Tips for Keeping Your Contact Center Agents Engaged

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Ask any manager about the hardest part of his or her job, and you will likely hear the same response: Keeping team members engaged and motivated at their desks, and committed to doing great work.

It’s well known that employee engagement is vital for success, especially in a contact center setting. Employee engagement, in this sense, refers to the emotional connection that employees have to their jobs. Employees need to feel like their job is interesting and meaningful in order to stick around.

What can you do to improve agent engagement? Here are some tips for keeping contact center agents excited about coming to work in the morning.

  1. Place a premium on good agents: First, make sure that you are giving agents the respect that they deserve, by recognizing them as vital contributing members to the success of the organization. Agents have hard jobs, fielding call after call throughout the day assisting customers and driving sales. The more you value them, and the better your company treats them, the more they will give back to your organization in terms of effort and loyalty. Don’t look at the contact center as a place for entry-level workers, but experienced professionals who know what they are doing.
  2. Ask for feedback: How can you show your workers that you appreciate their efforts? One way is to ask for their honest feedback about their roles as communicators, as you look for ways to improve operations. By asking for feedback, and then forming and following up on improvement plans, you can make sure everyone has a voice to express their ideas.
  3. Celebrate victories: Business mogul Mark Cuban used to walk through the cubicles at his company MicroSolutions and hand out $100 bills to sales associates after a record sales month, or similar special occasions. By taking the time to celebrate small victories, you can keep your employees excited about coming to work and striving to do better.
  4. Hold regular reviews: Even if your department is autonomous, it’s a good idea to hold reviews from time to time to hold team members accountable and make sure they are reaching their goals. Let your employees know you are committed to improving their careers and positions.
  5. Encourage team building: Great teams are built on trust and cooperation. It’s vital for employees to get to know one another, so they can feel comfortable relying on one another throughout the day. Consider hosting special team building sessions and social events where employees can get to know each other.
  6. Use real-time reporting: Sometimes, a bit of pressure and oversight is needed to keep team members producing at a high level. Consider using a real-time reporting suite throughout the day to keep agents on track and motivated to hit their numbers.

 

Break the Endless Cycle of Equipment Upgrades in Your Contact Center

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Your business is experiencing the same problem over and over again: You invest in a new technology, and then get a notification from the vendor at some point in that product’s lifecycle that it’s time to upgrade to a newer, more expensive solution.  It’s a never-ending process.

This is a huge problem, especially when you like using certain products and don’t see anything wrong with them. Technology vendors, however, have you hooked.

Vendors, in other words, are notorious for their “end of life” announcements. Oftentimes, they will give you a choice: Keep using your existing product, but say goodbye to critical security patches and updates, or shell out money for their fancy new solution.

It’s an endless game that unfortunately leaves customers like you out in the dark.

So this begs the question: How can you avoid the endless cycle of equipment upgrades, without sacrificing your need for data security and high performance equipment?

As it turns out, it’s easier to break this cycle than you may think. All you have to do is outsource your department to a third part contact center solutions provider.

A third party contact center solutions provider will spare you of this burden by removing the need to buy or manage any of your own customer service equipment. When you outsource to a third party provider, you will get access to high quality, hosted infrastructure managed by a dedicated team of knowledgeable IT professionals.

You will save money, reduce the burden for your IT team and improve your chances of uptime. Also, you will no longer have to worry about negotiating with vendors or making tough decisions about your technologies.

Then, once you outsource your contact center, you can turn around and flip your existing equipment to a refurbished technology provider. There are many companies that will pay for used equipment like computers, chairs, servers, racks and cables. So it’s a way of taking your old, expensive equipment and putting it back to use. Just remember to always wipe your equipment of any data before re-selling it or you could get hit with a data breach down the line.

The most important thing to remember here is that you have options regarding your customer service strategy and the technologies that you are using. Your vendors are playing hardball, and you can too—by outsourcing to a dedicated third party contact center solutions provider.

It’s a cost-effective and reliable way to improve customer service and save money.

To learn more about how InfoCision can help you break the endless cycle of equipment upgrades, click here.

How AI is Changing Customer Service

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Your business is now at a crossroads with its information and technology management strategy: You can either keep doing what you have been, and experience yet another year of mediocre growth, or you can explore what artificial intelligence has to offer and launch ahead of your competitors.

It’s difficult to convey the amazing potential that AI has to offer. This low-risk, high-reward technology, which has been in development for decades, is now at a point where it’s commercially available, affordable and extremely powerful. If implemented correctly, AI could completely transform your customer service department.

But what exactly is AI, and how is it changing customer service for the better?

In layman’s terms, AI refers to the ability for computers to handle tasks that would otherwise require human intervention. AI is the main engine behind enterprise automation.

It’s important to understand that AI can be broken down into two categories including:

Machine learning: This involves using multiple, extremely powerful computers to process and interpret data. Machine learning is used for things like making software smarter and more effective, organizing information and uncovering key consumer trends and patterns.

Natural language processing: Natural language processing refers to a machine’s ability to process human speech in real time and respond in intelligent and accurate ways. Simply put, natural language processing lets computers have live conversations with customers.

One of the most popular and effective ways to use artificial intelligence in the contact center is by creating chatbots, or automated assistants. Chatbots can live in social media channels, websites and inside of apps. You can either build your own chatbots, or purchase customized models from third party technology providers.

According to one study, the global chatbot market will reach $1.23 billion by 2025. So this is a  major technology that just about everyone is talking about. Chatbots make customer service teams much more efficient. And they are much more affordable than hiring additional agents.

Consider this: One agent, equipped with 10 customer service chatbots, can do the job of 10 different people at once.

AI is also being used to streamline manual tasks in sales and automation. Now there are platforms available that handle complex, time-consuming marketing and sales processes—saving agents time, and drastically improving results.

When it comes to AI, remember: Don’t fear this technology. Respect it, and know that it has game-changing capabilities. But don’t be afraid to use it in your enterprise.

One way to use AI is to partner with a third party contact center solutions provider offering advanced, next-generation technologies. For more information on how to get started, click here.

 

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.

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.

 

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.

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.