Three Hard-Hitting Customer Service Questions

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

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

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

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?

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

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

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

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.

Key Findings From the Customer Rage Survey

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

For the last several years, rising consumer expectations have been a major focal point in the customer service space. As the years have gone on, customers have become increasingly demanding about the products and services they receive.

These expectations were recently detailed in an informative report aptly titled the “2017 Customer Rage Study.” What’s interesting is that despite all of the advancements in technology and communications over the last several decades, businesses are still having trouble keeping customers satisfied.

Last year, for instance, 56 percent of respondents indicated that they had a problem with a service or product. And the number of people who have experienced customer service issues has increased by more than 20 percent from 40 years ago.

The majority of customers who experienced problems — 56 percent — fell into the “rage” category in the survey which is troubling.

Here are some additional findings from the study:

Social complaints are declining: Customers are no longer reaching for social media first when they have complaints, which is a positive development for brands who are concerned about their online image. In fact, only a quarter of customers have posted on social after a problem which is a decrease of 30 percent from 2015.  While not all customers attempted to contact a company after an issue, the majority used the phone which demonstrates the need for an efficient and reliable contact center.

Issues are taking too long to resolve: One of the more troubling findings from the study is the 19 percent of people who claimed they had to contact a company seven or more times to resolve an issue. Only a quarter of people were able to solve the problem on first interaction. While not all resolutions can be solved on the first interaction, requiring a customer to call back several times is unacceptable. When this happens, it could anger a customer and make them seek out a competitor.

Customers want respect: Customers reported that their top goal while contacting a brand is to be treated with dignity, which is very telling about the current state of customer service. Other demands were to be talked to like a human, a guarantee that a problem would not happen again and for the company to display empathy during an interaction.

Businesses that are serious about improving their customer service results are strongly encouraged to outsource their contact centers to third party conferencing solutions providers.  Third party contact center solutions providers offer premium agents and top of the line communications infrastructure along with a data-driven strategy that is guaranteed to produce strong results.

It’s a cost-effective and trusted way for businesses to ensure that their customers are being treated with respect and courtesy every interaction.

Tips for Designing a Profitable Contact Center

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Let’s assume that right now, your business does not have a dedicated contact center. Right now you have a blank slate to start with, and money to spend. And you are wondering about whether it’s a good idea to move forward with a contact center for your business. Is it really something that your organization can afford?

First and foremost, you absolutely need a contact center. The decisions that you make while acquiring one, though, will either come back to haunt you later or generate strong returns for years to come.

A contact center, in other words, can be notoriously expensive after factoring in things like staff and labor, technology, overhead, maintenance, and telecommunications costs. Many contact centers — specifically large, in-house operations — tend to burn through much more revenue than they bring in.  Owning a contact center can quickly turn into a major money pit for an organization.

Understand, though, that it’s possible to design a modern, effective, high quality contact center at a price that aligns with your business’s budget.

Here are some things that you can do to operate a profitable contact center:

Minimize overhead: It’s not the look or feel of your building or office that will determine whether your contact center is profitable in the long run. So it’s okay to be cheap and even thrifty with your setup. Your facility, in other words, does not have to resemble a Silicon Valley startup office. Spend money on the bare essentials, and look for ways to trim down waste. This is also true from a technology startup. Only purchase technologies that can significantly help your agents, and pass on some of the flashy, expensive cutting-edge solutions that you see.

 Be smart about what you buy: This is not to say you should be cheap about the communications equipment that you use. By all means, give your agents high quality equipment that will be bug-free and they will feel comfortable using. But be wary of vendors offering fancy new contact center technologies. At the end of the day, your don’t need much more than the basics to do a great job — such as a reliable phone system, a customer service/ customer relationship management platform, a high quality headset and of course analytics.

Outsource operations: Keep in mind that it’s one thing to come up with a budget and plan to control costs in your contact center. But it’s quite another thing to achieve real cost savings while operating your own facility. There will always be unexpected expenses to face like high employee turnover, equipment upgrades, utilities and more. By outsourcing your contact center operations, though, you will avoid many of these costs while also receiving guaranteed results.

Technology and Customer Service: They Go Hand In Hand

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

 Now that the Major League Baseball season is over, pay attention to what happens over the next several weeks. Teams are now assessing their rosters and trying to figure out what they need to do to get better before next year. Some teams, for instance, will be in the market for pitching. Others will want to improve their defense, or power.

 The point, in other words, is that success — in baseball, and in business — does not happen automatically. You need to make some impactful decisions if you want to bring about real changes in your organization next year.

As such, customer service administrators need to perform this same gut check from time to time. It’s important to take a hard look at your department, understand the resources you have and then determine what you need to get better.

To help get you started, here are some of the top technologies that you should be utilizing in your contact center heading into 2018:

 CRM integration: Chances are likely that your business is already collecting a significant amount of data during customer service interactions. But are you actually leveraging this data, or is the vast majority of it lying dormant inside of your customer relationship management (CRM) system? Look for a way to integrate this data across the enterprise. For instance, you can buy a business phone system that correlates with your CRM database.

Apps: Despite the overwhelming demand for business apps, many organizations are still not offering them to customers. Apps are an excellent way to provide self service for customers, as they make it easy to perform a variety of tasks. By offering apps, you can significantly reduce your incoming call volumes.

 Omnichannel service: In the past, businesses could get away with offering customer service over one or two channels. But now, it’s important to provide customer service over all channels. This is called omnichannel service. Now, it’s possible to invest in a platform that allows agents to “follow” customers as they move from the phone to a website live chat box to social media or email. Omnichannel service involves providing seamless service wherever the customer decides to go.

 Chatbots: Every contact center should be using chatbots in some form or another. Chatbots, or automated agents, are a great and cost-effective way to provide around-the-clock customer service. You can either build your own custom chatbots, or buy them pre-made. Just remember: Bots can be very helpful for customers, but they can never replace the power of a live agent. There needs to be a balance. In an ideal chatbot setup, an agent will preside over several different automated bots and manually intervene whenever it is necessary. A single agent, in other words, can manage five or more bots at a single time.

Expect Unhappy Customers To Take Action Against Your Company

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

 Every company dreams of having “brand influencers,” or super-customers who continuously rave about their favorite products and services to followers over social media. But this does not always happen. On the other end of the spectrum are “brand detractors” or customers that will actively speak out when they are unhappy with a company.

How your team manages these “brand detractors” will go a long way in determining its public perception. Dealing with a single unhappy customer, in other words, is a bit like managing a small fire. If left unchecked, or mishandled, a customer’s anger could quickly spread to others and cause a considerable amount of damage to the brand’s online reputation.

 This is especially problematic in the financial services industry, where more than 1 in 5 Americans claim they will leave their bank if they are unhappy with the customer service they receive. And 78 percent will take a form of action by switching banks, filing a complaint or sharing their bad experiences with their contacts or audiences.

Of course, not all problems can be easily silenced. But most problems can be eased or solved by getting on the phone and having a conversation with an agent. The contact center can be like a buffer that can be used to communicate with customers before they reach for social media.

A well-managed contact center can prevent customer complaints from spreading by:

 Serving as an outlet to vent: What do you do when you get really mad or frustrated about something? Chances are likely you will find someone — anyone — and tell them about your issue. Talking through a situation can help you think through the issue and get another opinion.

Oftentimes, you can come to a conclusion that you had not previously thought of. The trick is to offer customers many different communications channels like a telephone line, email, live chat and social support. The more options you give them, and the easier you make it to communicate, the more likely customers will be to reach out and attempt to solve their issues in the contact center as opposed to their social followers.

Providing an opportunity for retention: When customers get very angry, they often attempt to cancel their services. This is where it pays to have a dedicated contact center. A customer service agent could attempt to keep a customer by offering incentives or rewards. It’s sometimes possible to prevent customers from leaving if you make them feel special and appreciated.

 Showing what consumers want: A contact center can be an amazing resource for learning about consumer behavior. After all, if one customer is experiencing an issue chances are that it’s impacting many others, too. In a well-managed contact center, all complaints are processed, reviewed and addressed so that the company can continuously improve.

 

Contact Centers: Not Just for Big Businesses

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

During a recent flight, I had the pleasure of speaking with the owner of a small to medium-sized business (SMB). We got to talking about his organization, and eventually breached the topic of customer service.

“Steve,” he said, “I know I need to improve my business’s customer service by investing in a contact center. But with my budget, I just don’t see how it’s possible!”

This fellow had a very good point: How on earth can SMBs provide the high level of customer support that is necessary to compete in today’s competitive, ultra-connected business arena, when they are confined to an SMB-sized budget?

Here’s some great news: Now, it’s possible for SMBs to obtain first class customer support at a price they can afford. Businesses across all vertical markets are now accomplishing this by outsourcing their customer service operations to third party contact center solutions providers.

Why are so many businesses outsourcing their customer service operations? In short, this strategy provides access to a wide range of amazing features and technologies at a fraction of what it would cost to buy and maintain them independently.

Some of these features include:

Rapid response legal assistance: There is little room for error in the contact center industry, where small mistakes can lead to costly Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) violations down the road. Contact center solutions providers offering legal consulting services can offer sound guidance during marketing and outreach campaigns, to avoid any potential complications.

Access to premium agents: Even if you have the money to hire contact center agents, you may not have the money to hire the best ones. Contact center solutions providers offer access to the highest quality agents on the market, allowing you to use them without paying them the higher salaries that they tend to command.

Hosted infrastructure: The cost of overhead can be significant in a contact center, when factoring in all of the different hardware, software and data center equipment that must be purchased and maintained. However, when you outsource your customer service operations to a third party contact center solutions provider you can eliminate a lot of the CAPEX and OPEX that comes with it.

Guaranteed results: Contact centers are incredibly complex, and it takes a lot of careful planning to build one. And when all is said and done, there is no guarantee that it will be effective. Businesses often spend a lot of money hiring agents and buying equipment, only to struggle to drive strong results. Outsourcing will provide access to everything your business needs for amazing customer service; but it will also come with guaranteed results. You won’t have to worry about executing; This will be the job of the provider.

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.