How to Make Your Data Work Harder Next Year

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Businesses today are already producing an unfathomable amount of data. But in many ways, the data revolution is just getting started. We haven’t even scratched the surface of what the future will bring in terms of information collection and management.

According to one study, the world will produce 180 Zettabytes — or 180 trillion gigabytes — of data annually by 2025. To put this in perspective, in 2015 there was a total of just 10 Zettabytes of data. And in 2020, there will only be 44 Zettabytes generated. So at a certain point, we expect this figure will scale considerably.

One of the main reasons why data generation keeps increasing is because the Internet of Things (IoT) is rapidly expanding. More and more devices are becoming IP-enabled, and in the process they are providing remarkable insight about consumer habits and preferences as well as backend processes.

While almost all businesses are collecting data, though, many are failing to maximize its effectiveness. In many cases, data is stagnating inside of databases instead of being put to use — a situation that isn’t just wasteful, but actually very risky. Simply collecting data and not using it will only eat into your server capacity, increasing operating costs and the chances of getting hit with a data breach.

If this describes your company, then one of your main goals heading into 2018 should be to improve the way that you process, distribute and store information. It’s time to make your data work harder for your company.

So, how do you do this? The first step is to improve communication across the various parts of your business. For instance, your marketing, sales and customer service departments are probably all collecting data in some form or another, from websites, social channels and email marketing systems. But are they sharing this information?

The trick is to stop siloing information between departments. Instead, pump your customer information into one centralized internal database that each department can use to better understand its customers’ needs. The end result should be a system where the right messaging is distributed to the right customer at the correct point in the sales funnel.

Of course, the easiest way to streamline data management is to outsource your customer service department to a third party solutions provider offering data-driven strategy. Third party contact center solutions providers can offer the infrastructure, and experts that are needed to process and interpret the information that is being collected.

With the right team in place, equipped with a data-driven strategy, your business will be able to understand its customers’ needs much more effectively. To learn more about how InfoCision can help, click here.

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.

 

How Third Party Contact Centers Provide Business Continuity

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Hurricane season may be winding down, but that doesn’t mean we are in the clear. Winter will be here soon for much of the U.S., and with it another long season of unpredictable weather patterns and dangerous storms.

This year, it should be noted, the Farmer’s Almanac is predicting an especially active winter season with several storms occurring late into March. We could be in for a long winter full of snow, ice and wind.

Winter weather is great when you are huddled inside around a fireplace, but not when you are trying to run a business.  Severe storms can knock businesses offline and prevent transactions and issue resolutions from taking place in a timely manner. With this in mind, contact centers are typically one of the most vulnerable parts of an enterprise for downtime.

Keep in mind, too, that when consumers are snowed in it gives them time to make purchases online, and handle personal issues. So it’s vital to have a contact center up and running, and ready to assist them.

For this reason, businesses are strongly encouraged to outsource contact center operations to third party solutions providers offering premium, hosted infrastructure. Third party contact centers are stored offsite, meaning they can stay in operation even during extreme weather events.

This is especially beneficial for companies that can afford no losses in connectivity with the people that they are serving (like law enforcement agencies, utility companies and emergency response teams).

Of course, downtime doesn’t always stem from foul weather. Oftentimes, it can occur from things like human error in the data center, power or equipment failure. Third party contact center solutions providers typically safeguard against these problems by utilizing things like backup services and failover. Plus, if a contact center provider fails to stay up and running when it promises to, that company will typically be responsible for downtime.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the cost of downtime keeps increasing every year, as consumers become more and more connected and expectations continue to increase. What used to be a forgivable offense in the past is now a huge issue for customers, who are quick to seek out competitors when they cannot obtain the services that they expect.

So as you plan ahead for 2018, remember that business continuity is a year-round necessity. Every season brings unique challenges that need to be overcome in order to maintain uptime.  Outsourcing your contact center is the most cost-effective and reliable way to ensure that your company’s customer-facing operations remain up and running no matter what nature throws at it.

When Was the Last Time You Enjoyed the Holidays?

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

The holidays are here once again. All across the country, business leaders are performing year-end duties and clearing out for some much-needed rest and relaxation. Many people will use the next few weeks to visit with friends and family, revisit passion projects and plan ahead for the coming year.

A large number of customer service administrators, however, will be unable to truly enjoy the holidays because they will remain buried in work. Running a contact center can be an around-the-clock job, especially this time of the year when companies are looking to drive sales and maximize profits from holiday shoppers. For customer service managers, the holidays can be more stressful than rewarding.

It’s possible, though, to take back the holiday season and start enjoying your free time again while also streamlining customer service operations and slashing departmental costs.

You can do this by re-allocating your customer service operations to a third party contact center solutions provider. In doing so, your company will receive the following benefits:

High quality agents: Imagine not having to hire temporary employees for the holidays anymore — a process that is time-consuming, expensive and risky for your brand.  Outsourcing eliminates surge hiring. Instead of hiring for the holiday season, you will gain access to a fully-staffed contact center run by agents and managers who are experienced and well-trained.

Premium infrastructure: It’s not just seasonal staffing that causes headaches this time of year. Infrastructure can also be a major source of stress, as networks can get overloaded with traffic and shut down unexpectedly. This can impact overall sales and customer service, which can eat into profits and reflect poorly on the brand. Outsourcing customer service operations will ensure that your company always has access to equipment that is fully-functioning, disaster-proof and capable of scaling at different points of the year.

Guaranteed results: You ultimately have two major responsibilities as a customer service administrator: Ensuring that your company profits this holiday season, and making sure customers are happy. It can be very difficult to meet your goals, however, when you are bogged down with the daily responsibilities of managing a department. Outsourcing your contact center will allow you to spend more time on planning and strategizing, without having to worry about any of the day-to-day nuances of running a contact center.

Expert guidance: Contact center solutions providers also specialize in offering sound guidance and support for all things related to customer service and marketing. For instance, you can receive access to legal services (to protect against TCPA violations), expert data analysts and outbound dialing strategists.

2018 Cybersecurity Preview for Contact Centers

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

There is one issue that should be on every business leader’s mind looking ahead into 2018 and that is cybersecurity. Experts are now predicting that 2018 could be one of the worst years yet for cybercrime.

What used to be a challenge primarily for data center technicians, cybercrime is now an issue for every business department — especially in the contact center, where thousands of communications are sent and received every day. In fact, the contact center has emerged as one of the most heavily-targeted areas of the enterprise by hackers.

One of the most frustrating aspects about combating cybercrime is that the threat landscape is constantly changing. New threats — and trends in defense strategies — are always fluctuating and it can be hard to keep up, especially for busy contact center managers who have many other responsibilities to look after on a daily basis.

Here are some things that customer service administrators may see in 2018 in the cybersecurity space:

Ransomware attacks will increase: Ransomware is now one of the most devastating tools that hackers use to extort money from businesses. It’s a special form of malware that allows hackers to hijack personal files and delete them at will. Oftentimes, hackers will accept payments and then delete files anyway. Ransomware experienced record growth in 2017, and now a company is hit with ransomware every 40 seconds. We predict that this figure will increase next year, as ransomware tools are getting easier to use and less expensive.

Android attacks will get more dangerous: Two things are happening right now: Consumers are using their phones more than ever to resolve customer service issues, and mobile malware is evolving at a rapid pace. This is a bad combination, because it means that customers are now sending more and more data into customer service departments through insecure devices.

More companies will switch to blockchain: Increasing cybersecurity threats and continued data breach announcements will cause more companies to migrate to blockchain systems for transactions. Blockchain, in short, allows companies to share digital ledgers over a network of connected computers. With blockchain technology, there is no central authority — and no way to tamper with individual records. All of the data is public, and all in the open.

Companies will spend more on cyberdefenses: According to one new report, cybersecurity spending will exceed $1 trillion from 2017 to 2021. Companies will look to fortify their networks by investing in services like real-time monitoring and threat detection, advanced threat forensics and employee cybersecurity training. Expect spending to accelerate in 2018.

One easy way to improve your contact center’s cyberdefenses is to outsource operations to a third party services provider. A third party solutions provider will streamline all aspects of cybersecurity for your customer service department, sparing your team the burden of having to worry about it.

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.

Top Reasons to be Thankful for Contact Centers

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

With service demands at an all-time high, businesses are more challenged than ever to keep their customers satisfied. However, this is no easy task — especially for growing small businesses with large numbers of customers to handle on a daily basis. It’s for this reason why so many businesses are choosing to leverage third party contact center solutions providers.

Indeed, there are many reasons to be thankful for contact centers, and it’s hard to imagine life without them. So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we compiled some of the top reasons why we are grateful.

Contact centers…

Can be a buffer for complaints: Most customers are bound to take action in some form or another when they are unhappy with a product or service. Some, for instance, may take to social media to complain. As such, unhappy customers need to be managed. A contact center can serve as a buffer zone where customers can sound off to service representatives, ask for refunds or rebates, and work towards resolutions.

Boost sales: Not all sales happen online or in stores. In order to drive maximum profits, businesses need to have agents actively making calls and closing deals. Contact centers can be a great source of revenue, if managed properly.

Feed R&D: Customers can be the best source of ideas that can translate into new products and services. When customers interact with agents, they often provide a lot of useful information. Contact centers that can process this information can serve as a valuable resource for research and development teams.

Maintain donor relations: Companies need to take special care of their financial donors. They need to be contacted, for instance, with promotional content to influence them and keep them happy about supporting the brand and its cause. Contact centers excel in keeping donors interested and contributing.

Ensure business continuity: Foul weather can arise at any time, disrupting business communications and leaving customers in the dark during outages. By outsourcing contact center operations to a third party solutions provider, it’s possible to ensure business continuity even in the worst weather conditions.

Collect and organize data: Customers supply a tremendous amount of personal data during interactions, especially when interacting with service agents. An effective contact center can serve as a data repository providing detailed information. This information can be used all across the enterprise.

Foster brand loyalty: Brandy loyalty needs to be earned, and the contact center is an excellent tool for doing this. A positive customer service interaction can go a long way in making a customer come back for more purchases.

Provide technical support: Nothing can disrupt the customer experience more than being unable to get quick answers when they are needed. Contact centers that offer technical support can prevent customers from getting frustrated, or making unnecessary returns.

Offer around-the-clock care: In-house employees may have to leave at the end of the day, but contact centers can stay open late—especially those using chat bots. By offering 24 hour care in a contact center, businesses can continue to provide service and even drive after hours sales.

 

Planning for the Future in Your Contact Center

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

As a customer service administrator, you need to think about the short term and the long term success of your department. This requires looking past the daily issues facing your team, and engaging in some future planning.

Ask yourself the following question: Where exactly do you want your contact center to be in a year? It may be time to make some critical changes to your strategy.

As you already know, change does not typically come quickly in a traditional contact center setting. It can be hard enough even getting budgetary approval for things like new equipment, more agents or better CRM software when you manage your own facility. After all, an in-house contact center must compete with other departments in the enterprise for financing.

The best way to fast-track change in your contact center is to outsource operations to a third party solutions provider. In doing so, you won’t have to wait a year for change. You will experience a turnaround in performance almost instantaneously.

Here are some of the benefits you can expect to see by outsourcing your contact center:

Stronger agents: You will no longer have to worry about hiring, training and managing customer service agents. By outsourcing to a third party contact center solutions provider, you will receive access to premium agents who are already highly-trained and experienced in dealing with a variety of issues. This will eliminate a great deal of time and hassle, while also mitigating risk and improving results.

Less turnover: Another major upside to outsourcing your customer service operations is that you won’t have to worry about contact center attrition. This is typically very high in contact centers, and it’s both expensive and inconvenient. It’s also bad for morale.

Reduced overhead: Right now you are paying for everything from office chairs to lights to headsets. Overhead is extremely expensive, and oftentimes customer service departments lack the necessary funding to keep them running at a high level. Outsourcing, however, will ensure that the people communicating with your customers are always using the latest and most effective equipment on the market. And you won’t have to pay extra for any of it.

Improved donor relations: Donor ecosystems need to be carefully maintained day in and day out. Oftentimes, in-house customer service departments struggle to provide the extra attention that is needed keep donors happy and contributing to campaigns. Outsourcing providers, though, specialize in executing high quality, data-driven donor outreach initiatives.

More sales: Ultimately, contact centers — like all departments — are judged on a cost vs. profit basis. And many departments are spending a lot more than they are bringing in. By outsourcing, you will boost sales and you will only have to pay a small monthly price.