to say. And oftentimes, they are right. Businesses that take the time to listen to their customers stand to learn a great deal of information that can be used to create products and services that are more in line with consumers’ needs.

Let’s consider some of the top reasons why customers get mad:

Poor user experiences: When customers are dissatisfied with the products or services they pay for, they often reach for the telephone and attempt to contact the company to voice their complaints. And they do not typically hold back their emotions, or ideas.

What’s the best way to deal with this challenge? First, understand that there may be no way of calming the customer down. The customer may use profanity, or go on a long rant. The agent, in this situation, should remain calm and let the customer finish his or her thoughts. Then, when the opportunity presents itself, the agent should give the customer his or her complete and undivided attention. The agent should then sympathize with the customer, and record the complaint. Then, the agent should let the customer know that the company is committed to resolving the issue. The note should be saved, and taken into consideration by the organization’s research and development team to see if there is a legitimate way of resolving it. And then, the team should reach out to thank the customer for their feedback and ask for their continued support. This will let the customer know their opinion is highly valued.

Dropped calls: One of the biggest reasons why customers get angry while waiting on the phone for an agent is that they get passed along from agent to agent, and eventually dropped —forcing them to dial in again and wait for another representative to answer the phone. When this happens, a process that should take 15 minutes could easily take a half an hour or longer.

The lesson here is that businesses need reliable and efficient phone systems, and they should never be passed along unnecessarily between agents. If this is happening in your organization action needs to be taken to improve the system.

Billing disputes: This is one of the hardest challenges to handle over the phone, mainly because billing is typically an issue that is beyond an agent’s control. In some situations, managers can empower agents to work with customers and award perks or benefits; but billing is much harder to handle and needs to be treated with the utmost sensitivity. Again, though, a customer could be right about a billing dispute and so the receiving agent needs to hear the complaint and look for ways of escalating it for higher-ups to consider.