Why You Should Be Selective About the Agents You Are Hiring

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Art critic John Ruskin once stated that “quality is never an accident, it is always the result of an intelligent effort.”

The same thing can be said about contact centers. High quality customer service is never an accident, either. It takes a great deal of research, planning, communication and hard work to achieve success.

Hiring, for instance, is one task where it pays to take your time and be selective about your decisions. Customer service agents, after all, have a great responsibility to keep customers satisfied and making repeat purchases or donations. Also, agents are often the first touchpoint for customers when interacting with a company. First impressions are important, and can go a long way in determining how a customer feels about a company. The agents you hire will literally be the voice of your brand.

Here are some things to consider when hiring agents:

Attitude is important: You want to fill your contact center with agents who are positive, friendly and enthusiastic. Look for agents that you think will be able to show up every day genuinely happy to help customers. As you interview a candidate, pay attention to how they are able to carry on in conversation. Ask yourself if the person you are talking to is someone you would want to be interacting with your customers.

Are they hungry? For outbound communications, it’s essential to fill your contact center with team members who are hungry to drive sales and keep donors happy. Such roles should be filled with agents that have consistent track records of proven success, and a can-do attitude to grow the business and achieve amazing results. What’s more, hard-working and highly-driven individuals are great for team morale. They make others work harder, and inspire them to be better.

Teamwork is important: Many questions will arise over the course of a business day that go beyond the scope of the customer service agents and need to be escalated. It’s therefore critical to staff your contact center with people who aren’t afraid to ask questions and rely on their team members. Agents tend to run into problems when they attempt to solve complicated problems on their own, and wind up making promises they cannot deliver.

Contact center hiring can be a time-consuming process. It’s something that you and your managers simply may not have the time for. It’s for this reason why so many businesses today are outsourcing their contact center operations to third party contact center solutions providers. Outsourcing your contact center is a great way to get the high quality service that you want, at an affordable price.

 

It’s National Cybersecurity Month: Is Your Contact Center Vulnerable?

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

October is National Cybersecurity Awareness month here in the U.S., and it couldn’t come soon enough. Cyberthreats are rapidly increasing in both volume and sophistication, and the vast majority of organizations are unprepared to handle them. In a recent study, more than half of U.S. businesses claim they have experienced a cyberattack in the last year.

Now, you may think that cybercrime is a problem for the IT department. But make no mistake about it: Cybercrime is now an organizational concern. Every employee, regardless of his or her role, needs to be educated about the current cyberthreat landscape in order to effectively detect and defend against incoming attacks.

The contact center, in fact, is now one of the most heavily targeted areas of the enterprise. That’s because it’s often an easy entry point for fraudsters who are looking to worm their way into corporate networks. It’s much simpler, in other words, to phish for information from a customer service representative or spoof someone’s identity than to use traditional hacking tools and strategies.

Here are some common cybersecurity weaknesses that contact center administrators need to be aware of:

Uneducated end users: The email inbox is typically one of the most common targets for cybercriminals, who use them infect end user accounts with malware and gain entry into corporate networks. This is especially problematic in the contact center, where agents often communicate directly with customers — transmitting documents, and opening attachments. Employees need to be taught to recognize and stay away from suspicious-looking emails, as well as fake phone calls and text messages.

Internal threats: Contact centers are also at high risk for inside data breaches, from malevolent contact center agents who have access to sensitive data. This problem is especially hard to stop in large contact centers, where there it’s difficult to monitor agents and make sure they are following the rules. It’s important to protect databases with strong access controls, in order to prevent customer service agents from abusing their privileges and stealing data or selling network access information for their personal gain. It’s very important to do this with remote agents, especially when they operate from other countries.

Synthetic identity theft: Cybercriminals are now using stolen data from different individuals and using it to literally create new customer identities. This practice, which is often referred to as synthetic identity theft, has gotten much worse after the recent Equifax data breach which exposed the records of 143 million U.S. consumers. Last year, it is estimated that synthetic identity theft may have cost financial institutions more than $6 billion. Customer service agents need to be informed about this practice, so they know how to stop a fraudulent transaction when they suspect it.

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.

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.

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.

62 Billion Reasons to Make Customer Service a Priority in Your Budget

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Customer service continues to be one of the most widely-discussed topics in business today. It’s talked about endlessly on LinkedIn. It’s been the subject of countless keynote addresses. And it’s discussed daily in board rooms around the world.

Many people, however, are still wondering why customer service is so important. They know they need customer service, but they are still struggling to understand why they have to play the game and keep customers happy. After all, the “customer first” attitude is still a relatively new phenomenon. A few decades ago, before the advent of the Internet and social media, companies took a much different approach to customer service.

Now, there are many ways to approach this question. I’m going to tackle it from a purely financial standpoint:

Poor customer service can cost your organization a lot of money. End of story.

In fact, according to one recent report, businesses are losing a total of $62 billion per year through poor customer service. And this figure is increasing annually.

This is because we are living in an ultra-connected era, where customers have endless options at their fingertips. If a company fails to meet a customer’s expectations, all that customer has to do is take to Google and consult with a competitor. There are endless options available to browse. And as the above figure shows, customers are not afraid to shop elsewhere when they are let down with poor customer service.

Here are two more telling statistics about the importance of providing great customer service:

  • 86 percent of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience by 2020.
  • By 2020, the customer experience will surpass product and price as they key brand differentiator.

So, what can your business do if it’s falling behind in its customer service efforts? Understand that strong customer service starts and ends with a reliable contact center. So if your customer service department is failing to perform up to expected standards, it may be time to consult with a third party business process outsourcing provider who can streamline the process for you and help you generate the profits your company is capable of producing.

Contact center operations, in other words, can be outsourced in the same fashion that you would with any other business solution. A company like InfoCision, for instance, will offer cutting-edge, hosted infrastructure, high quality — and experienced — Customer Communicators and a data-driven approach to marketing. Altogether, you will save money by outsourcing while also gaining all of the pieces you need to provide amazing inbound and outbound interactions.

What Can Happen When Customer Service Goes Right

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Earlier this year, a 16-year old named Carter Wilkerson became an overnight online sensation when he publicly challenged the customer service department at fast food giant Wendy’s on Twitter — and won, in a big way.

It all started when Wilkerson took to Twitter and asked Wendy’s how many retweets he would need to receive a full year of free chicken nuggets. Wendy’s, which has a reputation for being vocal — and at times, even sassy — on Twitter, tweeted back with a figure of “18 million.” Wilkerson responded with a confident “consider it done.”

As it turns out, the request went viral.

After Wilkerson unexpectedly racked up about 3.42 million retweets, the company caved and declared him a winner. Now, Wendy’s is honoring Wilkerson’s full year of chicken nuggets, and is even making a $100,000 donation in his name to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.

Wilkerson — who now has over 100,000 followers on Twitter — is continuing his cause on his own website, nuggsforcarter.com.

The lesson here is very simple:

Sometimes, it’s okay to have fun with your customers online. Listen to everything that your customers have to say, and keep a sharp eye out for opportunities like this when they arise. Let your customers know that you are paying attention to what they have to say, and pounce on opportunities that will make great human interest pieces.

Here are some of the ways your brand will benefit:

Greater customer loyalty: When current customers read about stories like Wilkerson and his free year of chicken nuggets, it fosters their feelings of pride and brand loyalty. It makes them feel great about doing business with your brand, and encourages them to share the news with others. Stories like this remind customers why they love the brand in the first place.

Increased engagement: What does just about every company brand want today? Increased audience engagement. Some companies are practically begging customers to interact with them more. This type of activity encourages customers to reach out and interact with the company. Ultimately, it generates free marketing.

Thought leadership: By responding to Wilkerson, and granting him a full year of free chicken nuggets, Wendy’s took a leap of faith. And in doing so, they reminded us about the need to keep trying new things in customer service. Wendy’s has proven that its customer service department is responsive and highly in-tune with its customer base. Wendy’s is setting an example for all other fast food chains to follow. And it’s hard to put a price tag on the type of return that this will create for the company.

What to Do if Your Contact Center Has a Turnover Problem

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

Consistency is key when providing great customer service. Your customers need to know that no matter which agent they talk to, they’re going to get the same answer, and the right answer, on first contact. Without it, your representatives can fall into sloppy habits, your most loyal employees will be unduly saddled with extra responsibility, and you’ll see morale go right out the window. This can, in turn, further escalate the risk of turnover, perpetuating a cycle that can be quite difficult to overcome.

If your contact center has a turnover problem, you’re not alone. But what separates successful contact centers are leaders who can recognize the problem and course correct.

Here are several steps that you can take to get back on the right path.

  • Outsource: It’s not ideal to bring a new representative into a chaotic contact center. In order to provide your team with a little bit of relief while you right the ship, outsourcing a portion of your load to a highly-trained third party should be one of the first considerations you make.
  • Turn downtime into uptime: Though it might sound counterintuitive, the most satisfied representatives are the ones being engaged and challenged. High turnover is a sign that your team isn’t being challenged enough. Review your operational processes to find downtime that can be put to better use honing new skills that will show your team that they have a vested future at the company.
  • Review the limitations of your infrastructure: Ask your team members what they want and many of them will tell you the same thing: freedom. Today’s contact center solutions allow for greater mobility and flexibility — when used correctly. If you can alter your infrastructure in such a way as to give your team autonomy, flexibility and freedom, your team will be that much more interested in sticking around.

 

Three Signs You Need to Scale

By Steve Brubaker, InfoCision Chief of Staff

 We’ve all been there. You’re getting ready for a night out, standing in front of the mirror getting dressed, and all of a sudden you realize you’ve outgrown your favorite pair of pants. Of course, it’s not a big deal. It happens to everyone. But it might become a problem if you don’t put them back on the hanger all bring them to the tailor.

The same can be said for your contact center. It can be difficult to realize the need to scale, as it can often be a gradual change caused by a variety of factors.  Yet all of a sudden you’re in the midst of a call volume spike and are shocked to find you don’t have the bandwidth to provide adequate service.

If you see these three signs in your contact center, it’s probably time for you to consider scaling your operations:

  1. Your company is launching a new product or initiative.

Change isn’t the easiest part of life, so when it comes to your customers, you need to do everything you can to ease their anxiety. If your company is rolling out a new initiative —whether it’s a product, service or fundraising campaign — you have to expect a spike. If your organization’s efforts are successful, you’ll have lots of customers calling in. But if they run into challenges, you know they’ll be reaching out too. Either way, larger corporate initiatives often precede the need to scale contact center operations.

  1. Your reps are more than tired — they’re exhausted.

Sometimes a worn out employee simply needs a vacation. Other times, it doesn’t matter how many days off you have. If you’re always buried in more work than you can handle, you’ll never feel reenergized. Recognizing the difference can be difficult, but a few indicators can help you make a determination. Are response times slower across the contact center? Have you been getting a greater number of call transfers or dissatisfied customers? Studying your business analytics will help tell a more complete story.

  1. ‘Tis the Season

Speaking of studying business analytics, you should be tracking call volumes throughout the calendar year. The month of December, for instance, has historically been one of the busiest for the customer service industry. Take a look back at these figures and you’ll see trends begin to emerge. After all, those that don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it.

Without knowing where to look it can be difficult to see the warning signs that you need to scale your contact center operations. With the right partner, however, it can be easy to get your contact center running at peak performance to meet your customers’ needs with a superior level of care.