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.


No Contact Center Should Be Carved in Stone

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Security Alert: Beware of Fake Customer Service Agents

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Where Are Your Customer Service Blind Spots?

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff  

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

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

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

Here are some common examples to help get you thinking:

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

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

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

Angry Customers are Often Right

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Personalize Customer Service

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

This October, I challenge you to focus on one word in your customer service department: differentiation.

In other words, what can you do to separate your customer service from other competitors in your space?

One of the best ways to differentiate your customer service is to focus on improving personalization. There are some small, but very effective, strategies that you can use to leave customers feeling great about your company.

Here are some tips:

Use data: Right now you have the raw ingredients you need to offer amazing, personalized customer care. The answers lie in the data that you are collecting during each and every customer interaction. Now, it’s a matter of extracting this data and using it to engage with customers in ways that are meaningful. Collect, and share data among your team members so they can do things like greet customers by their names, remember specific preferences without having to be asked and follow up about important action items. These are the elements that keep customers coming back time and again.

Research: Sometimes, you have to do a bit of digging if you want a customer or a donor to take action and buy more, or contribute to a campaign. Research, combined with data, can be very powerful.

Use the right agents: At the end of the day, you can have a trove of data and perform extensive research but you still need one binding element and that is high quality agents. The trick is to staff your contact center with customer care specialists that can take the information they have and then execute during interactions. This requires using agents that are genuine, easy to talk with and highly skilled at engaging customers in conversation. Without such agents, your personalization strategy is likely to fall flat.

As you can see, it’s not easy to drive personalized customer care in the contact center. In fact, there is nothing easy about customer service—it takes a great deal of time, and hard work.

Many companies are therefore outsourcing their customer service operations to third party contact center solutions providers offering cutting-edge technologies and top-tier agents. Doing so will allow your brand to experience exceptional results, and even save money in the process.


How to Respond After a Data Breach

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

The world recently watched in horror when it was revealed that hackers stole the personal data of at least 143 million customers from credit agency Equifax.

The company received further attention, though, for its customer service team’s questionable response after the hack was announced. Employees reportedly did not know that the breach took place when customers dialed in.

Of course, there could be many reasons as to why this happened. But it serves as an important reminder about the need for real-time communication, and emergency response planning, in the contact center. First and foremost, communication is absolutely critical. All team members must be notified as soon as possible, so that they are ready to spring to action and deliver the appropriate messages at the right time.

Remember: Immediately after a data breach, your team members need to spring to action with unified messaging to handle angry customers, listen to their rants and try to keep them from leaving the company and going to competitors. This is customer service damage control at its hardest.

When shopping for a contact center solutions provider, don’t limit yourself to thinking about what they can provide for your organization when things are going well. Think about how they will respond when emergencies arise. Do they have the communications technologies in place to transmit information quickly? And are there strong leaders in place to ensure to align team members and perform response management? Taking the time to think about these questions early on could save your organization a great deal of trouble down the line.


To Hire or Outsource? That is the Question

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Many business leaders are still in the dark about the idea of outsourcing customer service operations. It’s an often-misunderstood topic — but one that could be beneficial to just about every organization, if done correctly.

Customer service, in other words, can be completely outsourced to third party solutions providers just like any other business process — completely eliminating resource-intensive tasks related to hiring, managing and monitoring agents. Outsourcing customer service can also eliminate many hefty capital and operational expenditures for technologies and facilities.

Keep in mind, though, that not all third party contact center solutions provider offer the same level of quality. There are a lot of pitfalls that you need to be aware of.

Here are some things to take into account should you decide to outsource your customer service operations:

Data security is critical: A data security incident can be absolutely devastating to an organization and its customers. So, don’t take data security lightly when shopping for an outsourcing provider. Remember that the company you partner with will be responsible for overseeing a large volume of customer information on a daily basis. As such, it’s important to ensure that they have the proper security technologies and professionals in place to keep your data protected.

Technology is also important: In addition to cybersecurity, you should also ask about the technologies that are available to the agents who will be handling your customer interactions. For instance, are they using hardware and software that is old and buggy, and prone to crashing, or new and innovative? Even the best customer service agents need access to fully-functioning, and reliable, equipment.

Location matters: At some point during the outsourcing process, you will need to determine where you want to source your agents. Should you explore overseas contact center markets in places like India or the Philippine? Or, should you opt for domestic workers? In our experience, we have found that domestic contact center agents tend to significantly outperform agents operating from overseas. They are also easier to train and coach when they are working under the direct supervision of a local team member.

Quality over costs:  Something else to consider is that not all contact center solutions providers will offer the same quality of customer service agents. This is one area where it pays to be highly selective. Don’t settle for the provider offering the lowest cost solutions. Instead, partner with agencies offering highly-trained, experienced and driven customer service representatives.

It’s Time to Start Planning Your 2018 Customer Service Strategy

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Author Alan Lakein once said that planning is bringing the future into the present, so that you can do something about it now. What a powerful quote — and something to think about as we prepare to head into the final stretch of 2017.

What can you do today to make your contact center more effective next year?

Keep in mind we’re getting down to the wire for 2018 planning. Pretty soon, the busy holiday rush will be here followed by the start of a new year. So if you haven’t already done so, it’s time to start looking ahead.

Here are some things to consider as you plan your 2018 customer service strategy:

Automate intelligently: When you think of automation in the contact center, artificially intelligent bots probably come to mind. A growing number of organizations are now using bots in their chat boxes and phone systems and will continue to do so over the next year as they work to provide more self service options for customers. Now, this is not a bad thing. Bots can certainly make the contact center more efficient. But they certainly can’t replace the power of live, human agents. So make sure to also supplement your agents with automation software that enables them to make more informed choices during customer interactions. Recent advances in sales, marketing and even billing automation can reduce costs, increase efficiencies drive more sales in contact centers.

Cut costs: Customer service is very important, but it can also be very expensive — much to the detriment of the organization. This is especially true of large contacts centers that staff large teams of in-house agents. You will pay for extra overhead, technologies, salaries and benefits. But if you outsource your customer service, you can avoid these expenses without having to sacrifice the quality of your customer service. In fact, it will improve. Plus, you will have extra money to pump back into processes like research and development.

Avoid hiring headaches: Every year, the same problem happens around the holidays: To handle spikes in call volumes, businesses are forced to hire, and train, large numbers of temporary employees. It’s an expensive, time consuming and risky process as it involves bringing in agents who are often inexperienced and looking for temporary work. Again, though, this problem can be easily streamlined by outsourcing to a third party contact center solutions provider who will handle all aspects of hiring, training and managing customer service employees for you.

Drive more sales: Outbound contact centers conducting fundraiser campaigns should have one primary goal for the next year: Make more money. To do this, however, you will need access to high quality customer service agents who will know how to talk to your customers and convince them to contribute to your campaigns. Trust me — high quality agents go a long way in generating higher quality customer interactions.