How Customer Preferences Are Changing

Over the last several years the main message in the customer service space has been that consumer preferences are changing, and businesses have no choice but to respond. But what exactly does this mean?

The digital revolution has completely changed the customer journey. Now, customers expect a shopping experience that is completely seamless and efficient across all levels. Customers today are used to high-speed digital interactions and they want to receive the same treatment in the contact center when attempting to resolve issues.

Perhaps the most notable change that we are observing among consumers is the reduced usage of traditional communications channels when attempting to resolve issues. According to a recent study, customer interactions with legacy channels like the phone and email have declined by as much as 7 percent over the last two years. Now, customers are seeking channels that are more automated. In 2015, voice was used in 51 percent of customer service interactions; in 2016, it fell to 45 percent; and last year, it dipped to just 41 percent.

It should be noted that as legacy voice and email systems continue to decline in popularity, consumers are becoming increasingly comfortable relying on service via automated channels. At least 49 percent of consumers now contact customer service using automated channels and 59 percent of consumers would rather go through additional channels than use their voice to communicate.

This is happening because companies aren’t offering optimized voice and email channels. A lack of effectiveness is the main source of consumer frustration with traditional customer service.

That is not to say you should abandon your legacy communications systems. It’s hard to imagine that we will reach a point where consumers completely abandon either voice or email in favor of self-service portals and IVR systems. After all, there will always be problems that are better solved over a two-way chat or email correspondence than through a self-service portal. And many customers prefer to speak with a live representative when solving routine tasks like suspending account access or reversing a charge.

Companies are strongly encouraged to strike a balance by offering a mix of reliable and high quality communications solutions. Customers should have the option to pick up the phone and call, or send an email to solve a problem. At the same time, they should be able to go online or into an app to solve a routine problem. Give customers a wide range of options, and let them select the channels that work best for them.

Just remember: Customer preferences are changing. And if you ignore them, your business could get left behind.

What Type of Customer Service Environment Do You Have?

One of the downsides to working as a customer service executive is that it’s very easy to form a bias about your organization because you only see it from the inside. Many people put on blinders, and fail to truly understand what customers think about their contact centers.

The truth is that all contact centers have distinct personalities depending on how they are organized and managed. And as an executive, it’s important to understand how your customer service team is viewed.

A contact center, for instance, can be:

Friendly: In this type of environment, agents are advised to do everything in their power to keep customers feeling happy. Agents are assessed based on cheerfulness, enthusiasm and empathy. Contact centers that come across as friendly to customers stand a much better chance of generating strong customer service ratings, and positive reviews. The only downside to having a contact center that is overly-friendly is that customers will at times try to take advantage of agents. So it’s important to tell agents to be pleasant and happy, but also firm. You can be nice without being taken advantage of.

Aggressive: At the other end of the spectrum is the aggressive contact center, or one that values its bottom line over customer relations. In this type of environment, agents are instructed to be less friendly, and more aggressive in their pursuits to collect money, resolve issues quickly and process requests in a timely manner. Contact centers that come across as aggressive can also be seen as hostile. This can make customers upset, and cause them to seek out competitors. The cable and utility industries are notorious for having aggressive customer service strategies.

Creative: In this type of environment, agents are instructed to use creative thinking at strategic times to keep customers satisfied. Here is an example of how this may work: Imagine a customer stays at a hotel but cannot eat any of the snacks in the mini bar due to food allergies. After calling and complaining to the corporate customer service team, the contact center could arrange to have healthy snacks sent up to the room at no additional cost. This is the type of small, but highly-effective personal touch that goes a long way in driving customer loyalty. It’s also the type of thing that a customer may post on social media, where it could go viral.

So, what can you do to make sure your contact center is setting the right tone for your business? Round up your team and create a customer service task force. Have your team members figure out what is being said about your company online, and in the media. You may even want to have agents from this task force call in and perform anonymous spot checks. Then, come together as a team and discuss your findings.

You can also outsource your department to a third party contact center solutions provider that specializes in providing consistent, amazing customer service backed with a quality guarantee.

Ready to Change Your Contact Center Strategy?

It’s often said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. But in the contact center space, this can sometimes be standard practice. Many customer service administrators recognize that they need to make important changes, but they are afraid to disrupt operations and so they keep going through the motions year after year with little sign of improvement.

So the first step towards improving your contact center, therefore, is to accept the fact that your department needs to change. Once you make a clear goal to improve operations, you can then confidently do what is necessary to establish a stronger, leaner and more impactful department.

Take my advice: The fastest, safest and most affordable way to improve your contact center is to put your department into the hands of a trusted third party solutions provider.

Outsourcing to a full-service contact center solutions provider will give you access to high quality customer service agents that would otherwise be difficult to find, as well as premium and fully-managed infrastructure, data-driven strategy and a service level agreement-backed quality guarantee. By outsourcing your operations, you can reduce monthly costs and turn around your sales and marketing strategies almost overnight.

Other exciting benefits to outsourcing include:

  • Flexible interactive voice response (IVR): Many businesses today are using outdated and inefficient IVR systems that are error-prone and difficult to update. Contact center solutions providers specialize in providing managed IVR services along with flexible, custom call scripting.
  • Business continuity: Another great benefit to outsourcing your contact center is that you can establish business continuity, for seamless network failover during weather events. Third party contact centers are stored offsite, where they are safer from accidents.
  • Fewer headaches: Say goodbye to headaches like seasonal hiring, agent reviews and customer complaints. All of these issues will be managed for you.
  • Reduced strain on IT: Outsourcing your contact center will free your IT workers to focus on other pressing network-related issues.

Here is a word of caution as you go about this process: Try to change your contact center on your own, and you could risk making the wrong adjustments which would be detrimental to your organization. There are countless technologies to invest in, and strategies to embrace that can prove to be much more trouble than they are worth. This is not a task where it pays to guess. You have to use careful planning in order to get the results you are looking for.

How to Avoid Sluggish Winter Sales

At last, the busy shopping season is over. We made it through yet another holiday sales rush. But now, for some businesses, the real challenge begins: The post-holiday sales slowdown.

Sometimes, business can crawl to a standstill after the holidays as the long winter months set in and consumers try to rebound from the holidays by paying down their debts. This period typically lasts until Valentine’s Day, which is the first major shopping event of the year.

Is your business in danger of suffering from the post holiday sales slowdown? You don’t have to throw in the white flag for the first quarter. Here are some things you can try to boost profits in the coming weeks:

Capitalize on tax cuts: This year, many American businesses and consumers will be receiving bigger tax refunds. Keep this in mind for your winter marketing strategy, and consider offering deals to attract buyers to spending money with your organization.

Go mobile: Digitalization is a top trend that businesses will be experimenting with in 2018. Most businesses are doing this by creating mobile apps. Now, you don’t have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars or wait several months for an app to be made. If you have data, you can pump it into an app maker platform and make your own mobile solution. Apps make it faster and easier for customers to engage with your business.

Eliminate time waste: Round up the heads of each department, and make an effort to identify the biggest time-wasters. Encourage your team to eliminate time waste, in order to boost productivity and drive sales. Marketing and sales departments should look to automation to take over time-consuming tasks like updating contacts lists, sending marketing assets and scheduling meetings.

Overhaul your contact center: Use the slow winter season to outsource your contact center operations. By planning an outsourcing project now, you can have a new and improved system in place when sales pick back up again at a future date. Outsourcing to a third party contact center solutions provider is a guaranteed way to drive more profits and ensure customer satisfaction.

The Holidays Are Over…Now What?

Another holiday season has come and gone. Now, your company is back to work and staring down the year ahead.

What comes next? With so many things to do, it can be difficult to plot a course of action for 2018.

Here are some action-items that you should strive to tackle over the next few weeks:

Keep the momentum going: The holiday season may be over, but now is no time to slow down. Consider offering post-holiday sales, contests or giveaways to keep up with your competitors and drive further profits. Tax season is here, and consumers will be cashing in their checks and looking to spend them. During this time, it’s imperative that you have a fully-functioning and reliable contact center in place to engage with customers during the sales process.

Analyze your data: One of the most common issues that we hear today from business leaders is “Help! We have all of this data, and we don’t know what to do with it!” Many businesses, in other words, doubled down on their data collection efforts during this year’s holiday season but have no actionable plans for processing and utilizing the information. Instead of hiring a data scientist, which can be very expensive or putting your IT team to work digging through information you may want to consider outsourcing your data management needs. Many companies specialize in helping businesses to understand their information and maximize their return on investment.

Form a spring and summer strategy: Look ahead to the busy spring and summer month ahead. Do you have enough staff members? Are your technologies up to par? These are questions you should be asking right now.

Look for ways to cut your budget: As you plan for the future, look for some ways that you can slash costs in the coming months. This is especially important if you are managing a large contact center, with a great deal of overhead. If you are spending more than you are bringing in, you should seriously consider outsourcing to a third party contact center solutions provider.

Plan ahead for next year’s holiday rush: Finally, take a look back at the last few weeks. How did your team perform this holiday season? When analyzing your data, and reviewing conversations, you may find some areas that are in need of improvement. Again, this is where a contact center solutions provider can help. Instead of spending money on seasonal agents next year, outsource operations and focus on other priorities.

Review your cybersecurity: Even if you made it through the holidays unscathed by cybercrime, this is no time to slow down. Review your cybersecurity strategy with your IT team and your employees to make sure everyone is aligned with the most recent information. This could save you from a massive data breach.

What is an Omnichannel Contact Center?

“Omnichannel” engagement is now a top buzzword in customer service, and a term that every business leader should know heading into 2018.

Many people, however, are still in the dark about omnichannel engagement. What exactly is omnichannel, and why is it so important?

Omnichannel refers to a type of cross-channel system that provides a consistent shopping experience across all online, mobile, telephone and retail locations. For example, a customer may walk into a retail store, look at an item and then use his or her smartphone to conduct research before making a purchase. During the process, that customer may move in between the company’s website and application. He or she may also converse with a customer service agent via live chat or a retail employee.

The reason why so many businesses are implementing omnichannel strategies is because omnichannel has been proven to boost revenues. According to one study, companies that use omnichannel customer engagement strategies retain an average of 89 percent of their customers, compared to 33 percent of companies that have weak omnichannel engagement.

What’s more, an overwhelming 87 percent of customers think that brands need to do a better job of providing seamless experiences.

A strong omnichannel customer service strategy is one that is…

Data-driven: Data should be collected at every touch point in the customer journey — meaning every time a customer interacts with a brand either online or in person. This data must be processed, analyzed and shared in a centralized database. By using data, companies can create shopping experiences that are more personalized and targeted.

Completely seamless: Many businesses today have touchpoints that are highly-fragmented meaning there is little correlation between things like mobile applications, websites and retail stores. Omnichannel contact centers solve this by using real-time data sharing and analysis, strong inter-agent communication and high quality Web and network services. The end result is a shopping experience that is completely seamless, and capable of moving along with a customer across each channel without missing a beat.

Fully-functioning: Omnichannel environments are actually quite fragile, meaning they take a great deal of oversight and maintenance. If one point goes down, like a mobile app, it could negatively impact the shopping experience and cause customers to look elsewhere for answers. As such, many businesses are now outsourcing their omnichannel services to third party contact center solutions providers that have the resources in place to effectively manage them. Third party solutions providers offer top-of-the line infrastructure, experienced and well-trained agents and advanced reporting and analytics capabilities. It’s much easier, and more effective, to outsource your omnichannel service instead of trying to maintain it on your own. This is especially true for small teams that lack the budget to hire top-tier agents or maintain their own contact centers.

 

Three Hard-Hitting Customer Service Questions

As an executive, it’s your job to make the difficult decisions that will impact the future of your organization. Team members come to you looking for answers, and so it’s your job to know what buttons you should press, and when.

Sometimes, this can be very difficult — especially when difficult customer service questions arise that can have a major impact on your company’s bottom line.

With this in mind, here are some hot button issues in customer service that you should spend some time thinking about, so you can be prepared to handle them when they arise.

  1. Is it necessary to have a dedicated contact center? Let’s face it: Contact centers are expensive. There is no getting around it. When you factor in costs associated with staffing, overhead, technology investment and more, the expenses can really pile up. And if your department is costing more than it is bringing in, this is a problem.

As such, you may be wondering whether it’s necessary to have a contact center at all. Some companies, in other words, are now abandoning their contact centers in favor of fully-automated solutions. Ultimately, this is a bad idea. Take our advice. Self service is great for some processes, but it’s not a good idea to make it harder for customers to get in touch with representatives when they are needed. Customers should always have a direct channel to service representatives. When this goes away, they can get very upset — and take their business to competitors.

  1. How important is artificial intelligence (AI)? Right now, everyone in business is talking about the rise of AI. Heading into 2018, AI is one of the hottest technologies on the market. But does your business really need it?

The truth is that AI is something you should seriously consider. And it’s not that hard to obtain. Many companies are now offering AI-based platforms that streamline business processes like sales, marketing and customer service. AI can help automate your customer service operations, reducing time waste and driving stronger returns.  Plus, all of your competitors are most likely investing in it—so this is not something you should pass on in 2018.

  1. Should the C-suite take part in customer service strategizing? Is customer service something you should even be taking part in? Or should you leave it to other experts so that you can focus on more pressing priorities?

Think about how a general manager works in sports. Brian Cashman of the New York Yankees, for instance, does not get too involved in daily on-field issues concerning his players. He leaves this up to his coaching staff. Still, he is heavily involved in planning and strategizing at a higher level.

You can take this same approach by outsourcing your department to a third party contact center solutions provider. In this type of environment, you can still remain active and take part in strategizing, without having to get too wrapped up in making sure your customers are satisfied and the department is operating correctly.

 

The Fastest Way to Improve Your Customer Service Department

You were recently put on notice to reduce costs and improve key performance metrics in your contact center. And now, you are scratching your head and wondering where to start.

As I am sure you are already aware, this is not an easy process. And the larger the contact center, the harder it can be to make changes that will yield significant results. There are simply too many people, too much equipment and too many customers to worry about.

What’s more, if you make the wrong decision while downsizing your contact center, you could upset your department and negatively impact critical customer-facing operations. For instance, if you lay off 20 or so workers, it will mean 20 fewer customer service agents that will be on hand to assist callers and resolve issues. Your phone lines will jam up, which will lead to longer hold times and higher telecommunications bills.

Here at InfoCision, we have seen businesses try all sorts of experimental ways to save money in the contact center. Take our advice: It’s a dangerous game when you start experimenting with ways to save money in the contact center. Contact centers are very complex, and delicate.

By far, the fastest and most reliable way to improve customer service is to outsource your department’s agents and infrastructure to a third party solutions provider. Almost overnight, you will receive access to stronger and more experienced customer service agents, better infrastructure and data. At the same time, you will free up a significant amount of capital in your current in-house contact center. And it comes with much less risk.

Plus, there are immediate financial returns that you will experience. Right off the bat, you can sell all of your in-house contact center infrastructure to a company that purchases used office equipment. There are companies that will pay decent money for used computers, office chairs, agent headsets and even servers. Just make sure to “wipe” your electronic equipment of any data before selling it just to make sure that information does not fall into the wrong hands by mistake. This could lead to a post-sale data breach, which can be very difficult to fix.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you should be very picky when selecting a contact center solutions provider as not all companies offer the same level of quality. Make sure that you partner with a company that aligns with your exact expectations so that there is no question they will be able to perform at a level that is acceptable.

 

What Does It Take to Turn Customers Into Brand Advocates?

Recently I was discussing a special Thanksgiving recipe, when the idea dawned on me:

Customer service is like serving a meal. You have to include the right ingredients if you want to create advocates that will rave about your company and its products and services to their social followers. If your customers aren’t happy, it could be due to the fact that you don’t have the right pieces in place.

Here’s what you need to create brand advocates:

High quality products and services: There is perhaps no substitute for quality. Customers expect that the things they buy will at least meet their expectations. So if you want to improve customer service, take a holistic approach and start by using their feedback to improve the things you are selling. It’s the most honest, and feedback that you will receive.

Gratitude: With Thanksgiving in the air, it’s the time of the year to think about giving back a bit. Here is one thing you can try: When customers call your contact center, review their recent purchases and consider giving them a small gift or rebate in exchange for their continued business — and for their patience waiting to speak with a representative. Customers will appreciate the act of gratitude, and may choose to reward your company by remaining loyal to your brand. This is the type of thing that can go viral on social media, too. You will be seen as a customer service thought leader.

Empathy: Of course, you don’t have to buy anything to win over your customers. One of the easiest ways to do so is also free. It can be done by training your contact center agents to show empathy during all interactions. Customers will be much more receptive to agents that are chatty, friendly and willing to be flexible in helping them accommodate their needs. Being treated with dignity, it should be noted, is now a top customer demand that you need to be aware of.

Restraint: Sometimes, there is nothing an agent can do to calm down a customer over the phone. Customers can get very angry, especially when they feel they have been wronged. In this situation, the best thing an agent can do is to show restraint. An agent should let the customer talk, and interject only at the right time when the customer indicates that he or she may be receptive to hearing with the person has to say. By letting a customer vent, and showing empathy, it’s possible to diffuse the situation and get to a point where a cordial conversation can take place. Sometimes, an agent can even get mad too! Customer service requires acting at times — and the best agents can do this seamlessly.

Stellar communication: I’m not talking about communications technologies here. The communication I am referring to has to do with demonstrating good old fashioned values. Emails should be returned promptly. Customers should never have to wait too long to speak with a representatives. Billing matters should be handled quickly and professionally. And advice and consideration should always be accepted and passed along for review.

It’s Okay to Feel Good About Outsourcing

Let’s be honest: Your customer service department is more of a burden than a benefit to your business. It’s expensive. It’s complex. And it’s failing to drive revenue for your organization like the company hoped it would when the department was originally established.  

It is possible, however, to turn things around and start providing amazing customer support without having to put up with any of the pain points that come with managing a contact center. You can eliminate all of the above-mentioned challenges. All you have to do is outsource your department to a third party contact center solutions provider.

A third party contact center solutions provider will offer your organization access to the best agents on the market; top-of-the line software; cutting-edge infrastructure; and data-driven strategy. At the same time, you can also establish business continuity for customer service. By housing critical contact center infrastructure off-site, communications can continue in the event of an unplanned local power or service outage. This is something to consider as the busy holidays approach. What will happen if your customer service department goes down while customers are buying holiday gifts?

Now, if you are struggling with the idea of outsourcing your department that is completely understandable. After all, it’s a tough decision to make and one that requires re-assigning active customer service employees. You will have to think of something to do withal of your contact center employees.

One suggestion is to form a select think tank comprised of the best minds in your department. This group can help marketing and sales teams devise and execute ideas to connect with customers, improve campaigns and drive profits. This strategy can also boost team morale. By choosing to keep your workers instead of laying them off, you will prove that you are an employee-centric organization or one that cares about its hard-working staff members.

The point here is that it’s okay to feel good about outsourcing. Outsourcing customer support operations is the most cost-effective and trusted way to transform a failing department into one that is profitable and capable of evolving with the ever-changing needs of today’s customers.

If you’re new to the concept of outsourcing, here is another way of thinking about it: You outsource things all the time. Using a cloud service like Google, for instance, involves outsourcing — and hence, relying on another company to provide a critical service. Outsourcing a contact center is no different.

To learn more about how your business can benefit from outsourcing customer service operations, click here.