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.

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.

 

Tesla Announces Exciting New Customer Service Initiative

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Imagine a customer buys a product and is truly unsatisfied with it — enough to pick up the phone and sound off to a customer service representative about the issue.

In most companies today, that’s about as far as the customer would get.

Customer service, in other words, typically ends in the contact center. A customer may, if he or she is lucky, get an opportunity to speak with a contact center manager or possibly a director when their attention is needed. But in a large enterprise, it’s pretty rare that a customer will get to communicate with a company executive directly with a concern or even a suggestion.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s typically done for a reason, which is to protect company executives from getting too caught in the weeds with daily customer service issues. There are simply too many other things to worry about while running a company. It’s a matter of time management and efficiency.

At Tesla, though, this traditional approach to customer service is changing. And it could have far-reaching customer service implications.

In a groundbreaking announcement, Tesla has revealed plans to allow customers to escalate issues all the way up to company executives. It won’t require much effort, either. Customers will simply have to log into their online accounts and click a button to complete the task.

If the decision is successful, it could help to reduce public-facing complaints. Tesla is banking on the fact that customers will first attempt to resolve their issues internally, rather than air out their complaints online.

That’s a big “if” though, as there are bound to be some challenges that pop up along the way. For instance, the company could run into a bandwidth issue as it is now in the process of trying to scale. To date, Tesla has shipped 250,000 vehicles and hopes to scale to 400,000 shipments over the next year. So it will be interesting to see whether Tesla will be able to keep up with this strategy as more cars are released and more issues arise. The hope is that customers will not abuse the system, but rather will treat it responsibly.

Regardless of how the decision pans out, Tesla should be applauded for this bold customer service initiative. The decision shows that Tesla is making customer service a top priority.  And it’s hard to imagine any customer complaining about the ability to take their ideas and suggestions to high-ranking company officials. It’s a decision that could be a powerful deal-breaker for certain customers who prefer high-touch treatment.

Business leaders should take this as an opportunity to assess their overall customer service strategies, and look for similar ways of using it to differentiate their services.

How to Make Your Donor Outreach Program Soar

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

The economy has soared to new heights in 2017, and charitable contributions have followed suit. According to Giving USA’s annual philanthropy report, individual donations are poised to climb 4 percent to a staggering $390 billion this year.

But just because Americans are feeling generous this year, contact center leaders are in no position to rest on their laurels when it comes to engaging through donor outreach programs. You must work tirelessly and continuously to ensure that you can keep acquiring new donors, grow your network and offer an experience that will keep your organization front-of-mind all year long.

So what steps should your organization take to make your donor outreach program take flight? Adhere to the following three best practices and you’ll be well on your way:

What you do between campaigns is equally important:

Successful fundraising campaigns don’t just fall into place on the day of the event. It isn’t even about the weeks or months that you put into the planning of the event. Rather, think of your donor outreach program as an ongoing process that requires constant maintenance. If the only time your donors hear from you is when you need something, they’ll be less inclined to give. Instead, your program must consider the entire lifecycle of the relationship you have with your donors. The more engaged throughout the year, the more ingratiated they will be to your cause.

 Identify pain points through data analytics:

 Every outreach and every relationship tells a story with data. The more data you have, the more you’ll understand your donors. And the more you understand your donors, the easier time you’ll have identifying ways to encourage donations for your cause in the future. Don’t begin planning a new fundraiser or event until you’ve taken the time to analyze data from previous campaigns, so you can figure out how to avoid duplicating costly mistakes.

 Balancing inbound and outbound strategies:

 For many organizations, it can be difficult to handle a spike of inbound call volume and then pivot seamlessly to outbound calling. Leveraging a high-efficiency call blending system, or supplementing your representatives with outsourced assistance, can optimize your workforce to run a more comprehensive, consistent and cost-effective campaign.

 

 

Is Your Contact Center In Compliance with Local and Federal Regulations?

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Earlier this year, a leading website domain operator was hit with a class action lawsuit when a consumer claimed that the company sent him unsolicited advertisements via text message.

The plaintiff is now arguing that the operator violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) — a complex law established by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that regulates how companies are allowed to communicate with consumers about products and offerings.

The operator admitted that the text messages in question originated from a third party marketing agency that the company hired to manage an outbound texting campaign. As of right now, the case is still unsettled but I wanted to weigh in on it because there is an important lesson to be learned for customer service administrators, regardless of who wins:

Companies today need to be very, very careful with outbound communications because consumers have little tolerance for practices that seem overly-aggressive, intrusive or “spammy.”

As this case demonstrates, some consumers are actively looking for opportunities to penalize companies for behavior they deem to be inappropriate.

What’s more, the TCPA is just one of a long list of regulations — state and federal — that you need to be aware of. For instance, there are state-specific Do Not Call lists as well as state-specific requirements for things processes like monitoring and recording authorization, among others. At the same time, there are certain exemptions that you can capitalize on.

Of course, some companies regularly experience class action lawsuits from their customer outreach campaigns and treat them as little more than a drop in the bucket. But this is not the right approach. In addition to being expensive, class action lawsuits can be very damaging to a brand, and they can alienate customers and shareholders. And for a small to medium-sized business (SMBs) that lacks the financial resources of a large enterprise, the damage resulting from financial penalties, court fees and lost customers could be disastrous.

With this in mind, stop and consider who is overseeing your business’s outbound campaigns. How much experience do your internal sales and marketing managers, or your business’s outbound contact center solutions provider, have in dealing with the underlying legal complexities that you are facing?

At InfoCision, we understand that outbound communications can be very complicated. But it’s also an important aspect of business growth. For this reason, we provide our customers with direct access to a team of experienced legal professionals who work tirelessly to ensure that all campaigns operate in strict accordance with state and federal telecommunications laws.

These legal experts empower our customers to confidently — yet conservatively — reach out to consumers when they need to. Our legal professionals are second to none.

To learn more about our legal & compliance expertise, contact InfoCision today.

The Impact of Speech Analytics in the Contact Center

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Speech analytics is a powerful tool for improving customer service. It turns every phone call into a valuable source of customer data. Collectively, it provides a holistic view of the thoughts, feelings and desires of a company’s customer base. Contact center managers can use insights gained to improve performance metrics, better and more quickly handle customer issues, and even make changes to existing products that can boost sales. In short, the technology gives users a competitive advantage over non-users.

So, what is speech analytics? In a nutshell, it’s the process of analyzing recorded calls to identify words and detect emotions. In the contact center, speech recognition software is used to quickly identify the calls that need attention. It then communicates information about these calls to the customer care Communicator, who is then in a much better position to handle the issue. This often shortens issue resolution time and call duration.

A reduction in average handle time improves service and can even increase company profits.

Since its introduction in 2003, the scope of speech analytics, which was originally called audio-mining, has evolved to amplify the voice of the customer beyond what could be gleaned from representative samplings. The tool evaluates 100 percent of calls, and has the ability to amass, organize and evaluate large amounts of unstructured data available through customer interactions.

With a big picture perspective, managers can more easily recognize trends in customer interests and needs. They can leverage the information gained to develop new products and/or enhance existing ones, ultimately driving sales.

Managers can also use speech analytics to ensure compliance with many regulatory and consumer protection requirements. It can even work to increase revenues when used for debt collection.

In addition, the technology ramps up quality assurance with real-time monitoring of agent engagement and script compliance. It can gauge the effectiveness of greetings and closings, and isolate words, phrases or tone of voice that signal customer dissatisfaction—while there is still time to save the relationship.

Consider speech analytics for your contact center if you would benefit from a better understanding of why your customers call in. The technology will give you greater knowledge about key behaviors on the parts of your Communicators and customers. This will help you pinpoint coaching or training opportunities for the former, and acquisition, retention and upsell opportunities for the latter. What’s more, the technology will give you greater insight into the customer sentiments that most impact your customer relationships.

Speech analytics can turn the contact center into a fountain of information for the whole business. Its applications are growing, and it is positioned to become an indispensable industry tool.